Trigger Warning and Disclaimer: the content that you are about to read contains graphic and sensitive experiences of the Sudan war. Reader discretion is advised. Read our full editorial notice here.
Based on real events narrated to the author.
Your eyes are fixed on the ceiling, you think of the comrades... of all the paths you have walked, paths that have led you nowhere, paths that have not made a great man out of you or worthy of greatness. All the choices you made that led you to this moment seem natural and inevitable.
You didn't do anything wrong, but sometimes things happen out of your control. A fierce war might break out in your city overnight, so you hear the sound of weapons shelling and falling on the neighbors' houses. The noise of armored tanks continuously combing the streets in search of the Janjaweed.
General Mohammed Hamdan Daglo, known as "Hemedti, the head of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) was quoted back in 2019 (just 40 days after the June 3rd massacre) while addressing a crowd of supporters: “It may happen that Khartoum will be turned upside down, and its buildings will no longer be inhabited by anything other than cats". For being cynical by nature, you were laughing at yourself as you stared into the darkness of your room, scared, lonely, and mired in misery.
A person watches from a distance as smoke rises above buildings in Khartoum. Source: Marwan Ali/AP
Forced to Flee: a Family in Disarray
Despite everything that's going on, you cannot bear the thought of leaving your home, your safe haven. Where you took your first steps holding the hem of your mother's dress. Its walls still reverberate her voice, you're still smelling her fragrance in it. How can I leave when she is still here?
You are bothered that your father and sister have left. You were trying to reach them on the phone yesterday before the electricity and network services went out. The last time your sister spoke to you three days ago, she said they had arrived safely in Madani and will wait eagerly for you to come. You did not comment on her words, you told her to deliver your greetings to your father. He is angry with you, but you are tired of arguing with him about not wanting to leave Khartoum.
Your father spent his youth moving from one state to another doing various kinds of jobs before finally settling in Khartoum. He is not a naturally sensitive man, unlike you. That is why he did not see himself in you and conflicts between you abounded especially after the death of your mother.
The rumbling of your stomach interrupted your deep thoughts; the fact that you have a physical presence in this world bothers you. You wish you were a ghost or just an idea. Maybe because you can't cook. You change your clothes and walk out of your room.
The mommy cat runs towards you and meows insistently. You haven't fed her anything since the electricity went out last night. You wonder if cats eat their children when they are hungry, as they say, but you don't want to know. You put some crumbs on her plate and then go out.
The half-empty streets are as quiet as a cemetery, but the noise from the gunshots does not stop. You only feel death wandering around you and it feels like its coldness is killing the warmth of Khartoum's blazing sun. Adding a dark impression to your neighborhood, which used to be alive and bright.
You pass by several neighboring houses quickly and fearfully. Rumors circulated that the RSF had evicted its residents and settled there. You take several turns until you almost get lost trying to avoid the clashes before you finally reach the only grocery store in the area that is still open.
Most of the commodities were almost out of stock. You bought several boxes of cigarettes, some sugar, and canned food. You made sure to grab plenty of tuna in particular and then headed to the neighborhood bakery. The line was endless and you couldn't wait.
People gather to get bread during clashes between the paramilitary RSF and the army in Khartoum. Source Reuters
If your sister was there, she would suggest making bread at home. You don't know where all that energy and desire to live comes from, after everything that happened to you and is still happening. You begin to buy into the idea that life is a curse, life in Sudan at least.
You rush back to your house clutching the bag of bread tightly, for which you paid with hours of your life, praying that the electricity has returned in your absence. The sound of nearby clashes was too loud, and the entire neighborhood was plunged into darkness. Your hopes are dashed when your dark house looms on the horizon. You drag your legs feebly toward the doorway as you seriously contemplate ending your life, but as soon as your cats meet you at the door a faint smile creeps across your lips.
After you quiet the hunger of nine stomachs; you lay in bed thinking about the past, the flower of your youth that you gave to a homeland that refuses to change, a homeland that kept rewarding you by destroying your simple dreams and mortgaging your future to the greed of others.
All those days you spent serving the neighborhood as a member of the neighborhood Resistance Committee (RC), feeling a great responsibility, loaded with hopes for a better future. The arrests, violence, humiliation, and demonstrations in the streets of Khartoum where you stood bare-chested in front of their guns, hoarsely chanting for freedom, peace, and justice. Despite your will, you long for those times when you were so proud of yourself... sure of everything. Now you are full of regrets and doubts.
It has been two days since you have been isolated and the heat is unbearable. You got busy grooming your eight cats, and of course, you neglected to take care of yourself. You eat once a day, as usual, but you make sure to feed the cats regularly. Remember, you didn't intend to keep this huge number. The mother cat belonged to your friend and she gave her to you when her mother insisted on kicking her out. When she gave birth, you wanted to sell the babies quickly, but you didn't find a bourgeois worthy of buying them. You thought of offering her for free adoption.
You contacted many people and succeeded in your endeavor, but when the day of delivery came, you couldn't do it. You imagined that the mother cat looked at you with great anger as if she was scolding you for trying to banish her kittens. Also from her black eyes, you felt your friend's gaze penetrate you as well.
Since then, you have kept them in your house, despite the annoyance of your father and sister, but you have never dared to say why. You are glad now that you did not take that step, how lonely you would have been if you had! You, however, wish you could talk to anyone.
Sometimes you imagine your friends sitting in your living room, laughing and making cruel jokes about your head shaving or your obsession with your friend Rania, an active member of the neighborhood resistance committee. The girl who dragged you to doom with her charming eyes, but you remember that she paid the price for your love of the homeland, and perhaps for each other.
You would like to hear her voice again, but you will quickly drive the memory of her out of your head. Despite everything in the dark nights you still wish for a dawn that resembles her stubborn smile, to collect what is scattered within you and lead you to salvation.
A photo of Rania's cats. Source. Rania
Morning finally dawned, revealing blood-splattered streets, and tears that had dried up in eyes that only knew pain. Through the window you watch your neighbors gather their belongings and prepare to leave, their children sitting motionless on the floor by front door.
Their wide eyes terrify you as three of them stare blankly at the football field where they used to run all day. Their mother approached the car to put a box inside, her face was expressionless but her hands did not stop trembling.
There are a few people left in your neighborhood and you are afraid that everyone will leave and you will remain an easy prey for the Janjaweed. Your memory takes you back to the day of the forced dispersal of the General Command HQ sit-in. A shiver runs through your extremities making you lose your strength.
You turn away from the window to sit on an adjacent sofa, trying to catch your breath. You still have panic attacks when you think of that day. You try to regulate your breathing, as Rania taught you. She was used to panic attacks too. Rather, she was used to more than that.
Almost two months after you met, she told you her story; you were sitting on a bench next to her, taking two cups of coffee from the hand of the tea lady, while Rania was staring at the ferry as it sailed through the Nile, with its prestige and intimacy. The atmosphere was just right for her to reveal her most important secrets and her worst memories ever.
You felt the blood boiling in your veins when she shared her pain with you with teary eyes and trembling lips. You did not know how she could laugh and cry at the same time while telling someone she barely knew the heartbreaking story of her rape. She said between her laughter and sobs: "it wasn't just the sit-in that was broken up that day!" You don't know why you keep coming back to this memory.
A photo of a house that was reduced to rubble as a result of shelling. Source AFP
Why do you insist on picking your wounds with your own hands? But you are sure that Rania is safe and alive. "Yes! She's fine! Such a girl who is strong and tough would not be killed by a few stray bullets or shells hitting the roof of her house, right? Ha." You say that while you stare excitedly into her cat's eyes, she meows in a low voice, and then her pupils dilate, jumping towards you.
On the third day of your compulsory isolation, you devoted your time to reading all the books in your library, starting with your father's books. Most of them were about the history and sociology of Sudan, in addition to old collections of poetry by Sudanese poets who had been forgotten over time. It wasn't easy to read them, they gave you a sense of guilt when you felt the words were trying to force you to feel belonging to the homeland again. Also, the rhythm was monotonous.
In contrast to the novels of world literature that your sister kept, you found yourself immersed in the world of Agatha Christie, Dan Brown, and others. For a moment, your ears no longer hear the whirring of warplanes, and you enjoy living for some time in a different reality. Even if it was another dystopia like the one George Orwell created, because, in your opinion, there is nothing worse than the reality created by the April 15th war.
You were not a fan of books before, perhaps you have not read a single book in your life other than books related to your university major. You don't like to sit and stare passively at words, you always need to do something, work with your hands, and make the change you want to see.
There has always been that explosive energy within you that yearns to come out, perhaps that is the reason why you joined the Resistance Committee. It was not only to help others, nor because Rania stole your heart, even though she did. However, since the beginning of the war, you are no longer able or willing to do anything. You didn't search within yourself for that energy; you probably won't find it even if you did.
While you are reading, your phone screen suddenly lights up. You watch it vibrate on the table as you loosen your grip on the book nervously. You get up quickly and pick up the phone, look at the screen for a few seconds, then answer. "Hello? Hello? ..... "
The network coverage is bad...you could not hear anything your sister said. You can't tell if her voice sounds okay or not, but you hear a noise around her. Perhaps she is sitting safely with your father in the family house among your relatives and their annoying kids. Or perhaps a group of armed robbers kidnapped them, or Janjaweed or an army officer blocked their way.
I had heard that there were dozens of armed checkpoints between Madani and their final destination. Wait, wait... How do I know that she is not on her way to Darfur now to be sold for some change?
You hung up call her again...no network connection at all this time. Beeb Beeb Beeb. You're losing your mind now. You throw your phone against the wall after your ninth attempt and grit your teeth. Door knocking interrupts your wailing, but you hesitate to open it lest there will be a teenage Janjaweed behind it, with a burning desire to empty his ammunition into the skull of a Khartoum young man who lived luxuriously.
Did you really get privileges as they claim? Perhaps because you were born to your father and mother? But this not only gives you class privileges, but it's what makes you, You... What makes your suffering yours alone, and your bliss yours alone as well?
You suddenly remembered your colleague at the university, he was very seasoned. He was fighting hard to convince you of the concepts of socialism, using the instinctive principle that all are equal. You were not familiar with economics or politics then, but you argued with him, saying that socialism equals people in money, but who can actually equalize people in everything?
"Isn't it unfair that we share the state's money equally while you spend it on the pleasures of life and another spends it on treating an incurable disease?" You said with a look of triumph on your face, as if you had discovered the mystery of the universe or realized an absent truth. Now, after more than five years, you ask yourself, would socialism have prevented this from happening? Was there any theory in politics, society, or economics that could stop the bloodshed of your country's innocent people?
You open the door lock immersed in your thoughts, as your unknown visitor won't stop knocking. You sigh deeply and finally pull the door, only to see a familiar face behind it.
"Where are you, man? I don't see you around anymore, I thought you were gone."
"My family did, but I couldn’t leave our house ... Al-Fateh"
Your neighbor, Al-Fateh, invites you to lunch at the mosque. He tells you that the men who stayed in the neighborhood now eat their three meals there and remain informed of each other's conditions in these interactions. It is like a psychological support group around one dining table. You politely decline. You're not ready yet to face "the outside."
You feel that you will be killed if you take one step outside the house, but inside you are safe; your mother is here... all the time. You ask him about electricity and the communications network, and he tells you that everyone suffers from their absence, but that lawyer in the adjacent street managed to connect electricity to his house in some way. We heard that engineers are now working to fix the malfunction in the station and that everything will return to normal soon.
You contemplate his smiling face. He really thinks things will get better soon, but you don't like to hold on to false hopes, because you think there is nothing worse than waiting for relief.
On the fourth day of your isolation, you lose control. You mourn the future that is no longer yours. You no longer have the energy to chase the announcements of your university administration, which are never issued. Besides the disappointing statements of the warring parties.
Perhaps you were not destined to complete your education! The revolution, COVID-19 pandemic, coup, and strikes only ended with a horrific war. You remember in detail the day when you received the news of your acceptance in "al-jameela" an Arabic phrase that means "Beautiful". A nickname that was given to the University of Khartoum by its students to express their love, as if it was not six years ago, but reminiscing about these memories only brings a lump in your throat.
Families fleeing from their homes in search of safety. Source: Africanews.
On the fifth day of your solitude, you get up from your bed after hours of staring at the ceiling. You start your day with a cup of tea and two cigarettes you smoke in the yard of the house as you set your sights on your phone.
Yesterday, the power bank ran out and you no longer have a backup plan to keep your phone alive. You took it and played your favorite song. You exhaled the smoke of your cigarette, it mixed with the voice of Wad Al-Amin, and then you spent your day playing with cats and messing with your phone.
You tried so hard not to think about anything or anyone. Don't bring up any disturbing memory from your past, whether it's happy and you can't get it back, or bad and you can't change it. However, if there is one thing you should have learned from everything that has happened to you is that things seldom go as planned. "You have a plan but God has a different plan for you," as your father used to say.
At 8:15 pm in the evening, the roar of warplanes surprises you while you are feeding the cats in the kitchen. The sound of explosions breaks the stillness of the night in your neighborhood. You can clearly hear your neighbors screaming and running all over the place. You run to your room and immediately lie down under the bed, curling up on yourself, covering your ears with your hands, and beseeching God with all your faith to save you from this.
The sound of shells and gunshots is increasing and your eight cats are frantically scurrying through the halls of the house. The terror you felt was indescribable, it felt as if you were experiencing a hundred panic attacks at once.
You stayed under the bed for a few hours and the clashes were still intense. You finally dared to get up and went to check on your kittens, but you found only the mother cat. The rest of them went out through the window of the house into the yard and then somehow managed to reach the street. You and your cat exchanged looks, it was looking at you motionless for a while, then it suddenly moved towards you, passed you to jump out the window as well, so you followed it and tried to catch it and bring it back inside lest a stray shell or bullet hit her.
The visibly scared and restless mother cat. Source Rania
She would jump around and then run away when you approach it. She jumped over the wall and started meowing. You climbed on a chair to reach her and stretched out your hands towards her, begging her to come down. You looked at the horizon, overcast with thick smoke clouds that hid the minaret of the neighborhood mosque.
A few meters above the minaret, the Sukhoi hovered and dodged to avoid the anti-aircraft weapons fired by the child soldiers of the RSF. But your cat is still looking at you and meowing! Meowing provocatively, mocking your fear and your cling to a life that has passed, to the ghost of your mother, and to a house inhabited only by cats!
You climbed the wall while cursing, grabbed your cat, and hugged it. But before you have a chance to go back inside, a shell falls from nowhere on the roof of your house and turns it into a wreck! A tidal wave of memories swept over you as you looked at the wreckage in front of you. You hugged the cat tightly, couldn't hold back your tears, you cried... a lot.
You realized it was time to go...