Rusty Keys by Rama Al Malah

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The cause of injustice is global. It doesn’t differentiate between race, ethnicity, religion, gender etc,  Rama Al Malah

Rama Al Malah is a second-year health student at College Champlain St-Lambert. Eager to learn about politics, history and science, she explores themes of exile and displacement through her art. Using her Palestinian experience as her pen, Rusty Keys is inspired by the main catalyst of the Palestinian struggle : the Nakba, the Arabic term for the displacement of many Palestinians by the creation of Israel in 1948. Focused on the psychology of the characters, Rama Al Marah offers a well-deserved platform to those too often discussed by the media and only rarely listened to. She uses her privilege as a writer to give a voice to a land that has been kept silent far too long. Rama Al Malah’s description of Palestine earned her a nomination as a finalist in the  Quebec’s Writer’s Federation Awards. This young activist sees writing as her own weapon of resistance in her pursuit of justice and hopes to create many more pieces for her country.

Rusty Keys

by Rama Al Malah

As I write this, more than 4 million Ukrainians have fled their homes.

The cause of injustice is global. It doesn’t differentiate between race, ethnicity, religion, gender etc. In the face of it, we are all human.

I write this for all victims of war, conflict, violence, and displacement.

I write this for the people of Ukraine, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Palestine.

I tap my finger rhythmically on my lap, reproducing the familiar tune of an old folk song my late mother always chanted as she prepared breakfast. I join in with loud humming, closing my eyes and taking in the mesmerizing and comforting melody of my childhood. My cracked lips stretch to form a tired smile as joyful recollections come back to me, like clear waves returning to the beaches of Haifa. The loud honking of a car pulls me from my flashback, leaving me at the mercy of the complex facts of my existence. I look around, suddenly disoriented and confused by the blinding colors and blaring sounds in the streets of the city that is, despite its familiarity, strange and foreign to me. Beads of sweat begin rolling down my temples as an excruciating pain passes through my numb fingers. I reach for another cigarette, desperate to appease the throbbing anxiety building in my chest. I light it with shaky hands and breathe in the thick ashes of despair and hopelessness, soothed by the fogginess of the gray smoke that represents fragments of myself: meaningless and microscopic particles in the fabric of a space-time continuum that has stripped me of my identity and worth.Finally, I get up and decide to head home. Home. A word that unfairly defines the small structure I have been living in for the past 35 years. A word that callously undermines the coordinates of the walls I desperately yearn for. Akka; the only word I can associate with the term “home”. Our one-storey mud-brick house laid on the outskirts of our small village, surrounded by shrubs and long, green wisps of grass. We were farmers, deeply connected to the wetness of the soil and the colors of fruitful trees. In my nostalgic reminiscences, I notice the carved door at the entrance and the tablecloth’s embroidery patterns in their delicate perfection, like precise strokes of paint on a canvas. In the suddenness of our departure, I failed to inhale the comforting aromas of our garden, convinced that our absence was temporary. Although I cannot precisely identify the time it took to evacuate the city, I remember my mother’s tight grasp as we allowed the sea of a thousand people to take us, accepting that the current of events was stronger than our will to stay. In the darkness, hearing was our only guidance, the ricochets of bullets and grenades instructing us to move in the opposite direction. Like a herd of sheep, we abandoned our fields of grass and green, fearing the insatiable hunger of the merciless wolves. We are raised to be loyal, but when threatened, we always fall back on ourselves. My hearing declined over the years, but the rifle’s heartless chuckles still resonate loudly in my ears. Although I have attempted to convince myself that I was powerless, that I could not have saved our land, could not have saved him, I eventually surrendered to remorse, allowing it to sink me in the deepness of violent waters. In this world, sadistic monsters righteously laugh as their blades are plunged in immaculate souls. I have been denied the right of laughter: Happiness, arguably an undeniable right, has become a luxury to me. I initially believed that the distance between my ancestral land ensured my survival. However, it wasn’t until later that I realized that our separation was, on the contrary, the beginning of my degradation as a human. Indeed, exile induces a constant state of guilt and melancholy, gradually taking over our fragile continuance until we are nothing but a dissolving ice cube in an endless sea of hot water. Lost in the hazy parts of my memory, I realize, after a while, that I have been walking around the neighborhood in circles like someone drunk and homeless. When the sharp pain in my knees becomes unbearable, I crouch and sit on the sidewalk, leaning my head on a pole. Suddenly, a strong current of wind surges towards me, salty, humid, and comforting. I find myself transported to the past, a chubby toddler and barefoot boy running on the beach, their loud laughter mixing with the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore. The toddler, maybe 4-years-old, has light-brown hair with wisps of blond covering his beige forehead. His eyes are light blue, like the Mediterranean Sea that runs in his fisherman veins and the sky that proudly covers his dome of subsistence. The older boy, around 8-years-old, has ebony hair and tanned skin, reflecting the hours spent outside in the scorching sun. His hazel eyes are spotted with specks of gold, like drops of thick translucent honey in a cup of hot milk-tea. Under his strands of black hair, a newly engraved scar throbs loudly in the corner of his forehead. Automatically, my hand rises to caress the old wound, physical evidence latched onto me, constantly reminding me of a past I desperately wish to forget. We had arrived at the camp as refugees, a term that denies our statehood, our origins, our roots, despite their resilience and strength in the olive trees and orchards we had planted in our fields and unjustly left behind. My brother died soon after our arrival from sickness-or perhaps heartbreak. In her grief, my mother was left to raise her surviving son into a man, a seemingly impossible task for her gentle feminine hands. The years of labour had turned her once delicate palms into calloused and rough sandpaper, her kind eyes into stern and dark pupils, and her body into a large muscular frame: For me, she had lost her femininity with furious indifference, patriarchy be damned.The weekly dry loaf of bread appeased our growling stomachs, but our minds were never gratified. A hollowness had installed itself in me, stopping me from appreciating what little was left. I yearned for a home, a feeling of solace and warmth in the soil of the homeland. Most importantly though, I longed for her, her soothing touch, her angelic voice, expressive eyes and affectionate embrace. Instead, I listened to her empty stomach crying out in hunger when food was scarce; observed her dried cracked lips quaver as she crouched behind the door, desperate sobs wetting her perfectly symmetrical face. I eventually satiated myself with a newfound form of love: I found peace in caring for her and loving her from afar, for sadness breeds loneliness and renders a mother and son strangers.The years living with her were arduous, but not more than her death. Her departure marked the destruction of yet another bridge that connects the younger generation of refugees to their ancestry. For me though, it marked the official annihilation of any landmark that may have made me rejoice again. Pomegranate stains are impossible to clean, and so is loss: My mother died with her heart broken in a million pieces, like the ceramic vase I accidently shattered in my rambunctious years or my father’s drops of blood splattered on the kitchen floor. For that, I refuse to recognise anybody’s humanity, including my own: We are all nothing but the embodiment of sin, a mistake that cannot be erased. In my long years of agony, I had held on to two things only from my past. The first was a picture I had taken of her a few days before her death. She looks older than she is and sicker than she should’ve been: Her eyes are hollow, except for the shame that had become habitual residents in her irises; and her wrinkles are abnormally deep, like rivers carrying rushing streams of chronicles. The second is…A man taps me on the shoulder and asks me if I’m alright. I’m crying. No.I am not alright. My sobs echo loudly, but I allow myself, for once, to not be silent. I cry and weep, tears cascading on my wrinkled cheeks, carrying the agonizing years of hardship, death, displacement, violence. The sheer dehumanization. When I am done, I realize that I am clutching, in the pocket of my jacket, the second valued object I have retained from my past. I sniffle and smile, remembering the reason we cannot be erased: I hold, in my trembling hands, the keys to the house. Bronze and rusty, it had patiently waited, like me, to return and open the carved door at the entrance of our one-storey mud-brick house on the outskirts of our small village, at home, in Akka.

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