Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Birthday Bottles

A lot of the times when i have a happy memory, i am selfish with it. I don't tell people or write about it, because i know i'll always remember it.
And as well, i think i worry telling people of a happy or personal occasion sometimes takes away the 'specialness' of it.
...but its probably just a small part of my selfishness kicking in..unwilling to share my happiness and my joy, but wanting to greedily keep it locked away, to smile at in those moments of empty thoughts.

There's really no other way than to tell you the truth - which is i basically spent my 18th birthday in the desert. I couldnt have cared less though,because it was who i spent it with.
I chose the quiet and dark surroundings of a desert cafe.
I remember the worried looks on my grandparents face as i told them where i wanted to be. I remember my father's raised eyebrows, and my sisters small sulk over the ridiculousness of my idea. But nonetheless, it was my birthday, and so everyone grudgingly agreed to go along with it.

Amongst the ruins of an old civilisation, and dusty weathered ground, i celebrated. Not my age, but my experiences, and the people i loved.
I am in love with fireworks and sparklers, though i realised the distinct atmosphere - which was noone else shared my enthusiasm.I can still remember the stricken look on my cousins face as he rushed off somewhere away from the bangs and sparkling fire. I still remember the small jumps of my aunt.
I wrapped up the remaining sparklers and have them saved as a memoir of joy, and a memoir of war.

I don't remember the other details much. Everything was so loud, and yet everything was so quiet.
I can still picture the moon though - it was so bright, amongst the ink black sky. A reason for its vividness being that the only other light source came from small lamps flickering like fireflies. The moon was so proud and glittering, and so was I. I glittered more than an over enthusiastically covered christmas tree.

Towards the end of the night, it got cold. Slowly numbers dwindled away, their empty seats adding loneliness to the chaos around me.

The children of the night came. They were young boys aged around 7-17. Actually, i dont know how old they looked...malnutrition and shabby clothes had the effect of confusing me of their real age. They wandered, their footsteps muffled by dirt, and their whereabouts shown only by the cloud of sand that trailed, as they kicked and shuffled their way.
I found myself laughing at their childish jokes that echoed across the darkness. As the voices grew further away, i forgot about them.

Perhaps half an hour later, i heard an angry voice shooing. My mind was spinning, and i wasn't sure what was happening around me.
A few seconds later, khalu H had got up and was handing the children of the night the glass bottles and the empty tin cans. I got up and 'helped'. Emptying the bottles before putting them in the bag, and crushing the cans. It was a surreal moment. I realised the boys had been wandering around the cafe asking for the glass bottles and tins, their small voices unheard or ignored. It was only by the angry shooing that i had realised their story.
I dropped back into my chair, as they scurried away.
My heart dropped.
Surrounded by meaningless conversation, i tried to take my mind off the whole incident, and i did so successfully. But not for long. After a minute, i couldn't ignore the look of pain on my little sister's face. It was mixed in with a lethal dose of anger and vehemence. At that moment, my heart broke a small fraction. Not for the sandy children whose whispers tingled in the air.

I tried to convince her that life was happy. Even the children of the night could crack a smile, so there was no reason for the glistening sadness in her eyes. It took me a while to find my handbag. I took my little sister in one hand,and the bag in the other.
And then i walked out into the meagre surroundings. Into the desert to find the children of the night.

An army truck passed, Syrian soldiers holding their guns at angles in the open top.their eyes hardened as they watched us precariously. The truck drove smoothly and silently past.

The smell of large piles of rubbish clashed with the flowery and sweet scents of birthday celebrations. I had seen one of the boys before eye the rubbish and finger through it carefully, eventually walking off with a piece of cardboard which he dragged behind him.

As the ground beneath us got harder and rockier, a wooden pick up truck full of young farmers passed, their faces covered with their yashmaghs. Their spades tightly clasped by their muddied arms. Their voices loud and seemed garish amidst the calm surroundings.

Further and further i took my sister into the darkness, until only 2 lights remained; the light of the moon and the distant light of the cafe. I heard my sisters voice devoid of hope. She said we should go back.

"I'll find them" i told her assuredly. At that point, they floated out of the dark. It was such a shock, that it took me a while to believe it was really them. I pointed them out to my sister, who stared, equally as dumb shocked as me. They didnt seem as alive as they had been. They were weary and ambled in a train, each of them bearing their burden. I quickly took out all the money i had at that time - 5000 syrian liras.
I dont even know the comparative value of it. Currency has lost value for me -it all becomes just different colours,pictures, words and numbers printed on crumpled paper.
I handed the notes to my sister and urged her to give it to the fast disappearing can collecting children. She looked apprehensively at me for a minute, and walked off unsurely, as i hung back in the dark. She gave the money to the small boy at the end of the line, who was trailing a bit, dragging the sack behind him. Standing in the dark I saw his unbelieving face, and his questioning look at my sister, who smiled nervously at him, and her lips seemed to say the words "its for you".
He stared down at the money in his hand, and then ran off to the rest of his group. Well, he didnt run. He skipped happily, showing his open palm to an older guy.
But in all truthfulness- it wasn't the boys happiness that made me grin, as i stood like a statue on the dry dirt. It was my sister's satisfied smile as she walked blindly towards me.
Maybe i should feel guilty that my actions were selfish.

As we walked back slowly, the truck with the farmers on it reappeared, the wooden pick up truck bumping along the rocky track. One of them pointed at us, and shouted something to the others. My sister worriedly asked me what they had shouted at us. 'Nothing' I lied reassuringly. I inwardly sighed as i saw the 5 meters that took us out of the desert dark and into the fluorescent illumination of the cafe.

Only in writing this now, do i realise how potentially dangerous that could of been, but i often jump into scenarios, only to realise months later, that it could have been dangerous.
But i can personally never forget that 'the biggest risk in life, is to risk nothing at all.'


nadia said...

Poor bot.

Your writing is getting better and better. Happy Birthday! I promise not a lot changes even though you're officially an adult.

ps I want to party with you.

M said...

Nice post. I do enjoy these personal stories you tell.

Touta said...

thanks! :D
you're actually very right, and i want to party with you too :P

and i do enjoy these nice comments you leave. :)

JG said...

Really enjoyed this post, Touta.

Nikita said...

I write from England. Your account is beautiful.

I think when we read in the press, we only see the death of our soldiers. We forget that real people exist. We forget the suffering of those that are tragically compromised by war.

I hope in your heart, you can forgive the interventions of 'The West'. Hopefully, this was done with the best of intentions.

Iraqi Mojo said...

'the biggest risk in life, is to risk nothing at all.'

I like that. Happy Birthday, Touta.

Ihsiin said...

A wonderful piece of writing. Truly moving.
You've inspired a yearning for the night-time desert in my heart.

Touta said...

thanks, i'm glad you did :D

thank you for your kind words.
and its a natural human instinct to care about 'your people' first i suppose...i'm not so naive as to think we can ever be fair. :) though i suppose we can always hope.

Iraqi Mojo,
thanks, thats the second time you've told me happy birthday :D

thanks, i'm very flattered. :D
in a way the night time desert needs loneliness and queit to truly be appreciated.

Anonymous said...

touta, you crazy iraqi, you totally rock.
i dont like the last line. a cliche. your regular endings are usually powerful, i was looking forward for one :)

i didnt read this post, i saw this play. with its dark stage, spotlights light up a spot where a scene happens..the scene is fully detailed, its all silent, only the expressions on the faces tell the story, lights fade away, the spot disappears, another light on anouther spot is on at once, so smoothly our eyes drop there to continue the story with the next faces and scenes...
remarkable work. touta. i can not believe how good you write.


Touta said...

you finally come out of hiding mu? :))
and thanks very much, i'm now beyond flattered (my head's gotten so big my neck is like spaghetti :P)

as for the ending, i know...its just i really had no idea how to end this 'play', its kind of been like a guilty memory that i don't know how to evaluate.

hope to read some of your posts soon *cough wink*

Anonymous said...

looool:) soon, inshalllaaaaaaa :D

oh oh and, happy bday :D inshalla kol sena a7la min il qabilha :)


Touta said...

yubooo it came and went ages ago :P

thanks, and kol sena w inta w 7abaybak be meet alif kheer inshalla :)

///RhusLancia said...

Nice story, Touta. I thought your b-day was in the summer? This is a memory yeah? Anywho- Happy Birthday!

moi moi moi moi moi moi. Öbama.

Touta said...

yep its a memory :D
i've got quite a few backlogged posts (most are about diyala) that i didnt have the opportunity to post.