Mariam’s Night Out

Mariam's night out

On Romford Rd at 11.30pm a group of seven 30-somethings are singing Arabic lullabies into a sky blue pram that they are pushing towards the train station. One holds a toy horse on a stick like an umbrella; another drums on a djembe at the traffic lights. One of the women walks backwards ahead of the buggy, singing “Oh, Moon” and “Tack Tack Tack Hey Sulaiman’s Mum” to the little girl inside, who first stops crying and then sits up straight and starts bobbing her head from side to side to the rhythm of the song.

The baby girl is like a startled starling, her saucer eyes alighting on the passing cars, the people lying on cardboard boxes in the sad late night shopping centre, the jet spray whooshing the pavement clean behind the tube station bins. She had been fast asleep in a strange bed, chatter and laughter rising from below her open window, when without warning her dad had woken and dressed her, put her in her pram and pushed her out into the secret night world.

The 30-somethings are still singing at Oxford Circus at midnight, standing around the pram and clicking their fingers as if it is the middle of the morning at a nursery school. The girl stops crying again, but that doesn’t stop the other people on the platform from staring at them with thinly disguised disapproval. “Everyone thinks we’ve kidnapped her”, says the girl’s mum.

On the Victoria Line, the girl’s eyelids start to droop, but the songs and kisses keep coming. She will cave into tired screams before she makes it to her own bed, and her dad will have to carry her like a newborn from the bus-stop to their front door. But for now she lies perfectly still and perfectly quiet, her eyes flicking from her reflection in the dark train window to the beaming faces of these adults who love her, they too staving off their tiredness, at least for another hour.

Old Photos

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Up late alone, I find myself looking through old photos on Facebook, the mouse unwinding the years as I scroll down the page.

How young I looked at 21! All eyeliner and plaited pigtails and cheap plastic earrings; baggy dungarees and a glass of wine, that ridiculous floor-length floral dress and the children’s guitar I bought in Souq Hamadiyeh. How deliciously naive I was, throwing myself into this new life, asking so many questions and not asking questions at all.

Syria was an adventure for us study year abroad students, shining with an excitement so bright that it blanked out other things: the lack of choices our new friends had, the steel fist of dictatorship under the kitch ‘I heart Bashar’ mugs and presidential bumper stickers that we stuck ironically onto our laptops. The torture chambers that never crossed our paths or minds.

I plunged head first into new friendships, a new language, and eventually marriage, for a visa and out of love, unwittingly forging the shape of the rest of my life. Nothing was determined and no door would close behind us; we could always go back, back, back…

And I remember the drive to the airport, when you finally got your UK visa,  watching school children out of the car window as you prepared to take a plane for the first time. You would later say you had a feeling that you would never see those streets again, that the familiar shops and signs and faces were rolling past for the last time. But who can say what we really felt that day, before you were an immigrant, before Syria became a byword for war.

If I could go back I would ask everyone everything, and cling like a child to their every word. I would look so carefully, listen so hard.

But if that’s how I feel, looking at these old photos at 1am, then that’s what I should do now, here, in this life. Because these days are precious too, and every moment that passes is one we can’t return to.