Surprise, Surprise

Salamiyah, Syria

One day, Nour’s sister-in-law showed up to her house while her husband was on a four-day business trip and told her that her brother was going to divorce her in a couple of days. She warned Nour that she was telling it to her in confidence and asked her not to disclose who she had received the news from to anyone. She assured her that she had decided to inform her because she liked her and thought she had a right to know in advance.

“Do you know why he might be doing this?” She asked her.

“No,” Nour replied, “I actually can’t believe he’s doing this to me! How did you find out? Did he tell you?”

“No, I heard him talk to someone over the phone. I heard him say he’s going to take you to the Shmemis castle, to the same spot where he proposed to you, to serve you with divorce papers. You’re sure there’s nothing you can do to make him change his mind? Come on, you must have had an inkling ...Read more

Jasmine Garlands

Idlib, Syria

The sun disappeared behind a haze of smoke. All I could hear was people screaming. The streets reeked of death.

The market was particularly crowded that morning, because Ramadan started the following day and all the shops would stay closed until sunset. I was idly looking at the passersby and the old olive tree that grows in the middle of the square. I was thinking about my kids and how they would grow up around that tree to become staunch advocates of altruism and staying true to one’s roots. For once, I wasn’t minding the noise and the bustle around me, because I appreciated people’s happiness and excitement over the upcoming festivities.

There was a girl selling jasmine garlands on the street. Every time she managed to sell one, her face lit up and her eyes slid over to a colorful dress on display in the window of one of the shops on the opposite side of the street.

My boy, who was standing beside me, asked me whether I would take him to the toy store later that day. I told ...Read more

An Angel for Good

The events depicted in this story are fictitious, although inspired by those that, according to the news I have watched an hour ago, occurred in Mabujah, a village in Syria to whose beauty I can attest firsthand, because it was one of the places in which I stayed during my visit to the country.

I had my recently turned three-year-old on my lap and was lulling her to sleep. After crying uncontrollably for hours, she had finally calmed down, unlike the people whose voices could be heard coming from the street. Another explosion made the house tremble, waking my little angel up and prompting her to start crying again. Hence, I resumed singing, while stroking her silky hair. At some point, she stopped crying, fixed her gaze on me and pressed my hand with hers. It was her way of asking me to keep her safe.

Most of the strikes took place at night. The blasts always made me jump out of bed to make sure my baby girl had come to no harm. It broke my heart to hear her cry. I am ...Read more

My Dear Friend, Samson

Man leaned over green container, Directorate of Tourism, Latakia, Siria.jpg

When did I first see Samson? I can’t say for sure, for the lines that ran horizontally on his forehead have melded with those of the window of my room, which has been my favorite place to stare at while brooding over the subject of life for as long as I can remember. Every morning, I take some time to drink a glass of milk and cast a glance through the window at the the scarcely-populated street and its passersby, those early birds who most often are students, street cleaners loading the trailers they tow behind their crappy bikes with empty plastic bottles, and joggers, who seem to possess a gift for standing in the way of those rushing to the office.

Before leaving the house in the afternoon, I brush my hair, make a few phone calls and drink a cup of coffee. He was always there when I stepped out into the street, sitting on the pavement close to the garbage bin and dressed in the ...Read more

Where a City Gets to Shine

Seven Fountains Roundabout Manbij, Syria

Our history teacher once told us that a city’s roundabouts represent death and my brother, the poet, has always said that there is no better way to know a city than through its roundabouts. The first time I saw a dead body was at the Seven Fountains Roundabout. It was a young man sprawled on the road next to his motorcycle. I then recalled the words of my history teacher and thought that the government should have built traffic lights to regulate the flow of traffic entering the square.

The square receives its name from the seven-spout fountain located in its center. Its water-pumping mechanism is only rarely working properly. This is just one of the various ways my city tries to emulate cities like Damascus or Aleppo, where there are also fountains carrying this name. What it doesn’t seem to be taking into consideration is that there is more to a name than what one can simply copy. And, unlike in Damascus or Aleppo, in this city there are no private nor governmental institutions fighting to ...Read more

What Never Got to Blossom

Jezmatiyeh souq, Damascus, Syria

Why I have never felt attracted to women is still to this day a mystery to me. I started buying psychology books when it first became an issue in order to try and figure out what was wrong with me that I didn’t fit into the definition of a proper man. After seeing that they weren’t helping me with my condition, I went to a physician, only to discover that I was already beyond recovery.

The house where I live, which is the same one I grew up in, lies in the Jezmatiyeh souq, which is one of the several markets of the old Damascene Al Midan neighborhood. Among the many places serving local cuisine on the busy street the window of my room faces, the two most famous ones are the restaurant called Abi al-Kheir and the patisserie Abou Arab Haidar.

Today I turn fifty, but I am not celebrating it. I haven’t done anything special for my birthday in the last fifteen years, since the day I saw Hala for the very last time. She was the sister of ...Read more

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. ...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 ...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, ...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 ...Read more