Abdul was sitting in the military truck, looking at the cake being stepped on by different feet, but none from a woman in black slippers. Red, blue, yellow, white, and finally, black slippers! He excitedly raised his gaze only to see a stranger. He disappointedly looked down and started searching again.
Abdul was waiting for his mother, who had gone back to their stall to get the bag that contained their earnings for the day, but it has been half an hour since.
The exchange of bullets had been nearing their area, so the driver decided to start the engine, causing Abdul to panic.
“Please, Bapa, Ina is not yet here. She will be here soon, so let’s wait for her. Please,” Abdul cried. The people in the truck looked at him in pity, but they knew they didn’t have a choice but to leave.
While the truck was leaving Marawi City, Abdul had his eyes glued to the narrowing street, still hoping to see his mother. But his eyes were starting to close from bearing the weight of the unfamiliar view.
When he woke up, Abdul found himself covered in a blanket and feeling the tears that dried on his face. He folded the blanket before going out of the room. He heard on television the news announcing the war between the terrorist group and the military.
“Abdul, you’re awake. How are you?” Bapa Ibrahim asked while watching the news.
“Bapa, have they found Ina?” Abdul asked.
“Your Bapa Saber and Bapa Taleb went back to look for her. You can join your cousin Mahdi first; they will play outside.”
Abdul looked outside the window to see kids running. He nodded to his uncle and followed them. When they arrived at a compound, the kids pulled pebbles out from their pockets and shot them into the empty sky. Since it is forbidden in Islam to hurt animals, they made sure to go to places that could cause less danger— few people around and almost no birds they could hit.
“Do you want to try?” Mahdi asked Abdul. Abdul only smiled and observed the pebbles falling from the sky, waiting to drop on an unknown target. He found the scene amusing and terrifying at the same time: amused by how the pebbles opposed the rising motion and terrified by their impact.
When Abdul had enough of the scene, he bid goodbye. He knew he was in Saguiaran, a municipality that was about nine kilometers away from Marawi City, because he had been here a few times. When Abdul slipped his hands into his pocket, he remembered the change from the cake he had bought for his mom. The chocolate cake he excitedly ordered to surprise her. The last time they ate a cake was at Aunt Jamalia’s wedding, where his mom finished almost four slices. That was also the first time he saw his mom enjoy food, so he made sure to save money for it.
He went straight to the convenience store and counted how much money he had. Although he only finished 3rd grade because of his father’s death, Abdul could do basic arithmetic faster than the other kids. With only 28 pesos left, he thought of what to buy that could feed his uncle’s family and his mom when she finally returned.
He decided to buy three packs of instant chicken noodles. He lacked two pesos, but the storekeeper was kind enough to let him have the noodles. Abdul smiled and thanked the woman before leaving.
It was sunset prayer so Abdul hurried to go back home. He was hungry and couldn’t wait to share the hot soup with his cousins. When he was near the house, he heard his Bapa Ibrahim fighting with his Aunt Fatima.
“Ramadhan is coming. How are we going to feed another mouth?” Aunt Fatima asked.
“Astagfirullah, Fatima. How can you say that? His mother is not here,” Bapa Ibrahim answered.
“That’s my point. Why would his mother go back knowing how dangerous it was?”
“Because even if the bombs and bullets do not kill them, starvation will.”
Abdul listened from outside the house and cried silently. He was going to leave again for a while to pray at the mosque when he saw his Bapa Saber and Bapa Taleb running towards his direction. Abdul followed them as they entered the house and listened silently in the corner.
“How’s the situation there?” Bapa Ibrahim asked.
“It’s getting worse. No one can enter the city anymore,” Bapa Taleb answered.
“But a soldier gave us things they were able to retrieve,” Bapa Saber added before he looked at Abdul.
“Where’s Nihaya?” Bapa Ibrahim asked, which made Abdul attentive, hearing his mother’s name.
“We don’t know. I told you, we couldn’t enter the city.”
“What did you get then?” Bapa Ibrahim raised his voice.
Bapa Saber took out a familiar bag. “We retrieved the bag that contained their money. And this,” he pulled out a black slipper. “We asked the soldiers if they had seen the owner, but no one entertained us.”
Everyone was silent for a while before Bapa Ibrahim stood.
“Let us pray first, Abdul. Then we will talk again,” Bapa Ibrahim assured him. As everyone left the living room, Abdul took the slipper and flipped it. He saw the safety pin that his mother had secured on the strap so it wouldn’t be detached from the hole. He wept again.
“Ina, please,” he whispered. “Please come back. I brought home some food.” He cried until he lost his grip on the packs of noodles and they fell to the floor.
Ihdinas siraatal mustaqeem, siraatal ladheena an ‘amta’ alaihim, ghairil maghduubi’ alaihim waladaaleen.
(Guide us to the straight path, the path of those who have received your grace; not of those who have evoked [Your] anger or of those who are astray.)
Potri Norania Hadji Jamel, 21, is a Meranaw student completing a BA English (Creative Writing) degree in UP Mindanao. An animated version of this story produced by CW 150 Writing for Children students can be found in this YouTube link: https://youtu.be/GA-Rpyadpgc