“The Change” by Kezia Frayjo, Damascus

Change July 20, 2011 20:25

topic: CHANGE medium: TEXT, VIDEO

as shared at a PenTales event themed “Great Expectations”

Everything was well before the incident. I didn’t know it was all going to change that afternoon. If I had known what was about to happen, I don’t think I would have sat there calmly drinking Earl Gray tea and eating chocolate biscuits while talking to old expat ladies.

I would have gotten the hell out of there before it got ruined. I should have excused myself, left, and had a drink somewhere else instead. But hindsight is pointless and at best only mocks us.

It started with a conversation. A simple chat between me and an old English lady who must have been around 70-years-old. Talk followed the normal rhythm of questions when expat meets expat for the first time. Where are you from? What are you doing in Syria? How do you like Damascus? Blah, blah, blah.

Those kinds of questions went on and on so I expected smooth conversation sailing. My mind was on auto-pilot. Then out of the blue she asks me, “Do you know the big square next to the Syrian Opera House called Ummaweeyeen Square?”

“Yes,” I answered.

She continued, “Did you know that the big sword-looking monument next to the Opera House is actually an old Turkish torture instrument?”

Slightly confused and not knowing where the conversation was going, I stammered, “Um…no, I didn’t know that.”

“Well,” she said. “Most people think it’s a sword but in reality it’s a replica of a small torture instrument used by the Turks. They used to take the sharp end of it and ram it into prisoners’ rears. The pain to their backside was so intense they would spill any secrets they had.”

I went blank and just sat there not knowing what to say. The silence was getting awkward but luckily the old lady excused herself and went on her way. This was not how I expected this conversation to go. Hell, this is not how a person expects any conversation with an old lady to go. But that was it. The deed was done. Now a tiny piece of my mind was forever going to remember this random gruesome fact.

Every time I pass by Ummaweeyeen Square I think of the Turkish torture instrument. That old English lady changed the square for me; she made it mean something, and that something wasn’t pleasant. It’s funny how words and stories can change places and things. The change is even stronger when you don’t expect it. Words can breathe life into inanimate objects. We can create a mini-Big Bang with every sentence we speak. It’s like when an engagement ring suddenly comes alive when accompanied by the four words of “Will you marry me?” or how an average sword monument in a Damascus square is now a memory of torture by way of an old English lady’s chit-chat.

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