The wedding guests fill the house and spill out into the courtyard, bright splashes of colour against the sun baked ground. Aisha’s uncle glances up, spotting the inevitable watching presence hovering above the courtyard.
“Hurry, hurry,” he urges.
He is too late. The Reaper drone strikes bringing the wedding to a blood splattered halt. The young bride’s married life lasts two minutes.
Three children escape the slaughter, sheltered by the bodies of their parents. Three more to add to those I am trying to keep safe. I pull them screaming and bloody from under the corpses. One is the bride’s sister, Amina. She runs towards what remains of Aisha before I can stop her. She freezes; her sobs choking off.
Back in the ruined cellar, the children have learned to cry silently; I feel their emaciated bodies shaking as we huddle together. I am praying for rain. If it rains, I can collect fresh water without running the gauntlet of Drone Alley to get to the only working water pipe. I heard the Aid Workers speculating that the pipe had been left intact to entice fresh targets into the alley. That cannot be true; the drones are far more efficient than that. They do not need a killing field.
The fear of snipers used to keep me awake. Drones are worse. They find you where a sniper couldn’t. I used to go out under cover of darkness but that isn’t safe anymore. With the drones hovering over us like vengeful gods, no time is safer than any other. Only the torrential monsoon rains help. If it rains, I will be a little safer when I go searching for food. We don’t eat so much, but each child needs some food every day. The Aid Workers do their best but they can’t reach everyone.
The rains seem to confuse the foreign operators so their drones miss the intended targets. Today I found a tattered newspaper and discovered something new. If civilians get hit by a drone strike, we are no longer people. We are collateral damage. Tell that to Amina, orphaned on her sister’s wedding day. Tell it to Samira whose mother died giving birth to her brother Fazal too early, after a Hellfire drone destroyed their home. Collateral damage!
When I’m away from my little band of orphans, they know they have to be absolutely silent so that no one suspects they are here. Otherwise they might fall prey to someone looking to steal our food and water. They know what they have to do but still I worry. And what if a drone gets me and I don’t come back? Will they sit here silently until they starve?
In the small hours, I succumb to my own night terrors. Why did I think that I could save these few children when I can barely save myself? If the drones get us, it will be retribution for my hubris.
I’d hoped to get out from under the drones but there are no more refugee transports. Some of the smaller children are too weak to walk but maybe we can take turns carrying them. We can pick our way through the ruined land trusting that the drone operators won’t mistake a tattered band of children for the militia they seek to destroy. It will be better than sitting waiting to become accidental targets. I don’t know if we should head further into the mountains or throw ourselves on the mercy of the border guards. I don’t know how far we need to go to be safe from the drones. Will anywhere be far enough from an enemy that kills so indiscriminately and from so far away?
Dawn comes eventually, grey and silent, slinking over my huddled group of waifs and culling the weakest. Today, Fazal does not wake. Now we have only fourteen mouths to feed. Sitting here in the harsh light of day, I decide. If it rains we will leave, whether they are strong enough or not! I cannot live under the drones any more.