A Catastrophic We-Shall-Return
Abu Ibrahim dragged his feet along as his weak body struggled with the heavy luggage upon his shoulders. His body staggered and his feet tirelessly tried to carry him as far as they could, and though they failed to keep his body stable, he didn’t fall. Abu Ibrahim wasn’t alone, however, for he had a long line of followers; they were his family. He was accompanied by his two wives and a dozen of children aged from five to twenty-two years. Abu Ibrahim was leaving, but he didn’t know where he was going. There were thousands of people around him, and everybody was doing the same. Everybody was leaving. And all of them didn’t know where they were going. There was Abu Ahmed with his two married sons walking on either side of him, another two unmarried, his wife, and four daughters, followed by a line no lesser than that which was following Abu Ibrahim. They were leaving, too. There was Abu Naser and his kin who made some twenty people in number following him in one line. Restless with the load they had to carry, all of them were leaving. To where, they didn’t know.
Amidst the growing thick of dust that rose from the shuffling feet of the leavers and which strove to keep their owners standing upright, nothing audible thereabout but the chaotic sounds of the shoes scrapped with the rough rocky sands and each once in a while mistakenly kicking a stone, dozens and dozens of people were roaming around, all of them stooping down with the burden on their shoulders and backs; and, not knowing where they were going, they walked and walked on. The only thing they knew it was a black day, for someone had come and made them leave their homes, farms and olive trees, and as they said “No”, a gun was pointed at their faces to make them leave, so they left in the hope that they will come back again.
It was the Nakba. The sun had just fallen when Abu Ibrahim, Abu Ahmed, and Abu Naser gathered around a small fire where their families, discussing their hazy destiny and gusted with the gentle breeze of a summer night, sat peacefully under the wide starry sky everywhere they looked above. The chaotic trudging had vanished as the sun fell. It was replaced with the dreadful sound of silence. It wasn’t silence, in fact; for the fire crackled, and the wind occasionally whistled: the wind which, as it blew, the crackling of the fire grew more dreadful, and the laughs of the little children who, as their mother tickled their ambits, squirming, forced a laugh out of their chests. Abu Ibrahim aptly struck a conversation with a deep sight that might have been confused with a moan of an Arabian mare, alone in the bosom of night, crying over the sudden death of her little steed. Indeed, it was a moan of a prideful Arab, whose father had taught him how to be as proud as the sun even before he could write down his own name, and whose pride had but been scratched—for it was still scratched back then.
“Be’een Allah ya Abu Ibrahim” – God’s gonna help us, Abu Ibrahim – that was Abu Naser immediate reply to his neighbour’s distressed sigh as he aimlessly drew circles in the sand before silence fell again.
“God will help us,” there came the voice of Abu Ahmed who skillfully tickled his rosary. “I think the Arabs and Egyptian government won’t keep silent,” he said. “they will do something to get us back to our homes.”
“Yes,” his counterpart nodded approvingly.
“And don’t forget there are our brothers: the Saudis,” Abu Ahmed, noticing the approving nods of Abu Naser, and meeting his boosting looks, gradually raised his tone as he went on, ” and the Kuwaitis, and the Jordanians, the Lybians, and the Iraqis, and the Algerians and all our Arab brothers. All of them will rush to our help and fight these brutes out of our country”
“Yes, they will!” plucking up his courage and feeling the enthusiasm of his neighbour’s tone, Abu Naser ceased nodding only to take part in this passionate speech. “Theeey will crush these animals and kick them ouuut of here!”
While Abu Naser delivered his portion of this powerful, morale-boosting, and confident speech, Abu Ahmed, all out of a sudden, looked sullen again as though he had changed his mind of the Arabs within this very short period of time. The case being so, he, to Abu Naser’s disappointment (or was it to his embarrassment) didn’t say anything when he should have said as Abu Naser, losing his breath, made a pause. He waited and waited, but Abu Ahmed said nothing.
It all ended here, and silence reined the fire-lighted session again.
After this brief break of silence, Abu Ahmed started again, however this time, in a voice so calm, low, and hesitant, his looks fixed on the scribbles his straw drew in the sands and never meeting the others’, “Yes, maybe they will, but we don’t know how much that is gonna take,” he looked as though he talked to himself rather to his fellows, “it might take one week, two, one month, two months, and even half a year, who knows?”
“Fal Allah wala falak ya zalame,” – God forbid – Suddenly, Abu Ibrahim spoke out. “what are you saying? Half a year? Do you think we’ll stay in these tents for half a year? No, no, no I don’t think so,” Abu Ibrahim continued, widening his eyes in furious amazement as he spoke.
At this moment, both Abu Naser and Abu Ahmed wanted to say something. They exchanged looks for a while as each of them waited the other to say what they wanted to say. Each opened his mouth, started, hesitated, paused, and, at the end—both— remained silent. No one spoke up. No one had enough courage to say what they realised it would later be a matter of fact: to tell Abu Ibrahim—or rather to remind him— that it might take a little while longer than half a year before they could return to their homes, lands, farms, and olive trees. And it all ended here.
Meanwhile, settling a head-chopped pottery jug of water on her right hand which rested over her shoulder and slanted towards behind her head, Um Ibrahim in her popular embroidered black dress, decorated with raised intense red pattern, her child, bare-footed, hurrying after her, came up jogging to her husband, and said: “Ayzeen Amalko Shay” – do you wanna drink some tea? –
“Yes, make some tea, why not?” Abu Ibrahim replied. He had now joined up with his two neighbours drawing circles in the sand.
The three men kept quiet as they carried on their relieving activity. It was relieving, indeed, for the straws, tightly pressed in the farmers’ fists, had now been fully implanted in the sands. It must have relieved them to implant a straw in the sands. Only then, Abu Ibrahim felt his growing uneasiness as silence extended before him, and, feeling inclined to break this silence, he started hymning: “Rajeen ya blade” – We shall return, Home – only to be joined by Abu Ahmed who sang along with Ibrahim in a slightly higher tone.
The song was perfect, and the rhythm was astonishingly fine as both men sang keeping the same rhythm and the same tone, and, Abu Naser, feeling the rising passionate tone of this song, couldn’t help but raise his voice and take part, singing.
“We shall return, Home, we shall return, one day,”
Now, it being all three of them singing, the song went awkwardly. No harmony maintained just as everyone sang on his own; and, each willing to maintain his own rhythm and dominate over the other’s, it looked as though each was cutting in the other rather than singing together.
“Oh w badeen ya jama’a” – Ok what then? – Abu Ibrahim started angrily. “Are you gonna keep bleating like this?”
“Ok, let’s start all over again,” Abu Ahmed replied.
“Mashi” Abu Naser said.
“One rhythm, one tone, don’t forget” Abu Ibrahim reminded them. “Wahad tneeeeen talata” – one, two, threee –
“Rajeenlek ya bladee, rajeenlek rajeen” they started altogether, keeping the same rhythm and the same tone they had wished for.
Hardly had a few moments passed when Abu Ibrahim was indignantly rebuking his two neighbours for failing again to sing in harmony.
“Let’s try again,” he said.
The three men carried on their efforts trying to sing in harmony, but they failed to maintain it for more than a few moments each time they tried. They tried time and again until they reached their sixty-second attempt, and yet never did they succeed in uniting their voice. They were truly bleating! And at a very long last, exhausted with the long distance he had crossed, and seeing the futility of his painstaking efforts to keep up with the other two men, Abu Naser just fell asleep, and not very long later, he was followed by Abu Ahmed and Abu Ibrahim. It was the mid-night of mid-May. The fire had died, and, every now and then, a cold gentle breeze blew over the half-standing tents. Every one had fallen asleep. It was their first night away from home.
In the morning, the three men, Abu Ibrahim, Abu Ahmed, and Abu Naser stooped down as they walked on, struggling with the burden over their shoulders and followed by their sons, daughters, wives, and thousands of people here and there, all doing the same thing— all were leaving.
Mohammed Rabah Suliman