Here’s another fragment from “Conflict Zone Date,” a short story published in the Spring 2016 issue of Consequence Magazine: an international literary magazine focusing on the culture of war.
The drive to the village takes him about 40 minutes. Entering the village, everything slows down. The contrast between city and village is so stark that it never ceases to stun him. It’s as if entering a whole new realm; a parallel world that exists here.
He’s greeted by his nieces and nephews, all seven of them, who circle his car, a burst of color. “What did you bring me, ammo Saleh?” yells Ashraf, the little four year old, his head bobbing up and down. “Did you find a bride in the city, ammo?” His five year old niece, Niveen, asks with a squeaky but loud voice, hanging on the open window of the car. Saleh has learned never to come home empty handed. Once every few months, he stacks up on toys, colouring books, crayons, children’s books in Arabic and English, and every time he comes he stuffs some into his car trunk. He walks into his parents’ house with one kid on his shoulder, another practically hanging on his leg, and the rest tailing behind. He walks through the long, dark corridor in the direction of the sharp scents of his mother’s cooking, until he reaches the kitchen. “Assalamu Alaikum, Yamma,” Saleh hugs his mother and kisses her three times on her flushed cheeks. “Long live those who get to see you, ibni.”
When his father arrives from evening prayers, they finally settle down in the garden to eat dinner. Two of Saleh’s brothers with their wives and all their kids, his younger brother Yasser, and his younger sister, Sumayya. The children have a separate plastic table set up, and they are – for now – relatively quiet. Until a fight is bound to erupt over olives or bread. Saleh’s mother and younger sister never fail to bring up the fact that he’s still unmarried, every time coming up with potential brides from the village. “You’re 27, Saleh! It’s about time you get married and let your mama finally rest.” He doesn’t want to be part of this conversation. “Or did your head fill up with the big city?” his father asks. Every time, the same words. The same expectations. “Maybe he’s got someone from the city and he’s hiding her from us.” Yasser winks at his older brother. Saleh doesn’t reply.
At night, when the house is finally quiet and dark and Saleh is lying down on the mattress on the floor in the salu, he thinks about it all. He loves this house, this neighbourhood. The fact that all his brothers live next to each other. Two of his married sisters live in the same neighbourhood, within walking distance. The third married sister lives in the neighbouring village. This closeness, the warmth. The all-encompassing racket. Not a single moment of aloneness at any time in the day. There’s always something happening: kids running around the garden, playing or fighting over toys, sisters coming to take some spice they forgot to pick up at the market, gossip, fights over land among neighbours, weddings, funerals. It’s all right here.
Then he thinks of his life in Haifa, dubbed by his family the “big city,” which is actually not big at all, and relative to Tel Aviv, is very quiet. The loneliness of his one-room apartment. The mesmerizing view of the Haifa bay at night, in the quiet.
On Friday morning, Saleh helps his mother with breakfast, then goes into the garden and waits for his nieces and nephews to show up, one by one. He spends about two hours with them, reading to them, colouring with them, and chasing them around the garden. When he’s ready to shoo them away, he turns on the garden hose and starts spraying them. They scatter. Saleh takes down his laundry from the clothesline, folds it and packs it back into his duffel bag. His mother adds a bottle of olive oil, a jar of pickled olives, a bag of za’atar, and a plastic container of stuffed grape leaves.
He heads back to Haifa in the afternoon, a little emptier than he came, leaving a small piece of himself behind. He’s going to miss this craziness, this insanity, the moment he walks into his desolate and suffocating apartment.
If you’d like to read the whole story, you can purchase the issue through their website: http://www.consequencemagazine.org/. If you enjoy my writing, please consider supporting my work through Patreon. For any pledge over $5 a month, you will receive a copy of “Conflict Zone Date,” along with other goodies, depending on your pledge. To support my work, please visit: www.patreon.com/khulud_khamis.
Another fragment was published in my previous post: https://haifafieldnotes.wordpress.com/2016/06/02/conflict-zone-date-in-consequence-maganize/