Somewhere Home

By Nada Awar Jarrar

This house, my house, saw its beginnings with the marriage of my grandfather. Built to hold the family in its overflowing numbers, the house became a meeting place for grandparents, aunts, uncles, children and numerous cousins from surrounding villages, its rooms expanding around them like sunlight in winter.

My father, Adel, remembers its high ceilings, the echo of footsteps on bare tiles and glimpses of his mother’s long white veil floating through doorways behind her. At three, he once sat on the outside ledge of one of its arched windows and gestured towards the fields beyond, his own private kingdom, before falling into a prickly bush below and getting up a more humble boy. I remember, as a child, holding my hand against the hollow in my father’s scalp and imagining I could feel the memory of that fall between my fingertips.

He would call me to him, ‘Maysa, Maysa’, and speak to me of his life in this house in fragments, in snatches of colour and longing, pausing to be the distant and more familiar figure of my childhood. But he did not know that it was his silences that intrigued me most, those moments between words that allow the imagination to wander.

I saw the brown dust of unpaved roads wrapping themselves round the mountain like arms entwined. I saw the sun on those roads and the air that carried it. I saw stone houses and armies of men and women in black and white sitting in front of them, their hands spread fanlike on their knees, their eyes squinting in the sun. I saw my grandparents, Alia and Ameen, and their five children sitting on low seats round a wood-burning stove in winter, their cheeks flushed red, their hands reaching towards the warmth, their voices low and intimate.

Now, years after they have all gone, as Beirut smolders in a war against itself, I have returned to the mountain to collect memories of the lives that wandered through this house as though my own depended on it. And as my heart turns further inward, I nurture a secret wish that in telling the stories of those who loved me I am creating my own.

The village hangs against the side of a mountain. The mountain grows pine trees and wild thyme, and is no longer home to wild boar and wolf dogs. My grandmother told us, as children, of the famine that struck during the Great War and the fear felt by men walking through the night with sacks of Damascene wheat on their backs, watching for animals that might attack.

The mountain seems tame now by comparison. I stand at the front door and stare lazily into the garden. It is almost autumn, almost cold, almost the end of freedom and summer. At five o’clock the mist appears and hangs listlessly over the house, over its crumbling red-brick roof and around its jagged stone walls. It floats over fig trees and grapevines, and ripens waiting fruit until it is ready for picking. I touch the vine that hangs from the roof and winds its way through the pointed arches that frame the front of the house. It runs along the rusty green balustrade at one end of the terrace overlooking an empty field and the village beyond, and edges towards the faltering wooden front door.

From Somewhere,Home, by Nada Awar Jarrar. Published by Heinemann Publishers, Ltd., Oxford, 2003.
Reprinted with permission.