Once upon a time at midnight I would have just crawled into my dirty bed, in that place. If we were lucky we’d be left alone until the early hours. Throughout the day we’d have been tortured to an extreme level, sometimes to within an inch of our lives…or worse.
Night time,we’d reunite and assess the damage. Those still able to walk would organise buckets full of warm water. We’d gently lay down the broken ones on beds. By their head, children would gather. They’d hold the poor child’s hand and soothe their tears as I cleansed their hideous wounds to prevent infection. We’d sing softly; partly to hide our owm bitter sorrow, but also to calm their pain and reassure them. yyou’re still here, soldier. You might only be 3 but my God you’ve made it through another day. You’re fighting this war heroically.
“hush now…my llittle darlings; it is time to go to sleep. Be still now, oh my little ones, be still and calm to sleep…” was one lullaby I’d sing…
I remember the water turning a deep reddy brown colour as I wiped away the dry blood on their bodies. I remember wringing out the blood soaked rag, and gently “shhhh”-ing their whimpers as I cleaned their injuries. I’d assess for internal damage and show the younger ones so they learnt.
Afterwards I’d cradle the pained child in my arms and hum softly, letting them hear my steady heart beat as a reassurance. Soon they’d fall asleep, and I’d lay them back on the pathetic excuse of a bed. I’d sit next to them, combing my fingers soothingly through their hair to combat their nightmares. I’d tell the younger ones stories of hope and fairies, and the ones not in unbearable pain would cuddle up to me. Once I was happy everyone was asleep and as comfortable as was possible, I’d allow myself to drift off. However, I’d wake at the slightest sound.
It was a comfort waking up to hear the young children’s deep breathing. Their hands resting on my chest, their warm bodies tucked underneath my arm. We were never alone. I’d peer across at the more injured ones and feel relief that they’d managed to sleep.
Tonight I am in pain.
But there are no sweet children.
I cannot experience that kind of love again. Despite the bitter tragic sadness I feel based on the situation there, I also miss it. I am grieving for knowing I’ll never fall asleep with them all surrounding me. I’ll never again hear their heavy, calm breathing whilst they dreamt.
I am in pain. And I am so lonely…