“Papa. I’m scared.” Sami whispered.
“Ssshhh,” his Papa whispered back. “There is no reason to be scared. Someone will come for us.”
They whispered in the dark.
Once upon a time Papa was a baker. He owned a little shop on Nile Street, just down from the Alforat traffic circle. For years, Papa’s kollaj and zarda fed the masses. Lines at Rifat’s were not uncommon. They came for his halva and stayed for his awameh. They took home Rifat’s baloza. And in the darkness of an Aleppo night, they shared it with their family, their friends, their neighbors.
Whether Alawi or Sunni or Shia. Druze or Christian. Sect didn’t matter. Religion was what one did in one’s home. In one’s mosque or church.
They came for his pastries and his treats.
Until they didn’t.
At first Rifat thought that maybe it was just one of those swings. Sometimes things slowed. Sometimes things picked up. In moments, he wondered if he might make it. In others, he thought he might need to hire help. That he surely needed to keep the lines moving faster. Those other times — when the line formed early in the morning with workers, replaced later by government clerks, and then filled in by the women of the neighborhood who wanted a treat for the table– were more than they weren’t. Rifat was successful. He dreamed of an education for his little Sami. Maybe of a little house in the wooded hills of his childhood, where he could return in his final days.
Then there was a bomb. An explosion. Just down the street. Past Alforat, but close enough that he felt the shock. The windows of his little bakery shook. Flour dust rose and then settled again. And for a moment Rifat worried about his family. About his wife, Rima, and the little one, Haya. And Sami, his son. His legacy. The little boy who laughed in the light and trembled in the dark. Rifat could tell the explosion was not near his home, but still. An explosion in Aleppo. The rebels. The fight. He supported it. He wanted it. An end to Assad and his treachery. His brutality.
He supported these things, but he was a simple baker.
He ran to the door. To the street. To Alforat. He saw dust rising. Heard the wailing sirens ululating and echoing down the cement corridors. He ran no further. He had seen enough.
Rifat closed his bakery for the day. He returned home and held Rima and told her it was temporary. That Assad would soon be gone and life would be better. He quieted Sami and Haya.
In the morning, before the sun rose, he returned to the bakery. He kneaded the dough. Mixed the spices. Opened his doors. And the line wasn’t there. Instead, somebody on a motorcycle sped by and threw a brick through his window.
Rifat closed early. Boarded the window and prayed that it would be all. He had seen the stories of Tunis and of Tahrir. He knew of the treachery of his own government in years and decades past. He wanted a change, but his bakery was his everything. He prayed that the revolution would come but that its damage would pass him by. A boarded window was nothing, he knew. He hoped. He prayed.
Soon though Rifat’s business changed. Instead of the pastries and treats he had been known for, he began to make pita by the basket and handed it to those who stumbled by his shop. The bombs fell more frequently. The sirens wailed all too often. Lines were drawn. Neighborhoods turned into rubble. Families wiped out. Children orphaned. Those that remained knew nothing other than hunger and fear and despair. The least he could do was turn his dwindling supplies and what he could gather from the bakery’s back door in the dark hours of the morning into bread to feed the hunger.
To read the complete version of this story, go here.
Writing doesn’t suffice… except that it must. When you can’t necessarily do anything else, at least you’re doing this. Maybe it will move people as it has moved you.
It’s hard to understand that world, but I think you’ve done it well. I don’t even know what I mean by “that world” except that it’s the world I came from. What is that? East versus west? Oppressed versus free? I don’t know what I mean. But keep writing. Only something good can come from that, even if it’s heartbreak. Have to be reduced sometimes to feel something. I remember when it was so easy to feel things, back when I was young and the sun shone very hard and… all that stuff. Now it’s so hard, but also so vital to feel it. So thanks for that. I’ll continue, sparse as my blogging has been of late, to read this if you write more.
I blogged a couple of months ago about how numb I was to the tragedies in Syria. After decades of caring about Bosnia and Sudan and Rwanda and other tragedies closer to home, I had become numb to it. Just couldn’t seem to care. A few days ago, a friend posted something about Aleppo on Facebook and what she said was so real and heartbreaking and it just all started again. And then, last night, I realized that with all of his stupid tweeting and everything else, Trump has not said anything about Aleppo as this tragedy unfolds. And I am disgusted and filled with rage at that. Because it’s clear he won’t say anything because Russia is behind it.
I hope to hold on to that rage until I’m done with this story because it’s going to be brutal — anything less would not be honest to what is happening there.
Rage hard. There is no other way.
This is the story of many villages across many years. We take much for granted. Hope it’s a special wknd with loved ones.
Yes. I’m working on completing the story. But one of the things that bothers me is that for Aleppo — the one we know about — there are dozens of other places that are equally places of horror that we don’t hear about.
Happy New Year to you and yours. May 2017 bring you much happiness and success.