Nostalgia that we know for movies, novels, stories, was not something that I experienced before, nor did I ever think before that I will be amongst those characters who would experience that.
I was not far away from Deir Ezzor, in fact, I am still within its territory, it’s just that my situation looks like the one who is imprisoned within this feeling that was caused by my absence from my city, my lane and my neighborhood.
This feeling accompanied all the sons of Deir Ezzor who were forced to leave it, as clashes reached the city turning all of its parts including the part of the Euphrates River, which has never betrayed its sons, into military zones.
Reunion was the medicine that we all waited for since being away from Deir Ezzor was a mere disease and ecstasy. The pathway to reunion was never covered with roses. The gate of death was the only way in, the only way to enter into the city. This gate was known for its name given by the Baathist government- Al-Siyassiya bridge.
I used to cross the gate on a daily basis on my way to work. I would gaze at the trees of Al Huwayqa neighborhood near the Euphrates River and the minarets of the old mosques and the fronds of palm trees that were glimmering by the light the sun used to throw at them. A thought entered my mind which made me think that this city was the most beautiful creation of God.
I never thought that one day I would pass by the most beautiful place on earth and discover that it had become ruins and ravaged trees clothed in darkness, as there was nothing more left but the darkness. Only at that moment I realized what it means to go through a mix of emotions.
In order to reach the heart of the city, one had to cross Al Siyassiya bridge which was clothed in torn pieces causing those who did not know it that way to believe it was the clothing of terror.
We, the sons of the gate, knew it very well. For us it was not the clothing of terror, but rather a very close friend with whom we shared many tales of love and beauty.
It was 1.00 a.m, in light of the buzzing of bullets and violent explosions, darkness was the solely thing we had in front of us. The taxi driver knew what he had to do for his safety. He had to turn off all the lights of his car and put a part of a metal shield on it and warn the passengers not to turn on any light because the snipers positioned on The Suspension bridge near the bridge of Al Saiyassiya and the the Techincal Services building in Al Huwayqa neighborhood would spot any light and then target it.
After taking our precautions, we headed towards the gate. Not only did I miss the lights lightening the bridge but also that stunning beauty that brought comfort to the heart.
The sniper gunfire targeting our vehicle brought me back again to reality and determined my goal, which was to reach the center of Deir Ezzor. Upon my arrival I was overwhelmed with a storm of mixed emotions. What I remember is that when I set foot in our beloved city and breathed its air, I felt as if I was brought back again to life. Many things were ahead of me- the most significant was seeing my friends and brothers who had the honor to stay in Deir Ezzor. My beloved brother, Muhammad F. , and a friend of mine were awaiting for me.
I did not see them for several months during which we rarely talked on phone. The meeting was a smile, a tear, a pride and a farewell at the same time. Muhammad changed noticeably. He became a man with all characteristics that made a man be a man. Since his childhood, he was known for his strong personality and courage. The tough condition he went through in the city made him a real man even though he was only 25 years old. We did not sleep that night since he had a lot of stories to tell: the battles in which he partook and the atmosphere of war that Deir Ezzor witnessed, shelling, destruction, fear, hunger, siege, weeping; so many narrations he had to utter . “We attacked them in the Ghassan roundabout and managed to expel them. It was an aggressive battle that lasted from morning to sunset; we did succeed in taking over the roundabout.”
Happiness was drawn on his face. Along with a smile accompanying his words telling the story of hope for whose description I am not able to find the appropriate words.
Time passed quickly that we did not realize it until hearing Adhaan of Al fajr. In the morning, a friend of mine came to see me, and because I was impatient to see the lane, I decided to go out with him and to stop at the angle of the lane which was the same place where we used to hang out back in the days.
He was narrating the bloody wars, the outspoken massacres, the deplorable and dire conditions both the civilians and Deir Ezzor city faced.
His words were interrupted by an aggressive explosion that hit that area. He said, “It is distant, do not be scared.”, as he was trying to comfort me.
After seconds, something hit the poles near us and then the legs of my friend. It was a fraction of a mortar shell which exploded in the neighboring lane. I rushed to M.F. and told him about what happened. In response, he rushed with his motorbike heading to the area where our wounded friend was lying on the ground. Then, he transported him to a field hospital. After receiving medical treatment for his light injury, we gathered in the house of M.F, where we laughed hysterically.
After spending five days in his house, the sixth day he packed his bags, telling me that he was going to see his family. I heard him putting his bags in his truck. Then, he headed to his family using the only gate ( the gate of death); Al-Siyassiya.
At 3 a.m. my phone rang and I picked up the call. It was him asking me where I was. I told him I was in Hudhaybiyah. M.F. was targeted by a sniper on the Al Siyassiya Bridge and now he was in the field hospital.
I reached the hospital and found him lying in bed in an emergency room. I asked the doctor about his situation, and he responded to me with the famous sentence, ” We did all we can and the rest is for Allah.
“He is in a critical condition as the bullet is located in his skull. There is not much hope left. It’s determined by Allah, we leave it to Him.”. He spent 3 days in a coma. His situation made me feel as if I am in coma too.
The reunion with his beloved mother, spouse and the happiness which was drawn on his face; all of them were not destined to take place in his life’s chapters.
The third day , we passed through the gate which he considered to be the rope of reunion with his family, taking him to his beloved mother in grief and telling her that he rose as a martyr.
The man who used to fight on the front lines was not destined to have his end there, but his end was destined to be while passing through the gate of death. This was not only the destiny of his own self but also the destiny of the heart, nostalgia and whims.