A Small Piece of Damascus

By David Forrest

I could only pick one thing.
So I took our centuries of literature and built a library in my heart.
My wife took the mountains near where she was born.
My two children argued over who would take dancing and who would take music.
We smuggled our treasure through Turkey, never stopping. Across train tracks and rivers, never stopping. We climbed in the same boat, knowing exactly what our chances were.

Newspapers printed a million words per day, one for each of us that were gone, words like ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘danger’ and ‘crisis’ prefixing all of them with that single word, ‘refugee’. Not one of them said dancing. Not one of them said literature. Some of them said children. A caravan of refugees, the nation's saw. If only they knew the value we carried.

None of this was new. At home, the state news called us rebels but we had earned that title. We were gassed as rebels while protesting and shot as rebels on our way to work. They bombed rebel children in rebel schools and rebel hospitals. As the violence increased the government found new unbloodied words for war – now a siege is self-defence and a rebel is a terrorist. There are no murders in Syria. Just another rebel dead.

In Glasgow we continued to rebel: paying taxes, going to school, getting married. We were the lucky ones, the made it alive ones, the twos and fours from the hundreds ones. We learned how to say phrases like ‘sorry’ and ‘where can I find’ and ‘do you mind if I’. We learned how to ask directions to things we used to have and to places we used to love. Somehow asking made home seem farther; every new phrase a new knife in the wound. No matter how many books I read English will always be a language of loss to me.

Now when I put my child to bed - when I squeeze my daughter’s hand - I hear. I feel. I see a small piece of Damascus. Not as it became. As it is should be: safe and warm and loved.