Ever since the militia thrust a Kalashnikov into Gamal’s hands, he
“Use it,” the men had shouted at him.
After their car sped away, Gamal fell on his knees wanting to cry and
pray at the same time.
At seventeen, he is no stranger to guns. His old father keeps three
well-oiled specimens under the carpet-covered divan. These Persian
carpets with boteh paisley motifs, hide three weapons against the
enemies of the state.
“May God forgive you, Father,” Gamal repeats to himself. But he
himself cannot forgive his father.
“He knows our leader personally,” mother explains to him, as if she
feared he’d forget. “It is tribal loyalty.”
That’s no excuse for supporting a killer, he says to himself. Deep
down Gamal knows it is not out of loyalty his father supports the
regime. It is out of fear.
Now Gamal is expected to fight on the same side. The thought of the
dictator makes him sweat. So he stays indoors and watches the sky from
the inner courtyard: normally a beautiful square of blue, fringed with
overhanging cherry blossom, it now tells him the news of the city.
The last few days, the sky has turned grey. Black billowing clouds
carry an oily smell to Gamal. Ash snows on jasmine, geranium, and on
his mother’s beloved cacti. He is hiding ‘his’ gun under his mattress.
He dreads his friends coming for his father. He knows he’ll have to
act, then; he’ll have to choose sides.
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