The voices of the outside world spinning in my head
When will I learn not to plan things on my own? I always seem to forget that there are other people who want to do things as well. “I’m thinking about the party yesterday. He came eventually, but we didn’t dance. In fact, we barely talked.” All the situations that occur in my mind are controlled by me alone; that’s why they’re so exciting: because they go exactly as I would like them to.
I have no interest in getting out of bed. I wish I could stay in it all day long. I push the curtains aside and look out the window. It’s raining aggressively. Of course now that I’ve finished my university exams, the weather would change like this. While I was at home all day studying, the sun was shining and the sky was clear.
My phone is ringing again, seemingly just to annoy me. I meant to switch it to airplane mode before I went to sleep, but I forgot. I glance at the screen, It’s my boss! I answer the phone in a panic.
“I’ve been waiting for you for half an hour and you’re not here. Is everything okay?” she asks.
Shocked, I reply, “The meeting is today! Right! I wrote in my notebook that we would meet today, but in my head I thought it was tomorrow. I forgot to look at my schedule. I’m sorry. Should I come now, or should we postpone the appointment to another day? I won’t make this mistake again, I promise.”
“We can reschedule,” she said.
I start making coffee. My head still hurts so bad from last night.
My roommate enters the kitchen in a hurry. She pours herself a glass of water and asks me about my party.
The words fall heavily out of my mouth as I answer. “I don’t know. I can’t decide how I feel about it. It’s all a blur. The exhibition, paintings, tango music mixed with techno beats, beer, iced tea, shawarma, the train. Which happened before what?”
She replies, “I’m in a hurry. You can tell me the details later, okay?”
I grab my cup of coffee and take a seat facing the window. After I sit there for a while, lost in thought, the intercom rings. I get up to answer and am surprised to hear an Arabic speaker insulting me on the other end. Then his voice stops abruptly. I return to my chair in astonishment. The intercom rings again. The same rude words in the same angry tone come through. I get angry, but before I can answer back, the voice is gone again.
The third time it rings, my anger increases exponentially. I put on my shoes and go downstairs, swearing that if someone with an Arab face appears in front of me, I’ll beat him – but when I open my apartment building’s front door, I don’t find anybody.
I go back upstairs in exasperation and see the postman waiting at my door. He has either an Arab or Turkish face (I can’t tell them apart), but I decide the angry voice must’ve been his.
I confront him directly, the words tumbling out of my mouth: “Are you the one who was ringing at my intercom? I can understand Arabic, you know! You’re really impolite!”
The man looks at me in astonishment and confusion, and then answers calmly, but in a very thick accent, “Everything is fine. Have a nice day.”
I shut the door. My fiery rage. Am I delusional?
I meditate for half an hour.
I love my room, my plants, and the souvenirs I’ve collected from all the countries I’ve visited.
Which book will I read today? I started several novels last month and I have no idea which one I want to finish now. Maybe I’ll just borrow a new story from the library. I would choose a German novel, because I can read German now! Everything gets better with practice; I firmly believe that. Amused, I recall my first three months at the language institute. The teacher gave us a piece of advice: to express what we needed in the vocabulary we had already learned, without using our phones or the dictionary.
Shortly after receiving this advice from my teacher, I decided to bake an Arabic sweet. I headed out to the supermarket to buy the ingredients. I always get lost in that place. Why do Germans have a hundred types of cheese and bread?! There are seemingly thousands of brands of ketchup, mayonnaise and noodle products to choose from. I always look for the cheapest price for everything and buy that.
On this particular day, after a long and unsuccessful search for powdered milk, I approached a young employee to ask him where I could find it.
At the time, I didn’t know the word for ‘powder’ in German, so I decided to follow my teacher’s method. I said, “I want milk, not like orange juice, but like sugar.”
He looked at me strangely and replied, “Do you need sugar?”
Disappointed, I said, “No. I repeat, I need milk, but not like orange juice, like sugar.”
He answered, looking even more confused: “You want orange juice? Can you tell me the name in English?”
I did, desperately, and he said, “Sorry, we don’t have that product.”
There has been a fly in my room for a while and its buzzing is bothering me. I decide to kill it.
I think back to my first house in Berlin. I hurried to clean the place as soon as I moved in. Behind the fridge there was a spider the size of my palm. I ran out to the landlord, terrified, my face pale. I looked up the word ‘spider’ on my phone and shoved it in her face. She came with a thick cloth and killed it, then said, “You have to get used to the spiders. There are a lot of them!”
After she left, I closed the door of my room and started crying, wishing my mom were there.
“I shift back to the present moment.” I kill the fly. I laugh triumphantly. “Wait here while I get a tissue and move you to the trash,” I say.
I’m starting to feel hungry. I decide to make a warm soup that will make me forget the cold outside.
Should I call my mother? No, I’m not in the mood to listen to stories about other people’s marriages.
Should I call my father? No, he’ll definitely ask me about how my university studies are going!
Instead, I decide to play some jazz music and start preparing lunch.
I don’t understand why men get so offended when I talk to them! I think to myself. I’m usually just joking around, speaking without thinking. But after many attempts and self-awareness exercises, I’ve finally begun to run the words through my mind before I speak them out loud.
For example, yesterday when I was dancing, I heard my name on the lips of a man talking to another woman. After a while I went up to him and said jokingly, “What were you saying about me?”
He laughed. I don’t think he knew I was listening. Then he answered, “The girl I was talking to asked me about you. I told her your name and said that you’re very sexy.”
“Thank you,” I replied.
“This is just a trailer,” he said. “If you want the whole movie, you have to pay,” and he winked at me.
I ran my words through my mind first, as I’ve been practicing. I can stream it! I thought, laughing internally at my own joke. Unbelievable how funny I am! But of course, I didn’t answer him like that. I’ve learned!
I sit down on the floor and rest my head on my arms on the bed. Am I accepted in my Arabic community? No. Can I live my life like Westerners? I don’t think so. I can’t seem to be a part of either of them.
I can’t understand how everybody else is confident in themselves and their feelings, because I doubt everything about myself!
Have I become a quiet person, as people describe me? I don’t think so. There is a difference between calm and silence. I remain in a corpse-like stillness as I think about the things that have hurt me.
Images and memories of war, killing and displacement surge back to me. How are Syrians living out their days? Celebrating their achievements, their engagement parties, their newborn children? Where do they hide their pain to keep it off their faces?
A booming sound from outside interrupts my thoughts, similar to the sound of shells. I start shaking and tears spring to my eyes. I haven’t heard this sound since the days of the bombing. I immediately look out my window. Luckily, it’s just fireworks. I wipe the tears off my cheeks. I’m going to a dance party tonight too, I decide. I don’t want to sit alone with my thoughts.
I lay my dresses out on my bed to pick one. Shall I wear black or choose another color? Green, blue, red? I have so many!
But today I want to look like a tough, tough girl. A short, tight black dress it is, then. I straighten my hair and put on sharp eyeliner. I walk out of my room and ask my roommate, “What do you think?”
“You look so cute!” she replies.
“No, I don’t want to look cute. I want to look evil!” I protest. “Can’t you see my eyeliner?”
As I say this, I remember that day back in Berlin with amusement. It was my first month in Germany. I bought some fishnet stockings. I’d always dreamed of owning a pair, but my mother had never allowed me. I wore them with a short skirt, put on dark lipstick, and went to meet my Arab friends. I didn’t speak German at the time. I memorized my way back home in order – train, metro, bus, then a ten-minute walk.
At eleven o’clock at night, I decided to go home. Everyone else on the train on my way back seemed ready to go out and celebrate.
After a while, a firm voice came from the speakers. I didn’t understand a word. As soon as the railway stopped, everyone disembarked from the train and went out to the station, so I figured out I had to get off too. But it wasn’t the correct stop. Damn it! What should I do now?! My phone was only two percent charged. I encouraged myself: You can do it! I found arrows drawn on the floor and followed them.
As I descended the stairs from the elevated platform, I found myself in a street full of drunks and red lights. At the edge of the sidewalk, there was a road sign that I couldn’t read. I told myself I would stand next to it and a bus would definitely come.
As I stood there, a voice came from behind me, speaking in German. I didn’t understand him, so I turned my face away. He’ll go away if I just ignore him, I thought.
After a few minutes that felt like hours, he said something that I realized ended with: “…with cash if you want.” I looked at the guy and then around me. Red lights, drunk people, cash – What am I doing here? I come from a respectable family!
I called my friend, crying, and said, “You have to come pick me up from the station. I’m not moving till you get here!”
It was a stupid decision to go to a party in another city at the weekend. I realized as I was jostled back and forth and deafened by the chatter around me. If only I had a remote control that could mute everyone on the train!
I like a guy from college, but I heard he has a girlfriend. I haven’t seen her yet, though, so as far as I’m concerned, she doesn’t exist.
I told my best friend about him while I was visiting her, and she scolded me. “It’s not right to chase after a man who’s attached to someone else!” she said. “You know that.”
Well, naturally! I also know that I’m just babbling and trying to distract myself with stories like this.
In my sleep once, I dreamed that I walked into a huge swimming pool. The guy I like was sitting on a sun lounger. His girlfriend was in the pool, floating on her back. When she turned around, she literally was a carrot! She was wearing a bikini, makeup, and fake eyelashes. I ran up to my friend and happily told her what I’d seen. “
“His girlfriend is not a person, she’s a carrot! I can date him after all.”
When I woke up, she said to me, “Do you know that you laugh in your sleep? As if someone was telling you a joke.”
I have a headache from all the thinking. I need to stop. Oh, it’s the voices of the outside world rush into my head again!
What a boring party! I’m the only one on my own; everybody else came with their partner or spouse. How am I going to get a dance tonight? What bad luck! I decide to finish my drink and go back to the party in my own city.
I decide to stay after all. I’m enjoying the music, and the party is almost over anyway. I don’t understand why time is passing so fast. I feel like I just got here.
Suddenly, I notice a guy is looking at me. Am I imagining things?! He approaches. Yes, oui, I would love to dance, finally.
I tighten all the muscles of my body as we move on the dance floor. Perhaps when others see how I dance, they’ll invite me to dance too.
He is very good at dancing, and he’s handsome too. I think I’m in love with him. Is the woman with him his girlfriend? I’ve seen him dancing with so many other girls. Never mind. The song ends. I thank him and go back to my place. I’ll know the truth eventually!
Twelve o’clock – midnight
The train, again. I’m frustrated. The smell of beer and mold emanates from everyone’s breath.
Swimming. I need to take swimming lessons. Two years ago, I went to the public pool, which was a ten-minute walk from my house.
I circled the pool a few times suspiciously. After a while, I dared to enter the water. I took a few steps in, my body shivering, and the lifeguard asked, “Can you swim?”
I wasn’t sure, actually, but I definitely wasn’t good at it. I answered her question after a few seconds of pondering. “No.”
“Then get out of the pool!” she commanded loudly. “You can join swimming courses for adults to learn.”
There’s no need to shout, I thought. I thanked her and left.
What else? Faith, yes. I was talking to my boss about it once and he said, “I think there’s something bigger out there in this universe. I’m not an atheist, but I’m not religious either. How about you? Do you think God exists?”
“I don’t know,” I answered. “I’m not sure what I think.”
I smile as another memory rises to the surface. A year ago, I got into a discussion with one of my professors at university. My teacher was explaining to me the weaknesses in my design project. “I don’t want to be mean to you,” she said, “but this is as if you want to make a sausage sandwich, so you get two pieces of bread, but then inside the bread you put more bread.”
I looked at her and said, “But that is mean!”
Everybody in the room laughed, and the conversation ended.
I don’t get why people find me so funny. Sometimes I feel like I’m missing something while I’m talking. As if I haven’t lived the same moment as everyone else.
One o’clock in the morning
Finally! Home sweet home. The package I’ve been waiting for has arrived as well! My blender. I’m so excited. I’ll make a lot of juice tomorrow.
I decide to do some evening yoga before I go to bed.
When I finish my exercise, I lie on my back in Shavasana pose. As I lie there, eyes closed, I find myself dreaming that I’m a fairy with transparent wings. A starry sky and a bright moon shine above me. Then the sun rises and I’m flying towards it without fear.
I visit Damascus and her countryside. I see the land pierced by bullets. I raise my hand and wave goodbye to her. I go to my old home. Some old childhood friends still live there. I wave to them too. I visit some who have made me sad. I forgive them. Goodbye, sad memories.
I fly towards some of my favorite places and visit them.
When my alarm goes off, I come back to my city, to my little room. My feet quietly land on the ground, and I open my eyes.