Take Care of Her, Son, She’s Like Your Sister

"Moftah Al-Alwani"

When I was in primary school, our Syrian neighbor Katrina entrusted me with protecting her daughter, Eva. I held her hand on the long way to our school, but she often let go. I’d scold her, and she’d cry, and I’d apologize. 

One time, a boy came up to us with a plan to attack her, so I said: "Run, Eva. Run, and don't stop." I decided to fight him, until blood started pouring from my head. Eva was waiting for me, in tears, outside the gates of our school when I arrived. She took out an orange out of her bag and split it with me, to celebrate our survival. When I should have been playing, I waited for her, frustrated, after school. She would appear with her innocent smile and say: "I finished. Do you want to carry my bag for me? Let's go home," and she'd grab my hand. 

God! I can’t believe how bravely we faced life's hardships for our loved ones when we were young! The ones we loved for no reason at all. What happened? Whose hands have wedged this cavernous gap between people's hearts? 

I don't know why I'm telling you about Eva. Finding her photograph reminded me of her mother Katrina, and her sister Katia. Katrina would exhale her cigarette's smoke like someone slowly ejecting the pain of exile from their lungs. She would say: "As soon as you grow up, Muftah, you can marry Eva," which cracked my mother up. 

 

Eventually, we moved away from that neighborhood, and Eva and her family disappeared, but one thing remained: I am still standing fiercely up to life. Every morning, I grab my heart's hand and go. Together, we dodge life's alleys and their scoundrels, and every time some sadness announces itself, I say: "Run, heart, run."

I grew up smiling, until my father died and the smile disappeared. I don't know how I managed to survive long enough to write to you of my early grief. I have been scattered in a well of mourning since he left. He once told me: "If you do well at school this year, I will buy you a football." But then he left, suddenly, and my soul itself turned into a ball, rolling over the field of time. 

My mother told me that I screamed a lot the day I was born. It was an unusual scream; she even considered sending me back where I came from. But she has held me close ever since, and there's no sanctuary like her heart. 

I have no idea what Eva is doing now, or if she remembers the time we shared. Does she ever recall how I hid my clattering teeth from her on the cold road to school? Did she get married? Who carries her bag? Does the Syrian girl know that I now carry tens of bags: one for pain, one for abandonment, another for disappointment, and one for fleeting, hardly visible, joy? 

Years later, as part of my job with prosecutions, we were brought several rape cases. Among the rapists was someone I felt I recognized. I soon realized that he was the same person I stood up to to protect Eva. Is it possible for evil to fester in the human soul without someone to rush in and behead it? How could this boy have grown into a man with the same enthusiasm for evil? 

 

You can sometimes sleep and dream of running from everyone, even from your own shadow, then you open your eyes, shivering, as your shadow smiles and says: take a deep breath, and don't stray too far next time. 

I currently resemble a puddle in the center of the road. Everyone simply leaps over me, and I do nothing but reflect their leaps onto the pages of my heart. 

Only love can account for our days. With love, life passes slowly; the life that has always sprinted away, even as we begged for it to slow down, just a little, so we could lean our souls on its shoulder. 

I am sending a deep love to Eva these days. And to those bygone days, I am sending Eva's smile.

Born in Al-Bayda, a poet and short story writer, and a judge at the Al-Bayda Primary Court. He holds a Master’s degree in Public International Law from Omar Al-Mukhtar University. He has published a poetry collection titled “A Gesture Hanging in the Air”. His poems and stories have been featured in numerous Arab literary magazines, newspapers, and websites.

Moftah Al-Alwani
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