With each day that passes, I feel further removed from Syria. But I still have dear friends there, and am privileged to be in touch with them several times a week. They are so dear to me, and they are my heroes. But here in cozy London it is hard to actually feel their reality. And so maybe I now have enough distance to start writing a tribute to the Syrians who continue to inspire me, more and more. This might be the beginning of my next novel.
Leila picked up the phone and scrolled down to the familiar name by a Lebanese phone number. She pressed the green button and tapped her fingernails on the table as she waited.
After four rings, Maha answered, “Darling Leila! How are you? I’ve missed you!”
“Oh I’ve missed you too. What’s new with you?”
Rather than continue with the standard pleasantries, though, Maha responded only with silence.
So Leila jumped in. “I saw your Facebook post. May God have mercy on their souls.”
Maha chuckled. “Do you know what they found in the rubble? The entire house destroyed, but the television still upright with that little doily crocheted by my grandma on top. My mom always wanted to throw that doily out because it was so old, and it’s the only thing that survived!”
Leila joined Maha in a few moments of hearty laughter. What else can you do when talking to a friend whose father and youngest brother had both been killed by random shelling?
Once the merriment had died away once again, Leila asked Maha the practical questions: “What will your mother do? Will you go back to Syria for the funeral?”
“I have been trying to convince my parents to come to Lebanon for ages, since the beginning really. But Mama doesn’t want to leave. She says it is her home and if the Christians all flee Syria, then we are just offering it to the Islamists. She will go to Damascus to stay with my Aunt, you know my Aunt right? Praise God, so far, the Bab Touma region of Damascus is still safe.”
“And you?” reminded Leila.
“Mama told me not to, that it’s too dangerous. It’s silly because I go to Sham all the time with Samir, but Sednaya is now completely blocked off so I couldn’t get back home anyway. Can you imagine? I’ll never say goodbye to Baba nor to my baby brother. He was about to start secondary school already, you know?” Those last words came out in gulps, as if Maha was forcing the tears back.
“Ma sha’allah. God creates and man takes away.”
Leila herself had not escaped loss. Praise God, her immediate family was safe, living in a camp in the Jordanian desert, in a couple of shelters that looked like shipping containers, donated by a rich Arabian businessmen. As far as any of them knew, their village no longer existed, though none had been able to cross the various different front lines to check for many months now. Two of her uncles and a number of her cousins had joined the Free Syrian Army early on, and most of them had been killed in her fighting. One of her cousins, though, had proved himself to be a natural at war and been promoted to an officer in the FSA. Leila made it a point not to talk to him, ever.
There was little more to say on the subject, so Leila asked, “How is Samir?”
Over the phone line, Leila was convinced she felt Maha relaxing with the change of subject. “My husband is amazing. He’s my hero. Everyone worries about me when I travel – and I worry too. But Samir, he has been detained a few times times already! But he keeps travelling back and forth between Damascus and Beirut. He says he can’t stop as long as there are people who don’t have food to eat. He’s here in Beirut right now, thank God. I’m going to keep travelling with him, there are so many women in Damascus who need someone to listen to them and sit with them. And plus it’s less scary to travel with your husband than it is to send him into harm’s way. Anyway, he’s right. He can’t stop as long as there is need.”
“So you’re saying he is crazy.”
“I’m saying he is a man of God.”
Leila nodded and smiled, then remembered Maha couldn’t see her smiles over the phone. She didn’t want her friend to get the wrong idea, so she repeated the phrase with which she ended most of her conversations with Maha, “You guys are amazing.”