Mourad holds his first born in his arms like it is a gift from God himself and gazes at it, his dark amber eyes into the precious day-old face of the baby that lays in white cloth blissful and pristine and beatific, arrived into the world of its nativity from some paradise forgotten.
He stares from his balcony out at the city beyond. The afternoon is drawing to a close and darkness creeps into the light and the twilight birds soar and call noisily. In the distance along the highway the fresnel spheres of traffic light bob and sway into the horizon and the sky along it bleeds crimson as if the whole earth’s skies are setting and wounded in unison. The city’s lights come on one by one. Street hawkers sell the last of their wares to whoever will have their custom and the aroma of roast lamb wafts from within. He slides shut the balcony door and it slams behind him and wakes the baby and it screams a high pitched wail that echoes loudly off the whitewashed walls of the hollow lounge. Mourad and Mouna are young and newly married within their first home together. Mouna runs over to them both from the kitchen a smile painted on her face and kisses and fusses over the infant and the three of them are a happy huddle of a family. The baby’s cries cease.
Shy of a year from the birth of the child a man walks into traffic in Sidi Bouzid – I am going to burn myself – he declares, and douses himself in gasoline. He strikes a match and people look on as the flames whisk obliquely upon his frame engulfing the man with arms outstretched in mythic exhortation, skin blackening beneath. His immolation confronts the powerful and they stare into the fire shocked that the world they thought was weak was in fact strong and growing around them through tumult and passion as great as fire. Three days from the child’s birthday a martyr is born and revolution stirs.
From Sidi Bouzid to Tunis to Sana’a to Benghazi to Tripoli to Damascus to Aleppo to Hama to Homs to Manama and Cairo a million voices cry together to God and to the world loudly and in unison and more fires start to burn and countless men fall and there is lynching in Libya as the dog of North Africa is murdered like a dog on dusty day-lit streets by the braying mob.
In Syria the enigmatic president stands firm and silent behind sealed palace doors, Asma Antoinette brilliantly smiling by his side as men are brutalised outside, murdered and bombarded, and children and women twitch in the throes of death poisoned by clouds of something they can neither smell nor see as bullets rain aside explosions.
Mourad was there. He was in Tahrir Square. He was amid the shouts of REVOLUTION and ALLAHU AKBAR and joined in the chorus. There were whispers of a million men women and children shoulder to shoulder under the eyes of God and the gaze of the world. They projected the ancient stone into the heights of Cairo and sprawled graffiti, because God is just and Mubarak is hate. He was there, too, a year and a half later, the same city, when blood was spilled and children lost their mothers before their own eyes. One boy – Mama! Mama! – and she face down on a surgeon’s floor, dried blood, dirt and flies – she had painfully expired. Unarmed activists – arms aloft in peace, skinny and exuberant – shot down by soldiers in armoured tanks. Bullet marks on every wall in every street and submachine and rifle-fire replacing French and British grapeshot of centuries past.