Under a Clear Blue Sky 「青空の下で」
Cloud rolled in from somewhere and began to speak.
‘A few years ago I was floating lazily in the sky above Afghanistan. Mountains jutted up from the plains there below me, and squeezed in between two of them was a tiny schoolhouse with a small playground. In the corner of the playground a small figure was kneeling. It was a boy of about ten years of age, and as I dropped down lower to find out what he might be doing, I could see and hear that he was praying. Yes, and he was facing to the southwest, in the direction of Mecca.
‘ “Oh, God, please hear my prayer! Let the fighting end soon, let my two brothers come home from the war right away, dear God. This village has been burdened with fighting since long I was born, so I do not even know what peace is. Father was killed in battle months before I was born, and Mother has died of sickness. Sister is so very tired because she has to take care of us. Most of the boys here in our village have taken guns and gone off to fight, but I really don’t like fighting at all. I don’t want to kill anybody. No, I just want to grow up to become a soccer player.’
‘The lad went on praying earnestly, even as the sounds of gunfire from another village just over the mountain broke the stillness of the air.’”
Cloud paused, maybe to briefly enjoy the silence in the sky.
‘A few minutes later, the boy finished his prayer and stood up, just as five boys of about the same age came out of the schoolhouse. One of them was carrying a brown ball that had long since lost its whiteness through being kicked all around the schoolyard. The boys shouted joyfully as they ran out into the middle of the playground and began to play soccer under the clear blue sky of the warm spring day.
‘A few minutes later, the ball went flying over their heads and out of the schoolyard, rolling across a path and into a bare field. The boy who before had been praying now chased the ball, running like the wind until Suddenly— ‘kaBOOM!’ He went flying up into the air amid the smoke and dust of an explosion, and then fell to lie silent and motionless on the ground. He had stepped on a land mine buried just under the ground surface in the field.
‘The other boys rushed over, shouting out his name — “Amir, Amir! Oh, Amir, say something!” but young Amir was unconscious. His friends picked him up and carried him a few hundred yards to the small hospital in the village.
‘I moved along overhead with them, whispering a prayer of my own for the unfortunate boy who had shared his prayer with me.
One of the boys ran to bring Amir’s sister, and he was still lying silent on an old and simple bed when she arrived. She called his name, cried and prayed until he finally opened his eyes.
‘ “Oh, praise God! Amir, you have come back to us! You were unconscious for hours. We have all been so worried, and even now your uncles are on their way here to see about you.”
‘Amir looked up at the faces surrounding the bed- — his sister, friends Tariq, Shahid, Faqir, Jacob — and then suddenly winced and groaned as he felt a sharp pain above his knee in his right leg. He reached down to touch his leg. “Aiiii! My leg! What, oh, where is my leg? Sister, my right leg! My leg! Oh, no, no!”
‘Even though he could recall nothing about what had happened that day, the boy knew. Three of his young friends had lost legs in land mine explosions.
‘ “Oh, Sister, Where is my leg?! Ahhhh, no more soccer?! Waaaaahhhhhhhhhh...!’ ” Poor Amir cried and cried, loudly, and with big tears rolling down his cheeks. He just could not stop, and nobody would try to stop him from crying his heart out.’
Cloud grew a shade darker, as if to let fall a few drops of rain, then continued.
‘I can not truly understand, how could anyone know the immense sadness that poor Amir felt. Only a child who has lost a leg, who has lost the freedom to run and jump, could know the pain of such a loss. What was strong and beautiful is suddenly gone — what a tragedy! No matter how vividly one may imagine the joy of running, jumping or dancing, the true experience is impossible without two legs to do it with.
‘For a few days, I kept an eye on Amir through a window in that small hospital. He would sometimes look out and up at me with eyes full of what was in his heart.
‘In my travels throughout the world, I have seen so many children suffering like Amir was — children with dull expressions of hopelessness on their faces, in Kashmir, Cambodia, Palestine, Africa, . . . .
‘ “Oh, Sister, I can do nothing!’ sobbed Amir. “No soccer with my friends, no work in the village, no more walking to school by myself . . . Am I to grow up to become a beggar, like that one-legged man who always sits by the road in town? That I could not bear — no, I would rather die.”
‘Amir was so depressed night and day by the thought of living without his right leg that he decided to end his life by jumping from his second-floor hospital room. He dragged himself over to the window, and dropped down to land with a thud on the street below. It was his own dear sister who rushed to cradle him in her arms. She had been on her way to visit him in the hospital.
‘ “Amir, oh, Amir!” Sister was sobbing, her tears falling on his face. “What a crazy thing you have done! Why, there are many people who have lost a leg but still go on living and enjoying life.”
‘Although he had injured his back in the fall, Amir survived. He was carried back to his room, where he rested until he was discharged from the hospital a month later. However, he was not at all like the bright and cheerful Amir of the days before his accident and suicide attempt. He seemed unable to concentrate on anything, and never felt like talking to anyone at all.’
Cloud took a break from the narrative to roll into another shape in the sky, then continued.
‘Although I was carried along in the sky by the wind to many interesting places, I would often think of Amir, and wonder how he was doing. Some six months later, I returned to that valley in Afghanistan. I was pleasantly surprised to find Amir in a much improved state of body and mind. It seems that he had heard from a radio program about a training course in computers in a nearby town, and asked his sister to help him apply for enrollment. Although his uncle had mumbled about wasting money on trying to train a one-legged boy to do anything, his sister was determined to give him the opportunity.
‘ “Adults are responsible for the loss of children’s legs. Would they also take away their opportunities for education? Who will show Amir the way to his future?” Sister spoke earnestly about such things to people in the village, and eventually Amir was permitted to enroll in the computer course in the town.
‘Amir was very enthusiastic about his studies, and seemed to have a special talent for working with computers. Before long, he — Amir, the one-legged boy — had surpassed even the older students to become the top student in the class. The teacher always encouraged him, and also gave him lessons in the English language.
‘One day Amir’s sister heard a familiar voice that seemed to leap with confidence and joy. It was Amir, sounding just like he had before his accident.
‘ “Oh, Sister! Guess what! I am now talking with friends from all over the world! Yes, with my computer and the Internet I can communicate with friends in different countries. I have learned that there are countless people like me who have lost one or both of their legs by land mines. Why, every year some 24,000 people throughout the world are killed or maimed by those awful land mines, all because of war.
‘ “I have decided to do my best to help make a world where people do not make war. Already I have sent e-mail messages, and have received replies from young people in many countries. They all talk about growing up to be adults who would never start wars. Like my teacher has said, person-to-person communication is most important. Whatever the problem may be, people can put their minds and hearts together and avoid fighting. Sister, I will fight only to do away with land mines and war!”
Cloud’s voice now also was joyful. ‘Children like Amir with understanding and determination will grow up to be adults that help make this world a planet of peace.’
With that, Cloud floated merrily away and out of sight, maybe back to have another look at Afghanistan.
Written by Tajima Shinji
Translation by T.M. Hoffman
Published by Oxford University Press,1999
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