Lay, half of the night (Danish+Syrian Arabic+English)

I am perched on the mountain of dreams, my eyes riveted on the horizon. The women who come, already dead, ask me to spread the clouds to better see the face of their lover. It happens that the silhouette of one of them is pressed, her hands puffed up, her complexion reddened. They are the disappointed lovers, and I prefer them to all the flowers of my mountain. I hold out my right hand to them and they rise up on the purple promontory beside me. Their tears fall on the earth of Syria. As a rule, they do not ask me anything. They just stare into the wind. Sometimes, one of them gets up, walks a few steps behind me. It is because she has seen the smile of some former lover in the darkness.

Today, a young woman has come.

— مساء الخي ر masaa al-kheir, good evening, I whispered to her.

I am the controller of the sky. Perched on my mountain, as night falls, I hear the eagles of Syria give me a count of the lonely women who have climbed the moon’s edge path to me. The sun is not my friend. It makes my eyes round as it disappears behind the glades of dreams. Wind moistened with tears seeps behind my big ears.

The newcomer, purple umbrella in her right hand, walks towards me. I hold out my hand to her. She intones a song, whose language I do not recognize.

Der er et yndigt land,

det står med brede bøge

nær salten østerstrand

Det bugter sig i bakke, dal,

det hedder gamle Danmark

og det er Freja’s sal

She sings divinely well. I listen to her for a moment, then I take her hand. We walk side by side on the paths of the mountains blooming with blue azaleas and frosted begonias. The evening envelops us in his caressing hands.

Finally, I ask him the meaning of his song. I, who grew up on the sands of Syria, only know the language that lights up the sky here.

« There is a charming country,

that stretches with wide beeches

near the salty eastern beach of the Baltic Sea

It undulates in hills, valleys,

it is called old Denmark

and it’s Freya’s room »

— Freya?

— The goddess of love.

I wonder what this beautiful young woman is doing here. She smells like summer apples, her messy beet colored hair dotting her beige shirt. If I weren’t a ghost, I would take her by the hand and bring her back to earth.

— Am I in the right place here.

I am curious. What is she doing in this antechamber of death? What is this mysterious language? My ears are reddened, the twilight falls on our lashes like an axe. She lies down on the wet sand and looks at the stars.

— Will you take me along?

It is impossible for me to refuse what the Gods have charged me with. I look at her, she is so beautiful in the redness of the night. The stars make freckles in the heavy night coat. I inhale the scent of the violets of the sands.

— كله تمام ؟ kullu tmaam? Is everything okay?

The sky crystallizes as I hear my voice shaking. Grains of sand, like ochre snow, sprinkle the horizon. I sigh.

منيح mniH, she answers me, in perfect Syrian Arabic.

The song you were singing…

— det var dansk

Luckily, my angel status allows me to understand every word, of every idiom, in the land. I nod. Why does the foreigner speak Danish?

A breeze refreshes our faces in the Syrian night. Her face trembles. She begins to tell me her story in these words:

The dispensary was located on the heights of Palmyra. Sometimes, when the wind blew too hard, it uprooted one of the palm trees that the old people of the city had planted in the 1950s. We always shed a tear for the trees torn from the earth when we were children. My story begins at the dawn of my 17th birthday. I was hanging out in the dusty streets with my sister Ney, when the dispensary went up. The war had been in full swing for most of my adolescence. The only love I knew was the fear of seeing my loved ones suffer. The bombs had disfigured a city that we all loved madly. Yes, love was the love of our country.

He arrived on a Friday night, a day of prayer. His black jeep stopped in front of the dispensary, he was looking for help. I went forward, my sister Ney held me by the arm. The sun was splashing on our beige dresses. It was getting dark and the stranger obviously did not know where to sleep. A neighbor took him to our house. We had the largest number of unoccupied rooms in the neighborhood. Also, our grandmother had just left the world. My father decided that he would occupy her room. The wide crimson curtains were opened, my mother cleared the room of the dust accumulated during the war. As for me, I caressed the velvet of a chair while looking at him.

He had dark, expressive eyes and great intelligence. I learned the same evening that he was a doctor. This news filled me with a dull joy. And who was I? I had not finished my schooling. The day after his arrival, I climbed the steep path towards the library that had been massacred by shells two years earlier. Some of the shelves had remained untouched, the inhabitants of our town had not dared to touch them. As for me, I sometimes went to this place. I would bring my long black dress under my thighs and I would browse through a volume. I read very well, very quickly.

That day, after the doctor came, I took a big physiology book from the rubble. I trotted back into our house and barricaded myself in our room. A light breeze entered the room. The night could fall, the day could fall apart, I could only hear the music of love.

The doctor was from Denmark, but his family had lived in the United States when he was a teenager. He told us about the fields and rivers of his homeland, and his love for Danish culture. We laughed when he bet us that none of us could resist the strength of Danish wine. It was evening, we were happy, I looked at the doctor as if he was the most beautiful thing in the world and I sometimes closed my eyes when I felt his tone of voice come alive.

Yes, I fell in love with the stranger. As for him, he never noticed the feverish look of the teenager on his tanned neck. At night, I read as many medical books as I could find; I wanted to become a nurse too. Of course, this never came true, I was only good at dreaming and writing love poems in the dunes. But at the time, I held my dream tightly to my chest. Every night I walked hoping to meet him, but he went to bed early, the patients were many.

I am the controller of the sky. I decide how dark the mountain is. The Danish doctor’s lover came back to find me; in her hand rested a bouquet of roses wilted this evening. I learned that her name was Lay, half of the name Layla (night) I nicknamed her « half of the night » for that.

I made it snow for many minutes, then I looked at her. She also looked at me, and we smiled at each other, then she put the bouquet of faded roses on the young snow. Her face is young but already wrinkled, and tanned by the sun. I lowered the darkness of the sky again and led her by the waist up the steep mountain paths. We passed through a bay of orange trees and I called for rain.

She continued to tell me her story:

« I vowed to learn English to communicate with him. Every morning I greeted him like this:تشرفنا tasharrafna I am happy to meet you, and he would quickly answer me, before getting into his black jeep :

— انا ما بعرف عربي maa ba3rif 3arabi I do not understand Arabic.

He was smiling at me, yes that’s right, that smile, I saw in it the kindness that I admired in my parents. This kindness was the sugar that was missing in all our lives. He was able to make a place for himself among us, but he and I barely spoke.

I learned a little English to converse with him, since I could not find a Danish textbook. One day, with my heart pounding, I went to the clinic and asked him

Sir, can you tell me how Danish language sounds?

بتحكي انغليزي؟ btiHki ingileezi? Do you speak English?

He regarded me for a moment that seemed like a small eternity. Then he clapped his hands and began to speak in his language, Danish.Is Danish your mothertongue?

— Yes. I used to speak English in America when I was a kid but I never use it anymore and the Dane government is employing me now.

We talked for about ten minutes. Then he made me understand that he had work to do, handling needles without looking at me. It wasn’t appropriate for a young girl to be in the company of an unmarried foreign doctor any longer, so I saluted him, did a pirouette, and ducked out. I ran home. The carpets had been pulled up. I rushed into the living room and learned that my mother had contracted a virus that kept her bedridden. I was angry that all I had in my heart was the doctor’s eyes, and I rushed to the room where she was resting.

My mother’s illness was long. The doctor had found a small apartment in town and moved out to let us take care of her. Her care and concern for all of us had dug a well in me that overflowed with feelings. Every night I prayed that one day he would need someone to love him

I continued to study medicine without understanding anything about it. When I found a job as a teacher in Damascus, I saved up and went to Denmark. I liked the country and met a Danish man who married me. But I never forgot the doctor in Palmyra.

In reality, time only slightly masks our adolescent wounds. I never found again the summer sweetness of the doctor’s voice. I never met a man as kind as the war-pressed doctor who gave me a lecture on the Danish language one evening. By settling in Denmark, by learning his language, by studying the medicine he had made his life, I thought I would at least get closer to him. But the day his black jeep left Palmyra, I could never have imagined that I would never see him again.

You see, my story is quite sad, » the young woman told me. I had put a purple shawl around her shoulders. A music of lyre was coming to us, perhaps the song of the Gods. A nightingale appeared in the setting sun. I recognized it, it came to greet the poets who came to me and this rarely happened. I smelled the breeze and the perfume of violets. I did not dare to tell the young woman that I knew the man she loved, he who had come to my mountain after contracting malaria. Nor did I tell her that he had never mentioned her name, obsessed as he was with the world, with the change he could bring by healing our people. This man was as the young woman had described him. He appeared to me one stormy night and spoke only of his profession. He was in love with medicine. So, a beautiful young Syrian woman, who had just committed suicide for him and who had given her life to probe his soul, what could it have been worth to him?

You see, I am the controller of the sky. The sun doesn’t appreciate me, he who knows my workings well. I welcome the saddest female souls of the country. They often bring me gifts that I put on the side of the road, then I take them with me up the mountain. All I have to do is snap my fingers to make a beautiful cloud, or a storm, appear and I see them smile. Once our walk is over, when we have reached the end of the storms, the end of the natural elements, the precipice prolongs our gaze. They turn to me to thank me and I have nothing to do but to call the wind with my wishes, which carries them in its dark wake, deep into the abyss of disappointed dreams.

As she left this world, she looked one last time at the other side of the night, where the man she had loved had disappeared before her. Then she turned to me and told me that with him she had learned to love the language he spoke, and she sang for a long moment before jumping with the wind into the precipice:

Det land endnu er skønt,
thi blå sig søen bælter,
og løvet står så grønt
Og ædle kvinder, skønne mø’r
og mænd og raske svende
bebo de danskes øer.

This country is always pleasant,
because the sea curves blue
And its foliage is so green
That noble women, beautiful maidens
and men and valiant young men
live on the islands of the Danes

I covered her body with a shawl and I meditated for a long time on the passing of time and the errors of judgment of men, who go through life without recognizing love.

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