This is just a short story about two brothers, set in the Middle East. I hope you all enjoy reading it!
The young boy was baffled and curious as he clung to the leg of his mother, peeking upwards at the small bundle in her arms. He had never seen such an expression on her face in all of the two years that he'd known and loved her. It confused him to no end; in her eyes was a tranquil glisten, and there was the softest smile pulling upwards on the edges of her thick lips. She looked completely mesmerized, and took no notice of the small, wide-eyed child who tugged at the cloth of her skirt. At first, the boy was angry. He furrowed his brow, and his tiny bottom lip bulged out into an irritated pout. With immature and uncertain pride in his actions, he dropped her skirt and folded his arms, taking a few moments to properly adjust his elbows. Still, his mother did not notice. He considered resorting to the method of crying, but thought better of it as his mother gazed longingly at the bundle. So, finally, he began pestering the woman with questions.
"Mama? What is it? Why is it here? Where did it come from? Why do you care about it so much? Can I see it? Mama!"
When the young boy took his first glance at the baby's face, his confusion was only augmented. He found himself wondering why there was a baby, so soft and small, in his home. It was fast asleep as he narrowed his eyes skeptically, scrutinizing every inch of its pink and flushed skin. He'd never seen a real baby this close before, and he wasn't exactly sure what to think. Hesitantly, he pointed his pudgy finger, and poked the bulging cheek of the baby. It gurgled as its eyelids fluttered, but it did not awaken. Drool slipped sedately from the side of its slightly open mouth. The young boy wiped his finger on his tattered pant leg.
This is boring. The boy's face scrunched up in disappointment. For some strange, unknown reason—even though the baby was boring—he could not take his eyes off of it. It was silent and still, but beautiful in its own special way. He wished that the baby would open its eyes.
Both of them had eyes as blue as the rejuvenated spring sky. They were milky and mesmerizing, carrying an innocence that seemed to pulse with each blink. Adorning those uniquely light irises were long and dark lashes that brushed lightly against their faces when they closed their eyes ever so slightly. And both of them had soft, plush cheeks colored evenly with a smooth rosy complexion. Both had smiles that could brighten an entire room, and contagious laughter that could spread through one another like a dangerous and deadly virus. They both had the same small button nose, almost constantly sniffling and running. Those were the only similarities between the two brothers.
The older brother was darker. Thick black curls adorned his head and fell down around his boyish features. His lips were thick and brown, giving him the unintentional expression of constant sadness. Skin that was bronze from endless days beneath the harsh sun was pulled tightly against his bones save that on his face, which healthily puffed out into cheeks chubby with the remains of baby fat. Aside from the way he looked, his personality was far different than that of his younger brother. The eldest was proud and often found himself getting into trouble because of it. He was stubborn, with a head seemingly as hard as a bull's and with horns just as dangerous. Wit flew from his tongue as sharply as a knife, slicing through the air relentlessly with every angry word he uttered. He was a child unafraid of establishing himself as a higher authority with greater power, whether he did it by fair means or otherwise.
The younger brother was of lighter features and of lighter heart. Strangely, his hair was sandy blond and fell down in straight tendrils on his forehead, carrying a color unseen among any other inhabitants. As if shutting out the sun to which it was exposed, his skin remained pale and as flawless as porcelain, similar to that of a painted doll. His blue eyes were more suited to his fairness than were his brother's to his own dark complexion. He had lips thin and pink, upturned in an almost incessant and gentle smile. He was a shy child, who had only recently been forced out of the dastardly habit of sucking his thumb. The shyness was accompanied by a sweet temperament unmet by any other children, least of all his own brother. He was not the sniveling, whiny boy one would expect of a child at such a young age. Rather he was relatively mature and relaxed (compared to his brother), though he was sensitive and could not hide his feelings easily when emotions became strong.
That was the last similarity between the two brothers: they were open books. Both of them suffered from a lack of ability to hide their sentiments. Of course, they showed it in different ways. When angry, the eldest screamed, stomped his foot, made unrealistic threats while waving his clenched fist. The youngest pouted, furrowed his brow, and folded his arms with the expression of a disappointed mother. When sad, the eldest could hold in his tears relatively well, but his tantrums were bad enough without them. The youngest, however, could not keep the tears from flowing like waterfalls from his eyes, and he could stand for hours on end in silent misery. In general, the eldest was more susceptible to angry and upset emotions than his younger brother.
Their favorite game to play was soccer with the other children who lived near them. With bare feet caked with mud and dirt-splattered hands and faces, they ran throughout the streets, weaving their way among the shacks and kicking the old deflated ball. The smiles radiating from their lips grew wider with each juggle and pass, and they had become experts in ignoring the pain that erupted through their tiny, unprotected toes. The eldest was an aggressive player, willing to plow through the other children to reach his goal. The youngest was more passive, waving his hands meekly when he wanted his chance with the ball.
"Here, pass it here!"
The older brother turned his head to where his younger sibling stood, jumping in the air as he called for the ball.
"Pass the ball over here!"
With the smirk of an immature and mischievous child, the older brother stopped and stared for a few moments in silence.
"You want the ball? Fine."
The little boy with the blond hair did not expect such a forceful or speedy kick. The ball whistled through the air with breakneck pace, giving him no time to react before it slammed into his face with an explosion of stinging pain. Unable to keep his balance, he toppled onto his back, the ball sitting idly at his feet. Tears appeared swiftly on his red and hurting face, but he could only stare up at the sky in shame as he panted in futile attempts to catch his breath.
"If you want the ball, you have to know how to play."
The smug expression of his older brother appeared above him, snickering down in contempt and triumph. He picked up the ball victoriously and turned to walk off. The fallen child sat up on his elbows, sniffling as he watched his curly-haired counterpart.
"Brother, why did you do that? That hurt."
"Well of course it hurt!"
"Because you're weak."
He was the youngest of all of the children in the village, and struggled to keep up with their enthusiastic strides. He couldn't understand the jokes they laughed about, and when he tried to inquire, he was brushed aside like a fly...by his own brother. Standing in the dust, exposed to the beating rays of the high sun, he would watch in disillusionment. Their laughter echoed through the silence and plagued his mind like a ghost, and his brother would look back at him with a taunting expression.
"Habibi, don't cry."
"But...I have nobody to play with."
The young boy sat in his mother's arms, letting the warmth of her caress spread through his trembling body. Her heat was different than the heat of the sun, more comforting. His brother was outside, mingling with the other children as they kicked around their decrepit soccer ball.
"Some day they will see how wonderful you are." She kissed the top of his sandy head and wiped away his tears. "And then, they will be begging you to play with them."
"What about Brother? Will he see?"
"Of course. He already has, he just has a different way of showing it."
"He says I'm weak, Mama."
"No, habibi, you are strong."
Each week, the boys' father would plop them into his carriage, strap the mules to the harness, and drive them out to the city. It was always their favorite day of the week, where they could finally escape the isolation of their dirty village and get a tiny, lingering taste of the exotic urban life.
Bouncing together in the back of the carriage, the brothers glanced at each other with broadening smiles, unable to contain their giddiness. With every few minutes that passed, the younger brother peeked behind him just to see how small his village was getting, and he could imagine his mother sitting in her rocking chair, calmly watching their carriage disappear into the distance.
"Stop it." His older brother nudged him with a reprimanding glint in his eyes. "Don't look back! Keep looking forward. It's more fun that way, trust me."
And, as always, his brother obeyed him and kept his eyes directed in front of him. The mules pulled them silently through the desert, immune to the discomfort of the dry weather. There was not a tree in sight; only mountains that rose up majestically, casting scattered shadows along the yellow dirt. If it were not for the constant words sputtering from his older brother's mouth, he would've certainly fallen asleep, lulled by the rhythmic rising and falling of the carriage. Every so often, their father would look back at them with his proud smile and strong eyes.
"Stay close, boys. And watch out for each other."
The brothers loyally inched closer together, walking so that they were shoulder to shoulder behind their father. They followed him into the busy hubbub of the city, fidgeting and smiling goofily. Every week they became more intrigued by this strange new world, where people crowded the streets and cars honked on the roads and vendors advertised their stock with bellowing voices. Children were not running through the marketplace kicking soccer balls, as they would in their home.
"Hey, I have a game." The older brother had that excited look in his eyes as he whispered sneakily. "I'm going to find something and give you clues, and you have to guess what it is."
"Can I go first?"
"No, oldest goes first. It's something big. It's black. And it's shaped like a circle."
The game commenced, and while the older brother teased him for guessing such strange objects such as the head of a cat or a sign above a street, the youngest found himself becoming frustrated with his futile guessing. His eyes scanned his surroundings, and his mind whirred with the clues he had been given.
Big, black, and like a circle...
In his daze, he did not see the man rushing through the crowd, coming towards them quickly and unexpectedly. Before his older brother could warn him, he ran into the man, nearly falling backwards. His brother steadied him, while his father took no notice of the small collision that had occurred.
"Hey! Watch where you're going, dumb kid!" The man glared down at them with bloodshot eyes. The boy could only stare up, wide-eyed and scared.
"Don't talk to my brother like that!" The man turned to the oldest, scrutinizing him incredulously. "It wasn't his fault!"
The man continued his piercing gaze for a few moments, and then grumbling to himself agitatedly, he stormed off. The younger brother gawked at his sibling in wonder, smiling.
"What are you looking at? Keep guessing!"
It was those rare, beautiful moments that made him believe their paradoxical brotherhood to be worthwhile. They were small, seemingly insignificant moments occurring during every day life; but to him, they meant the world. They showed him that his brother didn't truly hate him. They helped to reassure him that there was something special about the person that he idolized. They were moments like the one in the market that day where he had nobly defended him, and moments of which others would think nothing.
In the darkness, the older watched his younger brother pick feebly at the few remaining crumbs on his cracked and soiled plate. He paused, staring at the piece of bread in his own hand. One bite had been taken from it, and though it was stale, it was satisfying. Then he looked back at his brother. He heard his stomach growl.
"Take mine." He placed his piece of bread on his younger brother's empty plate. "I'm not that hungry..." He ignored the protests that his own stomach was putting up. Astonished, the younger child's blue eyes searched his brother's face.
"But this one is yours."
"I told you, I'm not hungry. You eat it. Do you want good food to go to waste? If you don't eat it, we'll have to throw it away. And Mama won't—"
"Okay, okay, I'll eat it." Cautiously, he ripped off a piece of bread and placed it in his mouth. The smile that appeared on his face was enough to steal away all of the darkness in the room, and his older brother naturally began smiling as well.
All of the children, including the two brothers, had spent months saving up money for a new soccer ball. The one they were currently forced to play with didn't bounce high enough for their liking, and it didn't soar far enough, no matter how hard they kicked it. It was, frankly, disgusting. And finally, they had managed to scrounge up enough rusty coins for a brand new soccer ball from the nearest toy store.
"Finally! Now we can play real soccer."
It was a creation of beauty, with shining white and black patches, completely spherical and filled with enough air to keep the entire village alive. When the clerk handed the ball to them, they simply gaped at it in awe for a little while, amazed that they had been able to buy such an item. Then, screaming and shouting excitedly, they rushed out of the store, kicking the ball back and forth. The little brother struggled to keep up, but his smile was just as broad as his dark-haired brother's.
"Let me play! I can play!" He continued calling out to them, waving his hands and jumping. His brother threw him one sharp, warning glance, and then resumed his playing. Frowning, the youngest inched forward, hoping that by some rare amount of luck, he would get a chance to kick the ball.
You are strong. His mother's words echoed in his head.
"Brother! Give me the ball!"
With the disappointed scowl still lingering on his face, he rushed toward the ball. All of the children watched, surprised at his sudden outburst, and did not react when he stole the ball from his brother. With a quiet grunt, he kicked it as hard as he could.
"You idiot! Look what you did!" His brother screamed at him, slapping him upside the head. "And it was brand new!"
Tears filled his eyes as he looked at the ball, which now sat wedged on the roof of the tallest house in the village. That wasn't what he had meant to do; he'd only wanted to prove how strong he was.
"I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..." He began to sniffle, regardless of how hard he tried to suppress his sobs.
"I hate you! Now we don't have anything to play with." The other kids nodded in agreement, all staring at him as if he were a repulsive and irritating cockroach. Unable to stand any more of their menacing gazes, he ran into his house and straight into his mother's arms.
That night, the eldest sat up in bed, awakened by a series of clangs outside of his one-room home. Rubbing his crusty blue eyes, he looked around the room in a daze. Then, his eyes fell upon the mat beside him. He furrowed his brow in concern when he saw that his brother was not there.
"Mama?" He kept his voice to a whisper, glancing back toward the small bed where his parents lay. They were still fast asleep, unaware of the absence of their youngest son. Then, as if answering his call, the front door creaked open, and his little brother strode in.
"I'm sorry, Brother. I didn't mean to wake you up."
"What do you think you're doing?"
Instead of responding to his brother's harsh whispers, he stood in front of him and brought his hands from behind his back. There, sitting in his open and filthy palms, was their brand new soccer ball. It was then that the eldest realized that his younger brother was covered in dirty, bloody scratches, and his blonde hair was tainted brown and unusually awry.
"Wha—how'd you get this?"
"Are you stupid? You could've gotten yourself killed!" Scowling, he snatched the ball from his brother's hands and put it possessively in his lap. Regardless of the absence of light, he could still see the tears appearing in the child's soft blue eyes.
"I'm sorry...I just don't want you to hate me, Brother."
With a heavy, exasperated sigh, his angry scowl disappeared. Then, he lifted the ball from his lap and put it on the mat next to him. He patted his thighs.
Obediently, his brother sat in his lap, hastily wiping away his tears.
"I don't hate you." He began straightening his little brother's hair with his fingers. "I was just angry. But you didn't have to do that. You could've gotten hurt."
Suddenly, the small boy smiled happily.
"But I didn't. Because I'm strong."
The older one could not help but chuckle as he licked his thumb and cleaned the remaining cuts on his brother's face.
"And now we..." He paused. "...You have a ball to play with, Brother."
A heavy silence filled the air, and both boys let out dreary sighs. Then, going against all of his logical thoughts, the oldest broke the silence.
"You know what?" He turned awkwardly and grabbed ball, putting it in his brother's lap. "The ball is yours. You got it back, so you get to keep it."
"Really. Just don't tell any of the other kids, or you're dead, you hear?"
"I won't, Brother! I promise!"
The two boys sat on their front porch expectantly, waiting for their father to emerge and get the carriage ready. It was finally that one day of the week where they could go vacation in the city, leaving behind this desolate rural town. As they sat, continuously adjusting their positions, the younger brother affectionately stroked his brand new soccer ball, and his brother squinted and stared up at the sun. He was beginning to get impatient, and played eagerly with the dark ringlets on his head. His brother seemed perfectly happy, sitting and staring at his shining reflection in the white surface of the ball.
"Boys..." Their mother finally stepped outside, and they stood up hastily.
"Where's Baba? We have to leave before it gets too late!"
"Habibi, you can't go to the city today."
"W-what?" Her younger son's eyes widened, and he gazed up at her with a crestfallen expression. "But...every week—"
"I know, hayati, I know." She sighed heavily, putting her palm to her forehead, as if she were in pain. The two brothers looked at each other worriedly. "But you can't today. Baba is very sick."
"Well that's okay." The eldest clenched his fist and stomped his foot. "Let us go by ourselves! We're strong enough to handle anything!"
"I'm sorry, boys." Their mother turned and made her way back to the house. "You'll just have to stay home today."
"That's boring. Now we have nothing to do."
"You can play with my ball if you want to, Brother."
"No, I don't want to play with your dumb ball. I just want to go the city..."
They sat back down on the porch and their idleness continued. The rest of the village's children were still asleep this early in the morning, so the two brothers were left alone to entertain each other. In the house, they could make out the strangled and hoarse coughs of a sick, dying man.
The boy was buried beside his father. The crudely carved tombstones stood side by side, etched with the markings of their names and dates of their death. Mother and son stood before the two graves, holding back tears in the deafening silence. The sun was beginning to set, but they showed no signs of going home any time soon. The son stared with watery, melancholy eyes at the graves of his beloved brother and father, using every ounce of strength he had within him to suppress the tears gathering relentlessly. His mother put her gloved hands on his shoulders and towered behind him, occasionally dabbing her eyes beneath her black veil with a handkerchief. Aside from their periodic sniffling, there was complete silence. But it was a tense silence, heavy with the unsung memories running through his mind and his brother and father's last words.
The son looked down at the soccer ball in his hands. It had barely been played with, and still looked brand new from the toy store on the corner. When he looked at his dark face in the shining surface of the ball, rather than seeing himself, he found himself staring into the eyes of his younger brother. He was smiling up at him, and at the sound of his contagious and shrill laughter, the brother closed his eyes and let the ball drop to his feet. The sound continued ringing in his ears and resonating in his mind, making his clenched fists tremble. As the first sob escaped his thick and chapped lips, his mother pulled him back against her, kissing the top of his head and running her fingers through his black curls. He continued to cry, letting the tears stream down his face in flurries. No, he was not the kind of child to cry...but he was a man now.
He remembered that morning three weeks ago, when his father had first been sick. All he had been thinking about was the fact that he couldn't go to the city. And he had never expected his own, precious younger brother to contract the same fatal illness. With milky, crusty eyes, he upturned his face to the sky, shrouded with the dry clouds of the afternoon. He pressed his lips together to hold back his sobs.
"They were strong, weren't they?"
"Then why did they die?"
"Because." The mother followed her son's gaze up to the sky. "Some things are just too strong to beat."
She kissed the top of his head, letting her soft lips linger on his heated scalp for a few moments. Then she turned around and began her trek down to the village. Her son did not follow, and she did not expect him to. He stood in complete silence, still staring at the graves.
The last sliver of sun was beginning to descend beyond the horizon, and the young boy was crouched on his heels, though he had not moved from that spot all day. The shadows of the surrounding trees scattered across the desolate graveyard, providing shade and an unwanted sense of cold. Finally, the older brother stood up and picked up the soccer ball that still lay at his feet. He kissed it, closed his eyes for a few seconds, and then put the soccer ball on his younger brother's grave.
"You are strong."
He turned and solemnly made his way back to the village.
Don't forget to leave your comments. They would be greatly appreciated! Thank you for reading!