Swimming pool. Toddler boy drowning at the bottom of it. Suspended, at the bottom of the pool. Not struggling anymore. Still.
I see him distorted in deep water, wearing blue shorts and shirt. CPR could still save him! I am behind a glass panel, cannot get through. It is bashar al-asaad’s villa, wide white stone terrace. bashar’s three kids are asleep upstairs. I cannot hear through the glass. But I can see. I see the pool. I see the child.
Look again—now it’s fifty children in the pool, dead or drowning. All their bodies under water, some struggling, some already still. I cannot get through. Can only look through glass panel. Soundless picture, no noise.
Children, laid out on ground. On terrace stone. Clothed, wet, dead. Some on their sides curved at the waist. A girl, about eleven, twelve years. She’s twitching! Save her! But I can’t. Can’t get through the glass. Somebody, help! Help me get them. If I could get to the twitching ones at least. Help.
There’s bashar and his kids, a girl and two boys—on a stone ledge up above the bodies, sitting, looking over the terrace scene, dangled legs swinging.
Fifty dead children laid out. All still now, all dead. If only they had been pulled out before. I can only watch. Help. Help. Nothing I do has any effect on anyone in the scene. I am not seen or heard. Behind glass. That’s when I notice: the toddler in blue is my baby brother, mine, my brother Usama, when he was little, twenty-five years ago, only now he’s this toddler, and dead. This was the moment of his death. Sobs burst from me.
All day, I have forgotton the dream but keep sobbing.
Mohja Kahf is the author of The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf: A Novel. An associate professor of comparative literature at the University of Arkansas, she tweets for the Syrian revolution @profkahf.