Victory bonfires blazed on the India-Pakistan border. The proud generals stood on high ground, blaring out the same message to the goose-stepping soldiers below: “We salute all who sacrificed their lives to save our Motherland.”
Commandos, lined on both sides of the border, raised their legs high and slammed their feet to shake the earth. Rumble of thunder in the distance mocked the transience of human victories.
Not far from the celebrations, Kumla, a ten-year-old autistic boy, squatted in the corner of a refugee camp building, gnawing on a rock-hard hunk of bread. His eyes squeezed shut with every bite, the sharp crust made his gums bleed. It was all he had to eat. He no longer remembered the taste of his favorite foods.
The camp had been Kumla’s home for almost a year. He wore a red stone around his neck, loosely tied with a leather cord. His father gave him the stone as a good luck charm before going off to war. Little balls of grime formed on the smooth surface as he patted it. His parents had named him Sahir, but everyone called him Kumla, which meant silly, and it stuck because of his quirks. His big blue eyes always darted back and forth. A long shirt did little to hide his malnourished body. Dandruff and dirt clung to his hair. Frizz exploded all over his head. That entire shaggy halo gave him a wild and feral look.
“Why don’t you play with the other children?” his mother suggested. Her long hair, shining with oil, fell across her dark eyes as she pulled out her sewing supplies from the small plastic tub that held their meager belongings. Kumla shook his head and pinched the stone. He imagined a graceful butterfly flapping its way toward the sky, dancing in the rising sun. He loved the vivid colors of budding flowers, butterflies, birds, and bees. Once, a butterfly landed as soft as a breeze on the tip of his nose. That precious moment ended when it fluttered away too soon, and he scratched at the spot. He yearned for the experience again.
In the village where Kumla lived before he was a refugee, the officials believed he was unable to learn, so they barred him from school. He didn’t mind because the beauty of flying colors taught him how to go on with life. He roamed the expanse of his small village, enjoying the petal-soft flight of multicolored wings near the giant oak tree in its center. Rocks of different shades surrounded the tree, and Kumla enjoyed jumping from one to another.
Now, in the gloomy camp, Kumla missed the sunlight, fresh air, and butterflies. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t still have them.