Without Time I

3121733248_871fc6232a_mThe watch stopped and everything around it came to a grinding halt. If she hadn’t been there to witness it, she would have never believed such a thing could happen. People had dreamed of stopping time or propelling it forward – time’s manipulation is the stuff of science fiction. But this was the real deal. Men and women were frozen in mid stride, babies sat silent with their mouths wide open, birds dotted the sky like motionless specks of dirt on the horizon, and water in a nearby fountain waited endlessly for droplets which may never reach it.

Eliza tapped the delicate and fractured face of her family heirloom and wandered further into the street. There was an uncanny silence that hung like a dense blanket over what was normally a loud and chaotic city. Her ears felt muffled and she strained to hear something but only the beating of her own heart rang in her ears. There wasn’t even a breeze. Her long, dark hair fell limply over her shoulders. When the watch stopped, she was about to meet her lover at the train station. She had been watching the hands moving on the time piece at what seemed like a tortuous snail’s pace. All she had wanted was for the train to arrive. Now it may not for a long time or perhaps never.

It seemed that she was the only person who had not been affected by the watch’s spell. Was she the only person in the city, in the country, on earth, or in the universe who was experiencing this? And if she was, why? Was it because she was the owner of the watch or did this have absolutely nothing to do with her? Was there some lesson she was to learn from this or was it just a random occurrence? A man sat on a motorcycle in the street, his hair was blowing in a non-existent wind. A woman, cleaning a window, leaned precariously on her ladder but never fell. Eliza suddenly broke into a jog. She needed to get to the train station.

The watch had been her grandmother’s and Eliza was fairly certain that it had been passed down through many generations . Their family hailed back centuries but the history was uncertain. No one would talk about the past whenever Eliza had asked. They all said the records had been lost. Her grandmother, however, had spun an impossible tale…or a least it had seemed impossible until now. She tried to recall the details of the story but in her desperation for the world to return to normal, her grandmother’s words wouldn’t come to her. She didn’t really care why this had happened anyway. She only wanted to be kissing James.

James was a married man and Eliza was a married woman. He lived 600 miles away. Their love was powerful but hidden from the world. Most of their time they spent apart but when an opportunity arose for them to be together, they both wished for time to slow to a crawl or even stop when in each other’s arms. What was happening now was not at all what Eliza had had in mind when she wished for more time with James. At least, she didn’t think so but, then again, maybe when she reached the train station she would see James wondering aimlessly and trying to figure out what had happened just as she was now.

But the station was as silent as everywhere else. Eliza slipped past a guard who had been collecting tickets when the time stopped. She felt victorious somehow, as if she had achieved the impossible. But she also felt criminal. Never once had she driven above the speed limit or even littered. But in this timeless, still world there was nothing to stop her from doing whatever she wished except for the thing she really wanted to do – be with James. She stood on the edge of the platform and stared at the stationary trains. Some had obviously been disembarking passengers, some accepting them. Some were either on their way in or out of the station. But which was James’?

All the times James had visited, Eliza never wrote down his train number. He was very fastidious in telling her every detail of his travel arrangements – a characteristic she had always found amusingly adorable. But to her, the only important information was the time. She would just wait in the station at the correct time never caring which train he was on as long as it arrived.  Now this number was excruciatingly critical and she didn’t have it. The automated arrival and departure boards were blank. There was no way around it, she would have to check every train in and around the station.

There was something very unnerving about being in a train full of inanimate people. They were like posed mannequins. She wondered if they were actually alive or dead. Had time sped up for Eliza while the rest of the world was functioning at a much slower pace? Or was nothing or no one functioning at all? Would they eventually just decay where they stood or sat? Could decay happen without time? A shiver run up Eliza’s spine as she hastened her pace through the train. She started to imagine a post apocalyptic world and her breathing quickened. She was beginning to feel panicked.

“James! James! Think of James! You have to find him. Ignore these people! They are nothing more than objects.” She said forcefully to herself and managed to slow the pace of her breathing.

She searched every face in three trains and could not find her James. She could feel the frustration mounting inside her. Frustration and fear. What if she never found him? Would she ever see him again? Eliza steadied herself against the wall of the station. She felt dizzy and slightly nauseated – exactly the way she felt when she was stricken with claustrophobia a few years back in an elevator. She had to get back outside. She could return and search again. It wasn’t as if time would run out. Or would it run out for her and no one else? Contemplating the situation made her feel worse. It was mind-boggling.

Eliza rushed back past the guard, up the stairs and outside again. She sat on an outdoor bench and held her head in her hands. Everything remained silent and still and she remained alone.

(to be continued…)

Ramadan: Four Million Reasons



Four million (plus) reasons to observe, to pray, and to give.

World Food Programme
UNHCR – UN Refugee Agency
Human Relief Foundation
Muslims for Humanity: HHRD
Syria Relief
International Medical Corps
Relief International
Syrian Relief and Development Org.

Ramadan Kareem! xo

Being Here

Hand on WallIt’s been more than a year that I’ve sought sanctuary in this little place of mine. It feels a little strange being here to be honest. I’m sure if any of my once regular readers comes by to read what I have to say, they may find it somewhat familiar and yet strange as well. Everything looks the same but so many things have changed. I certainly can’t waltz in and create one of my simple musings. After so long it seems very unfitting. So what do I say to someone with whom I haven’t spoken in so long? What do I say to you? Well, what would you like to know? “Where have you been?”, you might ask, or “What have you been doing?” Well, the simple answer is…I’ve been trying to fit it. This seems to have become a life-long quest.

Those of you who read me from the beginning, back in 2008, might remember that I was filled with mixed emotions about returning back to my homeland, Syria. The most dominant emotion, however, was joy. I couldn’t wait to feel home after being away so many years. I did feel it, to some extent, but never as much as I had dreamed I would. I had been away in Canada almost as long as I had lived in Syria from birth. To my…annoyance almost…I could feel Canada more strongly although at the time, I wanted to reject it completely so I could absorb the full impact of my return home. It was as if Canada was standing in the way.

I was in my beloved Damascus for almost 2 1/2 years before the revolution began. Even with occasional trips back to Canada, I was slowly starting to adapt to life as I had known it. I was starting to feel it again. Of course, as an adult, life is always different from what you knew as a child. Every view, every sound, every scent, is coloured and shaped by experience. So you can never expect anything to be exactly the same, ever, but sometimes you just so desperately need it to be the same. You need Abu Khaled to still be selling shoes at the store down the street where your mother took you every time you needed new shoes. You need your favourite sweets shop to still sell the same ballouryieh as they did in 1980; the kind that was Baba’s favourite. You need the front door of your childhood home to creak as it did when you left the last time. But of course…this is not to be.


Now I am in Bolzano, Italy. I’ve been here for almost a year. I can’t touch it, let alone feel it. Certainly, it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The city is steeped in history and is almost entirely surrounded by mountains and has no less than three rivers flowing into it. I am very fortunate to be able to be in this beautiful place of refuge. But that’s what it is. A refuge. My heart and soul are elsewhere. They are invested in Syria, in its fight for freedom and in a certainty that eventually it will rise again from the ashes. It won’t be the same but it will be Syria. I will have to learn all over again how to feel it. But I know I can and I know I will. For now, being here, in Bolzano, has allowed me to return to my writing and a hope that each small blessing will pave the way home again.

The Stone Angel

I waited for you in the garden. I didn’t know how long it would be before you would arrive but I knew you’d be there. We both needed the sanctuary from the world; a place of quiet contemplation, a place of peace, a place to be together. But for now I kept company with the birds and the flowers and the ornaments which adorned the beds. The angel was nearly covered in ivy. Only her face and outstretched wings were partially revealed. She neither smiled nor frowned but to me she appeared a little bit sad. If it were possible to breathe life into her she may have shed a tear. As I walked toward her, I could see how the ivy leaves subtly followed the curves of her stone body and I wondered how long she had been there. It was almost as if she were begging to be freed from the bounds of the entwining branches. I thought about how she, when first carefully placed here by a loving owner, must have been an ethereal presence in this microcosm of nature and beauty.

The area wasn’t large but was dominated by a magnificent Laurel tree. Its branches reached upward and outward as if it were calling to the heavens. Large, voluminous clouds hung above the tree, so low it seemed one might catch on the tallest branches. The blue of the sky and the warmth of the sun gave the day a purity I have not experienced in so long. A mourning dove settled in the tree’s branches and another on the stone wall behind the angel. They called to one another sorrowfully in a way, but in another way, it was if they were glad they had one another to share their sorrow. They flitted their wings and blinked their large doe-like eyes. I wondered what they had seen when they were up in the skies with the clouds and circling above the earth before lighting here. Perhaps it was a perspective we all needed to refresh our love for the world. Perhaps it was a view which would only sadden us and make us sing sorrowfully as well. I asked them but they gave me no answer and continued about their business of gathering food as if I did not exist. Maybe you would be able to tell me when you arrived. If I remembered to ask.

A soft, warm breeze blew rustling the leaves and altering the tranquility of the entire place. It was still peaceful but was different than it had been moments before. The iron gate creaked slightly and I turned quickly to see if it was you but it was just the wind calling. If only it had brought you with it. Maybe next time, I hoped, maybe with the next gust. I longed to see your tall figure and your inimitable smile. My hands moved over the rough surface of the painted metal table and I held my breath for a moment. What if I was wrong? What if you weren’t going to arrive? No. You would. You always did. A small lady bug crawled out from underneath a peeled piece of paint and lingered in the dappled shade. I leaned my chin on my hands and watched the insect closely. Everything about it indicated that it would flee at the slightest provocation and yet it seemed determined to stay in what had become its home. How could I blame it? I longed for my home.

Suddenly you were there. Without a word our lips met and I breathed again. The scent of the flowers mixed with your cologne overpowered my senses. I felt a tear push a path down my cheek and, as you brushed it away with another kiss, I thought of the angel. You held me tight, so strong were your arms that I felt as though they would shield me forever from the world; here in this garden, here away from it all, here with you. Over your shoulder I spotted the doves standing side by side on the fence seemingly unaware of the presence of each other and yet somehow needing the proximity. How did you find this heavenly place, you asked. I don’t think I found it, I think it found me. I looked up again into the laurel and your eyes followed mine. The leaves were iridescent with the sun’s rays, a beautiful golden green…or were those your eyes? Bhebak nour eyouni. As my hand traced your temple, your cheek and then your jaw, you pulled me in close to you. The rest of the world was gone. I glanced again at the stone angel and I could swear she was smiling but I had no chance to dwell as your lips caught mine again and I was lost in you forever.


You were the first to respond. Your words were simple and direct but heartwarming to someone like me who had just come in out of the cold. I couldn’t explain it, but I was suddenly hooked. I came back, week after week looking for more. Over the years and across the miles no one had spoken so gently but left me feeling so secure. Shukran. I was warm and comfortable in this new little garden of mine even though, back in those days, everything felt strange everywhere else. Life seemed lost between two worlds.

I often thought of you as I sat in the courtyard. The first time you were away, and your words never came, I felt the void. It was surprising to me but that’s when I knew. Meshta’etlak. The water in the fountain sang the same song it always had but the tune was different. I splashed in it, like a child, and watched as the jubilant droplets formed endless ripples. I watched the ripples merge, separate into new ripples, and then merge again. This would be our story.

Paperless letters fluttered through my dreams. Penned opuses of love and life, addressed to you and to me. You extended your hand and we walked through the pages, admiring the verses, breathing the poetry. You carried me over the broken edges, the rough patches that needed mending. I caressed the songs in your soul. Whispered to them to join mine. It was those lyrics, words like black, silken ribbons of emotion, memory, and hope that fluttered, care-free in the breezes. Banners of our hearts. Pennants of devotion. Bhebak.

A Damascene Moon

A amazing lunar eclipse graced our skies at around 10 pm last night – or least that is when it seemed to become most visible. Many of us, eager to witness this wonderful event, found the highest or most open point attainable to us and watched with pure delight. I sat on the rooftop of my friend’s apartment with a dozen others. We watched the moon rise, bright and full, and then slowly darken as the shadow of the earth obscured the rays of the sun. I lay back and gazed at the traces of the moon that were left in a starlit sky. It’s ghostly aura reminded me of one of my favourite poems by my favourite poet, the great Nizar Qabbani – A Damascene Moon. In English, only excerpts are available, unfortunately, but the part that is translated is probably, to most, the most stunning part of the poem. Below is that excerpt, first in English, then in Arabic.

After seeing what I have this past night, I find it regrettable that it wasn’t something that the entire world could witness first hand. I supposed that is part of the wonder of these events. One thing I do know, however, is that everyone  everywhere with vision can appreciate the magic of moonlight and it has been this way for millennia. As long as people have been on earth, the moon has been the subject of science, art, songs, prose, and beautiful, beautiful poetry…

Green Tunisia, I have come to you as a lover
On my brow, a rose and a book
For I am the Damascene whose profession is passion
Whose singing turns the herbs green
A Damascene moon travels through my blood
Nightingales . . . and grain . . . and domes
From Damascus, jasmine begins its whiteness
And fragrances perfume themselves with her scent
From Damascus, water begins . . . for wherever
You lean your head, a stream flows
And poetry is a sparrow spreading its wings
Over Sham . . . and a poet is a voyager
From Damascus, love begins . . . for our ancestors
Worshipped beauty, they dissolved it, and they melted away
From Damascus, horses begin their journey
And the stirrups are tightened for the great conquest
From Damascus, eternity begins . . . and with her
Languages remain and genealogies are preserved
And Damascus gives Arabism its form
And on its land, epochs materialize

يا تونس الخضراء جئتك عاشقاً ………….. وعلى جبيني وردة وكـتــــــــاب

إني الدمشقي الذي احترف الهوى…………… فأخضوضرت لغنائه الأعشاب

أحرقت من خلفي جميع مراكبي……………ان الهوى ان لا يكون إيـــــــــاب

أنا فوق أجفان النساء مكســــــــر…………… قطعاً فعمري الموج والأخشـاب

لم أنس أسماء النساء وأنمـــــــا …………. للحسن أسباب ولي أسبــــــــــــاب

يا ساكنات البحر في قرطاجــة ……………جف الشذى وتفرق الأصحـــــاب

أين اللواتي حبهن عبــــــــــــــادة ………. وغيابهن وقربهن عــــــــــــــــذاب

اللابسات قصائدي ومدامعـــــي ………….عاتبتهن وما أفاد عتــــــــــــــــــاب

أحببتهن وهن ما أحببننـــــــــــــي ……… وصدقتهن ووعدهن كــــــــــــــذاب

إني لأشعر بالدوار فناهــــــــــــد……….. لي يطمئن وناهد يرتــــــــــــــــاب

هل دولة العشق التي أسستهــــا ……….. سقطت علي وسدت الأبــــــــــواب

تبكي الكؤوس فبعد ثغـر حبيبتي ………… حلفت بأن لا تسكر الأعنــــــــاب

أيصدني نهد تعبت برسمــــــــه …………وتخونني الأقراط والأثـــــــــــواب

ماذا جرى لممالكي وبيارقـــــــي ………. أدعو رباب فلا تجيب ربـــــــــاب

أأحاسب امرأة على نسيانهــــــا ………… ومتى أستقام مع النساء حســـــاب

ما تبت عن عشقي ولا أستغفرته ………….ما أسخف العشاق لو هم تابـــــوا


قمر دمشقي يسافر في دمـــــي …………. وبلابل وسنابل وقبــــــــــــــــــاب

الفل يبدأ من دمشق بياضــــــه ……………. وبعطرها تتطيب الأطيــــــــاب

والماء يبدأ من دمشق ..فحيثمـا………….. أسندت رأسك جدول ينســــــــاب

والشعر عصفور يمد جناحــــه …………فوق الشآم وشاعر جــــــــــــــــواب

والحب يبدأ من دمشق فأهلنـــــا………… عبدوا الجمال وذوبوه وذابــــــــــوا

والخيل تبدأ من دمشق مسارهـا……….. وتشد للفتح الكبير ركـــــــــــــــــاب

والدهر يبدأ من دمشق وعندهــا……….. تبقى اللغات وتحفظ الأنســـــــــــاب

ودمشق تعطي للعروبة شكلهـا …………..وبأرضها تتشكل الأحقـــــــــــــاب