The Castaways: On the Verge of Life

Short story by Rahaf Konbaz

—- 1 —–

“Things do not start to become normal, father, till something dies within us. Just imagine the number of things that have died before we got used to all of this happening around us.” (Idwan)

Wars have this bizarre impact on those languishing in them. Wars contradict everything you know and everything you read. They adamantly demonstrate your humanity and inhumanity. They make you feel like you are simply a dwarf in this infinite space of worthlessness. Wars continue to happen despite being rejected by everyone. When they start, they do not stop no matter what you do.

To cut a long story short, four years ago a war broke out in Syria. Another war broke out in my mind, things got chaotic, every book I read, every term I believed in, say humanity, love, peace, mercy… seemed utterly and completely trivial and nonsensical. I never understood how we could wake up every day to continue living this “human epic.”  We simply wake up to hear about a new school being bombed, a neighboring city shelled, or hundreds drowned in the sea at the cusp of another continent.  Everything was happening against the most basic of logic: We exist in life but are not alive.

It is amazing that a crucial experience for the human race, “what to do or not to do in armed conflicts,” is never taught in school! We just found ourselves in this here. Never were we told how we should act.

We taught ourselves how to continue, or, better, we figured out that there is no other option than to continue.  Anyone walking in Damascus nowadays will conclude that after four years of war – with death rates breaking records, the collapse of the Syrian economy, an increasing number of children dropping out of school, poverty rates soaring, but still… – we are doing well. People are still moving, smiling, laughing and crying. Eating choking…celebrating and of course… dying. Thus, if anyone outside Syria asks me how we are doing in there, I simply answer, we are doing well! And I start telling stories which I know would startle those listening.

Like yesterday, I was at the university campus when suddenly a very familiar sound broke through the sky making everyone freeze and hold their breath. Eyes lifted to the sky. Silence enveloped the campus for two seconds…one …two….” Damn that was close”… voices began surfacing again. That was it, then everyone went back to their business. This is something I would never forget. The landscape of around two hundred students lifting their heads in one motion to see the rocket passing above our heads and putting them down again all together when they figured that this rocket was not going to fall on us, and continued their lives… What else can one possibly call this other than a decisive defiance of death and war. It broke my heart to see these young people are being left alone to endure this in the 21st century. The 21st century in which all nations have pledged to extend their hands to help each other. But again everything written and promised is merely an utter and complete amount of nonsense.

——— 2 ———-

Once upon a war there was this little boy who “ate his fingers due to extreme hunger, leaving his index finger and his middle finger in case victory came.” (Kirdieh) In another version this same boy ate all of his fingers and left only the middle one in case victory suddenly occurs!

Wars do not save anyone. It is like this big celebration that everyone is forced to join. Like it or not! You have to step in and start dancing. But the age group that suffers the lion’s share in this party is the children. I can no longer recognize the children of my homeland. They are children but not like the ones I used to see in the past. They speak differently, smile strangely, walk and play weirdly…. They have this strange look in their eyes. I wish if I could take hold of every one of them and shout “This is not us… do not believe what you see in the media… do not listen to their stories…Syria is not what you see now…close your eyes.”

The other day when I was heading to work, I saw a four-year-old boy smoking in the middle of the street. He was so small, so tiny, so little and so scared… not because of the sounds of the ongoing bombardments which have not stopped for the past four years. Nor because of the war planes wandering in the sky, neither because of the massive crowds racing in the streets to catch the only bus to take them home. He was scared to be caught smoking!! He was hiding a cigarette behind his back, taking a drag and then hiding it again. Every time he took a drag, his eyes would search left and right in the people’s faces as if expecting someone to slap him on the face for smoking…  but no one approached… everyone saw him smoking, raised an eyebrow, but no one stopped for a second to say a word to him. The boy finished the cigarette, waited for a few minutes and then slowly lit another!

I approached him and asked his name. Rabie, “Spring,” he said, in his babyish voice. This is our Spring in Syria. Can we ask for more than this “Spring” to come into our life? I guess not. Our “Spring” is destined to be covered with smoke and dirt. We have to compromise with destiny and accept whatever this “Spring” is going to bring. Because it is simply “Spring.”

To cut a long story short, stop the war in Syria.

Rahaf Konbaz

1  Mamdouh Idwan is a prolific Syrian writer, poet, playwright and critic.

2  Majed Kirdieh is a Syrian Artist.