Fairy Godmother Resigns

Since I caught liver infection, I’ve been in need of my fairy godmother, but she has not showed up in while, perhaps preferring to not mingle with me anymore, a wise decision in the myriad of terrible ones she had graced upon me in the past. But nonetheless, I missed her visits, now that I’ve been spending much time alone.

However when she did visit, it was abrupt and quick, like she didn’t want to be with me, or be around our house at all. I was thrilled to see her, appearing before me like she always did, but this time her eyes were tired and sunken, yet not affecting her youthful appearance. How old was she anyway? To me, it never seemed like she was aging.

Sitting over for coffee, she tucked a lock of hair behind her ears. “Why aren’t you coming here anymore?” I ask.

My fairy godmother chuckles nervously. “Well… I got a job. It’s taking all my time, sometimes I’m not even in town for several days.”

I can feel my mouth opening slightly in that dumb way. I took a sip. “I know the workforce in Syria has dwindled significantly, but I didn’t know they were hiring grandmas. Do they even know about your magical nature?”

She winked. “I suppose my magical nature kind of… helped, in me getting the job.” She put the cup of coffee down. “Magical creatures are in high demand.”

“But I thought no one was supposed to see you, except me. I just don’t get it,” I stared at her. “You’re a figment of my imagination.”

“Oh silly you,” she pulled a cigarette out of her Lucky Star packet. “I’m real. I’m real because you think I’m real. I’m the realist thing in your life.”

I hunched over the table. “It doesn’t make sense. I created you to fulfill my crippling emotional dependency and to be my friend, because I’m too much of a lazy, arrogant loser to make any. I imagined you as a figure with a specific job to cater to my needs and whims, to withhold judgment on me and assert my opinions because I’m too afraid of being wrong.” I tightened my grip around the cup. “You cannot just go and have another job.”

My fairy godmother fixed her shining, droopy eyes on me. It scared me, she was serious, unwavering. “You don’t know anything. You’re a sheltered twit with massive daddy issues suffering from a lack of purpose and I’m tired of your bullshit and your constant whining. You can’t go to the fucking supermarket to buy your own fucking cigarettes. I will not spend the rest of my life stroking your inflated ego. I’m exhausted. And above all this, you don’t even pay me!”

“I don’t have to pay you!” I shouted. “I made you. You wouldn’t even be here if I didn’t imagine you. You wouldn’t say all this dumb shit if I didn’t make you smart.”

She again made that move of tucking a lock of hair behind her ear, regaining some of her composure. “Listen, I don’t want be your fairy godmother anymore. I can’t fulfil your needs like I used to, I’ve become too integrated into the system, too human. Not to mention I’m happy with my job, I’m even thinking of learning a second language.”

“A second language…”

“Yes, French perhaps. My clients would like it if I spoke another language.”

“Your clients…? What’s your job anyway?”

“I’m a prostitute.”

A long silence stretched between us, so slimy it was as if we were wading through a swamp of shit. Dumbfounded, I carried our now empty cups to the sink. “A prostitute…”

“Yes,” she perked. “It’s really rewarding. You get to know all those men and how they feel. It was hard at first, but I got used to it. They’re not paying as much as before, but my needs are few, and I’m building a solid base of loyal clients.”

I stared into the dirty sink, following the pattern of poured coffee and apple peels. “How… how are you marketing yourself?”

“Word of mouth.” She replied. “One man comes, tells his friends. His friends tell their friends, and so on.”

“Wow…” I glanced over my back at her. “How do you feel about it? Is it ok to you, to sell your body like that?”

She shrugged. “I don’t sell my body, I sell sex. But since you created me, I carry a little of your religious guilt, but you also created me to manage around these things. So not only do I manage your religious guilt, but also the religious guilt of the men I sleep with.”

“You’re really getting around this thing, huh?”

“Yes, I am. And frankly, I’m enjoying the money. It’s not much, but it suffices.”

I turn around to face her again. “What the fuck would you need the money for? You only eat and drink for appearances and to keep me satisfied. You dress differently every time I see you so you wouldn’t need it to buy clothes. For what, seriously?”

“I’m giving all the money I earn to independent groups working with Syrian refugees. It feels good to alleviate the suffering of a few when there’s so much injustice.”

“How touching.”

She sighed. “I’m doing everything in my capacity. I have a thirst for life. I want to expand myself. I want to see the world. I’ve been confined to your circle, and honestly that’s not healthy.”

“The circle or me, personally?”

“Both. You’re leading a destructive lifestyle. All that coffee and cigarettes, no friends, no lovers, you’re not even writing anything good anymore. You don’t take anything seriously, especially your future. You’re also too cynical, too numb, like nothing matters to you anymore.”

“See?” I exclaimed. “That’s exactly why I created you. You’re supposed to tolerate me even with all my shortcomings.”

“Sweetheart, humans learn and grow, they get out of suffocating situations for their sake.”

“You’re not real!” I shouted, frustration engulfing me. “You’re not human. You’re not supposed to feel things. You’re not supposed to develop opinions. You’re my creation.”

She sighed. “Guiding you is weighing me down, emotionally. I think… I think you need to see a therapist, to get rid of that dictator inside you.”

“This is Syria, there are no therapists.”

“Then I’m sure you’ll find something on Youtube to help you.”

It was too much. My last lifeline was abandoning me, and now my nausea was coming back. “So…” I began. “You’re serious about this resignation thing.”

“Yes,”

“Well, at least, have lunch with me?”

She shook her head. “No, I have to go, a client is waiting for me.” She got up from her seat, absent-mindedly dusting her frilly blue dress.

I escorted her to the door, where she held my face between her hands. “Take care of yourself alright? Make sure to rest well and follow the doctor’s prescription, ok?” I nodded. “I’ll visit every now and then, goodbye.”

Opening the door for her, I wondered when she stopped fading like she usually did and started using the door. Alas, shit like this no longer mattered.

“Bye, fairy godmother.”

“Bye, dear.”

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When They Ask You About Syria

They ask, what is life like inside Syria?

It’s many things, but mostly, right now, it’s exhausting.

It’s exhausting to those who, like me, do not reside in areas of conflict. It’s exhausting because we’re not really there and yet everyday life reminds us, snidely, whispering in our ears, that we are.

It’s exhausting because we don’t really know what’s happening.

It’s exhausting because you feel betrayed. But who did it? Who pushed the button? Who was the first to fire back? Who was the first to declare war?

When was the fruit plucked, and who tempted them to pluck it?

There surely is a culprit, but with so many parties roaming around it’s frankly hard to pinpoint the blame on one party when everyone seems and sounds guilty. Even you, in your little apartment, away from the chaos, are guilty.

Of what? I have no fucking idea. But you are, and you feel it all the time. You feel it when you eat, you feel it when you go down for a walk, you feel it when you have money in your pocket, you feel it when you wash the dishes, and the deliciousness of warm water on your skin is riveting.

Sometimes this guilt makes you feel like standing in a crowded street. There’s no place for your feet. People are walking around you, numb, drained, their eyes glassy, indiscernible. You sense that only you still possess enough conscious to avoid bumping into others. The rest of your fellow country people become terrifying; you don’t know them anymore. Everyone are distant, unapproachable.

But, perhaps, you’re the one who’s distant and approachable.
*
They say, I don’t read the news anymore.

Good. Good for you. How much is the yogurt?

A lot. A lot of money.

You buy nail polish instead. You’re not hungry anyway, you just wanted the yogurt because the yogurt is an essential part of the Syrian experience and you want the Syrian experience. You still want to feel that this is Syria and you are Syrian and you are eating that special Syrian yogurt that is unlike any other.

You cannot eat the nail polish. Now you’re hungry. And extra guilty. You bought an unnecessary item when many of your fellow country people have nothing to eat.

You apply the nail polish. There are no instructions to apply the nail polish so you have to figure it out by yourself. I’m sorry this is so but it’s just how things are. Stop whining. No, no don’t cry. Now now, there’s no point in lamenting the unbought yogurt.

The first layer of this nail polish is basically transparent. This angers you. You apply another layer. The first layer hasn’t dried yet, so they kinda mingle and collect instead of spread.

This nail polish is made somewhere outside Syria. It is laden with conspiracy. Even applying it is being conspiratorial! You are helping the enemy by endorsing in their products. Bad citizen. Horrible citizen. Absolutely unpatriotic!

No more nail polish, your mom says.

Your mom secretly paints her toes and covers them with socks.

You don’t like your fellow country people anymore, but you like your country, at least you think you do. They taught you to like your country, so you probably do like it. But you don’t like your fellow country people anymore, you’re certain of this, and you have a sneaking suspicion that the feelings are mutual. They don’t like you either, you’ve become a burden. One more mouth to feed. But you’re not hungry! I mean you just bought nail polish instead of yogurt, why do they have to treat you like this?

Why does everyone act as if this country is theirs and theirs alone? I have an idea! Let’s all create our own countries. Me, you, that man rummaging in the garbage. We could all make a country.

Right, you want a flag? I will help you create one, after all, this is a national movement, or maybe a goodbye party, either way, I will help you in designing your flag.

Oh you want the two stars in the original flag? But I wanted them first, so you can’t have them.

Seriously? Do you even know what the fucking two stars represent?

Me neither.

They probably represent something but it doesn’t matter, because I called for them first.

What the fuck, you can’t use my nail polish to paint your stupid flag. I call this whole plan off! Back to Syria, no country for everyone, return to your parents, play time is over.

You don’t want to go back to Syria you say? But you were just fighting for the two stars. Ah, right, you don’t know their meaning. Obviously you can’t use something you don’t know the meaning of. What will you say when diplomats and ambassadors ask you what they mean? It would be embarrassing to not have an answer.

Silly, you just created your own fucking country! Who cares what foreign ambassadors have to say?

Now that you have created your own country, we, as the international community, implore you to take Syrian refugees in. Open your arms. Haven’t you seen what is happening to their country?

Oh, you’re not watching the news anymore?

Good. Good for you. News lie anyway.

to be continued… sometime in the future… maybe

My Country

My country is countless hours in a doctor’s waiting room, suffocating with ill people.

Stolen kisses in dark alleys and corners

Extra money in the hand of an officer

Long blackouts

An unfinished building that has become a landmark

Hearty laughter followed by quiet sobbing

Old tires kept in historical buildings

*

My country is elites disconnected from reality

And poor people too consumed by reality

*

My country is the forgotten lover and exhausted beloved

And above all, my country is a falafel stand with questionable hygienic standards, but you eat the falafel anyway, because it’s goddamn good.

Because you’re hungry.

Because it’s cheap.

Because it’s cheap.

Thirst

When I leave
I’ll take my desert with me
*
To carry the desert in your heart
is to carry a smoldering sunset
and a smoldering sunrise
it is to carry the weight of poetic words
unwritten
undocumented
*
The desert is heavy
with all its emptiness
yet its marvel is that
it does not resemble a shallow vase
but a place of wonder
a land of divine revelation
*
the desert is a curse
and a blessing
it is around you but you cannot see it
it is present yet not really there
Do not wait for the desert to reveal itself
like it reveals everything else
the desert is no mother
yet we are its children
it loves you but knows no commitment
it screams
but is solemn
hidden
yet exposed
*
we can only be free
once we recall
how the desert belongs to no one
and because we are the children of this desert
we, too, belong to no one

Return to Love Letter, Visuals

In my previous post, I kept my sentences short and dry, because my main point was writing my immediate reaction to everything I’ve experienced during the trip to my hometown.

My grandparents’ house is made up of a three-story orange building, and it is more or less a landmark, albeit a hidden one. You have to walk a narrow path between a public park on one side, and olive trees outgrowing the walls confining them on the other. We used to live there when we were little, in the third story, but then we moved out.

When leaving our hometown to Damascus, we left a lot of things behind. Books, photo albums, clothes, portraits; and among those things I found an old box belonging to me. The box was full of love letters. Love letters I got, love letters I wrote and never sent, even love letters that didn’t belong to me, but to my sister.

Instead of sitting down on the dusty floor to read and wallow, I took pictures with my crappy phone camera.

Entering the room,
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… and to see that old picture of my mom
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and a sack full of my drawing pads,
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The Sacred Cooking Book (it reads “Sweets for all Occasions”)
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That reminder that I used to smoke in secret. (who the fuck decided to keep that trash anyway?)
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Triptych
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Old cultural magazines belonging to my mom.
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Stacks upon stacks of children’s magazines that were my other parents
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Old cassettes eaten by dust
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The Kitchen
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The Bathroom
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A Room of no Importance
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My Grandmother’s Key Handle, and my greatest source of mystery as a child
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And finally, the Love Letter box
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Return to Love Letter, a.k.a My Grandmother’s Funeral

I

At 2:30 exactly, my mother told me grandma had passed away minutes ago. We immediately arranged for a return to our hometown, where mom’s family still reside.

I dressed in black, tied my dyed hair, removed my nail polish and cut my fingernails.

We are going to the funeral.

II

There are many new buildings. I can barely recognize my hometown. Getting into the taxi, hearing my mom give directions- I forgot the name of our neighborhood.

III

Arriving, a wailing woman takes me into her arms. I don’t recognize her at first, but then she whispers “I missed you”, and I remember the voice of an old friend’s mother.

IV

At ‘al madhafa’, a guestroom, weeping women surround my grandmother’s still body; singing, uttering blessings, and remembering her good deeds and celebrated qualities. I can’t see her face, but they said she looked peaceful.

V

I’m kissing a lot of women I don’t know. I feel young and out of place.

VI

Mom sends me upstairs with our stuff to my uncle’s apartment so I can stay with my cousin. My cousin is 16 years old. She speaks and acts like an old woman. Her world feels so alien to me.

VII

I go downstairs, sit on my grandma’s bed, and then notice the sharp glance Em Fadi throws my way; she does not like it. I get up, sit next to my mom, stand up whenever someone enters the room, kiss more people, say the right words, express the right emotions.

I’m suffocating.

VIII

I go to the kitchen every five minutes to walk a little and drink some water. I never liked how the water tasted here. Mom gives me a ‘mlabaseh’ –a type of candy- it’s too sweet and sticks to my teeth.

I want to go back home.

IX

Mom and I are invited to sleep at my other uncle’s house. I see my little cousins again, they’ve grown so much. I feel cut off and disconnected, but I enjoy their genuine love.

The middle child, Khawla, asks where grandma is. Mom says she’s now reunited with her husband in heaven, finally back together, drinking matteh and taking long walks like they used to, away from this futile reality.

Khawla sounds convinced, and asks no more.

X

We’re having dinner. The meat and the potatoes are cold. The tea stale.

Grandma’s dead.

I kinda miss the sandwiches she used to make whenever we visited her.

XI

I haven’t smoked in 8 hours.

XII

I finally take off my bra.

Grandma is one lucky bitch for leaving this hazard behind.

That was an ugly day.

XIII

Funerals are exhausting.

I miss the internet.

She Who Must Not Be Named

“It was just an experience.”

She says after I’ve asked what she thinks about that time we kissed. That time in the dark hallway of her building, when I tangled my fingers in her long hair, when she placed her hands gently on my arms. That time when I did not want to let go. Ever.

“I mean,” she continues, her eyes darting anywhere but my face. “There were no feelings, so I thought nothing about it.”

I can almost see my heart pack its stuff, and take off with the last breaths I managed before blurting it out.

“Only on your part.” I say, and my hands shake inside my pockets. My legs tremble. I’m scared.

But what was I scared of? What terrified me about her nonchalant response? Was it my before-hand knowledge of her rejection? Or was it because of the small trickle of hope that said there could be something to that kiss? Or perhaps, and this is the most likely reason, that she was a girl, and I was a girl, and the world was a pot of tears that chewed and swallowed us?

I’m scared.

She’s silent. I can hear her faint breathing beside me, on the mattress.

“Say something, please…”

Chuckling nervously, she removes a forelock of hair away from her face. “I… I don’t know what to say, I mean-wow…”

My heart is hovering in the corner, with its heavy load, waiting for the train to come take it away. It glances towards me, waves, and hops on the rails seconds before the train comes crashing in on my world.

I sigh, I will have to pay for it to be treated now. But I knew. I knew that boats cannot be fixed by stitching. I couldn’t even recognize the presence of anything to stitch back.

It was, ultimately, a losing game that I have chosen to play anyway.
………………….

It is in that gentle manner of hers that I find myself stranded. Stunned. Not because she smiles and we both know it’s fake, it’s because I believe that smile anyway. I cradle it. I want to nurture it and feed it and make it grow bigger.

Perhaps I convinced myself that, even if it was now fake, I could change it. I lied to myself to feel better, to feel that I was in control as my heart crashed on itself.

Thinking that, maybe if I wore just the right face, and said just the right words, she’ll come over, hold me like she did back in that dark hallway, and put her lips gently against mine.

But it was all fake. I felt that she could create a space for me in her heart, without knowing that it was already so full, so bitter. In that little corner, in a breezy summer night, when she rested her head on my thigh, and my hands cried for her; for her skin and her eyes and her hair.

I followed the script so blindly, and failed to give the perfect act. Somehow it all seemed so convenient, like nothing could break the glass, and nothing could hurt us. Except us, I guess.

And in the space of a breath, I knew that I was just fooling myself. That all the things I imagined were wish-fulfillment that perhaps I could fill some void that I fooled myself existed. I wanted to carve a corner for me in her life, when she had already packed my room there and sent my stuff away in a wrecked car and turned it into a gymnasium.

My Relationship with Men’s Underwear

My entire life, I had grown up with two other females in the house; my mom and my sister. We were less of a family and more of a three friends, really, and that formula of existence shaped my stance on roommates and coexisting in the same space with other people.

And while I can imagine the kind of life I would like to lead in an apartment with someone else, I always fail at convincing myself that living with a male would be the same.

My father, since we were young, has spent his years away in the Gulf countries, from Emirates to Qatar, and thus we, in Syria, only got to see him for a month each year, so the experience of living with a male since childhood is lost on me.

I recall when my mom would ask me to hang the clothes to dry, and whenever I encountered a piece of conspicuous underwear that I knew belonged to my dad, I would hold it with my fingers like you would a greasy, dripping trash sack, and hang it on the robe with the wish to end all this soon.

Despite recognizing that the underwear was clean, I had an allergy to it, especially ones belonging to family members, as I would keep imagining the whole time that this black speedo, hours ago, contained male genitilia that I absolutely did not want to be close to.

As a little girl my father’s presence enthralled me. I was yet to enter the phase of female adolescence where men were not allowed and routinely shut out; where we locked ourselves in the bathroom for hours, shaving, plucking, feeling our bodies, our newly budding boobs, sensualizing the touch of skin on skin, and sometimes masturbating. Because of this, I would wonder why my sister, having preceded me into that world, lost touch with our dad.

When you are living with other women and girls, practicing the same rituals, walking in your panties when it’s hot, talking openly about matters that are not to be heard by menfolk, the presence of a male becomes unbearable, and thus the constant open view of his belongings, whether cologne or ties or nicely polished shoes or underwear, also becomes overwhelming. You do not know how to handle his things, how to act during his noon naps, what kind of jokes he deems appropriate and what behavior bothers him. You learn to tiptoe around his presence because -despite your happiness he’s here- you do not understand him; you do not understand how to inhabit the same space as him, you have not learned the immaculate vocabulary of male authority, or the complex guidelines of fatherhood. You are small and you are hanging your dad’s underwear outside to dry and you wonder if he feels the same way upon encountering your things. Does seeing your girly belongings make him nervous? Would he not mind hanging your bra and pink panties outside to dry? Why are you thinking about his private parts and then hating yourself for thinking about it and trying to forget the image ever crossed your mind?

The male becomes the curiosity, and this curiosity manifests itself in discreet instances; when he’s sleeping, you slip into the room, hold his personal comb, and run the tips of your fingers over the plastic teeth, greased by the oiliness from his hair. You hold his precious perfume bottle and spray a little at your wrest –because you saw your mother test the scent this way- and smell it, despite knowing what it smells like. In the bathroom, after a generous lunch, you dry your hands and mouth with his personal towel.

All this, the personal comb, the personal perfume, the personal towel, it makes him distant. You grew up sharing everything with girls, from hair brushes to clothes to accessories, and the individuality of the male figure bothers you.

You wonder why he’s so finicky about his things, and how he did not like it when you wrapped his tie around your head and played yourself as a tribe member on an adventure over sofas and tables. He sees you, and before he says anything, you unwrap the tie and hand it over.

“It’s wrinkled,” he comments, and the male figure becomes more detached.

You love him. You really, really do. He is an idol, but he is so because for you, he is far and unapproachable, unknown, and mysterious. You do not know him. You love him, but you do not know him, and this itself makes you wonder why you feel so strongly about him. Why you defend him when your mother cries in anger and frustration. Why you await his return, every year, eagerly, loving when he asks you what you want him to bring, and being embarrassed of asking for any gifts.

It’s not that you feel undeserving, but because the language of communication between the two of you is muddy, smudged and incomplete. Butchered, somewhere close to your heart. And because, deep down, you hope that he will bring you gifts without asking you if you want any. You hope time and again that he will know what to bring, because he knows what you love, but he doesn’t.

After years of the same scenario, you come to acknowledge that perhaps he does not know what you love. Has he not observed you as closely as you observed him? Because you certainly know what he loves. He loves expensive cologne and shiny shoes; that odorous, musty smell of cigars and old-fashioned wool vests; that tattered leather jacket and that particular James Brown album that he never tiers of listening to. He loves neatly arranged documents and arcade games, especially billiard, as well as drinking beer and telling the same joke every year.

Why has he not noticed the things you love? Are they not as important as his personal cologne, his personal comb, and his personal towel? Was he not fascinated by the little trinkets and antiques you collected and left scattered all over your room? Was he not curious about you as you were him?

But you are loyal to the distant patriarch, and that’s why you hang his underwear to dry, despite not very much liking the ordeal. You accept his gifts even when you don’t like them. You laugh at the joke even when it’s no longer funny, because you know he loves telling that joke, and you want to affirm your engagement in his happiness and pleasure. You remain loyal to him even when he’s no longer the center of your curiosity, as that curiosity, now, had moved to other males.

Entering the romantic sphere, the male has not ceased to be of interest to you, but now you can explore him in more intimate ways; first with your words, then hands, then mouth. You find yourself attracted to distant, detached boys that have their personal cologne, and their personal comb, and their personal towel. But just like with your father, you do not want any kind of interaction with their underwear, dirty or clean, because fuck, male underwear makes you embarrassed and alienated, it is foreign and dangerous, aloof yet obtrusive. Despite this, you do not hate it, but you would like to stay far away from it, in fear of being reminded of the small things. You don’t like the small things. Or perhaps you do.

I am beginning to think this is God’s punishment for women in Hell; he makes them wash and then dry the underwear of men who made them feel uncomfortable more times than not.

It’s grand, because God has daddy issues, too.