I Pine

"Aya Al-Washish"

Escaping into books wasn’t my only comfort; I also found refuge in the hidden nooks of life. I made friends with curiosity and observation. My mother always complained that I was a chatterbox as a child. My constant questioning wore me out as well; even the four o’clock flower wasn’t spared my interrogation. I would pluck it, suck its sticky pollen, then swallow the petals as though they were edible–perhaps all because its colors tempted me. We weren’t ashamed of our bodies as children, nor our slips of the tongue. We were hugged and kissed; love was planted onto our cheeks, and innocent smiles materialized on our lips. We danced to the beat of tambourines at weddings and giggled as waists shimmied around us. The old women laughed and the aunts ululated, proud of our joyful spirits. 

We only learn to appreciate what we had when it's gone. The four o’clock flower doesn’t grow in Benghazi, since the city lacks the freshness and dense vegetation of the countryside. I’m no longer able to pluck the flower, nor catch a free ride in Mr. Suleiman’s Peugeot down the streets of Cyrene. 

Our minds keep us stagnant, and yet emotions stir us towards motion. That’s how poetic hearts are born to strut down the path of love. Love alone allows me to drift down childhood’s memory lane. 

I never belonged to noise. As a child, I was a loner–I hung out in a cave in Cyrene before my sister was born. To this day, I still feel like that lonely child whose spirit only awakens in that cave in Cyrene. 

I’ve always loved the idea of settling in Jabal Al-Akhdar, where four o’clock flowers grow by the tall pine trees. The spells of Apollo sometimes overcome me; I roam the Temple of Zeus in my imagination, which I had encountered as a child, appreciating its beauty before its historical value. And I never forgot Pathos Verde–I would conjure up images of him, sometimes giving long hair, or a mustache, or I’d make him taller. 

Whenever family or friends, Arab or foreign, paid us a visit, my father would take them on a tour of our town and recount its ancient history. I fell in love with the waterfalls, the altitude of the forests, the constant arrival of the wind, the swaying of the flowers; all these things allowed my inner voice to flourish. 

I didn’t know why people didn’t pay more attention to the green mountain’s face–to the way it smiled, announcing the imminence of a bountiful spring that would delight the farmers, or to its unbridled anger when people didn't turn to it come fall. Summer would force its way over the Derna waterfalls, below the Ras Al-Hilal tunnels, on the plains of Susa, the valleys of Salnata, in the alleyways of the old city in Shahat, and behind the tall carob trees in Mansoura. Those were all the fields of my youth. They inspired me to discover the production of honey in the beehives, and the correct way to milk a cow, and the wonder of lighting the tandoor, and most importantly, the race to collect the biggest heap of arbutus berries.

I had fallen in love with ancient Greek philosophy. I feel nostalgic for these times every once in a while. I reflect on all the different things that come together to create life, that symphony of being. As a child, I wasn’t aware of the significance of those formative years. I didn’t know then that every time I’d listen to Fairouz in the future, I’d see the four o’clock flower, the pine trees, the streets of Cyrene, the beehives, the forests, and the pinching-cold winds of fall. 

Born in Hanover, Germany, she holds a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from Benghazi University. She has published three collaborative books in the fields of short stories and poetry. Her texts have been published on local and Arabic literary websites.

Aya Al-Washish
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