Edited by: Maggie Rosenau
On a wooden ladder
“which each step bears the name of each one of us”
we used to climb to the roof.
At the rooftop of a classical Syrian house is a terrace. It is the reception hall, the children’s playground, a place to meditate, and a place to converse with neighbors. It is also a secret corner for smoking and a shelter to hide in after your troubles. It is the best place for one to cry secretly.
From the roof—from our balcony overlooking at the cement walls—my mother says, as she pours “tea” in the same cup for each of us: we are the children of the harvest. Behind all this, there is a distant countryside and a spacious house.
We imagine the distant countryside. We imagine how pleasant it is to be the sons of harvest. And with empty chests, we breathe a whole field at once. Oh, how vast it is! How lucky and happy we are.
At the beginning of every winter, my father says (and he forgets that he said it before): “Finally the frost comes. I’ll tell you what makes the bodies stronger.” Then he tells us how soldiers run shirtless in the snow, how they play over frozen ponds, and how their first rule in the game is the loss of the first withdraw. Will you withdraw? Or will you come out with me to run?
We jump around him every time too. We yell Yah how lucky we are! We will run, of course! How happy is that…?
When the government arrested some of our relatives, my younger brother asked: Are we, criminals? My uncle (who was never arrested before) answered: No, no, we are politicians. we understand, analyze, discuss, and write and so on. Then my brother whispered to me joyfully: Do you see? I told you that we are a fortunate family! We are politicians! We understand, analyze, discuss, write. What do the less fortunate families do? Only eat and sleep…? I answered him: Yes, I always felt that. And I did not participate in any ordinary discussions about daily life. We are a distinguished family.
But the shooting intensified. Bullets everywhere. And shells had been dropped from the plane over the roof of our house on the old carpet that we sat on. We are lucky we did not go up to the rooftop that day. We were hiding during the days of clashes. We were sharing jokes and smoking. What luck.
Then they said we should leave the house—leave the neighborhood. So we left.
We left everything…
We are alive at least. A lucky family. We repeat this to ourselves daily through Skype—that we are at least alive. All that remains are details. We are alive and nothing can disturb this happiness. Nothing. A little insomnia is just an inconvenience. We have the luxury of making daily goals and dreams. We have time for this. Like any other happy family, we can handle insomnia because we are still connected by our good luck!
On the old roof, they said the government put a battalion of snipers. Or maybe one sniper. The news is often exaggerated. But no matter. Those fools do not know the third step of the ladder is broken. We broke it intentionally to laugh at anyone who does not know this secret game.
Sons of the harvest we are. How fortunate and how difficult not to be a son of harvest.