They lined us up on both sides of the road that connects Ramleh with Jerusalem, and asked us to raise and cross our hands up in the air. And when one of the Jewish [Israeli] soldiers noticed that my mother was making sure to shade me with her body from the July sun, he pulled me from my hand very roughly and asked me to stand on one leg, and to raise my arms and cross them over my head, in the middle of the dirt road.
I was nine years old then, and I had witnessed, only four hours earlier, how the Jews entered Ramleh, and I saw, while I was standing in the middle of the gray street, how they were searching for the jewelry of elderly and younger women, stripping them off of them ferociously, roughly. And there were dark-skinned female soldiers doing the same thing, but with greater enthusiasm. I also saw how my mother was looking towards me while she cried silently, and I wished at that moment if I could tell her that I was alright, and that the sun did not affect me in the way she imagined.
I was all that was left for her. My dad had died a year before the start of the events, and they took away my older brother when they first entered Ramleh. I did not know exactly what I meant for my mother, but now I can't imagine how things would have turned out had I not been at hers the time I arrived to Damascus, to sell her morning newspapers, yelling and shaking, near the bus stops.
The sun had begun to melt away the steadfastness of women and the elderly.. and a few desperate and pathetic complaints were muttered here and there. I was watching some of the faces I had gotten used to seeing in the narrow streets of Ramleh, which then filled me with an acute feeling of sorrow. But I can never explain that weird feeling that got a hold of me, the moment I saw a female Jewish soldier messing with uncle Abu Uthman's beard and laughing.
Uncle Abu Uthman wasn't exactly my uncle. But he was Ramleh's humble barber and doctor, and we got used to love him ever since we had known him, and called him "uncle" out of respect and appreciation. He was standing with his arm around his youngest daughter, Fatima, small and dark, looking at the [Israeli] Jewish female soldier with her big black eyes.
- Your daughter?!
Abu Uthman anxiously nodded. Yet his eyes were sparkling with a strange and dark prediction. And with great ease the [Israeli] Jew raised her small cannon, and pointed it at Fatima's head, the little brunette with the ever-curious black eyes.
At that moment, one of the Jewish guards on patrol stood before me, and the situation gained his attention, so he stopped moving and blocked my sight, but I heard three separate and precise shots, then I was able to see Abu Uthman's face twisting with terrible sorrow. And I looked at Fatima, with her head draping down to the front, and drops of blood were racing through her black hair falling onto the hot brown earth.
After a short while Abu Uthman passed by me, carrying on his old arms the corpse of Fatima, the little brunette: he was silent and frozen, looking straight ahead of him with terrifying silence, then he passed by me, without looking at me at all. I watched his bent back as he walked quietly between the two queues towards the first intersection, then I turned my eyes to look at his wife, sitting on the ground and holding her head between her palms, crying with spasmodic sad moans. A Jewish soldier approached her and signaled her to stand up. But the old woman did not stand up. Her dispair had reached its peak.
This time, I clealry saw everything that happened. I saw with my eyes how the soldier kicked her with his foot, and how the old woman fell on her back with her face bleeding. Then I saw him, with great clarity, pointing his rifle at her chest, and firing one bullet.
The next moment that same soldier walked towards me, and quietly asked me to raise up my leg which I had unconsciously put back down on the ground, and when I raised it up submissively, he slapped me twice, then on my shirt he wiped whatever got stuck on the back of his hand from my mouth's blood. I felt a debilitating exhaustion, but I looked at my mother, standing there among the women, with her arms raised up in the air, crying silently; at that moment she released a chuckle with her tears still falling, as I felt my leg twisting under my weight with an atrocious pain as though my thigh was going to be severed, but I smiled back at her, and I wished once more if I could run to her and tell her that I am not hurt from the two slaps, and that I am fine, and while crying beg her not to cry, and to behave in the same way that Abu Uthman did a while ago.
What interrupted my thoughts was Abu Uthman passing by me again, returning from where he buried Fatima. When he passed me, without looking at me at all, I remembered that they had killed his wife, and that he had to face a new calamity. My eyes followed him with pity and a little fear, until he arrived to his spot, stood there for a bit with his bent back soaked in sweat. I was able to imagine his face: frozen, silent, planted with drops of sparkling sweat. Abu Uthman bent down to carry on his feeble arms the corpse of his wife whom I've always seen sitting in front of his shop, legs crossed, waiting for him to finish his lunch so she can return home with the empty utensils. Then he passed by me, for the third time, hyperventilating with high-pitched and continuous breaths, and the drops of sweat planted on his wrinkled face. He passed by me without looking at me at all. And once again I watched his bent back soaked in sweat, as he walked slowly between the two queues.
People had stopped crying.
And a tragic silence fell upon the women and the elderly.
It was as though the memories of Abu Uthman were drilling through people's bones with persistence. Those little memories that Abu Uthman told all of Ramleh's men while they sat submissively on the barber's chair; those memories that have constructed a special world in the hearts of people here; those memories seemed as though they were drilling in people's bones with persistence.
Abu Uthman was all his life a peaceful and loved man. He believed in everything, and the thing he believed in the most was himself. He started his life from nothing. When the revolt of Jabal al-Nar ejected him to Ramleh, he had lost everything. He started anew: wholesome, like any green plant in the good land of Ramleh. He gained the love and acceptance of people. And when this most recent war on Palestine began, he sold everything he had, and bought weapons which he then distributed on his relatives, to uphold their duty in battle, and his shop turned into a storage for arms and explosives. He never asked for any reward for this sacrifice. All he ever asked for was that when he dies, he gets buried in Ramleh's beautiful cemetery which was filled with big trees. That was all he asked of people. All the men of Ramleh knew that Abu Uthman wanted nothing but to be buried in Ramleh's cemetery when he dies.
Those little things were what silenced the people. Their sweat-soaked faces were overwhelmed with the weight of this memory. I looked at my mom, standing there, raising her arms up in the air, standing straight as though she had just stood up now, following Abu Uthman with her eyes, silent, as though she was a pile of bullets. Then I turned to look afar, and I saw Abu Uthman standing before a Jewish guard, talking, and pointing to his shop. Then he walked over to the shop, by himself, and returned with a white shroud and wrapped the corpse of his wife with it, then continued on his path to the cemetery.
Then I saw him coming back from afar, with his heavy footsteps, bent back, and his arms flailing next to his sides from exhaustion. He got closer to me, slowly, as he walked. He looked older than he already had, covered in dust and dirt, breathing long high-pitched breaths, and on his vest were many spots of blood mixed with soil.
When he passed by me, he looked at me, as if it was the first time he passes by me and see me standing there in the middle of the street under the scorching July sun: covered with dirt and soaked with sweat, with an bruised and swollen lip covered with dried blood. He looked at me long, while breathing heavily. His eyes were filled with so many meanings I could not understand, but I could feel. Then he continued walking, slowly, breathless, covered with dirt, then he stopped and faced the street, and raised his arms and crossed them in the air.
The people were unable to bury Abu Uthman as he had always wanted, because when he had gone to the commander's room to confess what he knew, people heard a massive explosion which blew up the entire house, and Abu Uthman's body parts were lost under the rubble.
They told my mother, as she carried me through the mountains to Jordan, that when Abu Uthman went to his shop before he buried his wife, he didn't come back with only a white shroud.
Damascus - 1956
Translated by Oday Baddar