The Man with the Wooden Rifle

The story of a special young man who did not comprehend the meaning of war until it took away his once undying smile.

(Photo: Qasim carrying his wooden rifle in the streets of Tell Tamr – al-Hasakah – 7-3-2016 [Husayn Zedo/Good Morning Syria]).

(Tell Tamr, al-Hasakah, Syria) Qasim (1) turned 20 years old and had not set foot outside the small town of Tell Tamr. He always strolled along its streets cheerfully but never said a word, not out of arrogance but simply because he could not speak due to a mental disability. The local residents thus called him many names, such as “the fool”, “the poor man”, “the mute”, and “the man with the wooden rifle”.

Qasim never cared about the events of his small town, but rather always carried his doll around, indifferent to the dangers threatening it. However, when military incidents began creeping into the streets of Tell Tamr, just like anywhere else in the country, he grew as concerned with the situation as he could and, instead of the doll, he began carrying a wooden rifle that the local carpenter made for him; He would place it over his shoulder while proudly sauntering among the residents in the streets.

Then Tell Tamr became the target of attacks and car bombings, yet the man with the wooden rifle never complied with security alerts or recognised the signs of checkpoints as he could not read. He would not even be searched at these checkpoints, as all the officers in the street leading to his father’s house knew him up close and disregarded him as he passed by.

(Photo: The residents of Tell Tamr examining the destruction following the car bombing – al-Hasakah – 11-12-2015 [Husayn Zedo/Good Morning Syria]).

In the evening of 10 December 2015, a massive car bombing hit the town’s market and everyone soon hurried to the location of the incident. The last sunrays had just sunk into the horizon, and the dust and smoke from the explosion darkened the sky, wrapping Tell Tamr in black.

“When military incidents began creeping into the streets of Tell Tamr, (…) he grew as concerned with the situation as he could and, instead of the doll, he began carrying a wooden rifle that the local carpenter made for him.”

Qasim joined the gathered residents at the centre of the market. The screams of injured victims reverberated with the wailing of afflicted citizens and women’s cries, marking a night that the locals will never forget.

The young man stood there looking at the dead bodies of his fellow citizens, scattered all over the place. He saw the shops whose merchandise was now dispersed and the collapsed buildings and the cheerfulness of his face faded away, overcome for the very first time by glaring signs of sadness. Then he walked on, carrying his wooden rifle over his shoulder while examining the destruction with bewilderment.

The townsmen came looking for the missing people among the ruins, cramming the market so much that it hindered the search.

No one cared about the strewed goods at that time despite their high costs during the war. The streets were in fact filled with packaged food products, and Qasim disregarded them, kicking them hardly and repeatedly as he walked.

The young man continued his path until he reached the shop of the carpenter who had made his wooden rifle. He stopped there for a while, examining it and the others, including the sweet shop next to the toy store whose owner had given him the doll he carried before the rifle. Qasim would stop by the shop and have a piece of pastry in every stroll of his.

He sat on a tree trunk outside the carpenter’s shop as he did not dare to step into any of the dark stores, and he waited for a while until the townsmen arrived. When a man entered one of the shops, he screamed, having found the confectioner dead, and then everyone carried the body out of the darkness.

When Qasim saw the body, he stood up and screamed loudly for the first time. He hit his wooden rifle against the ruins of the buildings, shattering it too. Then he sat down again, crying. He grabbed a stone and crushed what was left of his rifle into little fragments that resembled his town’s wrecked buildings that night. He then found a doll tossed onto the floor nearby, picked it up, and roamed the town again, his teary eyes tracing the destruction all the while.

The immensity of that night’s incident wiped all signs of joyousness off Qasim’s face as vehemently as the explosion that had shattered the buildings of Tell Tamr and the bones of its people.

* Husayn Zedo was born in al-Qamishli in 1969 and is a reporter for Kurdish news channel KNN. He worked as an elementary school teacher for 11 years and has published short stories in Arabic and Kurmanji in Şar and Suwar magazines. He also wrote a novel titled Khabur al-ʿAjuz (Old Khabur), currently in print, tackling the repercussions of the Syrian revolution on the inhabitants of the al-Khabur region in 2011.

(1) A pseudonym was used to respect the privacy of the story’s protagonist.