Shihab was excited. The shoebox was for him. But why? It wasn’t his birthday. His older sister, Amira, had told him about the wonderful presents children got for their birthdays but he was five and there had never been birthdays in the refugee camp.
“Open it Habibi*”, said Baba**.
Shihab’s eyes shone with delight. Tenderly, he lifted the rectangular lid. Baba yet again choked back his exhausted tears and asked what was in the box.
“Look Baba”, cried Shihab. “There are so many things. A toothbrush, toothpaste, socks, a little car, and look at these”.
Shihab picked up a colouring book and crayons. Baba nodded. Shihab opened the colouring book and studied each picture meticulously before choosing the one he would colour.
“A star”, the young boy exclaimed. “Shihab means star. Where is yellow?”
He began to colour ferociously. Delightfully, he sat back and admired his handiwork. Under the oversized star was a man leading a donkey carrying a pregnant woman. Shihab asked where they were going.
“Well Habibi, they went on a long journey because it wasn’t safe in their village”.
“Like our journey Baba?” asked Shihab. “But how did the donkey get on the boat?”
Baba smiled fondly.
“They didn’t go on a boat. They crossed a hot desert. They found a safe place for the lady to give birth to her baby boy”.
“A boy like me”, Shihab said.
Baba continued the story of the family seeking shelter, yet turned away by many until finally, someone offered them a stable. Exiled. Alone. Why bother making such a treacherous journey? Baba understood why. The unknown was safer. Baba looked sympathetically at the figures Shihab was happily colouring and felt a pang of jealousy. At least they were together. He and Shihab had lost so much.
“Baba, look, I have finished”, said Shihab proudly. I coloured the lady’s clothes in all the colours of the rainbow to cheer her up. Here are some extra people I drew myself to help them, like the people who are helping us. And look, I’ve drawn a box for the baby like my box”.
“Well done”, whispered Baba.
The young boy paused and frowned.
“What is it Habibi?”
“Baba, what is the star for?”
“To guide them safely, to bring them to a new home”
Shihab smiled. His little tongue stuck out the side of his mouth in concentration as he drew on the page. He looked cautiously at Baba who was studying his crayoned addition.
“Look, we have two stars to guide us now. Amira and Mama”.
*Habibi: affectionate term in Arabic for “my darling”
**Baba: Arabic term for father.