Triptych for Tarif (pre-election 2016)
He went to Dubai on a business trip from the US where he lived, and took a few days to visit his mother in Saudi Arabia. When he was a young boy, his family had moved from Syria to the US. Recently, his mother had moved to Saudi Arabia, having married a Saudi man.
As is the custom there, she now wore a head to toe burqa. He and his mother decided to go to a park and were sitting on a bench, conversing, catching up. Suddenly a big police vehicle pulled up to the street near where they were sitting. There were four men in there, with huge Kalashnikovs. They beckoned him to approach the vehicle.
"They were the ugliest men I have ever seen," he later recounted. My friend, the genteel, intelligent gay man from San Francisco. In Arabic, they asked him who he was, and he told them his name. "Tell the woman to cover herself!" they told him. Astonished, he pointed out that she was clad in a burqa and was covered. They pointed in the direction of her feet. He looked and saw that a small sliver of her ankle was visible. They were the "morality police"!
He walked back to his mother, shocked, and asked her to cover her ankle. The vehicle roared away. "How can you live here, mom?" he asked. "It's OK," she replied, "I'm used to it."
Come senators, congressmen please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside and it's ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a' changin'!
--Bob Dylan, winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature.
How could it all have come to this, she wondered.
I guess we do know. The presidential elections in the United States in 2016. It had been unimaginable that a most peculiar, unserious individual, a showman, hate-spewing in dangerous ways like dictators of years past, would actually win the election. But it had happened. Too many people had stayed home on election day in despair, had not cast their votes.
Many had feared that years of diplomatic efforts would be undermined by the more recent rhetoric. But it had been beyond anyone's wildest predictions that internecine nuclear warfare would escalate as rapidly as it had. And now there was no turning back. Saudi Arabia, where she lived, and its neighbors had been provoked beyond return. Who knew that so many nations had mature nuclear capabilities? Too many buttons had been pushed--figuratively, and more tragically, literally.
The destruction started at two epicenters in different parts of the world, from which concentric circles fanned unstoppably, obliterating everything they touched. The darkness was spreading, mile by mile. It would soon encompass everything.
It would all end in a matter of hours. She took a small tub and filled it with warm water. She put her aching feet in it and picked up her phone. She dialed her son in San Francisco. She had not seen him since his last visit, when they had had an encounter with the morality police. He too was a few hours away from the darkness spreading near him.
It needn't have turned out this way, she thought. But it did.
There was silence. It was not the silence of dawn, of hopefulness, of a new beginning. It was eerie, empty.
Before that, there was dust, debris, devastation, darkness. If anyone had lived to see it, she might have thought that the apocalypse looked as the movies had imagined it.
Before that, there was a roar that moved so fast that it knocked the life out of anyone in its path.
Before that, there was a strange twilight, as though someone had turned off all the lights. Something in the distance was glowing and moving closer, rapidly.
Before that, a man in San Francisco answered his phone and wept as he listened to a beloved voice say, "You are the most wonderful son a mother could wish for."
Before that, a mother in Saudi Arabia soaked her aching feet in the tub of warm water, picked up her phone and called her son in San Francisco.
Before that, two nations launched nuclear missiles across one another's boundaries. The nations were half a world apart.
Before that, an inexplicable hatred seized the hearts of many on earth.
Before that, people abruptly stopped listening to one another’s stories.
Before that, a woman thought "The enemy is someone whose story you don't know."