RR

Zaman

ZAMAN1) زمن :"a time, season, or period. In this case, "bad times."

Characters

Yousef Early twenties.
Ali Early twenties.

Lights up on Yousef who is making the best of the balcony in his abandoned mansion in Syria. It is dusk.
He unstacks two bamboo chairs and places them facing the audience. Between the chairs, he places a low table. He looks for a rag to dust off the furniture, but when he cannot find one, resorts to using his bare hand. He takes a bottle of arak, a bottle of water, and two glasses out of his backpack and places them on the recently cleaned table. When satisfied with the arrangement, Yousef turns on an old yellow Toshiba radio and puts it on the table. Mahmoud Darwish’s poem 2) “Those Who Pass Between Fleeting Words” “رلام عابك يون فرعابˮ  crackles through. Yousef accompanies this with the nervous clicking of a lighter between his fingers. He looks out on the horizon somewhere above the audience’s heads.

Ali enters.

 

 

ALI

You’re here.

YOUSEF

I’m here.

ALI

Your parents have been calling your friends to ask if they have seen you.

A pause.

Your phone is off.

YOUSEF

I knew you’d look here.

He gestures towards the extra chair, the arak. Ali sits slowly.

ALI

I couldn’t lie to your mother. She was so worried about you.

Yousef lights a cigarette. 

YOUSEF

Mmm…

ALI

People are looking for you, brother!

YOUSEF

(smiles)

What a coincidence!

A short pause.

I’m looking for Yousef, too!

A pause. Ali has just noticed the view: pleasant and deeply meaningful. We might see through his eyes: olive trees, the Mediterranean Sea, a road.

YOUSEF

It’s my favorite time of day. You know what I think of with every sunset? The fall of—

ALI

(finishing his sentence)

Heroes. Yes, I know. Just let it go. Your tragic mentality is suffocating your soul.

YOUSEF

I don’t define it as a tragic mentality, but a realistic one. Can you give me one single reason to be happy?

Ali motions for Yousef to give him a cigarette, which Yousef does. Ali lights up.

An uncomfortably long silence as they smoke.

ALI

What are you thinking about?

A pause.

YOUSEF

Palestine!

A short pause.

They both burst into laughter. This is the funniest joke to them.

ALI

(still laughing)

I’ve forgotten how to find it on a map. Cheers!

YOUSEF

(laughing)

And what is that for? The bloody days?

ALI

Ha. For the relief of stress, my friend, for the relief of stress

Their laughter is slowly killed off. 

YOUSEF

Here in Syria, they teach us from early childhood to believe in Palestine. “What is taken by force, cannot be reclaimed except by force.” Abdul Nasser’s famous motto was fed to us. We used to read Mahmoud Darwish’s poems in class, and at the end many of us would cry without even knowing the meaning of the words.

A short pause.    

ALI

Do you remember what I used to draw in art class as a kid? Each time the teacher gave us the freedom to draw whatever we wanted, most of us drew a Syrian tank destroying the furious Israeli Merkava.

He laughs.

Oh, poor childhood. We were so thick.

What happened to us?

YOUSEF

The famous line of 1967 has been replaced with a line linking Aleppo and Damascus, my fellow. This is why you’ve forgotten about Palestine. It has been such a long time since I listened to some of Mahmoud Darwish’s poems. I have abandoned all of his words and replaced them with a few simple hours I spent in church with God; I hope He truly exists.

A short pause.

YOUSEF

It’s the Syrian war, my friend, where atheists believe.

ALI

It has been five years! I’m always reviewing the events in my mind.

A pause.

Zaman.

YOUSEF

Hmm.

We forgot about Palestine simply because the front became much closer to our houses.

A short pause. 

ALI

Zaman! 

YOUSEF

Hmm.

ALI

Do you remember back in 2011 when the crisis started? Do you remember back when we were in high school…

Ali’s voice trails off. 

YOUSEF

It’s Yousef and Ahmad. Right?

Ali takes a deep breath, nodding.

YOUSEF

See? This is why I’m lost. I’m fed up with misery. My present is dead. My future is unknown, but based on what’s going on, it can’t be much better than this. What’s left for me is only memories, my early childhood. Even if you remember the school days with your friends, you feel sad. Every-one has either died or travelled to some European country. Aren’t you sick of tension and worry? When was the last time you felt safe while walking in the streets here? Everyone thinks that our city is safe just because they didn’t hear about it during the Syrian crisis, but it isn’t true. Can you find a pole without a martyr’s picture posted on it?

ALI

This shitty war has changed everything.

Uncomfortable long silence.

He picks up the glass, raising it as a temporary solution, and points towards the arak.

Are you tipsy yet?

Yousef laughs. 

Damn, you lucky Christian. You can drink all you want and no one says anything to you.

YOUSEF

Cheers.

They drink. 

ALI

You know what I hate the most? We started asking each other about sects and religion and political background. Are we really that dumb? Why didn’t we learn anything from the Lebanese?

YOUSEF

In school they used to separate us into two groups during religion class, but we never found out what the difference was! Sometimes when a teacher was sick and didn’t show up, we joined the Muslims in their class. My dad always said, “Religion is knowledge…too.”

ALI

Your dad also said, “Pretty colda” when you asked him how many ice cubes he wanted in his arak.

YOUSEF

So?

ALI

So?

YOUSEF

What do you mean “so”?

ALI

So are we going to stay like this? What are we going to do?

YOUSEF

Nothing, we’ll do nothing except watch and wait till the dust covers the fire. We might be able to make a difference by then, but not now. While Kalashnikovs are falling into the wrong hands, we shall remain silent or an ignorant bullet will simply end our life. And for me, I would like my death to have a meaning.

ALI

Yes, yes, the fall of a hero.

YOUSEF

Shut up.

Long silence.

ALI

We were born in the wrong time. I don’t know where we are heading, brother.

Here Ali quotes the Imam Ali in Arabic. The actor might choose a different quote every performance.

Insa.3) Forget it.  

Yousef offers Ali another cigarette.

YOUSEF

Take a cigarette!

ALI

Since when did you start smoking so much?

Yousef places the unwanted cigarette back in the pack.

YOUSEF

Since I started facing problems I couldn’t solve.

A pause. 

ALI

How is your life in Beirut? Did you get some rest from the political issues here? At least you are not in the middle of a war zone.

YOUSEF

Ha. Beirut gave me the chance to live alone with no friends. I read a lot. I know myself better now.

ALI

That sounds great for the first while. But knowledge nowadays can be a double-edged sword.

YOUSEF

Surprisingly, I regret being a “knowledgeable young man.”  With each and every single book I read, I wish I never grew up. I’m just discovering the dirty box we used to live in, and the worst part about it is that you can’t do anything. No one respects your knowledge. It’s your enemy now and no longer a weapon. I wish I could return to my ignorance. My only worry back then was how to dig the deepest hole in the garden.

A short pause.

YOUSEF

What about you? How does living here in Syria feel after everyone left? Everyone, that is, except you, my loyal mate.

ALI

I don’t know. It’s more like living in a foreign country. Even the streets have changed, so what do you expect of humans? I have found some ways to release stress.

YOUSEF

Yeah?

Ali nods.

ALI

(tapping on the glass, referring to alcohol)

He is taking care of me

He laughs. 

And its price is still affordable. Did you find a woman in Beirut?

YOUSEF

Once I fell in love, but she rejected me just because I was Syrian. Another lady wanted to be with me, but I didn’t want to waste her time. I didn’t know if I was going to be around. When I told her that, she thought I was an asshole and started throwing around rumors about me.

ALI

Why, where did you think you were going?

Yousef doesn’t respond. 

ALI

Just go and hit on anyone. And have fun.

YOUSEF

I can’t have a serious relationship with a Lebanese girl; they have a very different mentality. A couple of years from now, I will travel to Germany, and there the problem will be much more complicated. Do you think I’ll return at the age of thirty-two and find the girl for me?

ALI

What do you mean?

YOUSEF

Stress relief ? Girls? Cigarettes? I smoke and prefer to hurt myself over hurting people.

A long silence that is interrupted by the booming whistle of a train passing. Yousef jumps up and looks out to the horizon to catch a glimpse of it. 

YOUSEF

I thought they retired it!

ALI

Yes, but people are too poor to pay for cars. So it’s back.

YOUSEF

I used to vomit at the end of every trip on that train, but something inside me is nagging me to get back on.

ALI

We will miss this place one day.

YOUSEF

I have already started missing this place. Everything has changed except for the landscape. I hope it doesn’t change.

ALI

Cheers to the old days, my friend.

YOUSEF

To the old days.

A pause.

He used to drink the whole cup in one shot remember?

Yousef pulls out a white handkerchief from his pocket.

YOUSEF

I still have his handkerchief. He forgot it at my house once, and I didn’t want to keep it. Now, I always carry it in my pocket.

ALI

We should be prepared.

YOUSEF

(rising)

Let’s go, my friend, we should go back home before it gets too dark.

ALI

You are going back after all of this?

YOUSEF

You don’t think that one day I will be one of those people who changes the order of life?

A pause.

I’m just a kid who wants a ride on the train, no matter how sick it makes me.

ALI

What?

YOUSEF

Nothing. Just wake me up when the Kalashnikovs decide to fall asleep.

Yousef begins to walk away, but Ali doesn’t budge. 

YOUSEF

(looking out on the horizon)

Aren’t you coming?

ALI

Maybe one day.

Yousef walks away from Ali, his attention already somewhere else. The train is heard in the distance, closer than before. Ali watches Yousef depart, unsure of what to do until a spark of excitement passes through his body, igniting him to follow his friend. He looks around, downs some more vodka, and while readying himself to take off, pauses. Slowly melting back into his usual rhythm, he sits down. The sound of the train is furious as it passes by. Ali ignores it as he takes out a cigarette and begins to smoke. 

Blackout.

Contributor
Fareed Arnaouk

Fareed Arnaouk is a 22-year-old Syrian Electrical and Computer Engineering major at the American University of Beirut. From birth until the age of 18, he lived in the humble coastal Syrian city of Tartous. Although he has a scientific approach to life, he also has a modest tendency towards poetry, literature, and tragic novels. He is passionate about writing as a second track in his life. Zaman is his first piece to be published.

Footnotes:   [ + ]

1. زمن :"a time, season, or period. In this case, "bad times."
2. “Those Who Pass Between Fleeting Words”
3. Forget it.
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