Deir Al Lauz: Breaks Its Shackles and Embraces the Dream

Deir Al Lauz: Breaks Its Shackles and Embraces the Dream

by Lama Sakhnini


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781532027246
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 10/25/2017
Pages: 98
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.23(d)

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Breathe in Sunlight and Exhale the Darkness of the Previous Night

He lay on his bed with frozen limbs, keeping a thin layer of air between himself and the mattress. He tried to relax. He loosened his limbs and sunk into the soft cotton. But his heart could not be relieved. It was beating loudly.

The night before, she'd been shivering, trembling, and pleading, "Hold me in your arms. Don't kiss me. I just want to hear your heart beating and feel your breath on my face."

He hesitated. He heard his heart pounding in his ears. He pulled her to himself. He hugged her head to his chest. There she stayed like a bird with broken wings.

"Basheer, I love you," she whispered. "I saw you in my sleep. I saw you as if in a nightmare."

He did not believe in dreams, but that time, he'd been scared by the terror in her eyes.

After his flashback of the previous night, he tried to relax, but he was cold. He got under the warm sheets and closed his tired eyes. Instead of sleeping, he saw her shadow haunting him. The night laughed at him. It was his tenth sleepless night.

He recited an evening prayer again. "We reached this evening, and the kingdom belongs to God. Thank God there is no God but Allah, alone with no partner. To Him be praise — and He over all things. I ask You for the good of this night and the good of what follows it, and I seek refuge in You from the evil of this night and the evil of what follows. Oh, Lord, I seek refuge in You from laziness, aging, and senility. I seek refuge in You from the punishment in the fire and the torment in the grave."

Before he ended his prayer, her shadow died away, leaving him worried and wanting what he once thought was gone. He opened his eyes to the loneliness of the dark night with only the sound of his steel bed moaning under his weight. He kept still to not wake his mother, who was in the next room. He held his breath and tried to continue his prayer, but he lost the words and dozed a little.

When he awoke, her shadow was floating in his head again, and the taste of the discontinued prayer was still on his lips. He shut his eyes and went into a slumber. Then the voice of his dad awakened him. It won't be as you want!

He looked around, but no one was there. He wondered whether that was a prediction of what was to come. He was saved by the call to the Morning Prayer and the chant of two nightingales on the windowsill. He jumped out of bed and prayed and prayed and prayed. It was the longest prayer he had prayed in years, the only cure for a hopeless, wounded heart.

Dim light snuck in from the bare window, casting shadows behind the furniture. He opened the window and let the cold, humid autumn breeze in. The two nightingales were standing on a bare branch of the almond tree in the garden. The female looked at him and then at her mate. They exchanged chants and flew off toward the rising sun.

He inhaled the fresh morning air and exhaled the darkness of the last night. His head cleared, but his heart was still wounded. His chest was tight, burning. If only he had believed his intuition, his brother would still have been alive. He had to live with remorse for the rest of his short life, the remorse of having been able to prevent Omar's murder.


I came to Harvest Olives

Basheer stumbled down the stairs that morning and saw his mother, his father, and Omar sitting around the pallet. Glasses of hot tea were lined up on a plastic tray. Out of happiness, he stammered and choked on his tears and words. Some happiness crept into his heart and healed some of its wounds.

"Omar! When did you come? How? Your wife, Saniya. She knows?" he whispered.

Omar smiled. "I didn't want to wake her and scare her. She will wake up soon and find out on her own."

He smothered his brother with hugs and kissed his cheeks. Omar laughed till his eyes teared up. He released himself from his brother's embrace.

"I came to harvest olives with you, Basheer."

Basheer looked at him with sadness in his eyes and saw a halo around his brother's head that left a trail of sparks behind him as he moved. Again, he ignored his instincts. They had not seen him for three months after his escape to the East Bank following his military operation. He had been sentenced to life for killing three Israeli officers. He had escaped to an aunt's house in Wehdat Camp, where he had stayed for three long months eaten with hatred and a yearning for his fatherland.

Then one harsh night filled with the pain of departure, a night of no reason, he decided to return to Deir Al Lauz. His uncle tried to talk him out of it, but he had set his mind to it. He looked for someone to smuggle him across the Jordan River and to his surprise found someone to take him on this dangerous journey for little money — half in advance and half upon arrival.

He reached home a bit before the Morning Prayer and saw his mother weighing flour on her scales, preparing to make bread. A teakettle was simmering quietly on the fire, releasing a waft of mint into the air. He snuck to her quietly and whispered, "Good morning, Mom."

She trembled and mumbled the name of God. She turned around with eyes full of tears and hugged him. She made his face wet with her joyful tears. She wiped them off with her white shawl and hugged him once more. She smelled his neck and felt his ribs and whispered, "You got so thin!" He chuckled at her words. She put her hand on his mouth. "Shhh! I don't want anybody to hear you." She grabbed his shoulders, pushed him back, and gazed into his face. "Oh thanks, God ... Thanks, God," she muttered with tears and a gentle smile.

She gazed into his eyes and laughed at her reflection. She felt a rush. Her chest closed as if she were about to fall off a cliff. She saw her image in his eyes fading away to be replaced with the gray ashes of an extinguished fire. She said the name of God. He hugged her, and she rested her head on his shoulder.

Soon after that, his father entered the kitchen and froze with surprise when he saw his son. The Morning Prayer calling and the chanting of birds lent a perfect beginning to the day.

Omar let go of his mother and hugged his father, who was still in shock and surprise. No words came from his lips. His brain shut down. He hugged his son stiffly.

Omar's mother felt a fraction of a second of happiness. For that instant, she forgot all they had gone through while he was away. She forgot all the times the house had been broken into by the Israeli army. Saniya used to be forced to take out all of Omar's belongings to the garden, where she had to wait for hours beside them on the ground. Once, a soldier pointed his rifle at her head with a blank look on his face. He released her when his arms became weary. Saniya had to drag all her belongings back to her room. This same scenario was repeated so frequently. She wanted to find Omar or at least learn his whereabouts.

Omar's wife, Saniya — his cousin on his mother's side — had been raised in their home; that was the dying wish of her mother. Saniya was a pretty girl with sharp Bedouin features. She had Omar's mother's eyes, and her hair was black as the night. But she did not have the kindness or brains of her aunt; she hid her ignorance behind an empty smile. Omar's mother, on the other hand, had smiles that hid a wealth of stories and secrets.

She tried to teach Saniya needlepoint and sewing but to no use. Saniya used to sit for hours listening to the radio or leafing through magazines she got from Abu Rebhi's grocery. When his mother told Omar of her plan for him to marry Saniya, he did not accept or object to it.

Omar and Basheer were twins; they shared the same features but little else. Omar was educated and worked as a physics and mathematics teacher; Basheer had not succeeded in high school and preferred to work with his father in the mill grinding wheat throughout the year and pressing olives in October. As Omar was the firstborn, his father was called Abu Omar according to Arab tradition. It was also his nickname, which had been given to him long before Omar had been born, in honor of his own father.


Omar Utters a Letter, a Number, and a Rifle — Basheer Gathers Rain

Omar and Basheer loved their land but each in his own way. Omar swore revenge on whoever defiled the land, while Basheer tilled the soil with his plough, sowed seeds, and brought it to life.

Year after year, he gathered the tears shed by the clouds and collected them in vials of nostalgia. He watered his seeds and waited patiently. He supplicated to God and waited. He prayed and waited. He sang and waited. When the first sprigs appeared, he thanked God with fervor, cared for his plants, and waited for them to grow.

He waited for spring to pass and turn into summer with its golden wheat combs. In autumn, he pressed the green olives of the holy land of Jerusalem for the beautiful, golden lava of pure olive oil that brought tears of joy and contentment to his eyes.

Poetry and prayer were the languages of Basheer, but Omar had his own language of a letter, a number, and a rifle. When Omar spoke, his students listened intently. What he wrote on the board, his students wrote in their books. He taught them arithmetic and algebra. He performed his rituals of mathematics and algebra on the altar of Einstein.

Omar waited patiently for his enemies to pass and shoot them in their chests. He was a mixture of Che Guevara and Saint Augustine, an eternal searcher for the meaning of time. He tied the past, present, and future with letters of doubt, for there are three facts in the mind: the present from the past is the memory, the present from the present is listening and attention, and the present from the future is anticipation. The mind predicts, listens, and remembers; that is how time is measured.

The impressions we make on ourselves during daily events stay with us even after those events pass. Therefore, either time is that impression or what is measured is not time.

Omar learned from Einstein that time was relative. He said, "The people of my nation are like the twin paradox. One of the twins stayed in Palestine and lived a boring life of routine, and the other moved into isolation with the speed of light and longed for change. He started a revolution wherever he set foot and forgot his own brother, who suffered from the occupation that led to hunger, despair, and feeling of strangeness in his own land. He gave up his children to serve the enemy."

Basheer is a Sufi, a Sufi drunk with his faith. That made him seem crazy to some people. As he was the son of time who had no tomorrow on his agenda, he lived his day ready for eternity.

A Sufi does not remember what was because his life is a permanent advance or retreat. Always asking and desiring afterlife, dreaming of it and of an existence that liberates him from the illusion of time. A place of no waiting or anticipation, a place with only one truth, a place that promises eternal happiness for whoever seeks His company as there is no tampering with His existence.

Despite their differences. Omar and Basheer completed each other. Omar was clean-shaven; his hair was trimmed. Basheer's beard was uncared for, and his hair was frizzy. Omar had eyes glowing with the fire of revolution while Basheer's eyes were as calm as the eyes of a monk. Omar adored a holy land, and Basheer lived in the heavens.


Bidwen Baheya Plants a Rose

Time for me is measured by the number or tears and laughs, the number of people who passed through my life, the number of words said and those that will be said. My life started at the age of fourteen the day Abu Omar married me. That day, we came in a parade of cars from Beersheba. When we arrived at the entrance of Deir Al Lauz, my dad was determined that I be celebrated on a camel's back with a saddle that my mother had decorated with beads and wool tassels dyed red.

I was dressed in a black silk dress embroidered with red. A veil adorned with golden coins covered my face. Though my clothes were heavy, I felt light in body and soul. I was floating on a cloud of the fragrances of wheat from the fields, musk from my skin, and henna enveloping my hair. I was surrounded by the color red. I felt my blood glowing. I was a princess who had come out of the stories of 1,001 nights.

I entered Deir Al Lauz in the afternoon. The freshly harvested golden wheat was shining under the June sun. My belongings reached Deir Al Lauz before me in chests on the backs of three camels. All people young and old came to watch and celebrate me. My wedding was like a fairy tale — three nights of dancing and singing. Many sheep and calves were slaughtered. I was filled with joy and happiness. I was safe in the loving presence of my mother and father, and I waited eagerly to meet my husband.

I had seen my husband only once for a few minutes when he came to ask for my hand from the jaha, a group of elders and the educated who solved problems or listened to requests for the hands of girls in the Arab tradition. My heart fell for him. He was a young man with flames of desire and compassion alike in his eyes. I had heard a lot about him before I had met him. My father and his father had been partners in their carpet trade before 1948.

On our wedding night, when he saw me trembling with fear and excitement in my dress and veil, he kissed my head over the thick shawl and said, "You are my guest for the next three nights. I'll sleep in the hall."

In the morning, he entered my room and found me sitting on the edge of the bed wearing my white lace nightgown with hair down and face uncovered.

"Glory to God! Who created such beauty!" he said. "I don't want you to ever wear your veil in front of anyone. It's a shame for anyone to be denied the vision of your beautiful face!"

He came close to me, released my braids, and broke his word about staying in the hall. And oh how glad I was that he did! Since that morning, he has called me only "My Baheya."

Our home was in the middle of an olive grove at the western foot of Deir Al Lauz. The house had two bedrooms, a hall, a kitchen, and a bathroom.

Abu Omar built a stonewall around the garden and planted two almond trees and one apricot tree. I loved the view of green trees around us especially after my life in the desert and its yellow sand. Our house in Beersheba was made of baked bricks; my new house was built of white stones. The whiteness of the houses around brought peace to my heart.

Then on a rainy day of February, Abu Omar came home wet. He held my hand and said, "Come with me. I have a surprise for you." I followed him out to find two dry stems planted in rusty tins. My tongue was tied up. I stared at him in total ignorance.

He smiled at me patiently. "These are two rose saplings. Let's plant them together. I dig and you plant."

I released the saplings from their containers, and we planted two dry stems, or so they appeared to me, in the rain.

When March came, they sprouted and became green. And in April, little rosebuds appeared.

One day, Abu Omar woke me up and put a red rose in my hand. That was the first time I had smelled a rose. I touched its fragile leaves. I was enchanted with its pure redness. He put my hands in his and from over these delicate petals, he kissed the tips of my fingers and whispered, "I love you." Even the rose smiled with delight. He recited a prayer in his heart, and the rose came to life and played a heavenly tune on a violin. He returned my hands to my lap and gazed quietly in my eyes. At that moment, my heart sang and surrendered to its master.

Oh, God, please protect the man who makes the land turn green with just his touch, a man with great love and compassion, a man whose eyes are my shelter, who supports me after every fall and forgives me with no question. My desire is to spend my life in his shadow.


I Mature at Full Moon and Flow at Moonset

After the first year of our marriage, my mother-in-law — or as I call her, my aunt — covertly asked me if I had gotten pregnant. Months had passed, but I had not conceived. Um Fathi, the midwife, used to come and examine me before every menstrual cycle in hopes to find what I did not feel.

At first, she used to say to my aunt, "Let her be. She is still young. She will soon grow up and conceive." Two years later, she started saying, "The girl is weak. Feed her and care for her. God is generous."

Another year passed, and still I was not pregnant. Her tone changed. She started meeting Abu Omar on her way out and hinting to him that there was no use for me, but Abu Omar tried to avoid her. When he could not, he would say, "God is mighty, Um Fathi. God is great and is capable of everything."

After that, Um Fathi became more courageous. She told him that if he wanted a son to carry his name, he had to marry another. She told him she was ready to find him a suitable and fertile bride. She said that God should forgive whoever had cursed him with me. She said his mother should have chosen a girl from the area, not a foreigner like me.

All that happened in front of me; she meant for me to hear it so I would convince my husband to marry another, but Abu Omar ignored her.


Excerpted from "Deir Al Lauz"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Lama Sakhnini.
Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
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