VOICE FROM SYRIA
What Will Be, Will Be
As I walk into the fancy apartment, the sounds of the mizhar (tamborine) echo in my ears. I take off my shoes along with everyone else and we are let into a large room lit by two large crystal chandeliers. The room is crowded with women sitting on chairs and young girls sitting on a Persian rug, patiently waiting for my sister-in-law to arrive. This Mouled we are attending will not only celebrate the birth of the prophet Mohammad but also the return of my sister-in-law from her pilgrimage to Mecca – haj.
I look around and closely study the faces of the people. Somehow, I feel I’m in a different world. I have been so accustomed to a very small closed up world for over two years that the real world seems unreal to me. Just leaving my apartment in the afternoon was an extraordinary event. Usually, my husband comes back at five o’clock from work and locks the front door with his key. None of us dream of leaving the house after that. Only stray shells define everything and everybody.
Damascus is dressed in a black cloak,
Decorated with fire balls and gun smoke,
Illuminated by minarets soaring high,
Rocked by explosions falling from the sky,
Soothed by the soft murmurs of prayers,
Lulled with the praise of God everywhere.
Little by little by, the light outside starts to fade. It’s beginning to get dark, I say to myself nervously, but to my surprise no one seems in a hurry to return home. Do they live on a different planet, I wonder.
In my mind, ‘night’ is a dangerous time when no one should venture out.
The night grumbles and growls,
As mortars fly like wild fowls,
Playfully throwing fireballs,
Destroying the silence,
With their shrieks and their howls.
In rage, the night shakes
Its dark heavy shadows,
Drags its worries and sorrows,
As it cries and yowls.
Finally my sister-in-law comes into the room dressed in a white gown and a white scarf smiling and dancing and everyone begins to sing and clap to the music welcoming her. Then two young women start to sing while they tap their mizhar with their hands, as my sister-in-law draws one woman after another to dance with her.
It has been two years since my sister-in-law left Damascus and returned to her country, America. Most probably, if it had been up to her, she would have stayed forever in Damascus in spite of everything happening. Like my mother, she fell in love with Damascus and with spiritual Damascene people.
A silence falls upon everyone as we sit and watch pictures of the Kaaba during haj projected on a screen. Then my sister-in-law breaks the silence and starts talking about her pilgrimage enthusiastically. She elaborates on her adventure in climbing the steep mountain to the cave of Hira where the Prophet Mohammed received his first message from the angel Gabriel.
Then the two young women start to sing again, and ice cream is served. I try to dig my spoon into the ice cream when an old woman points at my plate and says: “Don’t bother, it’s as hard as a rock.”
I put my plate on the small table and I recognize her as a distant relative.
“Are you still living here in Damascus?” she bluntly asks.
I try to put my words together, but she hastily says, “I stayed with my daughter in Lebanon for a year and a half hoping things would get better, but unfortunately things only got worse and our savings were all spent!”
“Yes, I’m still here with my husband, kids and parents,” I say, “though most members of my family have left.”
The old woman sips her coffee and complains that it is tasteless. Then she lifts her eyes from her coffee cup and stares at me and says nothing. I look at her with surprise, waiting for to say something. Finally, she says in a hurt voice: “Its so sad! What on earth is happening to our beloved city?”
She glances around the room and points at two young women sitting in front of us. “Those are my two dear daughters,” she says. “Both of their husbands owned factories that were robbed and burned to the ground.”
Her eyes blink and her cheeks flush red. “Imagine they were selling the factories’ machines and merchandise for nothing. People called my son-in-laws and advised them to buy their own machines and merchandise. Of course, they both refused to do so. They refused to deal with thieves,” she says and folds her hands in her lap with an air of satisfaction.
I feel awkward and again, I am at a loss for words. Nervously, I put my coffee cup on the corner of the small table. Fortunately, my mother comes to my rescue and announces that we are leaving. I kiss the woman goodbye and wish her family better luck in the future. On our way out a big basket full of bunches of sugared almonds wrapped in tulle are passed out.
My sister-in-law’s friend ‘Wafa’ drives us back home in the dark. As the car passes through the streets lit by dim street lights, I see a different city than the one I’m accustomed to. It’s been so long since I have been out in the evening. I remember how busy the streets were when I used to return from my evening classes and how fearless I was.
I watch Wafa drive through the city and I worry about her. “You should not drive at night,” I say. “You never know what might happen.”
She turns her head and flashes a big smile and speaks with confidence. “I work all day at school and I need to get out to have some fun.”
“Please take care of yourself,” I say. “It doesn’t seem worth it to me to drive at this time of night. Stray shells are falling everywhere.”
Shells travelling over your head,
-In less than a minute-
You might be dead!
A stray bullet,
A wild scream,
A mad bullet
A shattered dream!
She laughs and says “You are right. Shells do fly over our heads, but they break into our apartments too. I know someone who was killed sitting in his living room watching TV! But the worst story I know is about one of our own neighbors, when a shell crashed into their bedroom and killed two boys. The poor mother came back from the kitchen to find both of her boys killed.”
She wipes her eyes with one hand while steering with the other and says, “Death lurks in every corner of this city. We can’t afford to sit down and wait until things get better.” She whispers, “Things might get worse.”
My mobile rings and it is my concerned father.
“Don’t worry,” I say. “We are on our way home”
The car rushes through the shadowy streets. Everything looks grim and depressing, and the sound of shells falling down echoes everywhere.
Shell fall randomly upon Damascus city,
Tearing into peaceful homes,
Smashing into playgrounds,
Falling into swimming pools,
Leaving a trail of death
Breaking all the rules.
I contemplate Wafa’s horror stories of shells breaking into apartments and remember a news story I read recently about a mortar shell that fell on a bus full of civilians near Bab Touma and claimed many lives. I shake my head sadly and say, “The truth is that what will be, will be, whether one is in his apartment or on the road. Still, I do think one should take precautions.”
In Damascus city,
will Rima return back to her classroom
and brighten her students’ days with her smile;
neither will Abo Gasem’s voice
echo in the neighborhood selling fruit.
Hani and Fouad will no longer
enjoy their mother’s love and hot meals.
Abu Ahmad will no longer
drive his white bus full of friendly passengers.
In Damascus city,
jasmine petals no longer fall on people’s heads,
but rather stray shells.
In one blow,
Abu Ahmad’s bus turned into a red fire ball,
ending the lives of his friendly passengers.
So many unfinished stories, shattered promises and broken dreams,
hidden under black cloaks in the dark night of Damascus.
Muna Imady was born in Damascus in 1962 to an American mother and a Syrian father. She has a BA in English Literature and a diploma in English-Arabic Translation from Damascus University as well as a Maitrise from the Sorbonne.
Imady has designed a beginners English reading course for children and has written several text books for teaching English as a second language to children. She has also written and translated many short Arabic stories for children which were published in several Arabic magazines.
She has been interested in folktales since she was a child and promised herself that one day she would write a book of the folktales she had collected. Imady lives in Damascus with her husband Dr Nizar Zarka and her three children, Nour, Sammy, and Kareem. She teaches English as a second language to young children and continues to collect folktales in her free time.
She is the author of the collection: Syrian Folktales
Works by Muna Imady
AIRMAIL/VOICE FROM SYRIA
A Damascene Baby Shower
A Damascene Story (Contest Winner: Every Family Has a Story)
A Damascene Wedding
A Damascene Wedding Shower Amid the War
A Death in the Family
Beirut in a Damascene’s Eyes
Damascus – February is the Month of Cats: Shbat Shahr Alattat
Poems from Damascus
Reactions and Realities: A Poet’s Perspective; A Visitor’s View
Snow in Damascus
The Three Spinners: A Syrian Folktale
What Will Be, Will Be