She was shrouded in many layers that defined her in a manner that suited others. Her name carried the weight of heavy, hyphenated labels that pretended to know her better than she knew herself. People looked at her and saw her as an outsider, forgetting that they themselves often did not belong. She didn’t know how to explain to them that she came from a place where the best of friends could suddenly turn against one another, once they were old enough to understand politics, a place where children died before they could understand the concept of death, their laughter interrupted with an act of ruthless precision.
She had been that child once. She remembered the Damascus of her childhood as one filled with high-spirited street vendors who winked at her whenever she went to the market with her father, the smell of roasted sunflower seeds always present in the thick, summer air. She remembered standing on the marble floors outside the Umayyad Mosque at night, watching her reflection stare back at her toothlessly as she held both her parents’ hands.
People wouldn’t believe her if she told them that she also felt afraid. She walked past them everyday and recognized the anger and caution in their eyes. Sometimes there was hatred; mostly, there was indifference. In her black veil, she had an advantage, and this is what unnerved them the most. They couldn’t see anything except her dark, unwavering eyes, so they said nothing. But their thoughts were anything but silent, and she heard them all. In the same way little children pointed and their parents whispered, she learned to decipher the unspoken word. She wondered if they could do the same, if they could hear her even when she hadn’t spoken. I know I don’t belong here, she thought, just in case they could. But I don’t belong there, either. Tell me, then, where should I go?