Up Close and Personal: One Last Bill

Art by Samantha Li. Have you ever wondered why many people refuse to look in the eyes of a beggar whenever confronted with one? Is it sheer arrogance or are they shielding themselves from seeing the pain in the eyes of these people of misfortune? As I was on the road today caught up in the midst of a traffic jam at a main intersection, I couldn't help but notice a woman with a child who was trying to sell "a not so popular" kind of newspaper and at the same time was begging for some money from the motorists. One shooed them away with disgust, one chose to ignore their existence completely, but the man exactly at the opposite lane from me handed her, I think it was a 10€ bill then he smiled. The woman, who was lightly wet with rain except her little child and her newspapers which she protected under a transparent plastic material, profusely thanked the kind-hearted man. And then she came to me and offered me her newspapers. I said shyly, "Sorry but I don't read this paper. But please tell me, why are you out on the road in this kind of weather? It is bad for you and your child." Surprisingly, she has a good command of English and so with a thick Arabic accent she uttered, "My daughter and I, we are refugees just trying to make a living..." As I stared at her, I realized how sullen her face is, her eyes are sunken with dark ugly rings that engulf them, and her bare hands are trembling from the cold. She was thinly dressed but thank God, her little girl had a thick bonnet on her head and was wrapped in a child's coat that seems to swallow her very fragile frame. I felt that my throat was closing in on me, while my tears were hurriedly flooding the corners of my eyes. My voice cracked from emotion as I asked where she is from, she said, SYRIA... In a matter of seconds, I was swiftly transported to another time, to another place... Back to that golden era when Syria was beautiful still. When Damascus, the oldest city of mankind with her great seven extant gates was one of the places that I loved going to. Sitting along her sidewalk cafes while sipping Arabic coffee and enjoying their delicious dates stuffed with almonds or their irresistible Baklavas that never failed to delight me. I can still vividly remember the scent of the burning sandalwood at the Souk Midhat Pasha, a magical place bursting with life and vibrant colours. I can hear merchants shouting as they ply their products or traders as they barter their wares. The late afternoon or early evening walks we took along the enchanting Barada River... I remember my dear friends from long ago, my witty, smart and beautiful colleagues from Saudi Arabian Airlines. I can still hear their laughter and see that mischief in their eyes, as we giggled while watching the young men at the neighbouring orchard harvest their produce. Memories of the times when we would run around like little children at the sprawling apricot farm owned by the family of my friend Amira, back at the plateaus of Aleppo. But Aleppo along with other Syrian villages, towns and cities, with all their exotic charms and rich history are now long gone, shattered, destroyed and pulverized by this vicious ugly war. I remember Mike (Mouayad Aboalzahad), a tall hunk of a handsome man, a spitting image of a young Tom Selleck, who at one time became a great love of mine. But none of them have I heard from since the war broke out. I wish with all my heart that they are safe somewhere, and that they made it out of Syria on time, alive... Suddenly I was brought back to the present, due to the honking of horns by the cars behind me. But I didn't care, 'cos then, it was my time to ignore them! I took my wallet and saw that I have just one single bill left inside, a 100€ note and there was not even small change in my coin purse. Yet without any hesitation, I pushed that one single bill into the hand of this woman whose name I never knew. She was shocked after having seen the amount I gave her. She tried to open her lips that began to tremble but I stopped her with my fingers. I knew she was about to cry too, so we merely smiled at one another in silence. When she turned to go, I said stop! I opened my bag quickly, took the bottle of my favourite perfume and my red YSL lipstick, a gift from my dear friend Katherine. Startled, the woman said, "What am I supposed to do with these? I live in a camp!" I replied, "Even refugees deserve to smell good and feel beautiful from time to time...." then I sped away as tears blinded my eyes, crying for those who once touched my life. Thinking of Amira, of Nada, of Fouzia, of Rashida, and of Mike with his beautiful green eyes, his curly dark-blond hair, his well-trimmed moustache and his dimples that came out whenever he smiles or cries.... I am afraid that I will never see them again or hear from them once more... But Insha'Allah, perhaps God the Merciful will make it happen, someday......

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