The Shot that Came Second to Last

Aleppo, Syria

He ducked for cover behind the debris of shattered buildings. With eyes wide open, he scoped his surroundings. He had to be on alert if he wanted to survive. Luckily, he had the eyes of a hawk and could trust that nothing would slip by his senses. One was either the predator or the prey, taking their life in their own hands or leaving it in another’s. Those were the rules of the game, the game of the hunt. At the moment of truth, there wouldn’t be any time to hesitate, so he had to prepare himself in advance and focus on what was right in front of him to make it out alive.

Fortunately, he had already devised a method to that effect. He could build a mental barrier to keep his ominous thoughts from paralyzing him with fear by controlling his breathing, which he did by counting the seconds that ticked by between inhaling and exhaling.

He managed to quiet the sound of his heartbeat to the point where he couldn’t hear it any longer. “Almost as if I were ...Read more

The City that Shares the Fate of Saada

Finalist of the “Two Thousand Nights and Awakening” literary contest

Idlib, a city located in the North of Syria, was once famous for its thriving ceramics and olive industries. However, since it got caught up in the maelstrom of war, it is constantly threatened by air strikes.

The door stands ajar and through it a small chink of light streams into the otherwise dark room I find myself in. Suddenly, I realize that I need to believe that there is still a faint hope that the story of my city won’t end like Saada’s story, to wit, tragically and mysteriously.

Saada was an almost sixty-year old woman of unknown origin who had become a reference point for the people of Idlib. The skin of her face was as pitted as the moon’s surface. A few strands of gray hair that looked as if they had never met a brush before peeked out of the dark piece of cloth with which she covered her head. She cared for over fifty cats, while all she owned was the shanty she lived in. When she got lucky ...Read more

The Earthquake Patio

Finalist of the “Two Thousand Nights and Awakening” literary contest

The places we build our lives around get stuck inside us. They are the backdrops of our recollections, the ones in charge of projecting the image that will linger in our minds long after everything else has faded away. No matter how hard we try to avoid it, there is always something of ourselves we leave behind when we depart from them. And when we finally get to return to them, we cannot but feel betrayed when we realize that they haven’t stayed frozen in time and aren’t exactly the way we remembered them.

I shot a look at the patio and thanked God for having allowed my grandparents to leave the country before the war erupted. The whole patio lay in ruins, coated with a thick layer of dust and ashes. Everything within sight had been drained of color and rendered gray. Suddenly, I recalled the graffiti a friend of mine had sprayed on one of the walls enclosing the patio to profess his love for his neighbor, and my heart sank. It ...Read more

Wisdom Tooth

Kobani Syria

“I beg you, wisdom tooth of mine, smash the pain that shoots up my spine as if it were a bar of cereal you needed to stay strong and healthy.”

It’s not like we are hardly a soul; we are thousands, millions of people. But our society has been split into four different sections by political boundaries.

Close to the city of Kobani, in a corner of the world where everyone had been sentenced to death, the miasma of defeatism had her surrounded. The indigenous Kurdish population had set up camp on top of a small hill serving as a defensive emplacement and had woken up the next morning perched at the edge of a bottomless pit.

Clinging on to her automatic assault rifle, she tuned her voice and began crooning Sibel Can’s “Berivan.” Her wisdom tooth fed her the lyrics like a prompter who had been hiding backstage, namely, at the rear of her woeful display of pluck. But regardless of how pathetic it might seem, succumbing to despair was not an option for her. She wouldn’t go without putting up ...Read more

Like Manna from Heaven

bab_sharqi_damascus

We were being held captive inside the Great Mosque’s courtyard. The sky above us was an eerie pitch-black. We had been locked up by a one-eyed ogre that seemed to have sprung up from a squalid dungeon in hell. It beggared belief how much terror he had spread. He had decapitated innocents, and as the fine necromancer he had proven to be, he had managed to sow corruption in the Levantine territories. He had driven dozens of people to the brink, but not us, because we knew that we had God on our side. We had begged Him to send us one of His warriors to gouge out the demon’s only eye and free us from him.

We knew our prayers had been answered when we saw a knight descend from the sky enveloped in a halo of light and riding a creature that looked like an angel. The knight placed his hands over the angel’s wings to bring it to a halt. The crowd inside the mosque had never seen such splendor. The two ...Read more

The Fattoush

A martyr's funeral in Duma, close to Damascus, Syria

Any resemblance to reality is decidedly intentional.

1

Diab visited me in my dreams and asked me to cook him a fattoush. Thus, I called Sami’s mother to help me prepare it.

2

The two women started to make the dish for the boy, who had died two months before. That afternoon, Sami’s mother wrote on her Facebook wall, “I have been thinking of late of all the guests for whom we lovingly cook, write songs, and dance, and who, however, never end up showing. Not only do they turn their backs on us, but they also foist their crude absence on us. Today I recalled the features of the poetry about absence and presence that I once studied. Then I plugged away at putting the fattoush together for Diab, a boy whose acquaintance I never made. I know how he died though, as well as what he looked like by virtue of the two pictures I have seen of him. One hangs on the wall of his house; the other is ...Read more

The Hero of the City

Manbij, Syrian roofs

I have always wanted to be called a hero at least once in my life. My city is a den of criminal activity. One time, I saw a bunch of kids beat up a smaller boy just because he had briefly interrupted their match as he passed by them. On a different occasion, I saw some grown-ups picking a fight. A potbellied dude tried to break up the altercation. Unfortunately, things got heated real quick and one of the men ended up with his head bashed into the pavement. The culprit immediately disappeared into the throng that had clustered around the brawl and yelled, “What an outrage! What a disgrace!

However, even as the blood started staining the pavement, the crowd’s general hue and cry veered toward a new subject; people began singing the praises of the potbellied man who had stepped in to try and salvage the situation. “You are our hero!” they shouted in unison.

Once, at the souk, one of the merchants grabbed me by the arm. He had decided that the last ...Read more

A Square to Remember

Second prize holder of the “One Thousand Nights and Awakening” literary contest

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I didn’t know the bus was going to drive by Abbassiyyin Square. I had been trying to avoid the square for the past two years, but the elderly driver had decided to round it, heedless of the anguish it might cause passengers to cut across an area loyal to the ranks of the Front.

The bus approaches the entrance to the square bordering the Zabaltani district and drives past some big rubber tires scattered on the side of the road. Despite my stress-induced alertness, at that moment I fail to curb the tide of memories flooding back and drowning my brain. We take a right turn in front of the big sports center named after the square: Abbassiyyin International Sports Center. I had spent hours in front of that building over the last few years, waiting for any means of transport to arrive and take me home to the inner part of the Eastern Ghouta suburbs.

We hadn’t called it Eastern Ghouta back then. We referred to each region in the ...Read more