i remember being a kid, playing outside in syria's smoldering heat of 50 degrees. cabs were forced to keep windows down in every city as the sun took all things hostage. we were at mercy to summer time, but we were young and we loved crowding around the ice cream shop at midday. the sky was so blue.
i was about ten or eleven when a boy ran up to me, his worn shoes scuffed and sweating. his face was marked by dirt and his eyebrows were furious. we were in the small hometown of my mother, a place that had no more than 20,000 inhabitants. during the ottoman era, the wealthy danadisha clan [or dandashi] family lived in the town. today, talkalakh and my family's legacy no longer exists.
the boy spat at me in arabic.
"we all know who you are! you're american. you probably don't even understand what i'm saying right now, american girl. go away! leave our town!"
the short, smelly boy got me all riled up. it was true though-- everyone in town knew who my family was because it was so small. we were known as the "ajanib," aka the americans or foreigners just because we lived in the u.s. but he didn't know me.
he proceeded by digging his fingernails into the dirt and throwing rocks at me right in front of my grandmother's house. i ran inside to grab a big water bottle, ready to attack feverishly to ensure the boy's demise. i filled it up until water was spewing from the brim, my feet restless, stomping my way back downstairs to face the perpetrator once again.
i spotted a hose nearby that was peeking out from my great aunt's [aka to me, just my other grandma's] garden. in one hand, i gripped the hose and wrapped it around tightly like a snake, ready to strike with venom-- the other hand, i let the bottle rest on my hip to prepare for my attack.
it was war.
the boy was calling for help as i soaked him in nasty, boiling hose water. the water bottle did not work as i had hoped [like a water gun] so, i chucked it at his legs to throw him off balance and give time to escape. i fumbled my way back up the stairs, sweating profusely, giggling maliciously at the thought of my victory.
when i told my grandma what happened, she simply smiled at me, shisha pipe glued to her lips. even in the scorching hours of day, she sat patiently in the living room, unfazed at the sticky, ubiquitous air. we had no ac, only fans that sometimes worked or did not work, depending on whether the power was out. most of the time, the common power outage was because syria would send electricity and power to our neighboring country, lebanon.
i encountered the boy a handful of times after that. throughout the years, i would walk around town to get out of the oven that was my grandma's house, sometimes seeing him kick a ball around or running in the streets with his friends. the last time i saw him was in 2011, which is also the last time i stepped foot into the country. we never spoke again.
i see that maybe this boy had a right to be frustrated with me. he saw me as an outsider, an alien, that was living in his town for months at a time. maybe he felt like i was taking something away from him. maybe he felt that i was polluting the space he called home.
the town was taken under siege by the government in 2011. it was shelled by the syrian army, as talkalakh was filled with "rebels" trying to fight off the destruction and invasion. thousands fled to lebanon, many died.
i think about the boy now. i wonder where he is, where his family is. what he's doing, if he ever went to school. if he's dead.
if he still is alive, i wonder what him and others in the town feel now. prisoners in their own country to a government that does not care about their own people. i wish i could go back in time and tell him i was never there to take away his land. i never wanted to hurt him or destruct the walls that i loved so much. i'm syrian, too.
i wish i could have recited him the future and warn him that real aliens were coming to take his home away from him. they too are syrian, but they are not like us. they do not feel, they do not protect-- they are foreign to compassion and rationale.
talkalakh is now a ghost town.
i wonder what happened to all the books that slept on the bookshelf. i wonder what happened to all my grandmother's clothes. i think about all the things she had to leave behind, all the memories she stored in closets that she will never touch again.
i know there is a necklace my mother gifted me years ago that i left in that house. it was a silver necklace decorated by a vibrant, blue evil eye dangling from the chain. in some dreams, i visit that house. i am wearing the necklace, reading a worn out book and drinking shitty coffee.
realistically, the necklace is probably buried underneath rubble and soot, occasionally breathing for air when it comes to the surface. i wish i could be back there with the boy who threw rocks at me-- at least i was there and i felt something.
the only thing for certain is that i know the sky is still blue. i can still feel the sky on my skin. and hopefully, the eye is still blue too, clinging on to the chain, holding on to the town that i so dearly love.