I can’t tell if these are bones. Bones piled up on top of each other. Will they ever dig us out? Find what emerges, the stories, the dark and the light? A boneyard. The earth lays with open wounds, waiting to be filled with us alive. This mud made us, and now will protect us – or at least, I hope.
One step to jump bellow. I stabilize the wooden ladder as my siblings climb down. I see grief in their eyes. Dirt under our nails. I could not find fear. We spill in the wound as if to make up for the mud that was lost. We all made it down, we look up at our parents. Like gods standing above our graves, descending from the grey sky. Water drops on our foreheads, and now my palms as they face the sky. I pray. Fall on my knees and pray that something will protect us. That angels will fight alongside our parents, neighbors, and people. The sky sends us off into the dirt with life. With water. She reminded me of Umi, Layla. She’d find random seeds in her kitchen drawers, jars, and neighbors. Dig a bit deep into the ground as the dirt dances and finds a home under her nails. And when she gently places each seed into their new home, she’d give them a taste of water.
Slowly the earth begins to swallow us in, as Umi Layla and Abooy Tha’er shovel back. I could tell their sweat drops from the sky’s water. The sky’s was sweet, theirs salty, almost bitter. The sky reminded me how our sweat makes our crop sweeter – raw or cooked. It’s the key ingredient. The key step. Their sweat reassured me; all will rise. All will rise again. Their sweat gave me strength and faith. With the dirt now up to my waist, I hold my siblings’ hands and look down.
“I heard stories of skin withering away. Flesh offered to the earth, as it keeps others alive. As if this is a consequence of the wounds we forced on the earth’s body” Noor interrupts my remembering.
“Don’t you wonder why we haven’t seen Majd?”
“Do you think the earth ate Majd?”
“What are you thinking of?”
Noor isn’t always occupied with what I think. But this is a game we played when we can no longer comprehend where we are.
“I’m thinking of the last time we saw the sky.”
Noor was little. I don’t think she remembers the –
“When Baba and Umi made the sky rain?!”
Shocked, “Yes,” I replied, “what do you remember?”
“I remember how grey the sky was and the sounds we heard after Umi told me not to move.”
“What sounds?” How can I not remember?
“It was as if someone was digging a small hole on top of us. It sounded like scratching. Then water poured in. Can we see what it was?”
Noor is always curious about what is above us and bellow us. Noor once tried to dig through to reach the earth’s crust. And claims to have found it, but I wasn’t there to see it. “Lets wait a few roots.” I got curious too. But digging bellow is different than digging up. We could disturb so much around us. Worse yet if the war hasn’t stopped yet, we could expose hundreds like us and turn into a mass grave.
I wonder what they did after they dug us down here.
“I remember Umi told me I can take the moon with me. And I did.”
The moon followed us everywhere when we were much younger. It kept us safe. Noor talked to the moon often, thinking it was God. And maybe, Noor isn’t wrong. Today, all Noor knows is the dirt. This is where we mostly grew up – with the dirt and the moon, the sun’s warmth, and the sky’s water.
“How many roots till we get to see the sun, Shahb?”
“Until we no longer feel the ground shake, and roots all around us.”
“Eat your rice or the rice will follow you on judgement day” she held an olive and burnt bread soaked with olive oil as she gave me “the eye.” She was serious. Yellow rice surrounds my white cold plate. The kitchen was cold, and I could not smell the warm food she made us. Qalayet bandora is still so hot you could not touch the pan sitting on a circular straw weaved pad. I felt Umi’s eyes piercing me, looking at the olives, and looking back at me. Something felt unbelievably uncomfortable. Frozen, I did not move – although I thought – I need to finish my plate of rice. Umi’s table began to expand so far, I could no longer see her or the olives. Or the oil drops on the plastic cloth covering our table’s cracks. Darkness swallowed me and my feet are no longer tethered to the ground. I look back and see a large piece of rice following me as I wait and look for the God that is about to judge me. Cast me to heaven or hell. Or demand that I walk a thin thread, let my feet decide my fate.
I run as fast I can. But the table kept getting longer and longer – until I lost Umi. I sink deeper in this darkness, as if falling through a crack not wide enough for me to fall through. I am immobile. Frozen, as I run in the same place I found myself in – at the beginning. Rice got large enough to make the intangible ground shake. Rice is so huge I can’t find their shadow. The back of my neck crunches as my eyes fill with tears and sweat. I yell. I yell so loud I hope it shatters rice to pieces I used to eat on my plate.
I open my eyes to utter blackness. The sweat on my forehead is now my earthy drinking water. I move my tongue around my lips to scrape off any drops of water I can. I can tell it’s close to spring. Roots are making a home and I see mycelium waking us to eat. But this time, another dream about rice woke me in sweat. I don’t think us roots were prepared for more water to be distributed around. My neck hurts. I must have slept for quite a while. My toes are permanently tucked in, my hands in fists my nails create dents in my palms. I can’t see it, I feel it. The lingering sting between gravels of dirt. If I try to shake it off, they’ll know I’m here.
I stay legs apart, toes tucked, hands in fists, arms by my head, mouth slightly parted, breath held in from my nose, ears wide awake, throat protected by my chin, heartbeat lost with the others. After some time, I learned to breathe through my nose without inhaling all the dirt around me. Not all my teachings are my own. I mostly learned from dirt and Noor.
Noor reminds me to move around. That we are buried deeper than I remember. I forget that we are not buried for death, but for renewal, remembrance, and liberation. “As long as you stay here, the earth will protect you. You do not need to do anything, but to eat what you find, and breathe. When the wind settles, and you hear something quieter than silence, you rise.” Umi forgot to tell us we need to move our bodies. Maybe she believed it would be only a few days until total liberation. Umi buried us standing, with our arms covering our heads from explosions. The last I saw her, Umi’s tears fell from her eyes, the skies that held us, fed us, the eyes that disciplined us to finish our plates, to pick up our pencil, our kites, our rifles. “You don’t rise, until the earth tells you to. You understand me?” She insisted on a verbal answer. “Yes.” Umi held a shovel larger than her hand, the way she always did preparing the earth for new seeds to come. Our neighbor, Umi, Noor, and I dug for days. Noor and I had to remember that these are not our graves. This is our home. Our safe house. Our haven.
In our deepest descend, we will rise and rise again here.
Roots around us spread so wide and deep; how can I believe I’m trapped? I’m in the most spacious body that can hold me. Buried with bullets, seeds, and roots, our elders knew what they were doing.
Umi: Mama; mother in Arabic.
Abooy: Father in Arabic.
Ward Juri: a red rose that found home all around the SWANA region.