I racconti del Premio Energheia Europa

National enemies_Nisreen Naja, Tripoli(Libano)

_Story mentioned Energheia Liban 2011.



“Ladies and gentlemen, please make sure your seat is in its full upright position. Make sure your seat belt is fastened. And please turn off all electronic devices until we are safely landed. Thank you”.

The voice of the flight attendant startled me.

Oh! I think I slept the entire flight!

My seatbelt was already fastened because I haven’t budged for the past three hours or so.

My book was still wide open but my bookmark was gone.

The plane parked safely at the gate. I grabbed my hand luggage and headed toward the crowded unfamiliar Fiumicino Airport.

Thank God I have my red suitcases! I thought to myself.

I fetched my suitcases quickly and stared at my watch longer than necessary. It was 1:00 pm where I came from and around 12:00 pm Italy time.

I glanced at the huge glass windows. It seemed like a beautiful May day. I walked a few steps and stood in the noncitizen custom queue.

This will take forever. That guy would better speak English.

I mumbled.

As my brain juggled processing all kinds of sounds: announcements about arrivals and departures, conversations in uncountable languages, baby cries, and several more; I scoured for my Italian-English phrase book.

Passport, music player, wallet, earphones, arghhh! Where is that book when I need it?… Here it is.

I went through it, trying to remember a few words I had memorized.

“Quanto costa?” How much does it cost? “Grazie”. Thank you!

I threw it back in the bag as I moved forward in line. Two expressions were enough.

I had to find something fun to do while waiting, so I started watching everyone around me attentively. This has always been a bad habit: observing people, aiming to find weird attitudes, looks or facial expressions. I’ve had this crazy irrational thought forever: if I pay attention to the eccentric ones’ behaviors, I may be able to solve a crime or a robbery.

But it appeared to be a slow day for me. I could not spot anything extraordinary. A fat man devoured his chocolate bar in a blink of an eye. A lady flipped pages in a magazine impatiently, while her husband was asleep. A boy played with his toy plane and his mother chatted on the phone. And on the bench, a couple held hands and cuddled.

Newlyweds? Rome is a nice place for a honeymoon. They could visit the famous fountain, throw in a few coins and wish to live happily ever after. I sighed involuntarily.

Was there something I was trying to burry inside, deep inside?

Well, that was the main reason I went on this trip. ALONE!

To find out whom I wanted to be, what to do with my life and so many other questions I constantly ask myself.

You have plenty of time to think now! You have got to start something, somewhere!!! Just try to find out what you like most.

In my head, my father’s babbling voice was starting to float on the surface. I had to drown it many times but it kept coming up. Finally, I was able to tune it out.

This is my life. I choose how it goes! I want to learn from my own mistakes. A voice from within me resounded.

As I was chewing the inside of my cheek and battling with my inner self, I breathed fervently.

My eyes locked with a pair of beautiful green eyes in a round white face.

Oh Lord! She is so pretty. I have never seen such a beauty!

After few seconds, she turned her head but I was unable to look away. It took me a couple of minutes before I could think straight.

Stop staring at her!!! She’ll believe you’re a freak!

At last, I was able to gather myself and I stopped contemplating her.

I glimpsed again after a little while. However, sadly, she was oblivious to me. She was laughing and talking with someone. That’s when I noticed that she was not alone. Two other girls, that I quickly peeked at, accompanied her.

They all seemed like tourists. In their hands were brochures and maps. One of them was looking at signs, possibly checking directions.

They could be friends because they all have the same age.

But they can’t be family since they don’t look alike.

She is by far the most charming one between them.

Her jeans fit her perfectly shaped body. Her top showed her flawless curves. Her brown straight hair fell down on her back like silk. Her small nose centered her face beautifully.

Her thick black eyelashes emphasized the dark green of her eyes. Her radiant smile lit up the airport. Or at least, the part where I was standing.

Then, I allowed myself a brief internal monologue.

I bet if she could compete in an international beauty contest, she would MOST probably win.

Well, I guess I am crushing on a girl I just saw. Stupid me!

I grimaced. I couldn’t tell where she was from. No special features were apparent!

She could pass for a French girl, an Australian, an American.

I’m not sure. Maybe I’d better narrow down possibilities.

That’s easier.

All of a sudden, I was pushing people and taking their turns. I was temporarily deaf, blocking out all types of complaints. I broke rules, courtesy rules as well. There was an old lady in line. I moved past her.

Nothing made sense. I was dying to get over with the waiting.

The bags I had, they were all set at the beginning of the queue. I gave my passport to be stamped and I quickly raced to the other side of the airport.

My mind wanted to cross to the place where she was standing.

I couldn’t explain why.

It’s like there was more gravity coming from that particular spot of the Italian airport. I was pulled towards her, as if she had strange powers. She attracted me like a magnet. I was the North Pole and she was the South Pole.

What’s happening to me? I stood still.

I started gnawing on my lip, lost in my imagination. I pictured myself touring Rome with her exploring the city and admiring its wonderful sites. Its culture and its architecture made my thought more vivid, colorful and romantic.

In my head, I was happy. I was actually thrilled.

We would have a candle light dinner in a small bistro downtown, with a red checkered tablecloth. A special rare wine would be served. I would make her laugh.

“That sounds great”, I said aloud with a wide smile on my face.

A woman passing beside me glowered. She might have assumed I was a crazy human being.

She wasn’t completely wrong. I may be going out of my mind. I can’t be thinking about dining with her if I haven’t talked to her yet.

C’mon… Put up the nerve and go talk to her. Introduce yourself.

I took a step reluctantly. A faded crease was drawn on my forehead because of anxiety. I wasn’t comfortable.

Abruptly, I pulled my bags and moved faster. I got ready to go talk to her. I was well prepared mentally. At last, I wanted something. I was positive of that.

As I walked, my brain activity hit its peak. Ideas were crossing it like monkeys swinging on trees.

Buongiorno? Good morning? What should I start with?

Should I tell her that I like her? Would she run away? Yeah, of course she would! I’m sure she will be repulsed. What am I thinking? A complete stranger in a foreign country, speaking to a young lady, would be something frightening for her!!

“Shalom”, I uttered unconsciously.

After a small portion of a second, I realized what I had said.

Your very first mistake!!! You’re overseas! Speak ENGLISH!!!

So I added immediately: “Good afternoon, I couldn’t help but notice that you need help. Are you looking for a specific place?”

I was playing the role of the hero, guiding lost people, in a place I didn’t even know. I acted more like a broken GPS.

But that was unimportant.

“We want to go to the train station inside the airport. Do you happen to know where it is?”, one of her friends responded instantly.

Puzzled, I examined all the signs as fast as I could. Luckily, I had read in my book once something about it. And I found it.

I pointed to the correct sign, trying to pull a confident expression on my face.

“You should go left. It’s over there”, I said grinning.

And then I heard music to my ears: her soft voice. She met my gaze and said: “Thank you”.

I shook her hand and announced my name. “I’m David”.

She looked straight into my eyes with red stained cheeks and replied: “I’m Leila. And these are my friends Jasmine and Sara”.

“Are you here on vacation?”, I asked.

“Yes, we are very excited to see Italy. It was very kind of you to help us”, she answered.

I did it!! I spoke to her! I chuckled.

She turned her head and talked to them. It was a long sentence.

It sounded more like a question. I tried to decipher what she spoke. It was a mix of languages: perhaps French, and another one.

Then all my contentment disappeared: I recognized the other language. We were obligated to learn it in school. I could only remember its basics.

ARABIC! I concluded. She speaks it a little bit differently though.

This word brought back so many memories and pictures.

They weren’t happy ones. I winced. We were raised to understand that language, for reasons bigger than me and bigger than my mental capacity.

By the time I was finished analyzing, they were moving in the direction I had indicated. I followed them and interrupted their conversation: “It’s nice to meet you all. I’m also going to the station, so join me if you like”.

Leila smiled and dug in her purse. She took out tickets and many folded papers and started distributing them to her companions. But she dropped something.

I bent immediately to pick it up. It was her passport.

I was suddenly out of air. I felt a pang in my heart. My brain shut down for a handful of seconds.

We were ‘National Enemies’.

They bordered us from the north: the most agitated part of my country. Their side wasn’t peaceful either.

That small squared travel permit destroyed my hope of finding true love. It felt like a dagger in my stomach.

I looked up and thought. This is the first time I was attracted to a girl! Why her?

I had no answers to any of my questions. I cringed.

I went through all kinds of options in order to be with her. I could lie about my nationality and confess everything when I am certain of her love.

But I can’t live a lie, and I can’t hurt her!

Or I could tell her the truth right away and accept the consequences.

As I got up, I recalled the reports I saw on our national television. There were many regional issues. Border clashes and violations of airspace occurred. Wars broke out between us. Thousands of their citizens were killed. Houses were bombed and burnt down to ashes.

The worst thing is that it’s NOT even over!

And afterward I realized that I cannot cut across the “Blue Line” and simply love a girl from that neighboring country.

A line was demarcated to stand between us. I wasn’t allowed to cross over, even if I wanted badly.

So should I forget about the entire thing? I thought angrily.

I haven’t done anything to deserve this sort of torment. I was innocent; my only mistake was being born on that land.

What should I do?

My decision was made.

I handed her the passport. I tried to read her eyes. I held her smooth hand as long as I could. I had so much to tell her.

However, I turned my back and walked away.