Thursday, February 22, 2018

Never Again By Diane Alhafez

Endicott College Undergraduate  Diane Alhafez

Never Again
By Diane Alhafez

            I’m floating on the clear blue water; my arms and legs sprawled out in order to balance my weight. The relentless sun beats down on me, reminding me of its omnipotent presence even as my eyes are closed. This comforting warmth can still be felt through my eyelids, drowning out my sight with the golden hues of its rays. I hear nothing but the faint waves of water as my ears are submerged below the surface of the pool. I stay like this for a while until, out of the corner of my eye, I notice a figure approaching me. Hesitant to leave my seemingly everlasting state of peace, I remain in my position, listening to the gurgled words coming from above. Finally giving in to my conscience, I slowly lift my head up and push my legs down into the water so that I am wading upright in the empty pool. I look up to see my younger cousin Samer staring down at me, “It’s time for dinner,” he says in Arabic. He left the pool about an hour ago and has traded in his blue swim trunks for loose-fitting jean shorts that go down to his knees and a red and gray striped t-shirt. His new red flip-flops squeak as he walks away, reminding me of my all-too-soon required departure from this serenity. I slowly immerse my entire body underwater and carefully open my eyes, taking one last look at the gigantic blue-tiled dolphin below before pulling myself up and out of my safety bubble.

            Dinner was especially chaotic today. We had ordered shawarma from Al-Ayubi and thirteen bodies, all of which belonged to my family members, were roaming around the table and yelling out their orders. Those who had extra fries in their sandwich, those who demanded there be no tomatoes, and those who asked for a side of garlic sauce yelled out their requests and held their hands out in hopes of retrieving their specific sandwiches. Although we were eating at the table outside, their “outdoor voices” were all too much as their ultimatums for dinner lingered in the air. At last, everyone had gotten their own customized shawarma and was happily eating. Quickly, the blaring voices from nearly seconds ago were replaced with the “mmm”’s after each bite and the occasional straw sips of Coca-Cola signifying the satisfaction of a fulfilling meal.

            I look around me and take it in. All of it. From the alternating faded red and tan tiles that make up the entirety of the ground, to the white creaking porch swing that I have fallen asleep on far too many times, to the faces of those who I know and love the most. My uncle Feras is sitting directly across from me, smiling and talking to his wife Bayan. Next to them, their two sons Samer and Amjad gingerly fight each other for the last remaining fry, until my aunt Faten takes her plate of fries and places it in front of them. Her husband, Saher, kisses her cheek, admiring the kindness in her that he had fallen in love with. Their children Basel, Rawan, and Noura are sitting near me. Basel, about twelve years older than my brother Ammar, talks to him about the new movie “Coraline” they are going to watch later tonight. Noura and Rawan sit right near my ear, arguing about who gets to sleep on the bottom bunk tonight, while my mother and grandma laugh at the miniscule topic my cousins consider to be a dilemma. I want this memory and all of those who are part of it to be implanted in my brain. I want this memory to never fade, but instead get stronger as the time goes by.

It is 6:00pm and our flight leaves in about an hour. Our bags have been checked and all that is left is a walk through security and then a short wait at our gate until departure time. We said goodbye to everyone else before we got into the taxi that would be driving us to the airport; my grandma cried a little bit harder this year as she hugged my mother and us. My uncle Feras was the one who hopped in the taxi with us and he is now the one whom we have to say goodbye to. Ammar and I embrace him and then step aside as he and my mother hug and exchange muffled farewells. As it comes time to stamp our passports to get through customs, I turn around and wave a final so long then confidently whisper the words, “See you next year, Syria”.

“Syria Uprisings in Damascus Call for Government Intervention”, “Explosion Kills Hundreds”, “Syria: Not Safe”.

My eyes darted across the television screen and frantically read the fat bold words, scrolling repeatedly below the talking news anchor. A blonde woman in a violet dress introduced the segment as a slideshow of the destruction in Syria played behind her. Photographs of rubble-buried streets and children with bloodied faces bombarded the background. The voice of the news anchor faded, the sound of my family speaking diminished, and all I heard was the jumble of thoughts zooming in my mind. I looked back at how just a mere eight months ago I was in the country I loved so much and how in four months I would have been on a plane back to Syria. But I still had hope. There was no way I was going to give up on my happy place just like that.

One year.

Six years that I had not woken up to the sound of the busy streets below my grandmother’s house.
Six years that I had not fallen asleep to the soft chirping of grasshoppers which lulled me into a deep slumber.

Six years that I had not seen my family.

I missed the way my uncle’s eyes would crease every time he laughed, usually about an inside joke he and my mother had. I smiled as I thought of the times Bayan would do my hair when I came out of the shower and tell me about how she longed to have a daughter of her own someday. I could vividly picture riding around my grandmother’s house on scooters with Samer. I recalled the fact that sweet, innocent Amjad wouldn’t sit anywhere else except for on my lap. I reminisced of the days that Rawan, Noura, Basel, my brother and I would wander the streets and evidently end up at Farhan’s, a small corner store, where we bought loads of chips and candy.

Everything is different now.

Feras’ hair has thinned and his smile lines got deeper.
Bayan finally got that daughter that she had always wanted.
Samer and Amjad barely remember me.
Noura got married and now has two beautiful girls.
Basel just received his diploma from graduate school.
Rawan is living in London, pursuing a career in Biology.
My cousins on my dad’s side all have kids.
Obaida died in a car crash. 

            My family on my mother’s side all reunited last year in Lebanon. Everyone looked so different yet so familiar at the same time. There were even those whom I had never met before in my life. Mouna, Bayan’s daughter was six years old! Six! She hadn’t ever heard of me. Elma, Noura’s daughter was just a year old. Who would have thought that the spontaneous and hopelessly romantic Noura was now a mother?! Life is moving too fast for me and I can’t help but shed a tear at the fact that those memories will remain just that. They will be nothing more than figments of my imagination, scenes in the back of my mind, mirages projected solely through my eyes. I can try to revisit these thoughts as much as I want to, but that is where the limitation of my memory will take me. Never again will I be able to smell the air of Syria as a ten-year-old girl as I walk down Al-Dablan street with my cousins, the rest of my family waiting back home for us. Never again will I be able to stand in line at Rainbow Bakery below my grandma’s house to pick up mini chocolate and vanilla flavored desserts for the guests. Never again will my entire family be under one roof.

Never again will I feel completely engulfed in such happiness. 

****  Diane Alhafez is a freshman at Endicott College majoring in BIO/BIOTECH hoping to become an orthopedic doctor. When not studying, she enjoys free-writing, making a list of food locations to visit all over the world, and summer vacations with family. While both of her parents were born and raised in Syria, Diane was born in Beverly, MA. She did, however, visit Syria every summer up until the revolution. Nowadays, the memories of her beloved country live on through her writings. This is her first publication. 

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful piece. You should write them all down, starting with the ten year old & the Rainbow bakery or the first memory.