Bad Things

Sometimes, sneaking a smoke out the front as the world quiets and darkens, I imagine bad things, like the passing car slowing down and men with guns jumping out. Or the Ryanair passenger plane overhead opening its belly and spilling out tons of about-to-burst metal. Or waking up behind a locked door, your body belonging to someone else now, or sitting tiny before a man in camaflauge, begging for your child back.

Then I think ‘thank God that’s not real’, finish my cigarette and go back into the light.

Glasgow

Arabic on the streets of Glasgow
I want to close your eyes
With my fingertips and take you
Back to pop beats on buses
Back to thick coffee laced
With cigarette smoke…
Open.
The ones with jobs
Stride high-heeled
Back to them
Open.
The ones without
Hold cardboard signs
Saying “help”
And a woman in a pink hijab
Tilts her phone
To show the pigeons to a mum
Who will never come
To Glasgow
And everyone
Is passing everyone
Everything
Is passing everything
Seeing
And not seeing
Smiling
And not smiling
Saying
And not saying
That your language blossoms
In my mouth too
Your language blossoms
In my mouth too
Arabic
On the streets of Glasgow

 

 

Palestinian Humour

WeatherIt’s 11pm and we’re talking to Uncle Abu Samer on Whatsapp. He and his wife are at Nimr’s parents flat, as they often are – so much of the family has left Syria, including both couple’s children, that they mostly have the choice of each other’s sofas now for conversation and sweet evening tea.

As always, we talk about the weather. The sun still shines and the rain still falls. There have been warm showers in Damascus. And it’s hot in Sweden, says Nimr, I saw the picture of Hoda’s husband having a barbecue. No, says Abu Samer, he was on a trip to Germany. It’s always hot in Germany. The Saudi Arabia of Europe! We talk about these places like they’re local to everyone in the conversation, just a bus ride from Damascus. No bribes or breathless races across borders or rubber dinghies in the night.

I remember Alaa, while she was still in Syria , describing the daily exchanges in the queue outside the bread oven: “Hey, I heard your son reached Denmark! Congrats!” “How’s your daughter in Germany? Any news on the family reunification visa?” New names now at home in the collective mouth: Malmö, Uppsala, Helsingborg. But you can know the weather in Stockholm and still be unable to get to your mum’s house a few miles away when the shells are falling.

Somehow the conversation gets round to a relative, Abdul Karim, who has received a court summons for building without planning permission onto a house that has since been destroyed, in an area that has been flattened by bombing. The man is now living in Jaramana with plastic sheeting for windows. Is anyone in Syria really still worrying about planning permission? Nimr’s uncle insists the story is true. The two of them are in fits of laughter.

“Every day I wake up in the morning, get out a map of the Arab nations and piss on it,” roars Abu Samer, advising his nephew to do the same.

My head is getting drowsy on Nimr’s shoulder. It is so warm and quiet here, so easy to drift off on the waves of their laughter, a world away from the dark side of the joke.

Adam

prod-syria-gas-attack-victim

Photo: Getty

What do you want?

“The antidote, and for this to stop” says the man on the radio.

“If we had enough antidote we wouldn’t have to send patients to Turkey for treatment.

“It is a long way and they might die before they get there,” says the doctor, who probably imagined setting bones and a stable paycheck when he did his medical training, not telling gasping victims of Sarin they’d run out of medicine, and worrying that his family might be next.

My baby girl flicks her tongue in and out of her mouth and laughs in her high chair, milk dribbling down her chin. She opens her mouth like a starling for each spoonful; chomps messily and vigorously with the joyful unselfconscious-ness of being one.

Yesterday another mother made breakfast for another child, a beautiful boy with coral cheeks and thick black hair. She urged him to finish his plate, then go and wash his hands and play with his brother, and now he is gulping for air and my little girl is dancing to the sound of the sirens that are coming for him.

On my iPad on the kitchen worktop, men desperately hosing down stiffening bodies, people trying to rip off infected clothes but it’s too late, limbs have stopped responding to brain. Seventy two dead so far, twenty children, Assad says they bombed an opposition chemical weapons depot, everyone else say it’s the regime’s Sarin, deliberately applied.

I nearly cried when Mariam had her vaccinations yesterday. Clamping down her limbs as metal sliced into soft legs, I watched her scream in pain and disbelief, tears pooling beneath her grey-brown eyes. Then the calm as her sobs subsided in my arms, the rush of relief as she started singing again on our sunlit way home. Who would have known every inch of her would be so precious? Every second, every sound, every wisp of hair. Every child to every mother.

I wonder what the boy did yesterday, the one who is dying on my iPad and doesn’t have a name?