A Female Body in Times of War

Where could you find a woman in a war-torn city? (Originally published by Al-Hayat newspaper’s youth insert ash-Shabab on May 27, 2015).  

(Photo: Aleppo citadel [Jalal al-Mamo/Good Morning Syria])

“Not once did I wake up to the whispers of the woman of my dreams, but I used to wake up to the sound of my friend vomiting- a sound akin to a bellowing cow in labour- because of spoiled canned food or kebab mixed with dog and cat meat.”

div>(Aleppo, Syria) I woke up this morning feeling groggy, flabby and sore, as if I had just carried three tonnes of soil all the way up to the tenth floor.
I was in a roiled mood, similar to those stifling dust storms. Like a teenage boy, I had been dreaming of meeting a fit curvy woman who would remind me of April mornings, but obstacles hindered the way north and south of the city.
I had not seen a female body in a very long time. The war has had severe repercussions and is getting more ruthless every day. I have been acting ruthlessly myself while dealing with friends, visitors, passersby, journalists, undercover spies, brigade leaders, opposition militants and agents of the regime, only to spend some time alone.
Not once did I wake up to the whispers of the woman of my dreams, but I used to wake up to the sound of my friend vomiting- a sound akin to a bellowing cow in labour- because of spoiled canned food or kebab mixed with dog and cat meat. Every day at the dawn prayer call (ʼAdhan al-Fajr), he disgorges the content of his stomach and his cries make my blood run cold, interrupting my sweet dreams.
I never carried a smart phone like many of the revolutionaries and the activists. I did not dream of having one to document the destruction, as I saw no point in remembering it. Smart phones were perhaps used to inform the aliens on Mars, but in my opinion they were best used to save some porn movies or pictures that soothed the fire in me. I envied the generations that could look at pictures of women in magazines, people often mention them when they swear against technology and development. Today, though, even the television is cast away since the power has been out for months.
I rode my motorcycle to a market filled with women who still cared about buying clothes and perfumes despite the war, hoping to  find a prostitute to spend lavishly on what I mostly needed. However, upon my arrival, I was greeted by an explosive barrel that had ripped most of the women into pieces. The shreds were so small they could not be buried. Thick dust rose into the air and the smell of perfume was mixed with gunpowder. I returned home filled with sorrow, not only for the dead women and the massacre, but also for my malodorous hard luck. I lit a cigarette and stood at the balcony with the hope of spotting the shoulder of my fair-skinned lady neighbour. I had lost all hope of seeing her again a long time ago. Poor thing, she only goes out on sad occasions now, when a bomb, a rocket, or an explosive barrel hits the neighbourhood.
At that moment, I figured out that marriage was the only solution. What am I talking about? Who would settle for a disgruntled “rebel” like me? Young women in my city refuse to marry “the revolutionary youth” nowadays, as they could end up with no husband in a few days.. In any case, I can hardly afford tonight’s dinner, let alone dinner for two. And how could I bring a woman to live in this house that could crumble at any time? Defeated and enervated, I went to sleep with the smell of my friend’s dirty socks in my nose. He had just finished his lookout shift at the embrasure of one of the city’s walls that resemble an old man’s dusty beard. When I woke up, I decided to light a fire like the one burning inside me and make a cup of coffee. Lately I only feel human in this kind of weather, as it revives some of the life’s fragrances in me.
As my mind was wandering, I remembered that a friend had told me one evening about a prostitute who did not leave the city and I went to see him right away. When I arrived, I tried to tell him about my sufferance little by little, but he immediately understood what I meant.
When he called an hour later, I felt like the revolution had finally been fair to me. I went to a square located in front of a store where I could find cell phone coverage (the store’s owner had installed an amplifier). Aircrafts hovered in the sky above and the hour felt like an eternity, as if I were waiting to hear that the regime had been finally toppled. Luckily, the call went through on the first attempt and fate smiled upon me at last. My friend asked me to meet him at the only highway left in the city, where he would give me the woman’s address.
No sooner had I arrived on my motorcycle than the door to the house was opened. This is my long-awaited victory. A boy led me into the house and gave me some tips on how to deal with the enchantress waiting for me upstairs. Then he left. I climbed the stairs one step at a time, as if I were about to give my victory speech before the people. I felt self-confident, happy and oblivious of the four aircrafts. One more step…
Now, I shall grope a body that brims with femininity, I shall get rid of all my troubles and make up for the last four years of frustration, betrayals and martyrdoms. I burst through the bedroom door as if I were some sort of DShK sniper or a tank driver. I glanced at the body lying on the mattress. The room smelled musty. “Welcome… Come in, master,” she said.
It was not easy for me to hear these words. They felt heavier than the barrels I had ignored moments ago. “Master?” I looked at her: the woman’s face was pale, sadness had left dark stains around her eyes. Her body was very thin, as if she had tuberculosis. I sat in the chair across from her. The sound of the aircrafts grew louder in my ears. Everything quenched in me. Memories flashed before my eyes, blinding me, until a little girl opened the door crying, afraid of the barrel that had just fallen. She was blonde, her face dirty, her lineaments and innocence washed away. The woman asked me, for the fifth time, if I was going to make a move.
I did not say a word, but ran off to the street. There is no desire for anything but death in this city and no blasphemy is worse than war and famine. Silence is the only language and frustration is the only comrade.