(written April 2014)

My sister was preparing herself for the white dress, thrashing, screaming and shouting.

“Where are my shoes? I can’t find them!”
“Here they are, my sweet bride, just calm down, honey,” said my mother.
Our house has two floors; the first one for hospitality, the second for us to live in. On that day we had designated the upper floor for the bride to prepare herself for the wedding. The downstairs was full with women clapping, dancing and ululating.
“For God’s sake! Someone ask those ladies to shut up, I can’t bear their voices,” screamed the bride. Her friends had come up to calm her and were joking with her, but after a few moments she lashed at them:
“Stop giving me advice! You don’t know what the damn word bride means. I promise you, the word war is easier on me. For God’s sake, get out and leave me alone!”
My nephews and nieces were crowding each other on the stairs playing “Arabs and Jews.” They were making the irritating sounds of ambulances, shootings and bombings. The mothers and my older sisters were trying to calm them.
“Stop, you naughty kids! You will spoil your new wedding outfits.”
My mother is a teacher. I hated her headmistress, Ms. Rehab, who made sure to flatter my mother at every occasion. When she arrived at our house to share in the wedding lunch, I pretended not to see her. But soon I heard my mother’s voice, “Come here Sarah, and say hello to Ms. Rehab,” though she knew my feelings towards her.
Women here, kids there, mothers praying, girls dancing, fathers smoking, the bride’s nervousness, the groom receiving guests, and in the midst of this —
— a bomb launches a big howl at the end of our street!
Three men are assassinated. Real ambulances rush in. The war game is now real and “live.”
The little actors and actresses hid under the beds. The Israeli soldiers took their place on the stage.
I opened the window to see where the ambulances were going. I couldn’t see anything. White smoke covered everything. I could hear children and men screaming:
“Come over here, there is a martyr!”
I closed the window to check on my nephews and nieces. I went under the beds and began counting them.
“One, two, three, where is Meera?”
“Here, Auntie.”
“Four, five, six, hold on to your brother, Fadi.”
“I cannot breathe,” said Amer.
“Shut up! No time for your breathing Mr. Amer.”
Suddenly, Daddy opened the front door covered with a white mask.
I screamed “Daaaaaddy!”
My scream alarmed my sisters and my mother. They ran in. Mother quickly held a piece of cloth to my father’s face, checking to see that he was not wounded here or there. She calmed us down. The bomb had exploded just two houses away from my father who was returning from the mosque.
Three minutes from the bomb exploding, my friend and neighbor Maryam called me. She was wailing.
“Ali is murdered, Sarah,” she said. I was shocked.
“Ali!” I cried. Ali was Maryam’s secret sweetheart, though he was her cousin. No one knew about him but me, so there was no one to tell about his murder but me. Ali was our age, sixteen. He was on his way back from school. He had been playing a game with his friends — they divided into two groups; one group would take one path and the other group another path, and they would meet at a certain spot. The group that would arrive first would be the winner. Ali was in the group that walked by the police station. The bomb aimed at the police station hit them.
Ali and a friend were killed; the third friend lost his legs.
The second group arrived at the agreed-upon spot, and were still waiting…
I remember Maryam very well at that period of our lives. She had withdrawn into herself and wore black for six months.
I empathized with her, offering soft words. “It’s okay dear, Ali will intercede for us in the afterlife.”
She always replied, “I will ask him to bring you with me, don’t worry.”
The wedding hall booking was cancelled, the white dress taken off, the tears and prayers re-directed. TV news on, radio blasting, everyone held their laptops. The women downstairs were besieged in our home for the whole day, till things outside calmed down.
We thanked God that one of our Palestinian customs is the offering of a generous wedding lunch.
There was enough food to feed everyone for a whole week!
Otherwise Mom would have had to spend the day in the kitchen cooking, and would have missed the story about Ramy, a young man who had been wounded just as he was closing the window to avoid the screams of Oum Mahmoud (the mother of Mahmoud), the old lady at the end of our neighborhood who helped the young fighters, hiding them and giving them food and water.
It was the 2008/9 war that damaged Gaza, canceled my sister’s wedding, and eradicated her fear of the word “bride,” as blood, smoke and destruction filled our streets.
The women downstairs left our house. The couple went to their home, silently, without a wedding or a white dress. War ended with the murder of 1419 people and the wounding of 5300.
Our school was ruined, three mosques in our neighborhood were damaged, five girls in my class lost their fathers, two others lost their brothers, and our English language teacher lost her husband as well.
My sister does not celebrate her wedding anniversary.
“We could not rejoice while others are still suffering,” she says.
This story was written in a creative writing workshop I conducted at IUG (Islamic University of Gaza) in 2014.
sarah-sobhi250Sarah Sobhi is 22 and lives in Gaza, Palestine. She is a writer and translator, and holds a BA in English Literature from IUG (the Islamic University of Gaza). She hopes to continue her master’s degree in creative writing and translation abroad. Sarah’s dream is of Gaza as a green land, far away from missiles and sudden wars. Since her dream has not yet materialized, she tries to draw images of a happier Gaza in her stories. She wishes for her writing to make Gaza known in the world through beauty, not only through wars and suffering.
1 Comment

    I feel the trauma and the hearts that are hurt and yet hopeful in your story and in Gaza. Thank you Keep writing.

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