Machine Guns at Recess

It was dark when we realized the fourth little traveler had left his backpack at school. It’s a strange feeling doing the school run at 7pm. The feel of a school changes dramatically when it doesn’t have any children. The corridors become eery, it’s too quiet and empty. Playgrounds are barren and classrooms are lifeless.

The fourth little traveler left his brand new backpack in the car park and we went back to look for it. I swore under my breath as I shone my lights across the bare stretch of rubble we refer to as the school car park. How did I miss it? How did I not notice he didn’t have his backpack? I remembered the first little traveler carrying it out of the gate for him, and I remembered watching her pass it to him half way across the car park, but I couldn’t remember him putting it in the car.

I was distracted. I was thinking about something else.

There was a policeman standing outside of the school yesterday. There are always policeman outside of the school, but yesterday they changed their routine. Instead of sitting in the car at the corner, they stood at the gate. They were holding machine guns.

I walked straight past them without noticing.

I was walking along with a girlfriend, talking and holding hands with the smaller travelers while negotiating the traffic. It wasn’t until we caught up with another friend who asked if we knew why the police were at the gate, that I gave it a second thought.

As we continued to wander along towards our cars we thought about events that were on in Doha. There were events that would call for a heightened security, but there was nothing that matched machine guns at the gates.

“The TED event?” we all agreed it didn’t make sense.

“There’s something bigger though, it’s International, people flying in from everywhere…” no one could quite remember the details.

And then it came to a girlfriend of mine.

“Kabul. There were a number of attacks there today, I think mainly embassies and foreign offices.”

Mystery solved. The conversation moved on. There was a new restaurant opening. Did we want to take the children for a swim on Thursday? Are you still okay to take my child home on Wednesday when I go to the dentist? The usual stuff. And then we got in our cars and drove off.

What was coming out of my mouth was not matching what was going on in my head. In my head I was wondering if any children were hurt and how many people had lost a parent. I thought about a friend who’d just finished working in Afghanistan and was pleased she was safe in Australia.

As we drove past the man with the machine gun I wondered what he’d been told. Was he there to make me feel comfortable, or was he there because he knew something we didn’t.

And then I did what I always do. I stopped myself from thinking, because when you think too much about it your mind starts to wander. Should I start doing this? Should I stop doing that? And then they’ve won, because you’ve changed your life for them.

Our biggest causality was a backpack.

This morning the playground was bursting with children, the teachers stood outside sipping coffee and saying good morning to parents as they wandered by. The policeman was back at the corner, the backpack was waiting on a chair.

As I left the car park I thought terrible thoughts about evil people doing terrible things, and then I stopped myself.

If I change the way I live my life – they’ve won.

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