10 July 2009

A Handful of Olives

Maryam believed in the story of olives. Even when her elder brother Jassim mocked her, the seven year old girl refused to change her opinion.

“So you’re telling me that olives can protect you from evil?” asked Jassim, his tone revealing his disbelief. Maryam nodded her head vigorously. “That’s what Grandmother used to say, wasn’t it? She said that if there was an olive tree outside our house, angels would guard us from all harm. And that whenever we were frightened, all we had to do was hold a handful of olives in our right hand. You heard her say all this, didn’t you?”

Jassim merely chuckled, and said nothing. He was smart enough not to believe in such stories. After all, he was almost 13 years old…

* * * *

“Jassim, go and water the olive tree,” Jassim’s mother said, as she combed Maryam’s hair. Jassim looked irritated. “Why should I water the tree? Cant Maryam water it herself?”

“Jassim, don’t argue. You need to go to the grocery after this. I want you to water the tree immediately.”

Jassim hated watering the tree. It couldn’t technically be called an olive tree, since it was barely as tall as Jassim, and definitely much weaker. Yet, ever since his Grandmother had told them about the story of Olives, Jassim was asked to water the Olive tree. He secretly suspected it was all done just to please Maryam.

It was a sunny, yet cool December morning, and the village where Jassim lived, just on the outskirts of Gaza, looked picturesque. After filling the heavy bucket, Jassim walked towards the olive tree, and was about to start watering it, when he heard odd noises.

Jassim was too young to recognize the sound of an attack helicopter. But as he looked up towards the sky, he saw the imposing mechanical war machine advance towards him. And instinctively, the bucket dropped from his hand.

The water spilled, forming a puddle around the olive tree. Suddenly, there was a loud explosion, and a moment later, the spilled water turned blood red. As the helicopter passed by, Jassim’s uncle ran out of the house, yelling at the top of the voice.

Maryam’s mother dashed towards the window, fear instantly reflected on her face. Thankfully, Maryam was too short to reach the window. She didn’t see her brother lying on the ground, next to the olive tree, blood gushing from his body…

* * * *

Jassim had never slept so peacefully before. As he opened his eyes again, he felt the soft blanket beneath his body, and immediately realized that he wasn’t lying in his bed.

“Where am I?” he cried out, and looked around. Sitting a few meters from his bed was his mother, her cheeks streaming with tears. A man dressed in white stood over him. For some reason, his smile felt comforting.

“Assalamu Alaikum, Jassim! You’re a very brave boy, do you know that?” Doctor Khalid said.

“Why? What happened?”

“You survived a great explosion. And due to God’s grace, you’re safe. Of course, you’re head must still be paining,” he added, as he saw Jassim touch his forehead.

Jassim fell silent, and merely looked around him. “Where’s Maryam?” he finally asked.

“Ah, Maryam’s fine. In fact, she must be waiting to see you, Jassim. But you’ll have to rest now. You’re in Qatar now, Jassim. Once you’re healthy again, we’ll take you to see you’re sister again. Okay?”

A few minutes later, once his mother had kissed him profusely and thanked God for his mercy, everyone left the room. Jassim slowly drifted off to sleep. He dreamt of returning to his house. Of seeing Maryam again. After all, he had to tell her about how the Olive tree saved his life…

* * * *
For the next few days, Jassim lived a life which he was very much unused to. Doctor Khalid seemed to have taken a special liking towards him. Not only did he get three full meals a day, the nurse who took care of him, made sure he didn’t have to move a muscle all day long. Oddly though, Jassim was not allowed to see the television, even though there was a set in his room. And the Doctor firmly refused to give him any magazines or newspapers to read.

One evening after seeing Jassim fall asleep, Doctor Khalid returned to the Cafeteria. His friend Dr. Thomas was waiting for him.

“How’s the Gaza boy doing?” Dr. Thomas asked.

“He’s doing fine. It’s Gaza that’s in trouble, isn’t it?” Doctor Khalid replied bitterly. Overhead, the television carried images of dead and wounded Palestinians. A small scroller mechanically updated the death toll.

“It’s horrible, the way things are turning out. What about Jassim’s family?”

“His mother and father are here. They’ll be staying until Jassim is completely fit again. Then, I guess they’ll have to return to their village. Or at least what’s left of it….”

* * * *
12 days after he woke up in the hospital, Jassim mustered enough courage to ask Doctor Khalid the question.

“Doctor, when will I be able to return home?” he asked, when the doctor had come for a routine check up.

“Soon, Jassim. Within a few days.”

“Then, could I send a letter?”

Doctor stopped reading his pad, and looked at the 13 year old boy. “A letter? To whom?”

“To my sister Maryam. She must be worried about me. I just want to let her know everything’s fine. So could I send the letter?”

“Why not. I mean, sure. You can write the letter today. And we’ll send it by tomorrow morning, okay?”

As he walked away, Doctor Khalid felt worried. He didn’t know Jassim had a sister. He wondered what happened to her…

* * * *

Yves Martin, a Red Cross worker, surveyed the town of Al Mughraqa, his face showing signs of sorrow and pain. The destruction was unimaginable, to say the least. In front of his eyes, lay disseminated buildings, fallen electricity poles, and worst of all, limp corpses.

“Jesus Christ!” Yves whispered, as he set out to clear the dead bodies. He reached the rubles of what once used to be a home, and began searching for corpses. As he sifted through the stones and steel, something caught his eye.

* * * *

Doctor Khalid shook Jassim’s hand, and gave him a warm hug. “It was a joy to have you here, Jassim. May you grow up to be a smart, wonderful man. Take care now. And take care of your mother.”

“I will,” Jassim said solemnly, nodding his head. And then, after a pause, he asked. “Doctor, did you send the letter which I gave you, to my sister?”

“Yes Jassim, I made sure it was sent. Why do you ask?”

“Nothing. She didn’t reply for all these days. I thought she hadn’t got the letter. But now if she has, then…”
Doctor Khalid smiled. “Don’t worry, Jassim. You’ll see her soon. There won’t be any need for a letter.”

After Jassim’s parents had thanked the Doctor and nursing staff, the car left Hamad Medical Hospital. As he saw the car make its way out of the hospital compound, a question entered Doctor Khalid’s mind.

“Nurse, why did you give Jassim those olives?”

“Oh, that!” the nurse smiled, “well, it seems Jassim’s grandmother told him that olives will bring protection from harm and evil. Ever since he was saved from the explosion, Jassim’s believed in the story of the olives. It sounds a little silly, but after all, he’s just a child.”

Doctor Khalid smiled melancholically. “No, it doesn’t sound silly. The olives symbolize protection from harm. It’s a source of hope for Jassim. And when he returns to Gaza, he’ll need a lot of that. Hope. Hope and faith.”

* * * *

"Assalamu Alaikum
Dear Brother,

I felt so happy when I read your letter. Thank God, you’re alright. I and Uncle Basheer were praying for your health for all these days. When will you return home? I’m waiting to see you, brother. It’s terrifying here, with all the bombs and helicopters. Uncle Basheer says there’s nothing to worry about, but I see him pray for our safety, late at night. I’ve been saying all the prayers which Father taught us. And whenever I get very scared, I hold a handful of olives. Remember what Grandmother told us? Hope to see you and Mother and Father soon.

Assalamu Alaikum.

Yves finished reading the letter. His eyes fell on the body which lay limp beneath the ruble. As he slowly pushed away the debris, he caught a glimpse of the girl’s clenched right fist. He opened the fist slowly. What he saw brought tears to his eyes. Maryam had a handful of olives in her hand. Just before the bomb landed on her house…

* * * *
Jassim felt happy as he boarded the plane. Within a few hours, he would be back in Gaza. He would be able to see his sister soon. As he buckled his seat and waited for the plane to take off, his mother knew what he was going to face once the plane would land. She closed her eyes and whispered a small prayer: “Oh God, give Jassim the strength to bear his loss. Make his soul firm and strong. Do not burden us with pain. Oh God, give us strength, give us strength…”

[This story won First Place in a Short Story Competition held by Qatar Cultural Centre recently. The theme was "Sufferings of the People of Gaza". Please let me know your opinion on the story. And yes, please rate the story, if you're not going to comment...]

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  1. very touching dude...he didnt blv in the story n he gt saved bt i wonder yhis sister after blving the story also,she died....mayb its just luck...

    bt story is very emotional and touching..congrats on the win...keep it up!!

  2. woah!...tis deserved the 1st prize..!...very touching..its worth 3000 bucks!...keep it up!..n tis is ur best story so far!

  3. bro......awesum....juz luved it... i cud feel the whole damn story in my blood....
    all i got 2 say is dis....U DESERVED 2 WIN 4 SUCH AN AWESUM STORY..way 2 go bro....keep writing! ;)

  4. This story brought tears to my eyes. Need I say any more?

  5. Brilliant man. I have goosebumps.
    I keep thinking there's a limit to how good your posts or stories can get but you just keep going past them!
    Really moving story. Let's hope there are more of these competitions so we get to read more of these stories!

  6. family...love...togetherness... all things that i missed out on.
    People are bringing these things to end by plain force and violence. You told the readers what this police action has brought upon the people of Gaza.
    Good job

  7. Had Goosies after reading this....... the story is really really stirring ........ short of words !!

  8. beautiful!!! And absolutely touching! The story totally deserved the first place. The story of death and distruction..caught in that specific period of time..it's been woven together perfectly, so we can visualize.

  9. Amazing is the word!Youre a great writer!Keep it up.I was just zapped, it gripped me timm the very end!Wonderful!!:) I am happy that u won!You deserve it!!!Keep up! Inshallah you'll have a very promising future!

  10. Not surprised it won the first place...this is by far one of the most excellent pieces I've seen recently!!

    On a side note, this is not a work of fiction either, I gather.
    The innocent people of Gaza suffer this everyday.

  11. awesome story dude!!!as i say always...i really don understand how u write so well! maybe this is ur best one till now. and yeah...this one was really worth 3000 riyals.keep writing...im sure ur posts will get betr n betr!

  12. Brilliant.. absolutely brilliant.

  13. This is the most excellent work ive ever read. even though fiction, it sound almost true as one knows whats goin on in gaza :(

    the story was truly awesome!! :D

  14. So good and so touching..deserves the prize. you surprise me.. Eventhough the theme is familiar, your style of writing makes it different and unique. I expected it to end happily, but i was shocked. Keep it up, dear...

  15. i donno wht to say not ur usual type of stroy line is it ....... well wht can i say its a very touching and a heartfelt story here goes the rating 8.5/10 .............

  16. wonderful,just wonderful...

  17. This story won First Place in a Short Story Competition held by Qatar Cultural Centre recently. The theme was "Sufferings of the People of Gaza".

    Why the hell did you have to say that??

  18. awesome work bro... i think i have the privilege of being the first one to read this...:D

  19. what a story! It brought tears to my eyes.

  20. Awesome..

    The narration is so vivid that I could see Gaza and those rubbles of a house in front of my eyes. Deserves the award, definitely.

    Keep going..

  21. I am going to read all stories from this column this is the first one and I like it very much, really very very nice story.

  22. very very veryy good.....just touched me........man u write just too good.......!!!!!!!....no words to say

  23. Touching - Emotional .

    War never brings peace .

  24. Loved it. Sorry to sound like a broken tape-recorder but you DO have a gift. Use it.. and use it well. :)

  25. Wow, that was very touching. A bit freaky too, seeing as my parents work in Hamad Hospital and I live in that very compound. Only in Bahrain.. so it's close to home