Lilan Waits for His Mother

Hasan Almossa
20 min readJul 21, 2020

Lilan was one of thousands of children who sat behind doors. Behind life’s doors, waiting for the return of those who left.

I met him in Aleppo, during the days of siege, in one of the rounds I made trying to meet people and learn about their concerns, sufferings, and needs.

There, behind the rubble in an old alley my guide and I barely managed to pass on our way to an ancient “Arab”-style house, that — like the ones around it — was characterized by high fences and the remains of ornamentals climbing the walls before they withered and their flowers died. At the end of the blocked road, there was an old wooden door waiting for us with its fancy copper door-knocker and intricate engravings, indicating that the owner of the house had been rich and lived in opulence. But that day, the house rested in a swamp of destruction. In the early hours of the morning, the atmosphere was filled with careful silence.

I asked my companion who had guided me to the house: “It seems the neighborhood is abandoned?”

He said, while stepping over a pile of debris from a wall that was almost blocking the alley, “No, but most of the residents have left. These are very ancient houses. They’re considered antique, and it’s forbidden to demolish or rebuild them, as they belong to the registry of international cultural heritage sites. But they could collapse from the roar of a jet breaking the sound barrier before it bombards the area. Residents feared the houses would collapse on them, so some of them left for other places, some went abroad, and others were buried in the rubble.”

I smiled to myself when he mentioned the houses belonging to the register as I saw dozens of roofs dangling in the air, revealing their wooden pillars and the secrets lying behind the walls collapsed into piles of mere destruction.

My guide went on:

“This house is inhabited by a man coming from a rich family, but now he’s poor and disabled and has no income except the aid he receives. His situation is worse than many families we visited yesterday.”

He extended his hand to the brass knocker, which sounded sharply through the alley, followed by a gentle echo of the past.

We knocked once…twice…and before the third knock, we were surprised by a squeak from the rusty hinges. It was as though the one who opened the door was standing directly behind it, waiting for our arrival. At the first glimpse, I did not see anyone — as if the door had opened by itself. But when I looked down, I saw a boy looking at me resentfully. He was standing below our line of vision, with his short small body, craning his neck to see our faces.

When my guide said, “Hello sweetie,” he looked at us in disappointment, moving his head right and left, then lifting it. It seems he wanted to say, “No, no I do not want it,” and maybe he did not like our faces. I saw that through his small disgusted lips. Without saying a single word, he turned his back on us and went inside, leaving the door open.

When I called to him, “Sweetheart, where are your parents?” he turned towards me in anger and said, “My mom isn’t here”.

I saw his eyes full of two painful tears, which dropped onto his soft cheeks. I felt my heart drop to my feet at this sight.

The sound of a man’s voice came from inside, husky and weak: “Boy! Who’s at the door?”. The child did not answer. It was then that my guide cleared his throat to speak and let the man know we were there, “Oh God”. The voice replied from inside, “Come on in! You’re welcome! Be careful of the roof over the salon, as it might collapse.”

We looked up and saw the sky hovering above us. There was a wide opening from which wooden sticks and the previous roof dangled,. There were clumps of dirt with stones, iron wires, and pieces of cement protruding from every corner. I realized that a huge bomb had penetrated the roof of the salon. We passed through the door quickly, the child walking ahead of us.

We went through a small corridor that connected the outer door with a heavenly courtyard and a dried stone fountain at its center. Withered flowerpots were scattered around the lake, as well as pages torn from books; mixed with plant leaves, branches and plastic bags carried by the wind. Dust covered everything.

The husky voice called again. “Come on in! You’re most welcome! Do not judge me though,” he added, afraid of being thought inhospitable. After we mounted the two steps to the room’s threshold where the voice had come from, I saw the disabled man in the corner.

He did not stand to welcome us, as his legs have been only recently amputated, and his injury was not totally healed. My guide told me about him. A fragment of a barrel bomb had dropped on the neighborhood, amputating both of his legs up to the knee.

He was a handsome man, with prominent cheekbones. He wore an old dirty pajama shirt, his wide chest was hairy and partly exposed. I could not tell his height, but the upper part of his body told story of youth and agility rarely seen.

“I cannot stand, do not be offended.”

His eager words made me sad inside. Physically, it seems that he must have been able to uproot a tree.

Many are those sentenced to immediate death by war, but some remain entrapped in their suspended judgements..

At that collapsed house, I knew the victim had been killed by the war, his fate suspended in the hands of war’s atrocities.

The war left him destroyed, with no strength or power. He was abandoned by everyone. Some died, and some immigrated, escaping with their lives. They left with his wife, who had been taking carrying him every week to field hospitals to treat his soft-tissue injuries threatened with inflammation.

He told us, while the child listened:

“[My wife] had searched the whole of Aleppo for a medication to help me. Lately, the medicine has not been available. So, she was forced to travel to visit her family in Al-Atarib, near the border with Turkey, where she might find medicine smuggled in. Can you imagine that Aleppo, a city that was providing everything for its people, has changed into a place that needs medicine from a small village? After she left, the city was besieged, and the ways in and out were cut. She has not yet returned. How can she come back when the roads are besieged?”

His voice rose above the husky tone he’d been speaking in as he uttered this final sentence. He was staring at the child crammed into a distant corner, biting the sides of his fingers, completely disregarding our presence. I asked him, “Why do not you go abroad, where you might find the right medicine and treatment?”

He looked flummoxed: “We immigrated! Who told you we did not? Three months after I was injured, we went with people escaping bombardment into the northern countryside. They carried me on a chair, and we had some money saved a long time ago. I could not bear it. Exile is hard, and to be one of the needy is harder. In all my life, I needed no one but God. I worked in business, and God showered us in goodness but now everything has come to an end. No one is buying and selling, and all my properties are no longer worth a penny. As for this child, I have enrolled him at the best nurseries in the area. He is an outstanding and a hardworking boy. Soon, I found myself disabled, lonely, and displaced in other people’s homes. May God reward them all with goodness, as they were quite welcoming. I could not bear it. I preferred death in my home than to be a burden on any other human being. I immigrated, but I could not forget the house I was born in. My father, mother, grandfather, and his grandfather all died here. My soul is attached to this place”.

“But you are alone now,” I said. “Who will help provide for your needs?”

He waved off the smell of humiliated oppression. “God does not forget anyone, and there are many good people. Believe me, I have never gone to sleep hungry.” He gestured to the side of his bed, where I noticed a bag that included pieces of broken bread, as well as another filled with medicine.

“Do not believe that God could forget anyone! I have a neighbor who is one of my childhood friends. He will never abandon me, at least this I am sure of. God reward him with every goodness! He is doing everything in his capacity to cater to my needs. He even carries me to the bathroom.”

The man’s eyes filled with tears, words choking midway up his throat. A long silence ensued, punctuated by heavy breaths. The only sound came from the child who I was watching us all the time as we sat there, still biting his fingers. He sometimes made strange movements that scared me, especially when he wept. I thought he might be autistic. He seemed to be waiting for his father’s silence to explode again: “When will my Mama come?”.

I was surprised when his dad screamed at him intensely: “I told you thousands of times, when the route opens. The route is blocked now.” The child turned towards us, as if he was doubting his father’s words, and asked, “Is it true the route is blocked? Why?”.

“Because of the war” the father said with a sharp tone. But the child asked, “Why is there a war? Why did they make a war and block the route? Is it just to keep Mama from coming? I want Mama”.

I felt my heart break under the blows of the child’s powerful innocent questions that mixed with his tears. Several times, I called him to come near me, but he refused to even look at me. His father said, “I swear, if I could get to you, I’d make you stop talking”.

“No mate,” I said. “Let the child speak”.

“Oh, Mister, but he’s difficult. He’s made me hate children. I wish I did not have a child. All my calamities are on one side, and he’s on the other. I do not know what to tell him. Night and day he nags for his mom, but his mom went to bring me medicine and the route was blocked, so what do I do? We cannot get out of Aleppo, and she cannot come back to us, so what can I do?

From that day, he’s stayed here in solitude, not moving from the door. He even refuses to play with the neighbors’ children. He does not eat unless I force him to. I swear I do not know what to do with him. God is generous, for He is the best disposer of affairs.”

I called the boy again, and, when he refused to come, I got up and went up to him, but his body shrank and moved far away until he attached himself to the wall in the corner.

I asked, whispering, “What’s your name?”. He did not answer, so I asked again, “Don’t you know your name?”

“I know my name,” he said sharply. “But I do not want to say it”/

I tried winning him over, “I know your name, it’s Muhammed. No, Ahmad. Yes, you’re definitely Abdallah. Right?”

He replied with a faint smile, as if mocking my lack of information.

“No. Abdallah’s the neighbor’s boy. He’s my friend.” He went on: “You do not know my name!”

“That means your name isn’t nice.”

“No, it’s nice.”

“OK, then. What’s your name?”

“My name is Lilan.”

“Ohhh, Lilan’s such a lovely name.”

I felt happy that the child has started to respond and engage with me, after I had thought he was autistic, since he has been ignoring everything around him.

I reached my hand toward my bag to get his attention as he looked at me curiously. “Do you know what I have inside my bag?” I asked him.


I got out papers, and a pen, and pictures of me from camps and schools I have visited.

“These are nice kids. They’re my friends.”

When I saw his gaze following my hands, I showed him my photos with the children eating and playing in the camps. With every picture, I asked: “Where am I here?”

He would put his small finger on my figure, and then he would ask: “Who’s this?”

“My friend,” I said.

“Who’s she?”

“She’s my friend. I have many nice friends. Would you like to be my friend?”

He looked at me, shifting his gaze between me and the pictures, and then said: “But I want something to prove that we’re friends”.

I was surprised that a child this age would enforce such a condition on me.

“You have to go with me and bring me Mama,” he said.

“We’ll bring her.”

“Really?” he said, dubious of the promise I just made.

I nodded my head several times and asked him, before he asked me to promise him further, “Do you know how to draw?”. I put a white paper in front of him and started drawing similar to an orange. He stared at me until I connected the lines, and I asked him, “Is it good?”.

He did not answer, but looked toward the wide opposite wall, where there was a window crossed with elegant ornamental iron bars. On the window sill, there was a green school bag.

“Is it your bag?” I asked. He nodded, and his eyes said yes.

“Bring it, and let’s see who draws better.”

I felt joy fill me when he agreed and got up, shambling over to bring the bag, much to his father’s surprise. He opened the bag and got out a notebook, then turned over drawings. After every page he turned, he looked up at my eyes, as though asking me, “Is it good?”.

I whistled to express my surprise at its beauty and show how much I liked it.

He then turned another page and looked carefully at his father. I saw lines that formed a female’s head, and he said to me, “This is mama”.

He turned several other pages, all carrying the same shape, but in different aspects, so I whispered to him, “Do you want me to draw her for you?”.


“Do you have colors?”

He stood up and looked hurriedly around the room, scanning every corner. Then he walked out. “I’ll bring the colors.”

The father, who was watching us carefully, looked at me. He had a gentle smile on his lips. He whispered: “May God reward you with every goodness. It seems the child likes you. He’s been refusing to talk for the last two weeks, and he’s given me a really hard time, I swear. All his friends in the neighborhood came to him, but he refused to go out and play with them”.

“We must find a way to bring him his mother,” I said. “I will try to help you, God willing”.

He gazed at me deeply and said nothing, but I heard the words stuck in his throat.

The boy brought colors from the other room. We drew many faces but he did not like any, “Mama is more beautiful.”

Then he took the pen from my hand and drew a circle for the face and started drawing long line of hair, “Her hair is much longer.”

Then we drew fruits. He drew a pair of every type of fruit he knew, “This is for me, and this is for Mama when she comes back”.

At the same time, my guide was recording the provisions the home needed, so that we could buy them. I said to Lilan, “What do you think about going to the market to buy some fruits?”. Before he could refuse, I added, “If Mama comes back, she should find some for her, right?”. Upon hearing my proposition, the boy jumped with happiness. I took his little hand, and we went out together. I had a will to do the impossible, to find a way to reunite him with his mother, and I told him about that.

He bought all kinds of chips, and got two bags of every type and said, “This is for me, and the other is for Mama”.

I told him to take whatever he wanted. He wanted to grab something that was up high, and he asked the shopkeeper to help him. “I want some of that.”

The shopkeeper said, smiling, “These are hair clips for girls, and you’re a boy.”

“I know,” he said stubbornly.

“Okay then, why? You’re a man. What are you going to do with them?”

“This is for my Mama.”

He was so happy when we were on our way back. I was happier than him, especially when he saw some of his friends playing in the shadow of a wall and he let go of my hand and ran towards them calling, “Abdallah, Abdallah! Mama will come back. Uncle will bring her back.”

The children shouted happily: “Yay! Come on play with us!”

He turned towards me and asked: “Should I play with them?”

“Sure. You should always play with them.”

I left him playing with the friends he’d abandoned, according to his father’s story.

Oh God, help me to be faithful to this child and complete his joy, I said to myself.

When the father saw the bags of chips, he thanked me and said: “Why did you do that, brother? God’s graces are many, and He does not leave us in need of anything.” This surprised me, as I knew the only food existent in his house was some cracked, dry bread. I remembered a woman in one of the villages in Latakia’s countryside. She also showed admirable virtue when we were distributing sums from a charitable man to martyrs’ wives. When I gave her the sum allotted her, she took half of it and gave back the other half. When I said, “It’s for you,” she said, “No, this is enough for me”. When I insisted on her, she said: “Oh brother! Yesterday, my husband visited me in a dream and asked me to take only half, as some others need the rest”. I was surprised to hear it, but what really amazed me was that when we moved to another area, an old woman came to me asking me to give her the sum, which she’d seen in her dream.

Whatever happens in war might be unbelievable, but it happens.

The voice of the disabled man awakened me from my memories.

“The best gift you offered me was to see my son happy again.”

“God willing,” I said enthusiastically, “I will keep doing it, and I’ll find a way to bring back his mother. Do not worry! Give me the address and details, and I’ll try to communicate with people who can bring her in.” But he kept silent, so I had my doubts growing again.

“Tell me her full name and address,” I said.

He did not answer.

I felt he did not believe in me, so I pushed on with my offer. “I’ll contact friends who have strong connections. You just give me the name and address.”

He moved his eyes, which were full of tears, and said in low voice: “The address is: Al-Atarib Cemetery.”

I could not understand, but he went on.

“I’m grateful to you, my brother. I swear I know that you would do whatever you could to help, but Lilan’s mother died here. She was martyred after a barrel bomb dropped on the public market”.

I felt so ashamed of myself for having talked so much and asked to help while he was thinking how to break the news to me. He also said: “We haven’t told the child yet. He’s still too young to acknowledge such pain”.

After a while, I told him that I wished him peace of mind. We asked to leave, and my guide was the first one out, so that Lilan did not see me or the tears filling my eyes while we were walking out of the place.

You have to forgive me Lilan! At this point, I cannot help you. No one can reach someone who is dead. I have also lost many of the people I love.

When a child loses one of his parents, the hardest question to circulate in your mind, with every hour and every minute, will be “Where is my mom?” .. Can anyone answer that?

How can this father tolerate the child asking again and again about his mom? Why does not he tell him? What if the child had found out from the owner of the shop we went to? What would happen?

We should not hide truth from children and allow hope to grow room within their fragile hearts. They have the right to know and to feel sad for those they love.

I wrote in my notebook:

Aleppo was neither the first nor the last place to be besieged and destroyed, forcing its people to be displaced. Other Syrian cities — Homs, Madaya, al-Zabadani and many others — faced the same fate. Eastern Ghouta lived under the most horrible types of siege, as half a million humans were besieged for six consecutive years. It ended in the forcible displacement of those who were not killed.

The tragedies of besiegement are more than can be counted. Details of tragedies are deeper than what can be observed man’s naked eye. I wrote some of what I lived, and it’s less than a fraction. I documented some of what the people of al-Ghouta lived during the siege, retrieving my information from two messages delivered to the world by a doctor and mother.

The mother, Niven, was trying to protect her two children in her arms from bombardment.

She wrote:

“When the bombardment intensifies, I feel my physical structure is incomplete. My two arms are not enough to hug my son and protect him from danger. I cannot bear the idea of my inability to fully cover Qusay and Maya with my arms.”

Dr. Hussam was close to the victims of the bombardment in the field hospitals. I will include the message he wrote to the world as is. It is the perfect summary of my book:

“My message today is not for world leaders nor for human rights organizations.

My message is for our fellow humans living on this planet.

My message is for everyone who holds their children at night before they fall asleep.

My message is for every mother who bids farewell to her children with lovely kisses before they head off to school.

For every mother, every child, every father and every human, and all of what humanity deeply means:

Listen to me!

This is the twenty-first century, where the world can manage to protect pandas from extinction, and scientists can look into the possibility of life on the other planets in our galaxy.

It is exactly 2018, when the biggest Christmas tree was lit, and the world is still celebrating Nobel Prizes for Peace.

It is the second millennium, according to the Gregorian calendar of that follows Jesus Christ’s birth, whose teaching filled the world and spread peace throughout. However, today it is the fifth of the ‘Bloody Calendar’ documenting the campaign of annihilation against half a million civilians, including children and women, in a spot called Damascus’s Ghouta, which disappeared from the satellite screens in our solar system that failed to see the fire and shelling swallowing our children and women.

In our Damascene Ghouta neighborhood, blood seems to hinder the work of those satellites. This is why my colleagues and I decided to send our voices to other galaxies, after living through five hellish sleepless nights of torturous guilt. We hope to find other places in a different galaxy where no barrel bombs and no rockets tear Ghouta’s children. Where no jets drop their payload on the heads of women, children and elderly every minute.

This place is one of the few remaining rescue points for the injured who were torn apart, their limbs lost, their eyes cut out. The lives of their babies were stolen, only because they were born on this earth and their blood was not seen by the sensors of artificial satellites and cameras. Hence, they were annihilated in total silence.

Along with some of my colleagues, I got out of the center. Time has become different for us, as we were no longer able to distinguish night from day. The only thing that makes us recognize time is the massacres and body parts carried by rescuers. Their screams tell us that they were standing in queues to get food, and then the death barrels transformed them into torn remains.

We decided to leave the operating rooms, to breathe blood-free air, and to hear — even for a second — the voices of children and women that were not weeping.

So, let us leave!

Corridors, waiting rooms, emergency rooms, management offices, and parking lots are all full of hundreds of families that came with their children, from under the rubble of their homes. And they could not go back. They have no place to go to.

The mother put her son on the ground, where we operated on him two days before, as the rooms and beds are fully occupied. His hands shook from the cold, and his mother wept over his head without knowing what to do.

Corpses are scattered between the people sitting in hallways and children crying for their fathers. Women in turn cry for their dead children, and for the impossibility of burying them. Even the cemetery has been targeted, and the mortuary was destroyed.

I saw a child we lost yesterday, after we failed to save his life. His mother lay down beside him on the ground sleeping after she had cried all night for him, surrendering to a deep slumber as she holds him against her torn, blood-covered clothes.

My steps and heartbeat accelerated as I moved between the injured, martyred, and those lying on the ground. I saw a relative of mine sleeping alone in a corner. I ran towards him with hurried steps, but one of his brothers stopped me and said that their sibling died while bringing a loaf of barley bread for his children.

Oh God! What a crime!

He died two days ago while I was treating the wounds of the injured, completely oblivious of his situation. Nobody was able to bury him.

When I looked into the ambulance mirror, I did not see tears in my eyes, as I once had, when I bid farewell to child after child. I knew tears have an end, just as the oppressor has an end too.

I decided to go back to the smell of blood. It is more merciful than the atrocities in the corridors and hallways, but an old woman stopped me and said:

“This is my son, who was killed by a blind barrel bomb, and these little children are his. They are all crying around him, do you know why?”

I did not answer. Her eyes filled with tears. “I swear they haven’t eaten a bite of food in two days. It’s hunger that forced them to cry, these poor orphans.”


The world’s incapacity to act

The death of humanity

What words can further describe this atrocity I am beholding?

How can the money in my pocket help this lady when all the markets and warehouses are destroyed. There is no food any more in Ghouta, which was once full of life and different fruits. Its alleys are only filled with blood’s color and death’s smell. No other signs of life.

I sat beside that sixty-year-old grandmother, knowing that nothing can soothe her aching soul, but it was I who felt desperate and powerless. She patted me on the shoulder and said, “If you can bury my son, bury me alive beside him. Since you were unable to save his life, I will be unable to feed his children.”

What kind of desperation are we living in the middle of the 21st century? Has humanity lost its essence forever?

What kind of powerlessness is this?

My message today is not for world leaders, kings, security councils or human rights organizations.

My message today is for our fellow humans on this earth.

My message is for those who believe in God’s spirit living in their souls.

Listen to me!

Here in Ghouta, there are humans like you. All they wanted was to live decently, nothing more. But they were answered with barrels filled with gunpowder that dropped on their children, and skies was filled with jets throwing bombs on women’s heads, and grounds set on fire beneath their feet.

You are our partners on this planet. All we want from you is to prove to your children that you did not leave their innocent counterparts to die, since you are humans yourself, brimming with God’s spirit in your hearts.

Tell these angels that you did something to save them and to stop the massacres slaughtering them.

Tell the people that the earth is wide enough for them and their fellow children.

If you ignore these massacres and people’s blood staining our soil, you have to know that this planet will not bear your existence. As the earth rotates, these massacres will circulate in your brains so deeply that you will never taste the blessing of sleep. You will be deprived from the happiness and pleasure of kissing your children every day. We are sure that God — who did not leave your children hungry or cold — will not abandon us, but the blood of the children of Ghouta is a shame forever clinging to your spines if you dare close your eyes and escape in deliberate ignorance.

Help us save your humanity”.



Hasan Almossa

Syrian - writer & Founder of Kids Paradise nonprofits - Author of I Was Born Twice : twitter x @hasanalmossa