It was a stupid idea. I woke up after a short sporadic sleep and decided that the smell of shaving cream might lessen the bitterness of yesterday’s news.
How stupid! I was trembling in fear of what the process would entail: looking abject helplessness straight in the face.
There, where the heart is, blood and limbs are everywhere. Their images flow out of my slick laptop screen onto whatever is left of my self-respect. I stand before the mirror but see no one. “Alright, trace the contour of your chin and shave quickly,” I thought. I rub in the cream and start with a stroke of the blade. I cut myself, and blood flows warm and steady. . . I look at the mirror again and I see half a bloody face with the jaw blown off, bits of mouth and chin dangling below the collarbone. Don’t people die from such an injury? What god chooses to prolong the pain of a child caught between the butcher’s claws! Is there a medical term for this? Civilization’s superfluous question from yesterday’s paper hits me “Can the internet handle the graphic footage?” I walk out of the bathroom mourning for someone who will never know the feeling of a clean shave.
My first shave was in Homs. My first trans-sectarian inter-neighborhood love was in Homs. So were my first sip of maté and first cigarette puff. My first book fair, and my first play. Homs, which I cannot claim is my birthplace, was where I came of age. Deek Al-Jin’s teenage lust, and my first proud insurrection during our university military training. Homs was my first pious whim and first certitude in skepticism. Homs was the first realization of oppression and my discovery of the old Homsi recipe to soothe pain with humor. Today, Homs is inventing a new balm, however, strained with a mix of the blood of its children. Homs is declaring the revolution. Entirely Homsi. Relying on none but itself. No NATO and no leftist revolutionaries. Not from Aleppo, or from Damascus. Today Homs writes a new history for herself. . . for us. Today Homs ridicules the dictator in her new dazzling ways. . . exactly as she ridicules our cowardly silence. We will laugh. We will laugh a lot on our free tomorrow. We will laugh at all the times we laughed at this tiny joke of a Homs.
Today, however, we cry. We cry for how the killed will rescue the killed - for a while. We cry for how the displaced will shelter the displaced - for a while. We cry for how we all abandoned you, Homs. My internationalist friend tells me “40,000 leftist foreigners went to Spain to fight fascism in the 1930s. Today we can`t even acknowledge another Guernica happening even when it`s being broadcast live, in full color, 24/7." I think of all of those who fought for Palestine the day we lost it. I cry over the destruction of the parks of first love. . .of the streets of lazy fun. I cry over “Al-Farabi,” the high school the regime of death has turned into a checkpoint for its murderous sniper fire. My high school. On my Facebook page, I make out the most recent names of the dead piling up. Their son was in my class, I think. That one is my dentist’s brother and this one is the son of that restaurant’s owner next to “Al-Dababeer” park. Today I cry at the myopia of Arab leftist intellectuals and the collaboration of the resistance of the right. Who made a projected threat a graver concern than a real evil already in action? Who said that a Palestinian would choose his personal salvation even if it meant the destruction of all of Syria? Who said a dictator is capable of liberation, any liberation? Who said that international imperialism trumps local fascism? Today I decry the new sinister apathy of those who had long sympathized with my Palestinian pain, but can’t bring themselves now to acknowledge the pain of millions of Syrians. Who stands with you today, Homs?
The news coming from within “Al-Dakhil” (how handy my Palestinian terms have become) is “blood and limbs are everywhere. . . blood and limbs are everywhere.” 031, the area code of the heart, is all out of place. The phone rings at home, and there’s no answer. Did my brother get home or is he stuck at work? Where do the dwellers of upper floors seek shelter? Whose names are going to rise from the dust of the massacre tomorrow? How many more mutilated “Hamzas” separate us from the fall of the palace sitting on Mount Qasioun? Who will survive to witness the great ascendance? Who will perish so the unmasking can be done? How long are we to wait before Syria’s nabka bears its Darwish? Who will remind tomorrow’s newborns? And how are we going to return the Syrian to his Syrian brother? Where? How? Who?
“Blood and limbs are everywhere”
Outside my window, women are celebrating the Giants’ win. I only see their Karama-blue jerseys. Outside my window, men are cheering the Giants’ win. I only hear howls of the terrified in Baba Amr. I had a friend from Baba Amr. His name was Ahmed. In the early days of our adolescence when we started learning English, he and I had a passion for this language. He used to invite me over to meet the latest tourist he had met downtown. We should practice with someone with a better English than ours, we thought. Today, I know we spoke better English than all of those Spanish, Dutch and Japanese backpackers. Today, I know all we wanted was a brief escape from the dictator’s prison. All we wanted was to know what people were like when they were not born into a dictatorship. We, naïvely, thought if we could whisper in a foreign tongue then we could escape the surveillance of the regime over the soul. Today, I wish some of those guests would remember Ahmed’s generosity and the name of the neighborhood where their pictures were taken.
“Blood and limbs are everywhere”
I pass by the images from Homs like an old refugee would pass by his first camp. I pass by the sounds from Homs like I did the first time; dazzled and amazed by that distinctive, disarming drawl. Today, I have some of it myself. I pass by Homs like a first-time Palestinian. There were so many nights when we stayed up mourning for Jenin and Gaza. But it’s only today that I fully realize what it means to be a Palestinian. The agony shines brighter than ever when the butcher bombs your very own, the playgrounds of your youth, the hiding places of your memory. So this is what it must have felt like for Grandma? So this is how the heart is shattered into a thousand pieces?
“Blood and limbs are everywhere”
I was not born in Homs, and I left a long time ago. But today I mourn Homs like the most loyal of her sons. I do not know how much of a Homsi I am, but I wonder how many shish sandwiches from “Kreish” it takes to become one? How many Hummus plates from “Shamso”? How many Homsi jokes must one memorize? And now, how many names of the dead? I do not know what will be left of my Homs when I return to it, after it is liberated, after it rids itself of the last statues of the dictator. This dream of return, however, is my only solace while I behold the massacre.Ba`th, what have you done? Is this what you promised?
How many returns must a refugee dream of within one lifetime? How many catastrophes must he carry with him?
[This is a translation by the author of the original Arabic version which appeared on Jadaliyya]