21 September 2013

A Man I Know

A man I know but know nothing about drops into a chair across from me. He sighs happy to be relieved of his own weight. The chair is red and gold with shards of plastic still clinging to its legs. It is not new. We are hidden away in a dim florescent room. I can hear water boiling in the background beside a tray of tea and instant coffee.      

The man seems to take great pride in his appearance and yet he is falling apart; chipping away while time blasts by. His receding hair is brushed tight against his scalp. His pants are too high. His tie is too long. He is Syrian. He is a man of God. And when he smiles it is a punch through from the inside that ripples the surface of his tattered shell.

Three months ago he decided to return to Syria--to the soil he was molded from--to civil war. "My family is in the north," he says. "In free Syria. A famous city, Alepo. I convinced my wife and children that I should go. I convinced myself, maybe. I told myself, if God will give me the chance to come back and live more, ok. I went to Turkey and crossed into my country. After only twenty minutes we were hiding in a ditch and the planes, high up, they were shooting at us. I was made to wear a soldiers clothes. It took me a long time to reach my family. I didn't plan to stay in my country for long, but I was there for forty days. There is nothing left. My country is like 500 years ago. You understand? Destroyed."

He stops because we are silent. His words are not an unburdening. To him this is a casual conversation over falafel and tea. He is a devout Muslim. God's Will is the bedrock of his existence. His unblemished faith assures him that there is a reason and the reason is just. Still, he does not know us any better than we know him. He does not want to offend. We urge him on with sounds of condolence; air sucked through teeth, weighty exhales, groans that spell pity.

"For twenty-six days my wife and children didn't know if I was alive or dead. There is no communication in the north. No internet. No phones. The government doesn't want this, you see? Two of my brothers have been killed. My father had four sons, now he has two. My younger brother was a doctor. A good man. He was operating on a victim when the planes flew overhead. The building fell down on him. It was very difficult being in my country. But, I would go again. If I had to choose. I would do things the same."

It is obvious that he is torn. He wants to divide himself. He want to leave pieces of himself in Syria with the family that was and keep the rest in Saudi Arabia with the family that is. He stands and dusts off his hands. I want him to continue. I want to know more. He is finished.

He points to symbols written on the whiteboard. He points to me.

"Ba. Bee. Boo." I say reciting variations of an Arabic letter.

His punch-through smile returns.

"By Gods Will," he says. "Step-by-step you will learn."