Lizzie leaned into the back seat, fanning her face with her hands. God, it was hot in this place. She was sitting in the back of a jeep, driving through the small town of Alankaya on her way to the ruins of Qaroc. The air was dusty, the sand baking under the sun’s heat. And she was parched. She grabbed her thermos and gulped down some more water just like she had done so five minutes ago. At this rate, she’d be out of water in half-an-hour. She’d heard tales of the oases in this country but so far all she’d seen was desert.
“Are we almost there?” she asked, leaning forwards to peer into the front seat.
The driver, Hassan, shrugged. “Ten minutes, maybe,” he replied.
Lizzie sat back with a sigh. “That’s reassuring.”
Her partner, Ray, chuckled next to her. “Hey, we get there when we get there. Until then, enjoy the view.”
Lizzie almost snorted. There wasn’t that much to see. A bunch of stone houses with curtains in the place of doors, people leading livestock through the streets, young kids passing a ball back and forth. She’d seen it all before.
She was an archaeologist and had been studying the history of this country for the past few years. Kal-Abzynn. A long name for a small landlocked country that most people didn’t even know existed. And yet, over two thousand years ago, they had been one of the largest empires on this side of the world. And Lizzie was trying to determine how that had happened.
She looked out the window again when she heard the yell. A young man with a small moustache was talking to one of the older boys kicking the ball. The man then shoved the kid, causing him to stumble slightly.
“What’s going on there?” she wondered aloud.
Ray looked over. “Oh. That man is a Bissamian settler. Looks like he’s trying to cause trouble with one of the locals.”
Lizzie nodded in understanding. Kal-Abzynn’s neighbor Bissamia had long wanted full control of the region due to this country having more fertile lands around. And a few months ago they had staged a hostile takeover. Now, they basically ran the government and military. And each day, more and more Bissamians came in to settle, looking to push the Kal-Abzynnians out.
Lizzie watched as the scene escalated. First, the man took a bottle and poured the contents over the kid’s head, laughing about it with his friends. Then he proceeded to shove at the kid, yelling in his native tongue. “What’s he saying?” she asked.
“‘Get out,’” Ray replied. “‘We don’t want you here, so get out.’ Plus a few other words in between.”
The man then spit in the kid’s face. That seemed to do it as the kid then shoved back at the man. From there, it turned it to a full-scale brawl. Lizzie gasped, shocked by it all. She continued to watch as three men suddenly appeared in army fatigues, breaking them all up. They then started rounding up the kids.
“Hold on, why are they taking the kids? They didn’t start it. They should at least be taking them all in.”
Ray snorted. “Those are Bissamian troops and they support the settlers. They want the locals gone. This isn’t even the worst of it. I’ve read reports about toilet buckets being thrown at Kal-Abzynnian houses, taxes being raised, and random ID checks whenever the Bissamians feel like it. All to make the Kal-Abzynnians feel unwelcome.”
Lizzie continued to look until they were out of sight. “God knows why we can’t show a little common decency to our fellow man,” she muttered under her breath.
“Here, give me a drink.”
The drink spilled into the glass, Abed almost tasting it already. He quickly downed it, thirsty from a long day of work. He grinned and leaned against the wall. A long, hot day of work building a new apartment block for this neighborhood. Soon, it would be home to more Bissamians and then they’d move on, building and building creating the home he and his people had so desperately wanted for so many years.
“Feeling better,” his friend Dahmir asked.
“A little,” he replied. “Fill it up again, would you?”
His friend complied and soon its contents went down his throat, providing some cool relief on a hot day like this.
“Would you like the whole bottle now?” Dahmir asked with a smile. Abed shoved him in return, smiling as well. He couldn’t help it. After years living in basically a shed with his wife and son, he now had a house. He had stability. He could provide.
His other friends were celebrating the same thing, all of them having received homes and jobs the instant they settled here. Things were better than they had been in a really long time.
Abed dodged out of the way as a soccer ball hit the wall right where he’d been standing. He cursed as he spilled his drink on his shirt then looked up and saw who had caused the disturbance. It was a Kal-Abzynnian boy, about eighteen.
“Hey!” he shouted. “Watch where you kick that thing!”
The boy merely picked up his ball and walked away. But, as Abed turned back towards his friends, he heard the kid mutter, “whatever.”
“What did you say?” he whiled around, marching after the kid.
The boy turned to look at him again but didn’t say anything.
“I asked you a question. What did you just say?”
The boy still didn’t answer, just glaring at Abed so angrily that he just lost it a little and went and shoved the brat, causing him to stumble. Instantly his friends surrounded him. Dahmir came up behind Abed as did the rest of his friends.
“You going to answer or what?” Abed asked.
The boy rolled his eyes. “What do you care anyway? What, you want to take the ball just like you’re taking everything else that’s ours?”
Abed took a step forward. “Maybe you should have held onto it tighter.”
“Maybe if you weren’t greedy little rats, we wouldn’t have to.”
Abed gritted his teeth and grabbed the bottle out of Dahmir’s hands, pouring it all over the kid’s head. All the others gasped at the move but the kid didn’t make any move at all. He just continued to glare.
“There, I gave you a cool refreshing drink after a long day of doing absolutely nothing,” Abed told him. Dahmir and the others chuckled along with him at that.
“I did do something. I watched your fat ass dance around like a pig over a firepit.”
Abed clenched his fists and shoved the kid again. He hated being reminded about his weight. Especially by a little Kal-Abzynnian brat.
“Get out, you little shithead!” he yelled at the kid. “We don’t want you here, so get out!” He then spit in the kid’s face, the glob landing right on his cheek. “You take it all for granted, you let your country die from neglect. But we won’t. These are our lands now and none of us want you here!”
The kid’s face transformed and he screamed and shoved back at Abed. That seemed to do it as everyone else started shoving the other people. Dahmir threw a punch at one person’s head while Abed pushed the kid into the ground. Then someone punched him in the jaw so he punched them back and then he lost track. All he knew was that he was so mad at these Kal-Abzynnian assholes and he wanted them gone.
“Break it up!” someone yelled and suddenly Abed and the young man he was fighting with were shoved apart by a Bissamian soldier. The soldier checked Abed out to make sure he was ok before dragging his opponent away. Pretty soon, all the boys were separated and being led into cars.
“Thank you,” Abed said to the captain.
“Anytime,” the captain nodded back. “The sooner these scumbags are gone, the better. They’re nothing but trouble.”
Abed nodded in agreement before heading back towards his friends, hoping to salvage what was left of their day.
“Here, I’m open!”
The ball came hurtling towards him and Ahmed slammed his foot into it at exactly the right moment, sending it all the way across the street into the makeshift goal, blowing past the enemy goalie.
Ahmed and his team cheered while the other team just gave him fake glares and promises to get him back. He took a second to just look up and breathe in deep. It felt good, to feel good. With everything going on these last few months, he needed to remind himself that that feeling still existed.
“Ready?” Omar asked. Ahmed nodded and the enemy put the ball back into play and the game resumed. And Ahmed just lost himself in it, dribbling around, scoring, missing, cheering, booing, laughing. All of it.
That was, until the ball shot past him towards a group of men drinking.
“Look out!” one of the called out and a man dodged out of the way before the ball could hit him, spilling his drink in the process. As the ball rolled back from the impact with the wall, the man stared disgustedly at his shirt before looking up at Ahmed. His expression became even more disgusted.
He was Bissamian. Because, with everything going right so far, he had to be Bissamian.
“Hey!” he shouted. “Watch where you kick that thing!”
Ahmed simply glared at him. He wanted to do so much more than that. All the anger that had been building up these last few months was teetering on the edge, about to spill over. All those dirty looks, those slurs, the globs of spit. The taxes that forced him to work two jobs and his father to work three. The ID checks that had taken away his uncle. The buckets of feces thrown into their house every now and then.
But he didn’t do anything. It wouldn’t do any good. SO he just picked up the ball and walked away, muttering ‘whatever’ under his breath.
“What did you say?”
Ahmed froze, knowing things were worse now. He turned around but didn’t say anything. It would just make things worse at this point anyway. Just let him do what he wants and walk away.
“I asked you a question. What did you just say?” the man asked again. Ahmed still didn’t answer, continuing to stare at him. The man’s face contorted in anger and he went and shoved Ahmed, causing him to stumble back a few feet. Instantly, his friends surrounded him, Omar at his side. The man’s friends came too, anger and disgust in their expressions as well.
“You going to answer or what?” the man asked.
And Ahmed couldn’t take it anymore. “What do you care anyway? What, you want to take the ball just like you’re taking everything else that’s ours?” It still hurt to say it, to face the fact that his country, one he’d been proud to call home, was no longer his to really call that.
The man sneered at him, taking a step forward. “Maybe you should have held onto it tighter.”
“Maybe if you weren’t greedy little rats, we wouldn’t have to.” The words were out of Ahmed’s mouth before he had time to think.
The man’s eyes widened and his jaw clenched up. He turned and grabbed a bottle out of his friend’s hands and then poured it all over Ahmed, causing his friends to gasp. Ahmed felt his whole body go still, remembering the feeling of another liquid tossed all over him except warmer, smellier, and more yellow. And that feeling was rage.
“There, I gave you a cool refreshing drink after a long day of doing absolutely nothing,” the man said, chuckling. His friends joined him, laughing like idiots.
Ahmed glared up at the man who represented everything he hated right then. “I did do something. I watched your fat ass dance around like a pig over a firepit.”
Given the man’s face flushing and becoming even angrier and the fact that his belly was a little round, Ahmed had struck a nerve. He didn’t know whether to take pride or feel dread at that.
“Get out, you little shithead!” the man yelled. “We don’t want you here, so get out!” He then spit on Ahmed’s cheek, the glob slowly trickling down. “You take it all for granted, you let your country die from neglect. But we won’t. These are our lands now and none of us want you here!”
Ahmed lost it. It was typical Bissamian, to believe that they could do better with what they could take rather than what they had. And the fact that Ahmed new that he would have to move soon. That they would all have to move soon and that this land he had been proud to call home would belong in the hands of people like this overweight asshole was just too much. So he cried out and shoved the man. And then everyone was shoving and punching everyone else. The man came back and pushed Ahmed to the ground but he got back up and started hitting everything Bissamian he could see.
“Break it up!” someone yelled out and the next thing Ahmed knew was that he was being dragged away by a soldier wearing Bissamian fatigues.
“You’re in trouble now,” the soldier said, leading him into a car and forcing him in. “Good work. Maybe now we can finally get rid of you scum.”
Ahmed gritted his teeth, wanting to punch the soldier as hard as he could. But he knew then that that would be their excuse to hit him as hard as they could. And it wouldn’t be worth it. So he just glared as more of his friends were piled in. And then they were off.
Ahmed leaned his head against the back seat. His parents were going to kill him. They’d be forced to leave for sure now with nowhere to go. What had he done?
As the car drove away, he looked out the window and saw a jeep pass by. A woman seemed to look right back at him from the jeep’s window, showing concern for him. But she didn’t do anything. They never did.