Fireworks

I still have this vague memory at the back of my mind. I was very young, three or four years old, when we went to see Abo Nawass. I remember being very tiny standing between the legs of older, much taller people on the bank of the river Tigris in Baghdad and catching a glimpse or two of these shiny colourful stars spreading in the dark sky. With each glimpse everybody clapped and I heard cheerful sounds of those taller people. I was annoyed as I could not see properly why they were clapping and why those stars kept appearing and disappearing and why they were so colourful and beautiful. There were other sounds of bombing but everybody seemed not to be worried about that. I never knew what or when exactly that occasion was, to the extent that I think my rational mind distinguished this little exciting memory as a dream I had once had. I certainly had a dream or two even as a teenager or an adult when I saw myself short again among taller crowds who were trying to catch a sight of these shining stars and hearing these cheerful sounds. And I would wake up frustrated that I did not get to see these lights clearly or know what was really going on. It was a happy event that I could not catch, a shining light that passed me by. Later on I realised these were ‘fireworks’. In Iraq we heard about such events but never saw them. Now as an adult, to have the chance to witness fireworks is something to look forward to. My first experience of fireworks here in the UK was within three or four months of my arrival, but again I couldn’t catch sight of them. I fell asleep after a long day of studying. It seems that during sleep I stop being in the UK; my soul or this shadow being goes back to Baghdad, in order to rest. That is because I am used to sleeping with my mother, father, brothers and sisters in the rooms around me. In that environment, no matter what happened outside, I would still be safe. That night, and in my sleep, I heard these loud explosions that rocked the little window of my small studio. I startled awake, eyes wide before falling back to sleep thinking there had been another car exploding nearby and poor those who happened to be nearby. ‘Baghdad is becoming more dangerous every day’, I thought. I would wake up in the morning and ask my brother who the victims were and I prayed that those who I know and care for were safe. All this happened in that state of reverie, not completely awake, not asleep. When I actually woke, in my bed, looking around me, I realized that I was far away from home and that what I had heard the day before was real and in the UK. The following day was a misery. I waited to hear the news of terrorism following me to the UK, but there was nothing. I followed the news and checked the streets around my house as I went about my day. Everybody seemed calm and completely normal. I asked myself if it was just me, having dreams of Iraq that were so real they could wake me up in the middle of the night? I phoned an Iraqi neighbour in the hope that the conversation would lead in one way or another to whatever I had heard last night. In the UK they have this festival of fireworks that starts from late October through to November. I was warned there would be fireworks every night. ‘Too late, good friend, they got me,’ I ended the call with a smile on my face and tear drops on my cheek. Fireworks! I kept on hearing these sounds every night for a weeks, just as my friend had said. And every night I did not dare go near the window to see what was happening outside. I covered my head with a pillow, trying to stop these noises. It was only last week on the south coast of the island that I saw the famous fireworks. It was dark and I felt cold on the little side of the hill we climbed to have what we call a ‘ring seat’ with the best view of the endless sea. I sat with my sister, niece and some friends. The water was shimmering with city and harbour lights which hundreds of people had gathered to watch. We waited and waited for an hour or two until at last the excitement of everybody exploded with the first shining light in that dark sky. Like colourful flowers they started exploding one after the other. I couldn’t help the shy smile on my face watching these lights, so clear and colourful that the night shone with the beauty of what we can make. Though my face was smiling and my shy clapping disturbed my silence in the middle of this noisy crowd of people, my heart had jumped with the first explosion. I looked around to see if there was any girl or boy who could not see what was happening so that I could offer help, in order to release this little girl from her cage. But we were on the edge of a hill and everybody was tall enough to see. After a while, the lights stopped capturing my attention and the sounds became louder and louder, until they started to reverberate in my chest, from inside my heart. I closed my eyes and saw destroyed houses and shops; women and children looking for loved ones in smoky crowds. I opened my eyes to see cheering men, women and children laughing and enjoying every moment of that sound. I closed my eyes again and heard the cries of these women and children for their lost fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons. What was and wasn’t real? The same sounds and the same crowds, but in my head a smoke darkened day. Somewhere on the far other side of this ocean, out from where I come are dark days. And here where I was standing was a shining night. Are they blessed and we are cursed? We left the side of the hill and walked along the seaside. I had seen the fireworks.

Alyaa A. Naser