5 min read

The Memory, by Hussain Ayoub

The Memory, by Hussain Ayoub
Photo by Mario La Pergola / Unsplash

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See the Memory. It has the eyes of your grandfather. The smile of your grandmother. It smells like your land after the rain. It sings to you in the voice of the mountain wind. See it wrinkles in the muck, your father’s fingers twitching around it, blood tinging the fabric with the absent colour.

See your mother grabs it. See her turning your father’s face to the right angle so he could watch her. Can you see her standing, holding the Memory, stifling the flames in her throat with her chapped and pressed lips? She runs and runs, through ifs, buts and maybes. Through nos, waits, and stops. Through a turret of arrows, amidst the javelins and spears, under a flickering sun. See her fall. On her knees first, on which you sat when you were a child. On her hands next. Those that combed your messy hair. There’s blood on her hair, but you don’t know where it comes from. There are bruises on her face, like smudges of mascara tracing down to her lips with sweet tears. You haven’t seen them before. See her whispering something. Something you cannot make sense of. A song like the whistling of the wind.

See your brother. He has broad shoulders, unlike you. He’s outspoken and daring. He has a heart of steel. He takes the Memory and runs to the High Castle, shouting obscenities on the ramparts and launching mad stares at the armoured sentinels. You used to play together, like all brothers do. You used to race to that old oak that’s no longer there. You don’t like losing, so he lets you win. But he doesn’t look at you now. Only at the ramparts. And only with eyes so brilliant they fold the smoke around him.

See him crumble down, like a tower, like a waterfall, like a tree that stood for a thousand years you think the roots creep through the earth’s core. He falls, too. You’ve never thought a man like him could fall. You’ve always thought of him as a man the world cannot slay. You were wrong. But on his way down, your sister holds his hand and takes the Memory. She looks at him. She looks at you. And she storms at the ramparts.

Hear her roar. See her dark hair sweep in the air like a flock of ravens. She gets past a fallen soldier, then another, then another, and you think: nothing can stop her. But an arrow does. It pierces through your heart as it plunges into her dress. Her roar begins to fade out. And in the end, you hear a note between two silences. A sigh you remember. A hush you cherish. Music that pricks your ears, burns inside your veins like boiling blood, melts your heart in an instant.

See the ramparts. The High Castle. The armoured sentinels venting their foul breath into the mountain winds. The ugly stones they have built over your grandparents’ olive field. Can you smell the oil still boiling underground? Can you feel the ragged branches in your hands? Can you hear the harvest song riding the northern wind? You have always been a coward. You have admitted it more than once. But only to yourself, when you hide under your sheets at night, before sleep, before dawn, before the morning prayer. You have always thought anyone can be reasoned with, even those who aim to pluck your soul out of your body. Anyone. But you have never been able to reason with your grandfather. For him, farming comes first. You have never been able to talk your grandmother out of feeding the wandering poor, even though she was poor herself. One is not poor if they can help another, she used to say. Do you still think you can convince your father to let go of the Old House? It’s crumbling, but he has always found a way to fix it. Did you help your mother? Focus on your study, son, she told you. I can manage. Your brother has carried all the wood logs from the field to the Old House. He made you carry a couple, but that’s it. Your sister has healed all your wounds, and every time, you keep falling on that damned knee. What did you do? Apart from studying? And you weren’t even good enough at that.

Now you can’t see anything. You can’t hear anything. You are locked up in a room full of nothing. You think you are weeping. But you can’t feel your tears.

Then it comes to you: a reinvigorating sense of destiny. A shiver down your spine. A tilt in the heart. An icicle in your breath. A speck of hope. You can feel it swelling in your guts. Your father’s twitching fingers. Your mother’s pressed lips. Your brother’s mad eyes. Your sister’s roar. The soil weaves them all together into a new you. The winds add her voice to yours. And the Memory—it shines like a beacon at the end of the river, like a distant thunder arriving with the clouds. Like a sun shining through dark smoke.

And you rise.

And you grab the Memory from your sister’s cold hands.

And you run at the ramparts, at the High Castle, at the armoured sentinels.

In battle, in madness, in the depths of sorrow, you run. Against the fire, the swords, the crushing waves of confusion, you run. On the blood-soaked mud, on the river, on the white hill, you run. Despite the whys, the hows, and the what-ifs. You run up the mountains, through the forest, to the fields of olives. And bit by bit, you become your father, your mother, your sister, your brother. You become you. And in that moment, you can no longer feel the Memory. The Memory has become your arm. The Memory is you. Your first word. Your first step. Your first kiss. Your first lie. Your first love. The ones you despise. The many times you fell and got back on your feet. That one time you cheated and couldn’t sleep. That friend who left without telling you why. That bully you stood up to. That awful lad you misunderstood. The woman that broke your heart and the woman who mended it. Your laughs. Your tears. Your smiles. Your frowns. That night you sat alone, hating yourself. That face in the mirror telling you to be kind to yourself. The slap that sullied your cheeks. The cuddle that warmed your heart. Everything. Nothing. And all the things in between.

You are folded inside yourself. You are floating outside yourself. You look the sentinels in the eyes.

See their fears. See the ramparts shaking. See the high castle crumbling down. See the olive field springing out of the ugly stone, creeping up higher and higher until it’s kissed by the sun. See yourself, holding on to the Memory. And everything else is fading into the background of history.

See yourself and the Memory as one.

Hussain Ayoub

Hussain is a Syrian author of speculative fiction and news and media editor. He grew up in Damascus, on a steady diet of history books and then travelled to the U.K. where he got his MA in Conflict Resolution. His work has appeared in All Worlds Wayfarer, Crow & Cross Keys among other local vinue.