“الشمس”

An Earworm Song

ترتبط الأغاني لدي، قبل أي شيء، بالأماكن. كلما أسمع أغنية كنت أدمن على سماعها لفترة ما أستحضر مكانٍ ما أو عدة أماكن دخلت الأغنية قلبي أثناء تواجدي فيها.

خلال فترة دراستي في الدوحة، أحببت ميادة الحناوي أكثر من قبل وعرفت الكثيرمن أغانيها للمرة الأولى، ولأيام تفردت أغنية “الشمس” وشغلت مساحة كبيرة في ذهني حتى أصبحت أسمعها عدة مرات يوميًا لأوقف نفسي من دندنتها طول الوقت قبل أن ترتبط بفترة المشي. ذات مرة، بدأت أتمشى كعادتي حينها، قبل شروق الشمس بساعة، كي أعود إلى غرفتي وقت الشروق، حينها قررت سماع أغنية “الشمس” وحتى قبل الشروق ربع ساعة كان الجو حارًا جدًا، أستمع إلى ميادة تغني “مهما يحاولوا يطفوا الشمس” وأنظر إلى السماء مستنكرةً من حرارة الجو وأتساءل “هي بتطفي؟!” 

الذكرى الأخرى لهذه الأغنية مع أمسية على النيل.

عادة أستمع إلى الأغاني بسماعات الأذن أو الرأس؛ لأتجنب إزعاج من حولي ولكن على ضفة النيل أقرر أن سماع الأغاني جزء من المشهد ولا يجب أن يُكتم صوت المياه وأغاني المهرجات في المراكب والمصريين وغيرهم من حولي، أريد المشهد كاملًا، أن أُبقي على الصورة بكافة تناقضاتها وأشغّل “الشمس”، أغنّي مع ميادة ثم أسمع صوتًا بجواري يغني معنا، ألتفت يمينًا ويسارًا، يلتفت نحوي الشاب الذي يجلس على يساري (تجلس بجواره فتاة، حبيبته أو خطيبته وربما زوجته) نبتسم ونواصل الغناء، يمنحني الموقف الشعور بالرفقة والألفة، أضع الجوال في المنتصف بيننا حتى يصله الصوت بوضوح وسط كل الضجة التي تحيطنا. أفكر أن ميادة تشتهر عند الكثير بـ “أنا بعشقك” ولكن لا أعرف الكثير من مَن هم في العشرينات من عمرهم ويحفظون هذه الأغنية، وأعرف من نظرة الشاب أنه يفكر بنفس الشيء. )لا أقصد التعميم أو أن ما أعرفه يميزني بشكلٍ أو بآخر عن غيري، ولكن ذاكرتي الموسيقية قد تشكل موسوعة بأكملها عابرة لعدة لغات.)

الآن، في غزة، كلما أسمع بداية موسيقى “الشمس” أستحضر الموقفين وأتذكر شمس الدوحة ونيل القاهرة. 

عن المقاطعة

أتذكر اللحظة التي قررت فيها مقاطعة المنتجات الإسرائيلية. لا أذكر عمري حينها، ربما كنت في العاشرة أو الحادية عشرة من عمري. طلب مني أبي شراء دواء لجدتي في ذلك المساء وذهبت إلى صيدلية زياد أحمل (الروشتة). أخبرني الصيدلاني أن هناك نوعين من هذا الدواء، أحدهما إسرائيلي والآخر فلسطيني، حتى حينها كنت أعرف بأن هناك من يفضّل “جودة” المنتجات الإسرائيلية -يجادلون بأن لديهم أفضل المختبرات والمصانع وغيرها، أعلم ذلك، أعلم بقوتهم المادية وأعلم أننا نستخدم عملتهم هنا، أنهم يمتلكون الكثير من أموال العالم، ولكنه احتلال وبكوننا شعب محتل فإننا لا نمتلك رفاهية صنع أفضل ما يكون في كل شيء، ولكن أحيانًا نستطيع- لوهلة، أفكر بصحة جدتي، قد يكون منتجهم الأفضل وهذا يعني أنه سيساعدها أكثر. أقرر أن أسأل الصيدلاني كي آخذ قررًا أفضل. أسأله “عمو، مين الأفضل؟” يخبرني أنهم يتشابهون في المكونات وفي كل شيء. آخذ قراري بحسم. إذًا أعطني الفلسطيني.

لم أكن أملك مالًا سوى مصروفي المدرسي حينها، ولذلك أخذ قرارات تتعلق بالشراء هو ما أخّر اللحظة وموقفي عندها. بعد فترة أجد شيبس مكتوب عليه بالعبرية. أقرر أنني لن أشتريه. يخبرني أحدهم أن الشمينت (كلمة عبرية تعني الزبادي أصبحت جزءًا من مصطلحاتنا. شيء آخر تغلغل إليه هذا الاحتلال السام) الإسرائيلي أفضل من الفلسطيني، أكره أنني سمعت هذه الجملة بالعربية.

في إحدى ليالي صيف 2006، كنت أجلس مع أبي بين شوطين إحدى مباريات كأس العالم. يتنقل أبي في هذا الوقت بين المحطات. نجلس على فراشه على سطح المنزل أمام شاشة التلفزيون الأرضي المرفق بأنتينا. بين المحطات الخليلية (نسبة إلى الخليل) توجد بعض المحطات الإسرائيلية. يتابع أبي الأخبار بالعبرية. أخبره بأنني أريد تعلم العبرية. لا أعلم ماذا أردت حينها من ذلك. هل كنت أرغب في تعلم لغة جديدة بسبب حبي للغات؟ ولكن لم أحب العبرية قط. أم أنني رغبت أن أفهم ما يفهمه أبي. وربما لأنني سمعت الكثير من “تعلّموا لغة عدوكم”. يقول أبي “بوكر توف يعني صباح الخير. بوكر أور يعني مساء الخير،” أقول له أنني لا أريد البدء بتعلم اللغة هكذا. يجب بدء تعلّم اللغة من تعلم الأحرف (الحمدلله لا أؤمن بهذا النهج الآن على الإطلاق).

في الجامعة، كطالبة في كلية الآداب في الجامعة الإسلامية بغزة يجب أن أدرس اللغة العبرية، مساق يقدم الأحرف وحوارات والفعل الماضي والفعل المضارع. أسأم من اللغة حينها. هذا العدو يلاحقنا في كل مكان. أقرر أنني لا أريد تعلم العبرية. فليفهمونني بعربيّتي. في الليلة التي سبقت يوم الاختبار النصفي لم أكن أعرف حتى كيف يقولون “كيف حالك؟” بالعبرية. أطلب من أبي أن يقرأها وأتنقل كثيرًا من الغرفة إليه لسؤاله. في النهاية، حصلت على تقدير جيد جدًا في هذا المساق. لم أكن أريد السماح لعدو أن يسبب إخفاقي بشيء.

هناك من يسألني عن مسألة الخضروات والفاكهة. يسمونها فاكهة إسرائيلية، إذًا كيف أتناولها؟ أخبرهم بأنني أتمنى لو لم يكن للاحتلال أي يد بها. كل ما أعرفه أن الأرض أرض فلسطين والهواء هواء فلسطين والمياه مياه فلسطين وكلها مسروقة. وحتى العمّال الذين يعملون في الأراضي الزراعية فلسطينيين. أخبرهم أنني نعم أتناول الأفوكادو، هل تعرفون كمية المياه التي يحتاجها الأفوكادو؟ هل تعتقدون أن غزة بوسعها تقديم كل هذه المياه للأفوكادو ونحن بالكاد لدينا مياه صالحة للشرب. قرأت على حساب متراس على انستغرام أن نسبة المياه الصالحة للشرب في غزة تبلغ 3٪ فقط. 3٪. غزة لا تملك رفاهية هذا النقاش.

في تلك السنوات، كنت أعلن لأي شخص عن مقاطعتي للمنتجات الإسرائيلية. لا ألوم كثيرًا من لا يقاطعها في غزة أو في فلسطين بشكلٍ عام. منذ بدء الحصار على غزة، أصبح العدو يتحكم أكثر بكل ما يصل إلينا. يعرفون حتى أسماء الكتب التي نشتريها من مواقع أجنبية. أحقد على العدو، لا أحقد على من يشتري.

تظهر حملات المقاطعة في غزة أثناء وبعد الحروب. كنت أدرس في قطر أثناء الحرب الأخيرة. بدأت حملة مقاطعة أكبر على المنتجات الإسرائيلية ثم أي منتج من أي شركة تدعم الاحتلال. أقرأ كل اسم بحذر. أجد بينها اسم Garnier، أتذكر أن منتج ماء ميسيلار (منظّف للوجه ومزيل للمكياج) الذي أستخدمه من عندهم. أقرر ألا أشتري منهم بعد الآن. أقاطع شركات أخرى. لم أشترِ أبدًا من ستاربكس خلال السنتين.

أخبر صديقاتي أثناء التسوق بكل منتج نراه إن كنت أقاطع من يصنعه. أتابع صفحات على مواقع التواصل الاجتماعي لتخبرني أي الشركات التي على أن أقاطعها. لن تصبح حياتي أصعب بدونها. أبحث عن منتجات بديلة.

أسمع الكثير من “كيف يستطيع شخص واحد أن يؤثر؟” أخبرهم أنني أؤمن بالتغيير هكذا، أؤمن بالبدء بالنفس. ولكن الأهم أن المقاطعة موقف أخلاقي. مسألة تتعلق بمواجهة ذاتي.

For the Love of the Mediterranean

I took two swims in the Mediterranean (al-Baḥr al-Mutawassiṭ) in August, once in Alexandria (Stanley Beach) and the other in Khan Yunis (Al Qarara Beach).

If there’s only one thing that makes me identify as a Cancer, it would be the water element. And I believe water is my element.

There’s a lot that we share with water—the roaring and the stillness.

I am forever fascinated by how the wave is at its strongest after it enfolds unto itself.

I have seen the Marmara Sea and the Arabian Gulf. But I missed the Mediterranean so much; its feel on my feet, urging me to wiggle my toes and relax them; its salty breeze that refreshes my lungs and softens my features; its special blue, with all the greenish hues.

In Alexandria, the waves were high and very strong. It was probably the same in Gaza on that particular day. I swam for a few minutes only. 

In Khan Yunis, it was perfect for me…not the easiest waves to deal with, but by God, it’s one of the best things I encountered in life. When I’m there I cannot resist it; I absolutely must swim.

It was my back-to-Gaza moment. And that first dip! My heart accelerated.

As much as I love it, there’s one thing I would love to change about our beach. I want a Ladies-Only Beach. I want to swim freely without having to make sure that I’m fully covered every second. I want swimming to be a stress-free activity. I want to let my hair out and flip it with the waves. Once, I experienced this at Sumaysimah Beach. I felt exquisite.

But now, take a look at the beach when I am swimming and I can be easily spotted; I am the girl swimming among the boys.

I am not a great swimmer per se, but I manage my way around the water and I can go as far as my height allows. I get by, after all I haven’t gotten myself drowned yet.

I am a Hijabi and for the most part since I started wearing abayas, I have swum wearing an abaya.

But I am going to say this, I can be a better swimmer than most of the guys I see when I am swimming. Certainly not because of my swimming tactics. No, it’s because of my survival instincts.

Athletes don’t have to do what I do. I have to keep swimming, noticing the waves before they crash into me while adjusting my Hijab every minute, making sure that my hair, neck, and shoulders are covered.

I rise up on toes, the wave nears, it reaches me, I jump as high as I can to get my head on the surface of the wave…the wave, the water, the jump manage to loosen my Hijab, I touch the Hijab, check how it is crooked, try to fix it, my hands hold it from the front, I move my head quickly beneath it, check my neck, the next wave hits, I manage not to get myself drowned, I go back to fixing my Hijab, jump with the next wave, cover my shoulder, jump again, my foot gets tangled in my abaya, I go under the water, in the last split of a second I remember to hold my breath, and manage to surface, another wave, I dive into it, half of my hair slips out of my Hijab, I cover it, another wave, I jump holding my abaya, I decide to swim on my stomach with my head down, I tell a niece or a nephew to keep an eye on my abaya lest it goes up and reveal my back (you cannot fully depend on your shirt under the abaya to be in its place). Then a few waves are so smooth and gentle, they feel like the most tender caress.

Amid all of this, sometimes, boys throw some comments at me, that I should go back to the front with the other girls, that I cannot swim, that I am showing off. The worst of these boys are teenagers who are starting to show mustaches and now they think it is their right by being males to comment on everything girls do. Please go do your homework. If my mother had her way, I would probably have had kids around your ages.

Swimming—something very beautiful becomes very strenuous.

Yet, despite all of this, and all the tumble and the jumble, the sea is where I feel I’m most graceful.

To All the Times I Almost Missed Salat-ul-Eid

I walk fast but it isn’t enough. Looking around, I decide that anyone on the narrow roads right now is as late as I am, so there is no need to hold back my running.

My family left the house before me as I woke up after them and I had to pray Fajr first, have at least one date (because it’s sunnah), and then wear my new jilbab and hijab.  Before going to sleep, I suspected this would happen. I almost start reprimanding myself then stop because that won’t make me reach faster.

Holding my jilbab with my hands, I sprint faster while saying Takbiraat and begging the sun not to rise up so quickly.

Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar La Ilaha Ilallah

Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar Wa Lillahil Hamd

Out of breath and with a huge smile sprinkled across my whole face, I finally reach the prayer ground, just a few minutes before the salah. It is held on an open field, not inside a mosque. Praying outside, in the open space, is another sunnah of Eid.

I spot my mother and stand beside her on the spot she left for me. I am grateful she remembered to take al-msaliyya with her. Making sujood on sand isn’t something I’m fond of.

Moments later, hundreds of people begin standing anticipating salat-ul-Eid. Yet, many women, men, and children are still coming to this piece of land. I say dua’, thanking Allah that I got here in time. I am one hundred percent sure I wouldn’t find joy throughout the Eid days if I miss the prayer. This prayer is my most anticipated celebration about Eid days. It comes even before Eidyya. I already feel the tranquility blossoming in my heart.

The Imam explains how the Eid Salah is prayed. 2 rakaat. The first raka’ah has 7 takbiraat. The second one has 5 takbiraat. And he tells us what we should say between the takbiraat.

I continue my tasbih and dua’, trying to seize these blessed moments.

Allahu Akbar Kabira,

Walhamdulillahi kathera,

Wa Subhaan Allahi

bukratan wa aseela.

“Allahu Akbar” The Imam announces the call to the prayer, and I raise my hands, leveling them to my ears.

After the salah, most of us sit down for khutbah but many people start moving between the rows of al-musalleen distributing dates, chocolate and biscuits bars, kaak, and other sweets. I look at my mother who is giving my sister a bag that contains biscuits and chocolate bars. I suspect that my youngest sister came to the prayer solely to distribute sweets. Yesterday, she reminded my father so many times that he shouldn’t forget buying these biscuits. Then she called him three times. At one point, he had to threaten that if she kept insisting, he wouldn’t buy them. We all laughed at her expression then. Right now, her eyes are dancing with joy.

“Kul ‘am wa anti bekhair,” I say to my mother, shaking her hand in salaam. Then, I turn to the other side and do the same with the woman I don’t know on my left side. After praying together, it feels no one is a stranger here.

The congratulatory wishes are whispered all around among everyone that they don’t sound like hushed whispers anymore.

I search the faces of the little girls, the delight drawn on them. I look at their new Eid outfits, usually dresses. At their hairdos. At their small bags for Eidiyya. I marvel at the parents who had time to give showers to their kids and dress them up for the salah. When did they sleep? On the first day of Eid, I love kids more than any other day of the year. I love their contagious enthusiasm.

After the khutbah, I stand up and see so many relatives, almost half of the people I’m related to, and I shake hands with the ones close to me.

The world seems to be at its brightest when I am walking back home.

*****************************************************************************

This is an anecdote of my typical Eid morning in Gaza.

Thoughts & The Spoken Word

Have you tried saying something out loud after keeping it within for so long? Doesn’t it feel freeing? Well, today, I did something of this sort. I said something out loud…a word…a name. And I admit that I felt better. I have been noticing this need for a while now and I recognise it. I still don’t understand it very well. It is a new practice. And I am willing to make the best of it.

I find it a bit strange but I do think breathing words into existence is great to acknowledge something or maybe even deal with it somehow. Maybe it can be helpful to the mind to associate and connect memories and visions and dreams with the spoken word. Maybe thought needs the language as a vessel in a way.

But I don’t think words become real only when we say them out loud. What about all the things that I thought of and never uttered a word about? It is not quite a matter of thought versus language. It is rather a matter of keeping something for one’s self as opposed to sharing it with others.

I am thinking of the things I write in my journal, just for myself. The things not even a single soul heard of before. The things I am keeping for myself. The good things and the bad things. The joyful and the depressing. The struggles and the goals. The disappointments and the hopes. Every bit of it. I absolutely refuse to think of all of those to be less real.

In some way, this is like fiction. That it only exists in my head. But it is real for me. And the spoken word does not feel like a validation. It could be relieving…healing, even, particularly when one is overflowed with the unsaid thoughts. And when the matter does not concern a single person and it should be shared.

Sometimes, however, it feels weird to say certain things aloud. Like they cannot possibly survive words. Like your mind protects those thoughts. Or maybe they just sound a bit…silly.

A few days ago I read an article on Khalil Gibran and solitude. It discusses silence. When asked about the matter of talking, the protagonist of Gibran’s The Prophet responds:

“You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts;
And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime.
And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered.
For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly.”

I wouldn’t say that I consider sound to be a diversion, or that it kills thinking. But, maybe one tends to express more when one is not at peace with their thoughts. But if we don’t share then, how are we really going to survive something?

I don’t suppose I am in favour of one over the other. But it is something to dwell on. And we just keep trying to find what works better with us…what keeps us sane.

(Sharing this felt a bit weird.)

Personal Narrative: Fear

What do you do when fear claws at your soul? When it gnashes at your very core? You, a human, think you are strong. But, in reality, that strength is very fragile. Once a dark thought crosses the mind, it convinces the body of its existence, no matter the truth of it. It hinders your progress, feeding you with poisonous thoughts of failure. Of being incapable of changing anything about you and what surrounds you. The fear possesses then, and spreads like the plague. It takes a lot to dim it, push it down. For a while. Until it resurfaces.

Marhaba: Chapter Six

Sahar

It is one of those days when Hala and I text and share and analyse and confess and reveal our deepest thoughts. During the exams, we barely talked about anything personal. One thing leads to another until we text about her broken engagement. Hala got engaged when she was 18, before we knew each other.

You know what hurts more than him breaking our engagement, it is when I thought things were okay and a traditional marriage could work out for me, he decided to cut things off without truly explaining anything. It happened over a phone call. How very impertinent. For a while, I blamed myself, thinking I must have done something wrong!

―Everybody deserves an explanation. An acknowledgment of the history they shared with another person.

―And you deserve someone to fight for you, against all odds.

I don’t think I’d ever want to subject my heart to all of that once again. No, thank you.

―Not all of that. Minus the heartbreak, of course. And you never know what the heart is capable of.

Forget this and tell me about G. Do you picture a far future for this?

―Tbh, sometimes my mind wanders. But, right now, it is enough to know that he reciprocates my feelings.

I play a song from the Abd el-Halim Hafez playlist on my cell phone. I forgot what it feels like to listen to songs and not have him in mind. For me, every beautiful song is about him and for him.

 

The wait for the tests’ results denies me enjoying the holiday. Hala finds this funny.

―I am the one who cares about grades, remember?

―I think at one point everybody cares. Even if it were for a short while. Once in a blue moon…etc.

 

He is playing a Majda El-Rumi song tonight. There is some kind of pure magic to Majda’s voice. One would think that by the sheer richness and power of her voice she could summon a lover to her with the first word of a song and disintegrate an ex-lover with another word depending on her contentment or lack thereof. You would wonder how anybody could ever not submit to all of her wishes let alone hurt her.

 

The worst days are shopping days. I find it very hard to decide on something. Not the liking part. I can easily find clothes I like, but I seem to be genetically incapable of liking something enough to keep it. But today, when my mother points at a jacket, I nod and murmur in agreement, deciding quickly to try it on. Something that usually takes a lot of persuasion and persistence from Mama and Suha. When I get inside the changing room, I stare at my reflection in the mirror.

Some days are just harder than other days. Some days I miss him too much my heart aches. I put a hand over my heart trying to steady my heartbeats. But, how could one go through the day while missing someone so much? How could one wrap his mind around things when a single person occupies so much of one’s head space…heart space?

Mama and Suha gush over the jacket and they decide I should buy it. The worst thing starts then: the hagglingsomething I am utterly terrible at. As usual, I let Suha and my mother do that. As we move among the crowd, I attempt to avoid bumping on people. All I want right now is to go home, throw my head over a pillow, and sort out my thoughts. Well, I do want other things, but I guess I cannot get them right now.

We walk back to the house, choosing to stride down the streets close to our house to check a few shops, without having anything particular in mind to purchase. I sigh inwardly. I am looking down when I hear Suha mentioning Om Ghassan to my mother.

I look up.

Nothing feels more welcoming than the sight of him.

Our respective mothers exchange greetings. I try to make myself look away from him. Or rather look at him imperceptibly.

“How come Ghassan left the pharmacy and accompanied you?” My mother asks in a teasing tone.

“I dragged him here since he has an intern now.”

“Intern?”

“A fourth-year student. Wafaa’s daughter.”

Treacherous heart that mine is, uneasiness penetrates into it. Do you really believe this? my inner voice chides, it’s called jealousy not uneasiness.

I am not jealous. Why would I be? I argue back.

My frown must have been showing as a crease forms on his forehead.

“Will you help me? I am shopping for the boys and myself and I cannot trust their taste for my clothes.” His mother asks politely. There is something about her that urges people to like her instantly. She has some warmth to her that feels comforting.

My mother looks at Suha and I as if we had a choice if she wants to accept. Not that I mind at all. We turn back along with them.

He is three steps ahead of me. When his mother stops in front of a shop, he retreats two steps. I look down at our shoes, measuring the distance in my head, registering my pink sneakers so close to his grey ones.

I try to focus amid the chaos of my beating heart.

He turns his head to the right, facing me.

Managing to attain the emotions pouring out of me while I hold his gaze is a strenuous task. It feels overwhelming as a delicious shiver runs down my spine, I instinctively almost try to brush it off as a shudder before owning to my feelings. This time I acknowledge my feeling for what it is. I am happy. It is as simple as that.

I keep from placing a hand over my heart.

The sides of his lips turn up slowly.

I chock on a breath.

He breathes out a single word, “marhaba!”

 

The End

Marhaba: Chapter Five

Ghassan

I blame the hijab. Or that is what I keep repeating to myself. I mean, no one is allowed to look that good wearing a dark red scarf. And by that, I mean very, extremely, heart-stopping good. Is she on a mission to kill me?

Today is Dark Red.

This morning Sahar was standing opposite to me, hailing a taxi. At first, her eyes were fixed at car level, and I thought she was trying to avoid looking at me. It felt bad. Like a punch in the guts. Then, the next moment, she turned a bit to the right, looked me in the eyes and smiled before getting on in the taxi. I do not remember if I smiled back. I hope I did. Oh my God, what if I didn’t?

I went back inside the pharmacy, dreamily flashing back to the smile. With a spring in my steps, I started arranging the shelves. An errant image of me pressed close to her conjured in my mind, and the next instant my face was pressed against the floor. I do not recall climbing on the small ladder and reaching for the top shelves to arrange them. I must have been too delighted to realise that. One instant I was up there, and the next one I was on the ground.

My ankle did not hurt immediately after the fall, but I treated myself quickly knowing it would keep me up all night.

Now, I am left with my sprained ankle and her hijab to blame.

Due to the exams, it is quite hard to see Sahar on a daily basis. I still see her hanging the laundry on the ropes, her movements a rhythm of their own, her hands looking capable of anything, her hijab fluttering with the wind, my heart thudding along all of this. How can one person be capable of evoking these much of emotions in another? All of a sudden, I feel I am invading her privacy, so I go downstairs, change my clothes and leave for work. The pharmacy is two buildings away from my house; a short distance, but long enough to prompt a morbid feeling and a bitter truth―I do not have any right to do what I am doing. It feels like I keep snatching what is not for me. The grim reality of this tugs at a string in my heart as my mind does not present me with a counterargument for this. If I gave myself the liberty to be creepy, what would stop another boy from acting the way I do? Having feelings for her must count as something though. If she reciprocates these feelings, then this is reason enough behind my foolishness.

During such moments of flimsy certainty, I feel like I have every right to think of Sahar attentively and describe every single, small detail, every furtive glance, each tilt of the head, every movement of the hands, the way she leans into the railing of her balcony or stands straight, the way her cheeks redden sometimes, and how her smile brightens the world up, how I long to hear her laugh and memorise how she spells each syllable.

One moment it is this thrill. Another moment it is that dread.

“Are you excited for the match?” Ali, Sahar’s brother, asks me, his voice rising enthusiastically. Weeks after they moved here, he came to the pharmacy for the first time as I was closing. His father had forgotten to buy his medicine and Ali rushed to enquire if I could re-open and give him Normoten 50. The next time Ali came to buy it, I was closing yet again. “Right on time,” he quipped, and since then we became friends.

We are sitting comfortably and sipping the coffee I poured from the thermos I always have with me.

“What match?”

“Spain vs Portugal.” Ali says it matter-of-factly, like I should have known.

“You know I don’t watch football.” I state matter-of-factly.

“But this is the World Cup. Le Mondial. Most anticipated football tournament.”

“I still don’t get the hype.” I shrug.

“Even my sisters watch it,” he remarks.

“Hey, that is sexist.” I hope Ali cannot detect my defensive tone.

“I just meant that boys are supposed to like football.”

“But why should we? And girls shouldn’t?” I sound a bit exasperated.

“Now don’t go all feminist on me.” He moves his hands in an exaggerating manner.

“It’s not about being feminist. It’s about how and why people decide that some things are meant for boys only and not for girls. I cannot understand the division.”

“Your future wife is a lucky woman.” He teases me.

I fidget with the hem of my shirt. Thank God he cannot read my thoughts and know that his sister is the one who came to mind when he said that. Somehow, I feel guilty.

Tonight, I close earlier than the usual when Ali leaves. The streets are almost deserted as people are watching the game. When I unlock the main door of our house, I hear the soft voice of my mother singing about missing and memories. Not wanting to interrupt her, I go to my room first and have a quick shower.

My mother is singing for my father while making dinner for me. I wonder how she does that. All this strength is marvellous, leaving me all astonished, as always. Only when she stops singing I join her in the kitchen and try to help.

“How are you?” My mother asks.

“I am good.” I have not told her about my ankle. “How are you?”

“Alhamdulillah.”

I have always wanted to ask my mother about something, but I always wavered, thinking that I do not want her to remember things. But, well, she does not forget them in the first place. So, this time, I go for it.

“Mama. You told me that you have not met my father before marriage. Not even once?”

“We saw each other once before Katb al-kitab. Our parents and uncles and aunts were in the room with us. It was scandalous to leave us alone back in the days. When my father said ‘this is Omar’, I raised my eyes from the yellowish spot in the carpet feeling my face go all red. Our eyes met and he was blushing too. Before realising it, I was smiling. He smiled back and that was it.”

“Just like that? How?” I cannot help the hint of disbelief in my voice.

“We were raised with the notion that our parents know our best interests and we must obey them. It’s true we did not really have a saying in it, but after marriage, we made it work. It took a lot of adjustments and compromises. I know this tradition comes as strange and ridiculous to you. But I’d choose him all over again whether I had a choice or not. Allah Yerhamo.”

“Ameen.”

I try to process everything. It is unbelievable how they knew what they wanted without overthinking any decision. Or it is unbelievable how submissive they were to customs and traditions.

Marhaba: Chapter Four

Sahar

I feel shaken…deliciously shaken. It feels like I have forgotten how much he affects me and when our eyes met, my heart was reminded of the intensity of it all.

Since my parents and brother are at work, I go straight to the room I share with my elder sister, thankful that I won’t have to explain to anyone why I came back early. I find my sister lying on her bed; she does not have classes, too.

“Why are you back so quickly?” Suha asks.

“We don’t have classes today.”

“And you didn’t know that?” Suha is studying at another university.

“I thought all exams start in two days, like mine do.” I try not to sound defensive.

“Strange,” she says contemplatively before adding, “I have never seen you so distracted before.”

The problem is that she is actually right. In the last few weeks, I accidently injured myself multiple times; I broke many cups and dishes; and I ruined one of my jilbabs. All accidently while my mind was wandering elsewhere.

I take off my jilbab and grab a change of clothes. Putting the clothes on the hanger of the bathroom behind its door, I rest against the door and grin like a madwoman. My heart feels so spacious I want to tell someone. After the quickest shower I have ever taken, I head to the guest room, seeking privacy.

I pull my phone out of the jeans’ pocket and send a WhatsApp text message to Hala.

―You won’t guess what I just did.

Hala replies within a minute.

―Actually studied for the exams.

No, wait! Realised that I was right and Zayn Malik is the most gorgeous human being.

―You wish.

I went to G’s pharmacy.

―You can’t leave me at that. I NEED DETAILS!

So, I tell Hala what happened in a series of fragmented sentences. Either I don’t mention him at all or talk about him in full details; there is no in-between.

―YAY! I totally ship you guys ❤ ❤

Hala was not this enthusiastic when I told her about Ghassan for the first time last week. That day, she kept pressing me until she “pulled it out of me” as she likes to remind me. Hala said that she had felt I changed and she was not sure if it were good or bad change. I am still not quite sure what she meant by that.

Somehow, I doze off until my mother wakes me up for lunch later. For the rest of the day, I keep checking Ghassan’s social media accounts, but he posts nothing; he seldom does. I wonder if he ever talks about me to anyone.

Where do unsaid and unwritten thoughts go? What kind of ferocious void contains them?

 

Thoughts of exams surface, making me realise just how much studying I have got to do. I remember my first few weeks at my university; I detested it at the time like most people do. However, while most of them had issues concerning the gap between university and school, so it is, for them, about not being prepared. My issue was about adjusting and not feeling like I belonged. Back then, I had this strong hunch about not surviving it for the next four years. When I made peace with the change, befriended a few girls and took great courses, things began to change for the better. Ever since I was in seventh grade, I made up my mind about my major. I loved Arabic more than any other subject. Naturally, I specialized in the literary stream in high school. Why would I have subjected myself to mathematics and physics when I knew what I wanted?

Thinking about Ghassan being in the scientific stream brings our differences into focus. Can this be an indication of us approaching life in a different manner? And if our opinions and thoughts and tastes are unalike, does it make a difference?

It is unfathomable how almost anything leads me back to thinking about him.

To get myself in the mood of studying, I pick up the book of my favourite courseliterary criticism. I leaf through the pages we covered in the course so far, reading about the early critics, moving from Plato to Aristotle to Ibn Khaldun.

 

The arrival of my maternal aunt with her two daughters and two sons puts a pause on my studying. I miss the time when my mother thought I was an ideal daughter for keeping to my room when we had guests coming over. Now, I have to share with them this social delight.

Lana and Dana talk over each other for each one believes that she can share the same story better than the other. At one point I find this annoying then, I think it’s rather amusing how two people, who share the same experience of an incident, have not so typical versions of it. Everyone of us chooses what to see or maybe knows how to see specific things but does not actually know how to perceive or observe other things when they are not of interest to them. I stay silent most of the time while Suha is invested in their story and asking questions.

“Maybe she only speaks in poetic verses now,” Ibrahim interjects, teasing me.

“Well, you wouldn’t be able to keep up with me.”

Ibrahim laughs loudly. Ghassan’s grin flashes in my mind.

Lana, Dana and Ibrahim start complaining about university as if it were the worst thing that could befall on anyone while their brother, Adel keeps ignoring everyone as he types into his mobile phone like his life depended on it. I join the complaint, sharing my disinclination.

I am in the kitchen making tea when a strange realisation hits me―having feelings for Ghassan made it somewhat easy to speak to other boys knowing I will never be interested in any of them. Before (this small word sounds so jarring and life-changing. It forces the existence of an “after” and poses comparisons), I have never felt at ease to converse with Ibrahim or any other boy, but, strangely, not anymore. It feels quite liberating. Well, that is an unexpected advantage.

 

Marhaba: Chapter Three

Ghassan

I replay the whole meeting inside my head many times that I memorise it for a lifetime. Her coming to the pharmacy gives me the deliciousness of possibilities, the brightness of visions and the muse of poetry. Not that I plan to write poems for her. That may drive her away, urging her to call all of this a bad chapter in her life and erase every memory of me. I wish that was not exaggeration, but I am that horrible at it. I stick to my good taste in music.

The rest of the day work does not feel tedious or monotonous as I hum songs while moving around, unable to stay still.

When I get back home for lunch, I am unable to catch a glimpse of her through the windows. I wonder if she feels awkward after talking to me and taking the real first step. Do girls feel mortified and underappreciated when they make a step?

What if she decides I am not worth it? What if she does not feel the spark? What if I misread the whole thing, her smiles, the twinkle in her eyes, her self-consciousness around me, her biting on her lower lip? Or maybe…maybe she is telling me the ball is in your court now, and it’s up to you what happens next.

These questions put a damper on my jovial mood. No matter how much I try, it’s hard to get back to the certainty of the last few hours. Pressing the heels of my hands on my eyes, I shake my head vigorously in an attempt to clear my thoughts.

“Are you okay, Ghassan?” My mother’s nose wrinkles whenever she is concerned, just like right now.

“Huh?”

“You haven’t eaten anything.”

I’m dangling between heaven and abyss. I’m both happy and agitated. I simultaneously want to sing aloud and smack my head against the nearest wall.

“I’m fine,” I reply.

My mother brushes a hand through my hair, murmuring a prayer. A tight smile is all I can give her in return.

Get a grip, Ghassan. It’s only been a few hours, and I have survived days before without seeing her for once, but now I am freaking out after hours! How greedy one can be. I have to make myself realise that things do not always go forward and we, certainly, will not always go to the next stage. We might as well go a step backward or stay at one point for so long.

It is 02:35 am now. I am staring unblinkingly at the ceiling, still hanging somewhere between joy and doubts. How can people be sure of things and feelings? How can they keep that certainty…stable? There is something about mankind nature when it comes to enjoying and celebrating happiness and delight―after feeling joy momentarily, we let our fears have a hold on us, driving us away from those pleasant feelings. It is rooted on all of us; however, some manage to fight back and control fear and negativity to better extent than others, so it varies in degrees.

But it is okay to freak out. It is okay to be messy sometimes. It is okay to not know. It is okay to miss someone so badly.

I wake up with a delicious sensation―the remnant of a delightful dream. The only part I recall is us standing in a corridor, our backs rested on a wall, slowly inching toward each other, yearning jolting us pleasantly, us surreptitiously closing the distance between our hands, entwining our fingers and sighing contentedly. Hand-holding is such an underrated art. It is unfathomably crazy how a dream is quenching my longing and waning my agitation for the meantime.

My brother’s shout of my name calling me for breakfast startles me. With the voice he has, he really does not need to shout.

I freshen up and join them on the dining table. The sound of TV is filling the house. Khaled must be watching Spacetoon since the characters sound dramatically gasping about something. Khaled’s impression of them is real and extremely funny. My mother calls for him to join us, her voice attempting to sound stern. One moment she manages to sound so, but her heart goes all soft the next moment as Khaled pouts sulkily.

Ever since my father died, she shows us more tenderness as if she wants us to have a mother’s and a father’s love so that we wouldn’t feel deprived of anything.

Empathy strikes me then. Here I am whining about missing someone after a few hours and Mama has to go through life with the memories of Papa. I feel guilty for not being considerate enough of her feelings.

“Thanks for making breakfast for us.”

Maybe I should tell my mother about my feelings. I’m sure she will understand me.