A state of estrangement stole my heart and found its way through my breaths. I could not describe it. There, between the bricks of isolation and the bars of prison, pathways are stretching open, and malaise takes over my soul.
Wounds presumably hurt, every time memories knock my mind. I wish I could travel to the world where my beloveds live. Their pictures had always jumped up to both my eyes and my mind. I used to recline in my bed, surrounded by endless darkness, grasping their pictures. I always smelled them. I cried. That is the picture of my youngest son. I was teasing him. He was only a month old the day I was held captive. And that one is Sojoud. She is more like a young woman now, even though I could not keep up with her energetic life — the life which was full of hope and pain.
How many times did I disperse my dreams over their bodies? Never had I imagined myself parting from them. Twelve years of prison, however, count! I used to start off my mornings while looking at their pictures. It was a sense of nostalgia. At nights, I used to spend my time looking at them, smiling. I had always wondered whether they got used to life without me. Am I now merely a number, which is shadowed by a life sentence? Questions have always pinched my thoughts. I could not have answers though. And I could do nothing but pray to Allah to break my fetters.
I was imprisoned by both memories and wishes. I used to relax after the Maghreb prayer, meditate and pray to Allah to make my dreams come true. Once a fuss was heard! We all rushed to one another. We investigated about the fuss nearby. And then, we learned that five and a half years of crazy waiting were yet to end. And many prisoners were about to join the world of the living. We waited for hours. They were like ages. Then the news was confirmed; a swap deal was approved. Eventually.
Smiles were drawn all over our faces; we laughed; we hugged each other; we cried; we were re-born. Few days later, names of the freed were leaked. What a moment! One prisoner could fly because of happiness, while his fellow prisoners were crying. We were like strangers. We imagined ourselves out, hugging people with no old photos or worn-out letters in our hands —people who had long been memories for us.
The day my life changed started off with a heavy dawn. I could not handle it. The images of unification had filled myself to the fullest over the past 12 years. We were transferred to the buses at the end of last bus station. We were thrilled. Or better overwhelmed. The taste of pleasure was odd that time, even though we had shed tears of farewell. We cried for our fellow prisoners, whom we left behind in prisons. We reached Ofer Jail. I sighed, as we could smell the scent of Ramallah and the odor of thyme. I exhaled, since I could glance the shadows of far-off Ramallah mountains. Our glimpses slipped through the narrow, steal windows.
Time had come. I cannot describe the moment shackles were taken off my hands. I stepped a bit forward. I stopped. Then I made more steps forward toward a life, away from the narrowness of the prison room and the toughness of the steal bed. No more numbers. No more transfers. I could not believe that my body was embracing freedom. Light lit every cell of my body. I stood still, wondering. All the way to Al Bira, I thought it was a dream. My heart beat faster. My nerves were frozen. Waiting worried me.
The landmarks changed. Trees numbered more. Numbers of lights mounted downtown. I could not stare at them; my soul and my eyes were attached to five faces I felt eager to have a glance of. I was lifted up to shoulders. Women were ululating, and I was looking for my children amongst the faces. I was scared that I would not be able to recognise their gestures. I let my heart search for them, instead. Suddenly, a mature girl surged to my chest. She was as tall as I. Tears tiptoed to the edge of her eyes, and then burst to her reddish cheeks. I did not need to look at her face to check her identity. My heart told me it was my daughter Sojoud. I stretched my arms wide-open, and I shed tears of happiness. I could not lisp a word. I waited so long. Very long. Truly long. I clutched her hands tightly, as if I was anxious about farewell again!
Bassam Al Natsha, Palestine