Meet Munzir al-Nazzal and his five-year-old son Mustafa. They live in Reyhanli, in the Turkish province of Hatay, at the border with Syria.
Munzir lost his right leg as he walked through a bazaar in Idlib, and out of nowhere came a bomb which blew him to pieces.
Mustafa was born without legs or arms. His mother was prescribed drugs while she was pregnant, after being poisoned by nerve gas released during the war with Syria.
The photograph is called Hardship of Life, and it was taken by Turkish photographer Mehmet Aslan, who won Photo of the Year at the Siena International Photo Awards with a moment of joy in profound adversity.
The Washington Post tells you more, and yet it tells us nothing.”We wanted to bring attention to this,” said Aslan, who hopes the image will highlight the refugee child’s quest for prosthetics. “The boy always has lots of energy. The father seems to have given up.”
There is no link for giving to this worthy cause; no pointer to a campaign to help Mustafa, who, at five, will be full of life and play as he rolls all day on the carpet. Rolling is fun when you’re five. But how will his life be at 10? Or 15? What education will he have on Syria’s border if he cannot write? What life will he have when his adoring father is no longer there to throw him in the air and catch him with laughter and smiles?
“We’d give anything to give him a better life,” said Zeinab, Mustafa’s mother.
Of course she would. She is his mother, whose tears at times must have been touched with divine despair. Mustafa is her firstborn, but instead of running through autumn fields or splashing in the glittering water, he is carried through fragments of concrete and rolls on the reddened carpet. But she can kiss him, and he can know he is loved.
In this hardship of life, life is indeed hard. Mustafa will never know what it is to kick a football; at least Munzir has the memory of swift-footed hours and dreams of glory. But Mustafa can only watch and hear and cry as the days come and go. And yet he dreams, too, because when you’re five there’s much more to the day than darkness, and much more to love than the resolve to play.
The hardship of life is first cold and unkind, and then it freezes in bitterness and bites until it hurts. But just look at that little beaming face:
Hardship? Yes, certainly, when every meeting is a carry, every greeting is a stump-bump, and every visit to the toilet is an approach of mess when you’re five, but of terror when you’re a teen. Munzir and Zeinab will always be familiar faces through the days of sickness and tears, but who will stay with him into adulthood when those faces are taken from him, and his heart aches once again to be thrown in the air and adored by a bearded smile?
This hardship of life is hard indeed, but at least Mustafa has life. One day he might thank Allah that his mother had not been in the UK or indeed anywhere in the West, where her pregnancy would have been monitored, her baby scanned and probed, and two doctors would have tutted and whispered of intolerable deformity, social deficiency, perpetual burden, and the merciful virtues of abortion even up to the 36th week. At least Mustafa gets to gaze into his father’s eyes and know what it is to love and be loved. Better the insufferable hardship of life being supported, respected and cherished with laughter and love, than the empty void of the unwanted ‘unworthy life’ with absolutely nothing, ever.