We stayed at the door all night, until finally Saif’s father came looking for him. I told him he was asleep and I didn’t want to wake him up. He felt Saif’s forehead and cheeks with the palm of his hand while tears streamed down his face. It was the first time I’ve ever seen a man cry, but I still didn’t understand why, or didn’t want to believe it.
My mother took me inside and asked me about how Saif got there and why we were sitting outside. I couldn’t say anything, and she gave up quickly. She slid her hand down my face and then started saying things about life and death, things I’ve heard before but never thought I would need to think about. I was confused and asked her why she was telling me all those things, and that I must go to see Saif because he was very ill last night. I told her that he must be better now because he was sleeping soundly and his fever went away.
“He’s dead” Noura’s voice came out of nowhere. “Don’t you understand? The boy is dead!” Her eyes were red and misty.
“Don’t say that!” I found myself screaming at the top of my lungs.
Noura gave me a look of pity and then turned around and walked to her room. I looked at my mother, waiting for her to say something.
“She’s lying, mom, right? She is a liar! Saif isn’t dead! He was talking to me when he fell asleep, I know he’s not dead!”
She looked at me with teary eyes for a moment as if looking for something to say. Finally she hugged me tightly and said one thing.
I broke away from her embrace and ran outside. I kept running until I reached Saif’s house where everyone was gathered and I could hear women crying, and then everything turned black.
When I opened my eyes I was staring at the ceiling in my room, and I could hear my father talking to my mother about some funeral. He said it went fast but it was the most heartbreaking thing he’d ever witnessed. Just then I realized it was Saif’s funeral.
I don’t know how long I’d been unconscious, but as soon as I came to my senses it hit me that all those people were wrong. Saif wasn’t dead. They just thought he was like what happened to Abu Ashour. And then a wave of panic swept through my body.
“Saif was buried alive. He’s now alone there under the ground, where it’s dark and cold.”
I didn’t waste anytime. I left the room through the window so that my parents won’t stop me and try to convince me that Saif is dead again. I ran and ran until I reached the graveyard. It was just before sunset, and the place was dreadful, but I felt nothing. All I wanted was to dig Saif up from under the ground.
I started looking for his grave, his name must be on it like all the other graves, but I couldn’t find it. Then it occurred to me that it couldn’t have his name on it because it’s still new, so I found the only grave without a name and starting digging in the dust.
“Don’t worry Saif, I’m here! I’m going to get you out”
I don’t know how long it was before I felt a huge silhouette towering over me. When I looked up, it was none-other than Saber, standing there like death itself.
For some reason, I felt no fear. I didn’t panic. Instead, I stood up firmly and looked keenly at Saber with flaming eyes.
“He’s alive. I know he is!” I yelled, filling the awkward silence in the air.
“Why do you say that?” Saber asked patiently.
“Because… because there are still many things I want to tell him!”
“Layla, I buried him myself, he is gone”
“How can you be so sure? You buried Abu Ashour too but he was alive. I saw him open his eyes, Saif saw him too!”
I was expecting a reaction of shock and surprise from Saber, but he only shock his head as if he knows everything. I started to suspect that he knew Abu Ashour was alive and buried him nonetheless. It scared me, and before I could think of running back home as fast as I could he took me by the hand.
“Come with me”
I wanted to shout; after all this was the man that has always inspired fear in everyone and he was grabbing my hand and I had no idea where he was taking me. Yet I didn’t shout, for I still hoped he had something to tell me about Saif, or maybe Saif was still alive and he was hiding him away, then decided to take me to him when I told him I knew everything. It was the first time my hopes conquer my fears.
We kept walking until we reached the water spring, but this time there was a painful familiarity about it. I never thought I’d be back here again, I never pictured this place without Saif around.
He sat on a big rock and I sat beside him, waiting for him to say something. He looked at the reddish sun almost touching the face of water, and then a moment of silence he turned his face towards me, it had a sad glow about it.
“Do you know why I became an undertaker?”
I shook my head.
“My father was an undertaker. He was a good man but everyone avoided him. They were scared of death, and he symbolized it, at least in their eyes.”
“Is that why you became an undertaker? Because you like to scare people”
“No!” He chuckled. “That’s why I didn’t want to. Yet, when my grandfather died I helped my father preparing him for burial. After we were done washing him and while we were wrapping him with white sheet, his eyes slid open. I panicked and started shouting that he’s alive, but my father calmed me down and explained to me that he was dead, and that his eyes opened as an involuntary muscle movement. He said that his body was now like an empty vessel, he was no longer there.”
“So, that’s what happened to Abu Ashour? He is really dead?”
“Yes, he is. But, like you, I kept dreaming about my grandfather and thinking, what if he was really buried alive? That’s when I decided to become an undertaker, to be there to make sure that when someon’e is buried, it’s just an empty vessel.”
I let out a sigh that gave away my deep relief. “What about Saif?” I asked in a near whisper.
“He’s fine, don’t worry about him.”
I kept looking him in the face as if I wanted to hear more. He then reached out and picked a dandelion that was swinging in the wind nearby. He put it in my hand and made me lay it flat.
“But, this is Satan’s eye” I exclaimed
“No it’s not. It’s just a messenger that’s carried with the wind. Now, close your eyes.”
I did as he said. No questions.
“Now I want you to think of all the things you want to say to Saif.”
I took a few moments. A wave of memories came down cascading before my eyes. Nimrah, the letters, Dalila, Siwar, Noura, the dandelion, the watger spring… and then in a spontaneous move I blew at the dandelion, and as I opened my eyes I saw it flying away with the wind.
“He will be fine.” Saber said again, in a more solemn voice this time.
I kept following the dandelion as it disappeared in the horizon, and with it everything disappeared: the fear, the guilt, and the uncertainty. For a moment there, everything was fine, and without any other thought in my mind I leaned with my head on Saber’s arm, and cried.