Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Wheel

As a teenager I used to enjoy reading science fiction, but two books in particular have always held a special place in my heart, these are the first and last books in Brian Aldiss' Helliconia Trilogy (my school in Damascus only had the first, and I found the last one in a bookshop there that's now been closed for many years). They tell the story of a planet where the seasons last a thousand years, and where winter is dominated by a strange alien race, whilst the summer is ruled by the humans (this was way before Game of Thrones). In the final book, Helliconia Winter, one of the characters joined a special kind of monastery prison in the mountains which was a wheel of stone cells that rotated through the rock as it was pushed by inmates. The wheel only spun one way, and was so large that each cell only opened once every ten years. To me it was such an unsettling, yet deeply fascinating idea, to toil away alone in the darkness for ten years, cut off from the world you knew and with only your thoughts to keep you company, and then to emerge into the daylight, reborn. There was something deeply philosophical about it.

When I left Syria for the first time in 1998 I imagined myself going into that stone wheel, and I visualised it often through many difficult times. I did emerge, ironically almost ten years later exactly, but I couldn't have imagined that fate would cast me out again as the home I loved descended into madness. Or that this time the family and friends that I wanted to be with would be scattered even further away. Now I'm back in that same wheel, pushing away in the darkness, and it's worse than going in the first time, because you know what it's going to be like. I think to myself, there's no use cursing, pleading, crying or feeling angry. We are where we are, and we have to keep pushing or nobody gets out. We, all of us, are in that wheel, pushing away in the darkness of our individual cells.

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