Lamar in the Zataari Refugee Camp
In broad daylight, Lamar sees the haunt that had stalked her and her sisters in their old house. She had never caught more than a glimpse, a shadow in her peripheral or a teasing footfall in the dead of night, but she never had a doubt what it must look like, and here he stands: in the middle of the street, peering through the shop window at the displays of yellow and orange and blue dresses that are up for rent to couples who get married while living in the refugee camp. Tall for a hunchback; a handsome face with black hair; quick eyes; a severe jawline; a disgustingly thin gut. The initials FLD are sewn above the pocket of his brown leather jacket, which he wears open and with only one arm; the other is tucked under his chest, rocking a little girl who clings to his shoulder sleepily. He shifts his weight and the empty jacket sleeve does a forlorn dance.
It was him on all those walks home in Daraa, keeping to the shadows and following at a distance. Lamar remembers his cold breath on her neck in the empty parlor of the old house.
She watches him from the shade of a metal caravan, picking at the nails of her cracked, bare feet. The red street wavers, a broth of heat and looming storefronts. People on bikes pass. She wipes the dust off the wrinkled cover of her notebook, a number seven drawn professionally in its upper corner beside stickers of Spiderman and Thor.
She will be an artist and a psychic when she grows up. Her art is important. A vision comes to her, a book of hers that will be published years from now, with a silver and a bronze medal on the sleeve, two of the most important awards for artists and book-makers. It will be her critical breakthrough, seen by many in hindsight as, if not her most flawless work, one of her most ambitious, equal parts disturbing and groundbreaking. The creatures in the book will be adopted into the popular culture almost immediately after its release, and their influence will have longevity. This is the book she is working on now; she draws one of her characters, the one-armed man, dangerous and shadowy. He stands alone in a rowboat under a black sky, searching the water. Shadows move beneath the waves.
Lamar notices the hunchback looking at her. She puts the blue hair tie back in her hair and runs home.
“Let me see those marbles.”
Lamar squeezes them, then rolls them across the dusty floor of the caravan. The red and blue touch the wall, the cat’s-eye catches on the rug. “I told you.”
Rima is quiet in the corner but makes dramatic terror-stricken faces whenever she thinks one of her sisters is paying attention. Hada gasps and purses her lips. “I thought he stayed in Daraa,” she says.
“Come on, he might still be around.”
“I don’t want to die today,” says Hada, but she grins. She puts on her pink sandals, and Rima fetches the marbles and ties them in the little burlap sack.
“Lamar are you serious?” Anam walks out of the kitchen, holding Lamar’s pink sandals. “Why the hell won’t you wear these?” Lamar puts them on. “Dinner will be ready soon,” says Anam, but the sisters have run outside, Rima yelling for the others to wait up, the older girls shushing her over their shoulders. Lamar takes her sandals back off and carries them in her hands as they make their way into the crowded Main Street. They reach the storefront but the hunchback is no longer there.
“You damn liar,” says Hada.
“Don’t get cocky, he could visit you in your sleep.” They check inside the wedding gown shop with no luck. The foot-traffic of the avenue has thickened. “He could still be around.”
“We shouldn’t let him see us.”
“He’s probably watching us right now.”
The sisters wander further into town, pausing their conversation when passing before the bearded storeowners in their folding chairs or the eavesdropping invalids stretched on the ground in the shade of threadbare awnings; shouting to be heard over passing mule-drawn carts and the rowdy line outside the tent where the baker patiently folds dough before a roaring oven. There are shelters covered in graffiti, a mural of palm trees, a mural of soda being poured into a glass, several caravan walls smeared with black handprints. The street’s end is quiet, and Lamar runs ahead, ducking under a clothesline and disappearing behind a tarp-covered shelter. A second later she motions for the others to follow, raising her finger to her lips and hugging the shelter wall.
The hunchback crouches at the barbed wire fence that surrounds the camp, shielding his eyes with his hand and searching for cell phone service. The little girl sits on a large white rock and looks at the mural painted on the back of the shelter: silhouetted giraffes and elephants against a rainbow sky, meandering African trees dipping their roots in an oasis.
Hada and Rima exchange excited looks. The three take turns at the edge of the shelter wall, peering unseen at the hunchback and whispering excitedly.
“What does he want from us?”
“What do we do now?”
Lamar steps around the corner and throws the sandals bolting away in the opposite direction, her sisters gasping and following her. They hear the sandals hit and the man swear. “Right on the head!” Lamar cackles. They stop for breath only once they’ve been thoroughly hidden among the evening throng.
“You’re going to get us killed,” wheezes Hada, laughing and wiping the sweat from her forehead with the front of her shirt.
At night, the sisters huddle under the kitchen table with the lights out. The hunchback will die soon.
“That’s a shame,” says Rima. “His girl was pretty.”
“She didn’t look anything like him.”
“He’s probably going to eat her,” says Lamar. She rubs the marbles in her hands and tosses them across the floor. “That’s the last time anyone will ever see her.”
“Don’t say that.”
“The marbles spell death.”
Anam interrupts them and hurries them to bed. Lamar lays awake all night. She visits her future house in a vision. In the psychic room, she will make her customers sit on cushions on the floor. People will come from all over, they will queue in the foyer and will be willing to wait hours for her service. Where did she leave off? A man trying to reunite with his former lover, but his demon keeps him always in sight. Lamar gropes over the side of her bed at the notebook and marker on the floor.
The man will be handsome, will come often for glimpses of the future and advice. More and more often he will come, more and more desperate. One night he comes unexpectedly after closing and without calling. He needs company. They talk, he takes her hand, and she leads him up a secret staircase. Behind a tapestry there is a little door, and inside a crawlspace, one of the many secrets of her house. It is only just big enough for her, but they both crawl in, shutting the door and hugging each other in pitch darkness. The floor is made of pillows, the walls are close, the ceiling low. There is a maze in the dark, but that is for Lamar only. They stay snuggled where they are and drift to sleep, dreaming in each other’s arms.
writer from USA
work of artist Aziz Azrhai
started 1 MAY 2010 email : firstname.lastname@example.org
design: gitta pardoel logo: modhir ahmed © ila-magazine