Story- A Running Faucet

What began as protests slowly evolved into something far different. Something for which neither Isra’ nor Ahmad had a way to prepare. 

Ten dead. 

Sixty dead. 

Explosions. 

This news was unlike anything they had ever heard. They had heard about it elsewhere. Never home. Other people. Never friends. 

Familiar voices grew silent. Conversations once relaxed now felt rushed. 

Mornings became heavy—an anticipatory tightness that Ahmad could feel nearly as soon as he opened his eyes. And he could neither wish nor pray it away, despite his valiant effort. 

As the shadows of conflict grew longer and closer, Ahmad noticed changes in Isra’. He noticed them in her just as he felt them in himself. The heaviness. The glazed eyes that windowed torturous thoughts about the future.

For Ahmad, his younger sister Isra’ had always been his mirror. Their feelings and responses to family events, social gatherings, and circumstances were often the same. In general, Ahmad had always seen himself reflected in his sister’s reactions, words, and pains. 

This synchrony brought them close, but also pushed them away from each other in times of worry. Ahmad did not need to see his own anxieties mirrored in his sister. He did not need, nor want to deal with another version of himself. In the end, whatever distance Ahmad tried to put between himself and his sister as the conflict approached was futile. Whatever distance he tried to put between them was nothing more than running from his own shadow.

While Isra’ could often see through his armor, Ahmad had developed remarkable expertise in clouding his feelings from the view of most. Isra’ and the olive tree in the garden were the only exceptions.

Ahmad’s ability to hide his emotions from onlookers was striking. And he practiced it uniformly, with positive emotions just as with negative. 

Years earlier, when Ahmad first fell in love with Batool, it took him two years to say anything to her. For two years, he would look at her as she walked by, imagining what life would be like with her at his side, what their children would look like, what her love would be like. And he never said a word. His rich internal universe was entirely invisible to the woman who occupied its very center. 

His thoughts towards Batool were innocent, and his heart was anchored. Without speaking to her, he loved her in a way that felt divinely ordained, mystifyingly certain. He was sure of his love, even if he was unsure of how to express it, or what to do with her response in either direction. And as usual, his heart was guarded, though his love was limitless.

Sadly, with time, it became clear that Batool did not feel the same way. At least, she never indicated such feelings. So, just as with love, the sense of rejection Ahmad felt was given special place under lock and key in his heart.

Ahmad’s numbness in the face of love, or pain, was insulated by a childlike tenderness that would make the war painful for him, incredibly and silently lonely. He was the pillar keeping his siblings standing, yet a tender pillar. 

He felt deeply, but expressed almost nothing, hoping that by acting for just long enough, he could trick his heart into ignoring pain. 

The pain he dared not feel over Batool’s rejection would pale in comparison to the agony the war would create in Ahmad’s heart. Ahmad’s losses began in those earliest days of the conflict. He lost many acquaintances. Then it grew from acquaintances to distant friends. Then, classmates were imprisoned. Then, no word from Khaled. 

The shadow was growing long. 

For Ahmad, silence became the best way to survive. By late 2012, Ahmad found it difficult to live his life the same way as before. Hamza, Ra’fat, and Nidal had died. His distant cousin Ibrahim disappeared in June, a few weeks before Ramadan. Khaled was in the army now, and Ahmad had lost all contact with him. 

Ahmad himself did not have to worry about being forced back into the army, as he was the only male child in his family. But this small relief hardly comforted him. For Ahmad, the lack of pending re-conscription into the army felt only like a longer menu of risks, of uncertainties, of nuances that would make it difficult to navigate friendships, conversations, and marriage in the future. 

And so he spoke to the olive tree, pushing his ritual back later and later until the sun went down, when his tears would be unseen.

In the course of one year, the “family” that his friends had been to him had fractured permanently. Fundamental pieces of that family started to go missing.

This was not rejection. This was not lost love like Batool. These were the ingredients of his memories forever taken from him. It was too much for Ahmad to occlude from sight. Only Isra’ and his olive tree would ever bear witness to the tears he shed and the anger he beat into the red soil behind their house.

Each day of that year added new pressures, new worries, new news that wore him down and piled into his heart. As 2012 progressed unbridled and abnormal, Ahmad grew forgetful. Unlike his sister who felt tired, sick, and restless, Ahmad felt no different physically. However, he felt forgetful, indecisive. Isra’ noticed, and Ahmad shared with her what he knew was going on.

Under their tree, Ahmad told her of his indecisiveness, his weak memory. He told her:

“When I can go out with friends, it’s embarrassing. I don’t think they notice. But I just order whatever the person next to me orders. I don’t care where we go, what we do, what game we play, what movie we watch. It’s as if I’m sitting in the passenger seat, and someone else is driving. I forget who won tarneeb the night before. I forget what we did the day before. What is happening?”

Ahmad was overwhelmed. His world was changing. His role and future were unknowable. His circle of friends was irreversibly shrinking as his high-walled heart was flooded by a slow drip of tragedy.