Edited by: Maggie Rosenau
I’ve always been afraid of the madmen and their madness. Who are they? What causes them to go mad? What do they think? Do they ever return from their madness? If so, return to what? What if go away forever because there is one sentence in their heart they cannot pronounce? What if they speak things that we do not understand? What then, if one does not have a mouth—if he is bedridden, can hear but cannot react? What is slow running and suffocation in a dream? Why are all our dreams so slow? Why the fear that you have no voice and no one to hear you? There is no body for you to dwell beside. Continuous falling is the nightmare. The days here are also continuous falling.
There are “friendly” shots, but death is still the same. Even when death comes by fever, it is death all the same.
I saw ones who died of sorrow. I saw them die from sadness. I saw friends whose eyes were hanging like an empty swing.
Usama was a very noble and dignified man, emotional and sensitive. He never knew his mother. She died when he was a child. When his father passed away, he left Usama and his two older brothers a small fortune. I didn’t have the chance to know him well. I met Usama at the beginning of 2012. A friend introduced us, I remember this. The friend said: This is Usama, and like you, he loves writing and recording everything that happens around him. Usama and I met several times that year. He lived close by and so we shared our ideas, our writing, our feelings.
Usama often told me about his desire to write a single story able to change the world. Usama never liked this world. He dreamed of changing it. He was preoccupied with one idea in particular. Although he never shared the details, he was very enthusiastic about this idea and said he would start writing this out in a single small story. It would change this world forever.
Shortly after this, however, Usama went missing. No news about him arrived. He disappeared completely. Many people in Syria disappear—and that becomes their story.
It is the 15th of January 2013. I have been in the Ward Nr. 12 for over a month. Nothing is new, life is the same. Food comes regularly, people leave, others die, and those empty places are filled daily with new prisoners. The routine continues, time flows the same, maybe slower. I made some friends—a few nice guys whose presence warm my soul. We fill the time with conversations and rears about the past, about what we might have become if we lived above the ground.
That afternoon, the door to the room opened and three new prisoners were brought in: two young men, not even 25 years old, and one old man. One of the young men was beaten so hard, his face was covered in fresh lacerations, his eyes were barely opened. Looking at his body, it was clear they tried to draw a map on his back with a knife.
I walked toward this guy to see how badly hurt he was or see if he needed any medical help from us. Even if he needed help, the possibilities were limited. But a helping hand must be given. People began talking to him, and when I heard his voice, my heart trembled. I was somewhat disoriented, and not at all certain, but I needed to know his name. I drew near to him and asked, Usama? is that you?
He answered yes, but could not make out who I was. I told him who I was and he hugged me immediately. I sat him down next to me and began asking how has been, why he was brought to the Ward. This is everything Usama said and confessed to:
Anas, you know my situation well. I am an orphan. My father passed away a couple of years ago and left my brothers and I a restaurant and a shop. This is how we have been earning money. My father did not leave this world without providing us with something to live from. He did his best for us, may God rest his soul. But before he died, he put my uncle in charge of the restaurant—to lead the ship, so to speak. And well, because he is our uncle, the brother of our father, we respect him. Above this, we respect our father’s choices. But greed has blinded this man. This uncle is already starting to think about selling the restaurant to open a new project. Well, as you know, I am 24 years old. I am still young compared to my older brothers, who understand the whole business. And yes, my uncle has some rights in these businesses that we own, and of course some money as well. But in all fairness, his say in any decision should be 15 percent whereas ours should be 85 percent. This would be correct. But soon after we received our inheritance, a tension between my brothers and my uncle intensified, and I took my brothers’ side. When my brothers started to take control of the restaurant—running it without his authority—our uncle started to show his true colors. We promised him that if he considered selling our father’s legacy to us, then we would give him a sum of money rightfully his and everyone could continue on his way, keep this family safe. You understand, we just didn’t want to lose him as a member of our family, you know? We wanted to keep separate family and work, love and money. These things cannot meet sometimes. His threats followed us day after day, and then we decided to make our way without him. This is what we did.
By the way, a month and a half ago I married the woman I love. But this poor woman was unable to enjoy this marriage. I miss her … a lot.
A few days ago the government arrested my brothers at the restaurant. Then they arrested me at my home. My wife was there for that moment. Thinking of her watching them drag me out of my house, shouting all the bad words she can think of and crying—this breaks my heart, Anas. When they brought us here, they asked us about guns and any connections with the free army. They showed us our written charges, and we told them our story. We told them about how our uncle threatens us. But you see how I look—he paid them well to keep us away and deny us our rightful inheritance. What a world!
We talked for two days without pause, but I never found the opportunity to ask him about that story he wanted to write—the one that would change the world. Next to him, I forgot the flow of the time. He was the one I wanted to talk to, but that didn’t remain for long. Two days later his Number 53 was called and he went out. When he returned to the room, his face was twisted with pain. They beat him so much, though it mattered little to him. There was something else worrying him. He screamed and cried for the next five days. Those were his last five days.
During that investigation, they threatened him with horrible things if he refused to tell where the guns were and the names of the members of the free army that he and his brothers had a connection with. They threatened to arrest his wife and rape her in front of him.
Usama was consumed with worry. The thought of his own Uncle deciding to exterminate three brothers and their families for money, the image of his broken wife, who was already unhappy, being arrested for something her husband never did—all these unfair situations caused him to start incessantly talking to himself. He stopped responding to any other voice around him. He stopped sleeping. I tried to soothe him, explain how they are liars. I told him I did not believe they arrested his wife. They are just liars, I said. They will use anything to scare you. But Usama became lost in his worry. He went mad.
On the third day without sleep, a person will exceed the fatigue threshold. You are freed of fatigue, but the day after that you begin to hear sounds you had forgotten. People near you will talk to you, but when you turn your head toward them, their voices stop and they disappear completely. The fifth day will carry to you pictures and people in the broad area of your vision. No matter how you turn your head, they are there, staring at you, and you will never be sure if they are your living dream embodied in front of you, or if you are their worst nightmares.
On the sixth day, he passed away silently.
Usama died in the afternoon on January 22nd, 2013. To me, he left his concerns. I do not know if his brothers are still alive, but I know that his wife was never arrested. The day Usama died, we knocked on the door to tell the guards that he died. One of them who had questioned Usama looked at me directly and asked: how did he die?
- Me: from the broken heart I guess. You threatened to rape his wife in front of him. He could not take that!
- Guard (laughing): What a coward, what a man! It was just a joke! We were just scaring him! He died for a joke! Oh, how funny it is!
We were ordered to bring Usama’s body outside of the room and place it where the guard pointed then he closed the door.
Usama died on a sunny morning. This is how Usama—that beautifully emotional, sensitive, noble and dignified man—died. I don’t believe he was able to write the story that would change the world, and I don’t think he told it to anyone.
And this is Usama’s story, He was a man who wanted to, but could not change the world.