A picture is more than a thousand words:Diary of a Yemeni boy [Archives:2004/751/Community]

July 1 2004

By Adam Taha
[email protected]
For the Yemen Times

The market is busy today; the sun as usual is blazing with its heat while the men shout at the tourists who can afford to choose anyone of the stalls that are filled with fruits, vegetables and meat. I stared at a tourist bartering with the keeper of carpets. I sometimes wonder why does anyone need to barter when they have enough money to buy at least ten of these hand crafted colourful Yemeni carpets. I suppose it's also the way with the Yemeni's. They love to have their customers to barter with them and make life a little interesting. If you don't barter then he won't sell you the hand-made Yemeni frame or the clothes his wife made, weaving in the night.
I got bored watching them and walked straight ahead, through the hustle and bustle of life and as I dodged the crowd my eye caught a women with red hair. She was rushing, dodging the crowd and shouting at them to move aside. I pushed harder passed the crowd to follow her. I was so close, about five steps behind when a man pushed a large trolley filled with meat in front of me and I had to wait until he passed through.
By the time I could continue the chase, she had disappeared. I turned my head to look around, jumping up down to see whether I could get a glimpse of her red hair, but nothing. She was gone. I walked straight ahead and left the market place.
The voices of the market holders and the life of the market grew distant. There was nothing much for me to do that day but do what I always do; walk wherever I wanted to walk, like an Arabian stallion, free. After an hour's walk I reach some houses and thought I had just walked through the village. There was no one around. Everyone was either at the market or inside their homes, sleeping, due to the heat. I was just about to walk back towards the market when I heard a female voice singing. It was the most beautiful voice I have ever heard in my life and the words touched me:
My loved one
Only time has separated us
Only time has drove us apart
Only time will bring us together
To laugh about the worries we had
And I, dance with time, praying
We meet again
I followed the words to a small house that was at the end of the village. I reached the house and cautiously walked towards the window to see who it was. I had to be careful because if anyone saw me doing that I would get beaten and people would think I am a thief. I was now standing in front of the window and to my amazement I saw the red hair woman singing.
I listened as she kept on singing and platting her red hair. Her back was turned towards me and I forgot about the world because her voice and her words touched me and as I forgot about the world I also forgot to keep quiet. I started humming with her. She turned round and stared at me and I didn't know what to do. She smiled and with her hand ushered me to go round and step into her small house, and that's what I did.
I pushed the door open as my heart beat so hard that I could feel it in my throat. I was scared. She saw the fear in my eyes and said:
“Why do you fear when it was you who followed me?”
“I don't know. I'm just a little nervous that's all.” I replied.
“It is all right to be nervous. It is a human thing. Now come and sit with me.”
I walked nearer to her and she reached out her hand and gently pulled me towards her. She looked up at me as I stood in front of her. She stroked my hair and then my cheek, and lifted my chin up with her hand and said:
“You have a great journey ahead of you.”
“Can you read people's lives?” I asked
“My mother years ago could and that gift is now with me and I see you want to ask me a question. Ah! I see! Am I crazy?”
“How did you know what I was thinking?”
“It is never about thinking son, but feeling, and your heart, which is beating so hard also speaks and it asks this question. I am no more crazier than the world itself.”
“So why do people say you are crazy? Why do you run in street screaming?”
She let go of me and lowered her head and I sensed that I might have hurt her feelings and wished I never asked those questions. And yet, she looked up at me again and answered:
“It is a long story my son but I am not as crazy as the world that hides behind their own closed doors and I know much of what happens behind their closed doors. Now, you must be hungry. Come and sit down for a while as I get the food ready.”
I did as she said and watched her cooking fasoolia (beans) and baking khubs (bread). An hour went by and the food was ready and we sat down to eat as if we had known each other for years. As she went to get some water from the other room, I saw a photograph on the wall. It was of a young man soldier, standing so proud with his rifle. She came back with a jug of water and I asked her about the photograph.
“He…he was my son.”
“Was?” Again, I regretted asking this question because she lowered her head again like an old white swan, and I felt her sadness. But I needed to know more about this woman, and we ask questions without thinking. We are innocent and we mean no harm.
I was married years ago to a handsome Yemeni. We were so in love but his mother just wouldn't let go and would cause us to argue with each other when we come home from visiting her. I saw her as nothing more than a witch but I never showed her any disrespect, because I loved my husband. After five years my husband died in a car accident. It happened when he went to Sanna on a job for the army. He was a proud corporal. He died and I was pregnant but no one knew but he and I
She stopped for a while and took a deep breath and gave out a sigh of sadness and sipped some water and carried on.
“His mother started to stir some trouble by saying I had an affair and people believed this was not my husband's baby
“But why would she do this?”
“Because her only son had died and my son was the only the lineage of his father. A history walked with him and now passed onto my son. She wanted to take away my son. No matter how much I told the truth, the people wouldn't believe me and his mother was a powerful woman. I was nothing but a commoner to them because her husband married me and I was from a poor family. He came from a rich family that had power. Rich and powerful people were on their side.”
“But they can't do that. What about what my grandma said about Islamic Law. You know, God's law?”
“People, my child, follow it when they want to and they have corrupted it. That is why our country is the way it is now.”
“What happened next?”
“What happened next was a crime she will pay for when she meets our Lord. They took me to court and the court ordered my baby to be taken away and I was imprisoned instead of being stoned to death. They knew they couldn't stone me to death because I didn't do anything.”
“How long were you in prison?”
“I was left to rot and was let out only when he became a man. He learnt from his grandmother that his mother died in the same car accident. I planned to take back my son, telling him everything but then the war happened it divided our country even more and I lost him.”
“He died?”
“Yes. He died in a war and they wouldn't let me go to his burial and I had to watch from a far. Only then did I lose my patience, only then did the world go so dark that I could feel no more pain. I dyed my hair red and walked the streets at night shouting my sons name and cursing his grandmother. The day I made that curse was the day she died and people saw me as witch and let me be.”
She got up and took the wooden plates and food away as I stared at the photograph of her husband. I thought what a waste of lives. So much joy could have come into their lives. How can such evil work happen? Why are people so cruel? I just couldn't understand it.
She came back to sit in the same place and started platting the right side of her hair and started singing. I listened and hummed away so we can move away from the story and uplift her spirit. I started singing her words and she stopped, turned round to face me and said:
“You have a great journey ahead son, and you will make your mark one day in this world but not in Yemen.”
“Make my mark? What you mean?”
“You love to sing don't know?”
“Yes, I seem to grow in love with it more each day.” I replied.
“That is because it is a gift from God but with it comes a price.”
“I don't understand.”
“The price is leaving Yemen and have a dream that no one will believe in except you but if you keep to your dream you will make it but it wont be easy. Now, sing with me.”
She sang the words and I would humm at first and then sing. For a moment in her life there was joy and later on she told me some folk stories. As she told the stories, she stroked my head gently and I drifted to sleep and awoke later to find she had left.
I woke up and stared at the photograph again and only later in my life, at the age of 35 years old in England, did I realize what people mean when they say 'a picture is more than a thousand words.'