Death stalks my dreams

A young boy outside al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, 3 November 2023. (Saeed Jaras / APA Images) 

Tonight’s dream was different.

I dreamed of my friend Muhammad and my cousin Shadi, who were killed by Israeli bombs in November 2023. In the dream, they seemed distant, not at peace.

Muhammad sat in the road, eyes downcast, while Shadi nervously bit his nails just like he used to do when he was stressed. Then, they faded away.

I woke up crying, calling out their names in the night.

This dream felt heavier than usual, and I couldn’t go back to sleep. I stayed awake and thought of my friends and where they had gone. Was it heaven? Were they at peace? Why couldn’t I speak to them?

Since October 2023, my sleep has become haunted.

The walls of my room at night are a canvas for images of loss and despair. In sleep, the lines between reality and dreams are blurred, and I see those loved ones who have been taken from me. Other times, I see strangers.

I see a girl’s body hanging from a wall. I see a boy’s burned face.

But I also see images of warmth in the darkness. My sleeping brain is reaching for normalcy and a return to my past life. It is providing moments of respite during Israel’s all-encompassing massacre of Palestinians.

In one dream, I see my mother cooking on a Friday morning. I smell spices and I know she’s cooking mahshi, or stuffed vegetables. A recording of the Quran’s Sura al-Kahf fills the air.

When I say good morning to her, she tells me to be quiet during the recitation.

I’ve also seen even more everyday things: my dad fixing a broken fan; my brother playing computer games.

Why do my dreams bring me these scenes of peace and scenes of destruction and death?

When I wake, it is like any hope of peace and stability has been ripped out from under me and the only thing I can do is pray.

Someone told me that I shouldn’t pray, because God is letting children be killed by Israel. But I believe God has a plan for us. I believe God knows the reason for all of this.

What do my dreams mean?

Here, in the unfamiliar realm of my dreams, I am surrounded by people I barely know. Food is there for me to grab, and loud music is coming from the dining hall. People are complaining about the chocolate cake, that it tastes bad.

I keep anticipating my friend Muhammad’s arrival, though he doesn’t appear. I feel so lonely, even though I’m surrounded by people. I miss that deep genuine laugh that I would get from my friends.

In this dream, life is tense but normal. I go about my daily business of heading to class. I must solve a complicated math problem.

Then, I see a cat, and in my dream I remember that all is not well somehow. I remember our own cat, how we had to set him loose before we evacuated, as they would not let us take him through a checkpoint.

I don’t know if he’s alive, but I hope he is.

In the waking world, I feel numb. I want to lie down and watch my ceiling again.

Life in Gaza feels empty and devoid of the warmth and connection that used to mark my days. All I have now are memories, shards of a life left behind.

Mahmoud Alyazji is a writer, photographer and video editor based in Gaza.