"A Conversation with Hamdi"
For 35-year-old Hamdi, the Spring comes as a tragic surprise amidst all the devastation. “There used to be a park beside this house,” he says, pointing to the wreckage that the war has left behind.
“We played football there.”
I can see the remnants of a football field from the window. Some withered and rusted bars of twirled iron, that once would have been the goalposts seem to mock at me from one corner of the demolished park. A broken and twisted swing jeers from another.
“Our team would often lose, though.” he says with a smile, “most of our players are dead or gone.” he reminisces.
“In those days, we had hostility, we would often fight on the field, but the war has changed everything.” he says, "in the beginning when we believed that it would soon be over, the game went on as usual until the real bombs struck; we watched the neighbourhood crumble before our own eyes.”
He pauses for breath.
“Sa’ad, my next-door neighbour, went outside to fetch the football and never returned. We couldn't even give him a proper burial. There wasn’t much left of him anyway,” he says, pointing to a torn and soiled red hoodie hanging from a bent nail on the derelict wall.
“That was the first time I really came this close to death. Then there were more incidents, just like a second wave follows the first one, and you hardly care to notice, but then people started leaving the place.”
He tells me, as we trudge towards the park. The cobbled pathway is crumbled in many places and fine green grass has begun crawling through. Somehow it reminds me of the blue Irises that grow wild in graveyards.
“Why did you stay back? Why didn’t you leave?”
“I love football,” he answers simply. “And there's no other place that is as beautiful. Look at this place, I am not mourning anything, for beauty always has a price to pay, Syria has paid hers,” he says, picking up the pieces of shattered metal from a heap of junk.
“And now, people are coming back. They gather here in the evenings and talk about nothing in particular. We are trying to pick up the threads, though unfortunately for us, there isn't much that can be salvaged and it is a slow and painful process," he continues. "Buildings don’t become homes in days nor months. There are centuries intertwined within each home; the first time grandmother planted the peach tree, the moment my mother would have sat on the swing tied to its blossoming branches, and the day I saw it all crumble. That’s real history, but no one will ever talk about it..”.
I don’t have words, but I know the pain. It's almost like mine, just deeper, just more intense.
“There's a virus around here..” I gently point out. I don't want to scare him.
He has much more to worry about.
“What kind of virus?” he asks,
“It's called COVID 19, a deadly virus. Didn't you hear about it? It's a pandemic..”
“Okay,” he replies simply.
“It's killing people all over the world,” I add.
“Okay,” he repeats, “Okay,”
I don't understand his nonchalance.
“And It has reached Syria." I pause and wait for a reply…
“The virus kills; Did you say?” he finally asks, sitting down on the edge of the broken wrought iron bench, “but what about a nation that is already dead; the virus doesn’t kill corpses too, now, does it?”
I don't have an answer, and maybe I don't even have the right questions. I turn around so that he doesn't notice the mist spreading in my eyes!