This post is part of a special series of articles by blogger and activist Marcell Shehwaro describing the realities of life in Syria during the ongoing armed conflict between forces loyal to the current regime and those seeking to oust it.
They told me from the first day that her husband was in prison, and that the songs I have the habit of singing could trigger her sadness. I wasn't particularly touched by that. We have become accustomed to hearing about the families of prisoners, as if it were normal, in Assad's Syria, to be imprisoned, and those outside of prison—or who consider themselves as such—are the exception.
Over dinner, perhaps just to get to know her better, I ask her in private: “How was your husband imprisoned?”
“I was arrested at the army's Fourth Armored Division checkpoint on the way from Daarya to Damascus. When I told my husband, the crazy man drove his car to the checkpoint to ask about me, and was arrested as well,” she tells me, choking with sadness.
She sighs, then continues: “Don't assume he did this only to prove his manhood. My husband loves me a great deal. Ours is a love marriage.” Her eyes sparkle with wistful shyness.
And I find myself forced to ask about the strength of a love that would make a man drive to the checkpoint of the Fourth Armored Division, which is headed by Maher Al Assad, the younger brother of the president, and which is notorious for its brutality and harshness.
I try to hide my emotions as I ask her if they were ever able to see each other again after that.
She responds with a smile, understanding my adolescent curiosity: “I wasn't aware he had also been arrested until I saw him a month later. We ended up in the same vehicle as they were transferring us detainees to another location. He bore obvious signs of torture. Although the guard prohibited him from speaking to me, he bravely and defiantly asked me how I was doing. I was barely able to nod to indicate I was fine, when the guard yelled at him again. Since that day, about nine months ago, I haven't seen him or heard from him. I don't even know where he is.”
I believe I've apprehended the full extent of their love, when she surprises me by saying: “After seven months of prison and the torture I suffered, during which I thought only of him and my children, once I was released, without seeking advice from anyone, I secretly went to the air force security headquarters in Damascus.”
Awed by her statement, I couldn't resist screaming at her: “The air force? The Aqsa branch? Why did you do that? Are you crazy?”
Her eyes mist over with tears. She continues: “I heard that my husband might be there, so I had to go and ask for him. I demanded him back. I asked about him. I yelled. But they threatened to arrest me, so I thought about our children and returned home. When my family found out what I had done, they were so concerned about me they pressured me into moving to Lebanon with my children.”
“But I wasn't able to live in Beirut. It is so far from Damascus. I live close to the border and my eyes are awaiting my return home. Pray for him, Marcell. Pray that he is still alive and that he survives this.”
I jokingly ask: “Will you invite us to the feast?”
She replies, with hope in her voice: “Of course.”
Wherever I look among the details of violence, blood and death in Syria, I come across crazy stories of love, brave as a rose stubbornly growing, despite the weeds and thorns trying to suffocate it. There are love stories in the passageways, defying the snipers who divide the city into two. There are love stories between the city and the refugee camps, and the towns on the Turkish borders. And there are armed rebels from the Free Syrian Army with girlfriends they cannot see until the regime falls.
This is what living on the edge means. You touch death and ridicule it as you hold on to life, as you add meaning by seeking out the smiles of those you love.
My friend, the heroine, notices me daydreaming as I play with a necklace given to me by the man I love. She interrupts my thoughts: “What's his story?” And I answer her honestly: “I believe he deserves someone better than me. The least he deserves is a girl he doesn't imagine has been kidnapped by death and chased by anxiety. He deserves a girl who has the optimism and stability of tomorrow, upon which to build a family.”
She laughs at me and the silliness of my thinking: “Do you think my husband would have loved me if I was less revolutionary?” she asks. I find myself embarrassed at responding to a question for which I don't have an answer.
Love alone glues us to our land, our future and our freedom. Otherwise, our lives would be even more difficult, filled only with vengeance and hate.
With our love for Syria and optimism for tomorrow, we will overcome the tyranny of oppression. We shall win.