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 him it would be my pleasure, in exchange for a hug and a kiss.

Suddenly, aircrafts showed up in the sky. The noise they created was deafening. Their presence constituted a most unexpected turn of events, because, to the best of my knowledge, a truce had been negotiated with the enemy not that long ago! We should have known better than to trust them, I thought.

The first thing I did was instruct my kid to run for cover. He went inside the stall in front of which we had been standing and crouched down under a table. I saw him cling to the outfit I had gotten him to wear for the holidays. At that moment, I wished he could sprout wings, like the aircrafts, though perhaps more joy-eliciting, to escape the war.

In a matter of seconds, bombs started falling from the sky. Panic broke out. The market was under attack. The world around us shook each time an explosive device was dropped and struck the ground. Suddenly, I was hit by a piece of shrapnel. Stones were raining down on us. Blood started gushing out of my body. I started to feel dizzy and realized that I was going to die there. My whole life flashed before my eyes. Next I saw some strange creatures wearing white blood-stained robes ascend to the skies. I wanted to follow them, but I was still too heavy to defy gravity. It felt as if the lights were being turned down. White and blue dots flickered before my eyes. And the noise, so much noise! At least, I was still alive. I gathered all my strength to try and stand up. I was bleeding from the head, forearm and hip. The sky was covered in smoke and the ground was carpeted with dead bodies. The whole market was in flames and the fire was spreading to the nearby rising buildings, many of which had been razed to the ground.

I started calling my son’s name the moment I recovered a sense of where I was. I started sifting through the rubble as I yelled, in hopes of finding my sweet little boy. I could feel him close. I prayed to God for his life and stretched my arm for him to be able to reach me. I also asked the Angel of Death to take me instead.

Suddenly, I slipped and fell through a crevice in the ground. People came to help me stand up and I continued searching for my son. I heard people shouting to me from behind to turn around, but I didn’t want to listen to them. I might have been severely wounded, but my son was still missing.

Then I stumbled on the body of the girl who had been selling jasmine garlands. It was smeared with blood. Her gaze seemed fixed on the dress I had caught her gaping at while still alive.

The world started spinning. The aircrafts had returned.


Written by Muhammad Fateeh Zidany.