"Can you get me and my family a visa?"
That was what a cousin of mine asked me today, and I didn't have the heart to tell him that there was nothing I could do. I told him, I promised, that I'd do everything I could. I told myself that this wasn't really a lie, because it was the truth.
Moments earlier I had seen him log in to his messenger account, and I had light-heartedly asked him how he and his family were doing. He didn't even say hello, that was the first thing he asked me. We spoke briefly, and he signed out without saying goodbye. He wasn't being rude, he was desperate. I grew up with this guy, we're the best of friends, and now he is terrified for his family.
In September 2010 I had managed to get a last minute flight to attend the wedding. It was the Eid holiday just after Ramadan, and for a week everything was perfect and life was festive. I remember the 'Arada that was held for him, as the men in traditional Damascene dress held sword fights and chanted encouraging words and songs for the young groom in the street under the building that his late father had worked all his life to safe up for and build. A brass band played music and a lone trumpet player belted out an admirable rendition of the theme tune for the Godfather. The whole air was surreal, slightly comical and utterly wonderful. I remember his beautiful bride come down the stairs to be driven to the wedding hall that they had rented out for all of us.
It was strange that also in the street behind us, a family were holding a wake for somebody who had just died. This was Damascus, a wedding in one street and a funeral in another. For some reason we always see the two together.The music and car horns were silent as we drove somberly past them, and the family standing at the door to greet people who were paying their respects smiled at us. Then we all drove the happy couple down the highway that night, horns blazing, cars festooned with flowers and ribbons, and his friends and I racing around acting like complete imbeciles as we zipped between the micro-buses and the cheap Suzuki's with families in the back waving at us as we drove past. There were over twenty cars in that entourage that night, and it was glorious. We might as well have been a presidential motorcade.
That night we all celebrated and took photos together, we congratulated him, carried him on our shoulders, or tried to because he's so fat, and listened with bored deference to how he had "put his foot down" with his in-laws, and shown his new bride what's what by threatening to cancel the whole show if she insisted on hiding her face with a cover - he had already conceded that the wedding was to be segregated.
"I told my father-in-law that we're Muslims too, and that though we grew up in the city and not in the old home-town, we still know the "ways" and don't need anybody to teach us, thank you very much!", he told me after relating the whole discussion to me whilst puffing self-importantly at his cigarettes. We just loved him as he was, and saw past the puffed up persona. Though his bride came from a far more conservative background than he, and he was hardly a libertarian, the young groom had enjoyed his moment as the open minded rebel challenging stuffy conservatism. We gave him that moment, because we loved him dearly, and nodded our heads, umm-ing and ah-ing at his wisdom and foresight, then chortled away behind his back.
That night too, another of my cousins was secretly drinking, well, he thought it was secret but everybody knew he was drunk and politely pretended otherwise. He stupidly drove home that night and had a car accident, which got him many stitches in the head and made him the subject of much gossip. Luckily for him that was as bad as it got, and though it all seemed very serious at the time, now it just makes that night all the more memorable and funny.
Today my cousin seemed desperate and miserable, and his wonderful little world, and everything he knew, was collapsing around him. And I'm watching from far away and there isn't a god-damn thing I can do about it. It is like we have all lost our innocence since then. Now that lovely night seems a lifetime ago, and those happy times already look like old photos in a tattered album.
Monday, June 18, 2012
"Can you get me and my family a visa?"