A recurring notion in crime fiction is the criminal's later visit to the scene of the crime. He looks at what he has done to his victims and fulfills his desire to once again see them lying there dead. He makes sure that he has left no evidence behind, that his fingerprints won’t be found, that his crime is perfect enough. Yet crime fiction has never imagined a victim sent back to the crime scene for more torment. A dead man ordered to make his own deathbed, to plant flowers on his own grave or to water them.
Dear reader, please take into consideration that the following text is merely an attempt to reconstruct an event that never happened. Many of the events mentioned are, however, not fictional. If you wish to spare your reality bubble any absurdity, stop reading here.
The yellow taxi drove through the roundabout and passed under the giant arch into the remains of what was once a part of a capital. It was my first time there in more than five years -- an eternity, but I still remembered seeing the wall with the Dome of the Rock printed on it, flanked with its two arches left and right. Something had been written on each arch, something about continuing the struggle and holding on to the right of return, about manhood and fortitude. A photo of Assad the Father formed a dagger in the left arch while a photo of the Son graced the arch on the right. But bullets and shelling had completely obliterated the words on the arches and destroyed the entire wall. Only two Assad photos full of scratches and holes welcomed visitors now. The Father staring at me with his seemingly kind smile and the Son looking over the horizon, an unconvincing attempt to look strong and invincible.
In the wettest of my dreams, I used to imagine myself here. Gallows built high. We’d hang the fascists for their abominations, rejoice and dance, and go on building our utopia. Now, though, I see two brash soldiers hanging a fresh flag where it does not belong.
My eyes are open but my journey is blurry. I don’t know how I got here, or which waves have thrown me back to my very first shores. The streets are too wide. There are fewer buildings than I remember and they are short and rickety. Liveliness is a word I read in dictionaries, but it’s neither seen nor felt. For a second, I think that I’m in the wrong place. The things I remember I cannot see, and the things I see I do not know.
The air is heavy and gray. Flies are thick on the sides of the street. Nothing has fallen from the sky for weeks, aside from bombs, shells, rockets, weapons the Russians are testing and even a soldier who was executed by throwing him off a building after planting a bomb fuse in his helmet. It is cloudy, but it won’t rain.
Uniformed soldiers and mercenaries are looting and plundering, carrying away whatever they can get their hands on: TV sets, refrigerators, washing machines, gas cylinders, couches, dishes, spoons and forks. Even the electrical wires are being pulled out of the walls. Valuable copper. In the coming days, huge cables will be pulled out of the ground, cutting off the telephone lines in a nearby district by mistake. No one will find it absurd. Indeed, the cynics will even find it funny. Most of the spoils will end up being sold in Sunni markets within a few days. And no one will find it absurd. How many of these bazaars have there been? I don’t know. How many are still to come? I don’t know. How does it feel to have your belongings stolen and then sold away? I will soon know. How many refrigerators can a mercenary need? I don’t know. How many would he plunder? I don’t know, but I suspect as many as he can. How many mercenaries does it take to loot a light bulb? Three: one to stand watch, one to steal it and one to deny the looting ever took place, that he took part and the very existence of the light bulb. He would bring up the Americans in the Vietnam War: "Didn’t they loot light bulbs as well?" He would point out how hypocritical of you it is to accuse him of stealing your light bulb when you should be advocating for the Vietnamese.
A weird smell of rotten meat reminds me that I’m not on the Indochinese Peninsula. Flies are piled up at the roadside, probably feasting. It’s the smell of the neglected dead under the rubble.
The street is wide, but it’s still hard to walk in it. Ruins of what were once houses are now part of the road -- in some places they are the entire road. The houses have either fallen down or are full of holes, and those houses facing the street lack a wall or two. It's like walking down a street lined with dollhouses. Some walls are still standing and they have graffiti on them just like they used to. I remember all the walls and all the graffiti, but I can't find the ones that I once knew. I search for "It’s Your Turn Now, Doctor," and don’t find it. I search for "We Will Never Forget Tal Al Zaatar," and I find myself in another country, in another decade, in another Tal Al Zaatar – one authored by another Assad. I search for the simplest of the messages of freedom and find only walls bearing the message, "Assad’s Men Have Been Here," or "God’s Men Have Been Here." Both sprayed by the same soldiers, sometimes even over the shadows of martyrs. If I were a wall, I would prefer to have fallen down.
I try not to think about the fact that
I’m walking over houses. The idea of other people walking over my house makes
me uncomfortable. People here have gathered in huge masses, stumbling over
ruins like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie. Last week, the shelling set
the sky on fire in an apocalyptic scene. A lit-up sky has never been a good
omen for Palestinians. This time, it was the Russians bringing hell on earth
and announcing an early Judgement Day. In contrast to divine Days of Judgement,
Russian Days of Judgement are full of injustice, of targeting civilians and
hospitals. Those who were born and then killed within the last five years experienced
a lifetime of Russian and Assadist injustice. Who has the guts to tell a child
that they should sleep at night when nights are brighter than mornings? How can
you teach a child to distinguish between a park and a graveyard when the dead
keep invading the park? How can you convince children that they will not die of
hunger or thirst when you fear that they will? How can you promise heaven when
a siege cuts you off from the world?