They took them in, shackled their brown hands, threaded out their thick hair, and told them “We will now turn you into soldiers, fighting against hope, warring against life. You have two choices: death or death.” They stared at the hours, then removed their eyes, hanging each upon its nail. Then they waited and waited for the funeral of memory to start. They set the light on fire and recited myths, fairytales, and stories about their fathers, their stupid fathers, who were once heroes and are now nothing but cowards.
Why did you leave us in this trap without any poems? Why did you color the sky yellow? Why did you give us stars to hang our hearts on? We did not do anything, we only wanted to sing. We have read the Quran, the New Testament, and the Old Testament. We read every verse and we pretended to be religious enough to read, and to know if hope was a sin, and it wasn’t.
In this trap, we recreated time and turned every thousand hours into another day, another attempt to save our youth from the wasteland. On the broken stairs of time we walked and we asked God, “Why didn’t you let us choose our pain—for the pain of waiting is the ugliest kind of heaven. Allow us to choose our own pain for once. If we were permitted to make choices we might begin to think. And then we might believe, for a second, that we are human.”
“Undocumented and unafraid.” That is what a Hispanic girl wrote on her shirt as an American policeman shackled her hands. I said, “I am undocumented and afraid. And fear is genetic, even if scientists have not yet discovered that fact.” I let my memory sail me off to the shore of my childhood and I remembered that I had books, a soccer ball, and an old lady asking me, “Where are you from?” I paused and said, “I am from Bidun.” She laughed “There’s no such place. No country is Bidun.”
I removed my small feet and drew a flag, a jersey, and a national anthem. Then I waited and hoped, like all my people. I waited and hoped that she would reappear so that I might show her my country. The woman died and I grew up. I killed my imagination even as I continued to practice the sins of hope and waiting. Here, a kid puts his nail in the sand and tries to build a home, but it rained.
Let us live our evenings to the fullest so we might be allowed to imagine that we are what you are—creatures of flesh and blood and rainbows. Give an answer for a mother to say when her child asks her, “Mother, where are we from?” We are the prisoners of yesterday. We make collages out of the Yellow Pages. We like to be pawns since we are not allowed to die just like our fathers who fought, died, and went forgotten in a truck, a grave, or a sandstorm.
Our children have no kites; for we have no wind to fly them, no money to buy them, and no sky. Our children take the road to the mosque and make their prayers. “Oh god, I do not want to take the same road again, not because I do not love you but because I want to take the road to school.” We will love life one day we will one day hope again without the fear of losing our nails.
We will take no portion of your ego, we will always bend our heads when we see you in the streets. We will buy hats if we need to, just so we might take them off when we see you, just so you feel secure in your self while your cars run, and our heads bend. Let us offer you three hats for every slap your policeman draws on a man’s face, and for every horror he puts in a teenage heart, or in a girl’s breast.
We are lonely but our loneliness does not bring us together. Our fathers shook off their tents. They hid their pride in their pockets. They pointed towards you and said, “Let us join our brothers; let us go home.” And when they arrived, they heard a word, and they opened their dictionaries under the letter “e” and read “enemy.” We waited, in the yellow bus, for our brothers to take us home. The bus was a candle. The bus melted under the sun. The sun died. And we made chairs out of our hope, we sat, and we waited.
Let us be whatever you want us to be—your trains, your music, your fleeting smiles, but just let us be. Let us have an answer for the question of life while you solve your question of God, let us be. Let us sing a love story and do not mock our thick accents for we do not have the luxury of your tongues; we have no tongues, no speech, no songs. We are waiting for our mothers to sow our youth and give us the song of salvation. We are waiting for the anti-hope pills that never work.
Make exceptions for us before we die. Let us have a day to build a house near the schools. Let us watch our children be happy and complain about their teachers. Let us see them burn with the fire of knowledge. Let us frame our losses and crucify them on the imaginary walls. Let the father see his dead son and sigh, “Now who is going to bury me?” Let us buy new chairs, let us have chairs first, let us have the choice to take off our hats for you, or not to take them off. Let us have shadows, ghosts, and more fears.
I do not hate you but I do not love you. I look at you and I know. I know that my heart is not like the size of your shoe. Pardon me, but I cannot lie. My whole existence is a lie and I, once and for all, blame my fathers for being lies. You do not allow me to wait, hope, or live and I do not allow you to make me lie. We are the statues on which you will build your birdhouses.
Published in Jadaliyya - 12/12/2011