She sat on the balcony late at night, puffing coolly on her cigarette; a nightly routine which she has been doing for the past ten years. She’d sit cross-legged and look downward at the changing quick-paced world while her husband and her children slept inside. Trails of cigarette smoke disappeared in the darkened space like forgotten memories dissipating inside the dark caverns of the mind. But a sudden breeze blew and the air-born memories came blowing in her face, seeping into her veins again. It was the smell of meat and blood which took her back thirty-four years into the past.
She was in her uncle’s car, the same car he used to transport the meat he sold. The smell penetrated her every pore like the sweat of a rapist dripping on her skin, but there was no room for complaint or second-thoughts. They were fleeing a country in flames. Syria, for the first time, seemed to be very far away. Her uncle was driving at lightning speed, but the more he drove, the closer the heart was to home, and the further Syria seemed to be. Just sixteen back then, she thought what every teenager facing, or more accurately, fleeing the threat of war would feel: this life is not the life I deserve; that phrase, to which she now responded cynically, this undeserved life has taught me who I am.
She smiled at the ridiculous memory as she puffed more off of her cigarette. The jab of nicotine gave her full remembrance of her time in the Comoros islands where she spent four years, trying to enjoy herself, but always feeling like a refugee hiding from the terrors of home. A small fire joined what was left of the family together at dinner: the uncle, the brother, the aunt. The parents were absent. Perhaps, she thought, if her parents were near, home wouldn’t be so far away.
Her brother talked about the well-known strife of their grandmother; a story always told in times of trouble to garner strength and perseverance. That supernatural quality made the story more fictitious with each retold, slightly re-shaped account of it. Her grandmother, born in America and returning to Lebanon, found herself, somehow—the details scurry off and are not important—as the only Muslim child in a Christian family. The story goes on: how she was trapped in chicken dens for countless days; how she was forced to go to church; how she was forced to take part in rites not of her own; how she was beat up when she would not obey; and eventually, the apogee of the tale, how she fled the pseudo-home, and luckily enough, found a goodhearted Muslim family to take her in. So feathered a story, told around the lightly burning fire, constantly inspired anyone looking for any sort of cause. Her brother would always conclude, “We should take our grandmother as an example.”
We? An example? A metaphor of the strife of a country; an example of fleeing, and they had done just that. A sad solidarity. She exhaled the accumulating smoke in her mouth and exuded the trickle of sweat on her forehead. Her parents were in Paris while she was in the Comoros. Family, dubbing itself as protector, once again failed to protect, but somehow, family always takes the indomitable form of something religious, or, for that matter, something irrationally believed in.
Where were her parents now? Her father, dead for sixteen years. Her mother, dead for one day. The formidable thought of death could not escape her. In the distance, she can hear her brother recounting the story of her grandmother once more, to his children, to his grandchildren, or even sometimes, to them, pretending they’re all sitting around a small shy fire, which the lit cigarette can be compared to. And that is all that is left: the story of her grandmother (soon to become the grandmother); the Muslim child persevering against the throes of Christian perdition; A prototype of reality in the minds of children sleeping inside; a timeless memory taking the form of a lesson to be learned. And what would be left in the heart of the woman smoking her cigarette: the saddest thing: the truth that we were meant to be together from the start, but a story of perseverance entrenched and bolstered the immutable order of the home which will always have someone flee it.