My city burning peacefully (Our Gaza is a dream of hope)

A home in Gaza City, 22 July.

Anne Paq ActiveStills

A flame within me, an orange bubble glowing angrily, the din killing me. Isolation and the rocket explode together, the bubble expands to include the whole city. The sounds of the explosion grow louder, more violent, within me; the city burns. Pictures of the city shred and tear inside me, words quake, glass shatters, and every splinter of glass carries on it an image of the event.

A child is poised for life in the curve of his mother’s belly; his heart explodes out of her heart, which shields him. The heart is cleft in two, permits a second labor. The missile bursts the mother’s entrails, but isn’t omnipotent enough to hear the heartbeats of an innocent, and he hears only the sound of its explosion which brings him into the world.

Families stand together in prayer and devotion, in communion with the Lord and believing without doubt in their dreams and safety. In one room their bodies fly, the stones of the building fall as the stories collapse and there is rubble and corpses and grey ash.

Four children race laughing toward the sound of the sea, not fearing battleships and warplanes, thinking that their childish innocence will protect them. Their laughter rings out, the purity of their feet as they run over the sand. They are paying no attention as the shells from the warship transform them into fragments.

An innocent child in a hospital bed waits for a father who will not be back, a mother who will not caress him again. His parents are dead. He sleeps in God-given tranquillity, not realizing the tragedy that awaits him when he learns that they didn’t revert to flesh and blood, that they are now no more than memory and pain.

A child with an innocent face, bright-eyed, a face like the moon, soft skin perforated by shrapnel, pain burning the beauty, crying for help: don’t burn me!

The walls shake, the windows vibrate, the heat intensifies. It is the heat of war. Drones like insistent night-crickets, and hearts withdraw from the windows, fearing death. Death moves closer, not fearing the windows. They look to the sky, the horizon carries them to the heights, bears their souls beyond the sea, over the waves, to understand the spirit of soaring wings. Our souls are united as they fly.

Schoolchildren pass their exams, the certificates with the names of the graduates become certifications of the tomb. The universities are emptied of them before they even set foot on campus.

People sleep outside, exposed, on the wasteground, and in the empty schools. They scatter as the warning comes of the destruction of their homes. Days and nights run into each other as the horror continues, but somehow it is important to be there when their houses are destroyed, when the earth is burnt, when the trees and crops are torn up.

The sound of fear, people screaming, reaching out to images on shards of glass, as if these are lilies which will carry their souls to paradise. Crying, rejoicing, hesitating, heaving unexploded missiles to a safe distance, searching for lost messages of peace.

A circle of flame, a fire that blazes up, a missile from the explosion. But the city is hiding within the rocket; a missile of death, with life concealed within it. The rocket doesn’t know, but the city knows. For a grain of sand from the sea of Gaza will not ignite, except as hope in the heart beating under a wave which whets the love of life, and under salt which brings to it the breath of hope.

Nayrouz Qarmout works at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Gaza and is the author of many articles, short stories and screenplays. Her work appears in English translation in The Book of Gaza.

Translation from Arabic by Sarah Irving.