Someone yanked my backpack and half-dragged me across the field. All around me, there were shouts and screams, voices all blended together to make a deafening sound. I hear guns and crashes, people screaming for help. It was total chaos.
I was pulled into an underground bomb shelter. I looked up to a stranger, still holding firmly onto my backpack. We were both breathless. Around us, there were more people who were injured. More crying, more blood, more death. Old women were huddled in a corner, trembling softly. Children held their injured father, mother or siblings. Mothers held their dying children. All I could see was fear in their eyes. It was a scene from a typical war movie.
My knees gave way and I fell to the ground. The stranger helped me to unmount my backpack and sat next to me, still trying to catch his breath. I have never seen this person in my entire life. He looked rugged, with fresh scars on his face still glistening with blood. His face was dirty, smeared with handprints that tried to wipe away soot. He pushed his head back against the wall and closed his eyes, breathing heavily.
My senses kicked in and suddenly I felt pain. My hands and feet were scraped and scratched, there were bruises and blood everywhere. I realised I looked no different than the stranger next to me. Still examining my injuries, the stranger called out to me. I looked up only to see him tossing a sword towards me, which could have stabbed me if I reacted slower. The sword fell into my hands, and I lifted it up in awe. I have never held a sword in my entire life.
“Take what you need,” the stranger said. “We’re going back in.”
I looked at him blankly.
“We? Going back in? In to where? And who are you?” I was confused.
“You lost your mind or something?” He stared right back at me. “Come on, Akhtar, you only hurt your limbs, not your head!”
I blinked. He knew my name.
“You know my name?” I blurted out.
The stranger widened his eyes and reached out to grab my shoulders.
“Wake up Akhtar! It’s me, Umar!” He shook me, looking at me straight in the eye. “We are in the middle of the war! Everyone is either dead or still fighting! It’s only me and you now! And after you get your senses back, we are going back to the battlefield with the rest of them!”
Umar pointed to the back of the shelter. Before I could look, he grabbed my face.
“Do you understand me now? Are you awake Akhtar!” Umar was shouting into my face, exasperated.
I pushed him away and tried to fathom what he just said. I looked to the back and saw a group of young men, just like me and Umar. Each of them held a weapon, and they were injured as well. I don’t recognise any of them. I looked back at Umar. Before I could ask anything else, there was a loud explosion and the ground shook.
Some part of the shelter began to crumble, and the walls threatened to fall on top of us any moment now. Everyone in the shelter started running, seeking for safer places. The chaos was deafening. I was afraid.
“We got to go soon!” Umar shouted above the chaos, pulling me to my feet.
“We got to go now, Umar!” A voice shouted from the back.
I scrambled to my feet and grabbed my backpack. Gripping the sword tightly, I took deep breaths as I ran after Umar towards the back, joining the group. I have never felt so afraid in my life. The realisation that I could die any moment now crippled me of my senses. The group of young men were huddled closely together. One of them pulled me into a side hug and squeezed my shoulders.
“You are going to make it ok? We all are!” He shouted amidst the noise. “Whatever it is, just make sure you reach the other side safely!”
“How do I get there!” I shouted in response. My mind was blank. I have no idea what I was going to face when we leave the shelter.
“Whatever you know, whatever you can do, just do it! Just give your all! Just don’t give up!” He shouted.
The rest of them started to nod in agreement, as they hugged one another for strength. They were all scared as I was. I could see it in their eyes. My pulse raced as adrenaline rushed in my blood. It felt like I was playing a game but instead this time I was in it. I knew that we were on the good side, and whatever bad that was waiting for us outside – I know that we have to win. Perhaps this will make sense later, but right now, I have a battle to fight.
There was another explosion, and this time it was much closer to us. The pillars near us collapsed entirely and we knew that if we stayed any longer we would be dead. With one final glance at one another, we put on a brave front and started running for the light at the front of the shelter. It was the only exit left. Umar pushed me to go in front of him, and he was the last of us to leave the place.
“Till the last fight!” Umar shouted.
“Till the last fight!” We all echoed, taking out our swords and charging into the battlefield.
“Akhtar Umar, wake up,” Someone tapped my shoulder lightly. “Stop having nightmares. Go sleep in your bed.”
I opened my eyes. Instantly, I was blinded by the light from the lamp in front of me. Cringing, I tried to move my head. Pain shot from my neck and I winced. I have a sore neck. Rubbing my neck, I straightened my back slowly, still squinting.
“Where am I?” I mumbled, rubbing my eyes as they adjust to the light.
I was sitting in a swivel chair in front of a desk full of papers, books and stationery. An empty coffee mug sat on my right. The digital clock in front of me showed 2.30AM. I blinked a few times to make myself awake.
“Hey, you ok?” The same voice said. “I know you’re all stressed out – you even had a nightmare! Take a break, will you?”
I turned to see Ziyad on my left, looking at me with eyes half-closed as he toyed with a pen. He too had papers and books strewn over his desk.
Instantly, I was awake. I began to realise that it was only just a dream. Ziyad is my roommate at our campus. Seeing him made so much sense. Part of me still felt nervous and jumpy as though I still have adrenaline pumping throughout my body, but part of me felt so relieved to know that it was just a dream and not a reality. I took a deep breath, held my face in my palms and exhaled.
Ziyad gathered some papers and sat upright. He took his pen and starting writing notes from his books. I shook my head to get rid of any sleep that was still in my eyes and started to rearrange my desk. I realised I had fallen asleep while revising for my final exam in two days’ time. This exam is the toughest for me and I remembered losing much sleep since the past weeks, just to ensure that I would ace the subject. This exam would determine a huge part of my future and I have been worried sick just thinking about it.
“Till the last fight,” Ziyad mumbled. He glanced at me and continued writing.
“Wait, what?” I stopped arranging my notes and looked at him.
“Till the last fight. You were whispering it when you had your nightmare,” Ziyad explained. “Seemed like a tough sleep you had right there.”
I felt a smile creeping up onto my face. I quietly arranged my papers, still smiling to myself. I knew that it wasn’t a dream. I knew it was real. I did go into the battlefield. Picking up a pen, I started to write my notes onto a new page in my notebook.
My pen is my sword, and my knowledge is my backpack. I knew I was already halfway in the battlefield. This final exam is my last fight.
And I will not give up till I reach the end.