Paradise Lost

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Edna Yaghi’s Column

 

In the land of the wild honeysuckle where fires of freedom burn in thehearts of the brave and songs of liberty flow in the minds of the free, dwelt a humble nobleman by the name of Sharif. At one time, Sharif sold falafel near the outskirts of an ancient city in the forgotten country of ‘Paradise Lost.’ For many years he had been denied all means of obtaining an education by the Israeli oppressors who shut the universities and occupied his ancestral home, so he sold falafel. Habitually, near the side of the road he placed his stand under the shade of an old cedar tree which spread its branches out as a partial cover from the intense heat of the sun.

Every day Sharif would rise at the flush of dawn, just when pink tinged the purple complexion of the infant day, gather his equipment and head for the peripheries of “Paradise Lost.” Early mornings brought the scent of wild honeysuckle and jasmine, when the city was yet cuddled under the fading protective quilt of night. Wild pinkish-brown doves and keen-eyed hawks fought for survival in the stillness of the new day as Sharif plodded to his customary tree and set up his stand. One particular morning he was feeling especially depressed. His people were incessantly dying under a purge of hate. No one was spared death or injury from speechless babe to the elderly. The prospect of peace had become merely a phantom for dreamers. As he readied his wares he said to the winds, which were emancipated, “I can hear the chains of slavery rattling in the doom of bondage. When will the bonds be broken and my people be free? Oh Lord, give us strength and patience to bear our enslavement!”

Soon, the crisp tantalizing smell of falafel rose to greet the first morning scents of flowers and leaves devoid yet of the exhausts of thick smoke that puffed out of the bottoms of cars and buses. The first customers were small children who rubbed the sleep from their eyes as they waited for their favorite food. “Good morning, Uncle,” a small voice piped out, “please give me ten falafel.” The hand behind the voice pushed the brown coins towards the vendor.

“Well, good morning Laith, my favorite customer. What have you got up your sleeve today that makes you look in such a hurry?”

He saw the excitement in the young boy’s eyes as the child exclaimed with enthusiasm, “Oh, Uncle Sharif, I’m making a beautiful kite and today I shall finish it! In the afternoon I will bring it here to show it to you. It’s going to be a big surprise!”

Sharif chuckled as he watched Laith run off towards his home, remembering with nostalgia those carefree boyish days not long ago when he himself had designed and proudly flown his own kites. The rest of his morning passed as usual and when the sun climbed high in the pallid sky and business dwindled to a crawl, Sharif gathered his goods, packed them neatly together and headed for his mid-day break to wait for the cool of the afternoon. As he walked, lines of cars divulged themselves into the city as their black fumes and blaring horns polluted the ancient atmosphere that had witnessed countless civilizations and forgotten empires in the place that Sharif had always known as home, the home of his ancestors from time immemorial. A lone wild dove glided through the mid-day heat and then landed on a protruding television antenna on a nearby house. “Wonder what he’s doing out in the hot sun? He should have more sense and take refuge like me from the heat,” Sharif said smiling to himself as he crossed the threshold of his small one room hut. He threw his equipment down on the floor and then himself as well.

“It’s so hot. I think I’ll sleep for a while,” he said to no one. Soon he elapsed into a deep slumber.

Much later, cool winds blew in from the Mediterranean and Sharif once more packed his goods and headed for his cedar tree. “I feel much better now, in fact, quite refreshed. At least I’ll have the strength to last until late evening,” he said as he trudged along.

Again he set up his stand and soon the hot oil in which he fried falafel popped in anticipation of feeding the hungry. Not long after, Laith approached, tugging his new kite. “Look, uncle! Do you see how beautiful my kite is?”

Sharif looked at the boy’s efforts and let out a low whistle. “Yes indeed, it is beautiful Laith. You must have spent hours working on it, but I see your kite is made like the Palestinian flag. You know how dangerous this can be. If the Israelis see it, you will be in big trouble!”

“Don’t worry! I’m going to fly the colors of Palestine way up in the sky where everyone can see them. If the Israelis destroy my kite, I shall make a new one and if that gets ruined, then another!” the boy proclaimed.

Sharif heard the determination in the young voice and saw courage flash in the boy’s eyes, but he knew that courage was no match for brutal authority. “You must be careful. You don’t want the soldiers to catch you. To them, there is no such thing as a Palestinian child and they will show you no mercy!”

Apparently undaunted, the child boasted, “But Uncle Sharif, I can run very fast!” and without waiting for any more advice, he tore off down the street and disappeared. Sharif lost sight of Laith, but then he saw the kite flutter high above the city as winds carried it to dive and dip high above the heavens as red, green and white streamers flapped freely in the air. “It looks so regal,” Sharif whispered in awe. His heart beat with pride. He looked around and saw clusters of people stop and point at the marvel. He searched for the boy and saw him at a distance on top of a tall building commanding the kite with gentle jerks and tugs. All of a sudden, an Israeli jeep broke the silence of victory and some soldiers shouted at Laith. The boy let go of his prize and fled like lightening. At first, the kite hovered about but then without its pilot, dived down and then plummeted towards earth, catching itself on some electricity wires. The soldiers ran over to where Shaif stood watching and one roughly shouted, “Hey you there! Come and get that damn kite off those wires. Get a move on it!”

While he spoke, he grabbed Sharif by his collar and threw him down in front of him. One soldier kicked him. Another slapped him. A third punched him in his stomach. They laughed and cursed him. One spat on him. Sharif wiped the spittle off and slowly walked toward the electricity pole and began to climb. “Hurry up, you dog! Get that kite down or we’ll shoot you!” one soldier barked.

So he climbed up even further and reached out to where the kite was tied between the two wires. He must not have been thinking. He grabbed the wrong wire and let out a wild scream. The next thing he knew, he was in a hospital with stumps where his hands and lower arms had been.

Now Sharif sits alone in his small hut with artificial limbs that do him little good. He has no way to sell falafel and make a living any more.

Sometimes he sighs and says to himself: “God will not suffer us to perish for we have fought so bravely and earnestly for liberty. But, as long as we are in chains, then no Arab nation and no Arab citizen shall truly be free!”

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