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The bloody Christian Syrian
I was fourteen when I got my second bicycle. I was really proud of it, especially that it came from a woman who was closer to me than my own mother. So high rose my ego to the extent that for a moment I thought I was Alexander the Great just about to conquer the world on a red bicycle.
Biking was like a dream to me. When I was seven, my father bought us bicycles and my Golden Arrow as I used to call it was the most beautiful bicycle in the entire neighborhood. But two summers later, Dad banished the bikes and naturally it was my fault. I was riding down the road when I ran into a girl and caused minor bruises to her. This girl was the daughter of a pacific police officer who was also banished from his own home by his shrewd wife, Aysha. This Aysha, the shrew of the neighborhood as we used to call her, used to beat the hell out of her husband everyday until she eventually forced him to move out to another home where I think he got married to another woman.
The girls and boys in the neighborhood used to block my way whenever I rode my bicycle. They used to block all bicycles and cars, and even any stranger who had the guts to pass through our neighborhood. Naturally, the kids in other neighborhoods did the same. It was somehow the law down there, a law feared and yet respected by all. When I ran into that girl, any passerby could sense the tension on the street. Her father and mine settled out the matter in ten minutes but the poor cop got his share of beating for being such a sheep with the foreigners. Aysha wanted our entire family in jail for the crime that I had committed. A police patrol came over and the officers tried to bring her to her senses to no avail. Obviously they did not know that those were her senses. Finally, my father had to promise her that no more bicycles were to be seen on the street, and that seemed to have been quite satisfactory for the fun-killer.
For five years, living without a bike was similar to exile. So I figured from the way exile was described in history and drama books. And all of a sudden, I had a real pride and joy, a real winner that could arouse the envy of everyone, starting with my brothers who immediately claimed shared ownership under the banner of socialism, and ending with the fat kid who used to suck on lollipops all day at the corner of the street. But I cared less as I rode from one lane to another, the wind being my wings, and the skies my limit.
It was a hot spring Friday morning when I decided to set off on a long official journey to pay my friend Hussam a visit. He was a Palestinian whose father was a prominent officer in the Palestinian Liberation Organization. For three years, Hussam had been saluting the flag every morning at school. Yet, two days earlier, he simply refused to do it anymore. It turned out that the Libyan and Palestinian leaders had fallen out of favor with each other and Hussam's father had instructed him to stop saluting the Libyan flag. The only candidate with a voice that could reach over a thousand people in the early morning happened to be me.
I did not really need advice from Hussam on how to salute the flag, for I had done it a million times in my dreams. Yet, I did not want to make him feel that I was taking advantage of his self0imposed sudden loss of privilege and status. And so I rode my bicycle with the intent to cross three neighborhoods to get to Ras Hassan where he lived. On the way, I was not only Alexander the Great riding the wind or Saladdin on his untouchable horse, but also Nasser mesmerizing the masses with his charismatic voice and shining forehead. Jerusalem itself was within sight, and if I stepped on the peddles faster, perhaps the entire East.
Ras Hassan showed in the distance and like a guided arrow, my red devil leaned right and left at every turn, while I took fancy to impressing myself with the vanity of a cavalier who had mastered his stallion. I could hear the echo of the wind in my ears as I zipped into a side lane, cutting into the invisible barricades of non- existing challenges, and the sun reflecting on the hero's droplets of sweat that rolled down my forehead.
Then a shriek of terror suddenly filled the lane, and with it, all my fantasies and dreams suddenly became as real as particles of dust that were absurdly carried away by a careless breeze. Stones, pieces of wood and glass, oranges and unimaginable objects were flying towards me from every direction. And before I could even hope for the end of it, a kid sprang from behind a parked car and ran right at me, pushing me at the side.
I fell off the bike, but nonetheless managed to hold tight to it. A swarm of monstrous kids and adolescents came onto me. The beating, shoving, kicking and hair-pulling probably lasted for two minutes only, but it felt like an eternity. I could hear the screaming and the spiting live as if I were at war, and the yelling voices, "Damn the bloody Christian! Damn the bloody Syrian!" even when the party was over.
You can never know when or why they would stop, probably a threatening whistle by an adult at the corner who no longer thought it was amusing or entertaining to watch the act. But it was over any way, and that was what I cared for most. Finally, I stood up quickly despite my bruises and pain, still holding tightly to my property, and walked out of the neighborhood in defeat.
There was blood coming out of my elbows, palms, nose and lips. I was also covered in sweat, dust and spit. My bike too had its share of bruises. My ankle hurt so badly as I dragged my feet away and the bike at my side. I no longer cared about saluting the flag. Nor were conquering Eurasia or even liberating Jerusalem any of my business. I had maintained my dignity throughout the entire ordeal and did not cry or even yell for help, not even once. Those were the rules of the game. But half way back home, and with the pain spreading throughout my body, I suddenly remembered that I was not a Christian or a Syrian. Carelessly pushing my bike aside, I dropped myself on the pavement and feverishly wept like a girl.