Old Damascus. It’s the heart of the city, and in the heart of everyone who has visited it. It is in my dreams. It is my love. I care about its walls in the same way I care about the health of my grandmother. It warms me as if I were in her lap.
Who listens to my stories in Qamariah? Who makes me reveal my secrets in Miskiyeh? Who makes me sing when I am in Bab Sharqi? Who distracts me and tires me out in Midhat Basha? Who answers my prayers in the Umayyad Mosque? It is only you.
Thursday night at 9 o’clock: scene 1
Feeling bored, I go down to Bab Touma Square. I stay near the stairs for a while as if I were waiting to meet a friend. Beautiful women and smart men pass by in clouds of French perfume. I wear shorts, a t-shirt and trainers. I keep checking the time on my watch, as if the person I was waiting for is late. At times I even pretend to check my mobile to see if this person had called or texted to apologise for being late.
Finally I decide to wander the streets of Old Damascus.
On the narrow street leading to the public baths, Hammam Al-Bakri, I turn left to find the restaurants. I turn right to observe elegant shops exhibiting the finest gifts. I keep walking, surrounded by a pleasant crowd, along the narrow alleys.
Brushing shoulders with the happy crowd, I feel a great energy. I am energised, enthusiastic, joyful, optimistic and even crazy. I will never understand the reason behind all these feelings
I eat a hot croissant. I think how this original Syrian croissant beats the best French pastries. I sit down on the stairs leading to the gate of the Umayyad Mosque with a boiled ear of corn in my right hand.
Thursday night at 9 o’clock: scene 2
Crouching on the side of the street, I see passing legs and feet. Girls’ laughter tinkles while boys attempt to flirt with them. I play the same waiting game. This time, I am waiting for somebody at the nearby café to leave so I can find a place to sit. However, I know this will never happen on a Thursday night at 9 o’clock. So I satisfy myself with merely sitting on the stairs and watching the passers-by.
The smell of mellow shisha tobacco and tea fills the street. Music and songs rise from the café, as if there was a theatre inside. Suddenly, this sound stops and you can only hear the sound of the evening Adhan (call for prayer) coming from the nearby Umayyad Mosque. The charm of these moments can only be realised by those who live in Old Damascus.
Damascus! You helped me get to know myself, to write my first words. In my dreams, Nazir Qabbani told me about your jasmine. You offered me an endless space to dream in.
You were my soulmate from my first breath until I was 20. I would give up many years of my life to spend one hour with you – Thursday night at 9 o’clock.