Companion of Brokenness


Nothing could be more fitting than a woman broken into a thousand pieces than looking after a dog with a deformity caused by a psychopathic beast.

26 October 2018

© SyriaUntold
Alice Al-Shami

Alice Al-Shami (pseudonym) is a Syrian writer.

Translated by: Naziha Baassiri

This story is the outcome of cooperation between Radio Souriali and SyriaUntold. Our readers are invited to listen to this story in Arabic.

Anan sits on her balcony alone, sipping her coffee and smoking one cigarette after another, faintly contributing to the clouds of smoke that coat the horizon of Damascus.

The 50-year-old woman has been living alone for four years. Utterly alone; without the husband who had been arrested by the Syrian regime in 2013 due to his political activism, and who died in prison due to a heart attack; and without her young son and daughter for whom she preferred residency in another country, away from security harassment, albeit at the expense of her longing and loneliness.

A well-off woman, Anan’s affluence did not prevent her husband’s arrest, nor did it ensure his release alive or his return from death. It helped her live a decent life, and sustain her luxurious lifestyle despite the economic crisis. It also helped her travel to visit her children whenever that sense of longing becomes unbearable. Yet she has always insisted on returning to Damascus. Her memories with her lover are all here, and as the years remaining are fewer that those that have passed, she does not want to be burdensome for her children. In addition, she has one or two friends who also remained home, and they consolidate her and keep her company in Damascus.

Depression, however, permeates her soul like black tar — sticky, dense, and smelly. Anan had never been a morose woman. Aided by her wealth, she used to enjoy her time exceedingly well, and she always looked ten years younger, exercising, taking good care of her beauty, and wearing the finest and most fashionable outfits. She used to spend pleasant holidays abroad and to take photos of herself. She used to visit her friends within the same social environment. Her days were always full, although she never worked in her life. Today, Anan looks at herself in the mirror, and she sees a pale, wrinkled face. She is unable even to smile. She only wears dark colors, and her once slender body is starting to get flabby, which only increases her melancholy.

She sits on the same chair for so long that she only feels it when she loses the sensation of her feet. She follows the news, or aimlessly switches TV channels, watching five minutes of this series, then another five of that, before she turns to her phone and scrolls down her Facebook newsfeed and watches its videos until her neck becomes stiff. She takes out old photo albums from time to time and cries, reminiscing about life before these tragic years. She holds onto pictures of herself, her husband and her two children, in denial of all that has happened, as if it were a nightmare that refuses to end. She wishes to be committed to a job, or simply be an employee forced out of her house every day. Perhaps then she would have broken her relationship with that dreaded chair. She waits for anyone to knock on her door, though when a visitor or the cleaning worker comes, she shudders, recalling the moment that security agents broke into her house and dragged her husband to the car, with no consideration for his age or high social status.

 A friend once advised her to see a psychiatrist saying: “All the Syrian people are living on medicines, you’re not going to be the exception.”

The doctor prescribed her medicines, as expected, and Anan began taking antidepressants every day. She did not feel better, but she noticed some numbness, which led to constant absentmindedness. This was so constant that her mind was no longer sufficiently present to put out the cooking fire, or to remember what she was going to get out of the fridge after she opens it, or to think back where she had placed her keys, her glasses or her bag in case she wants to leave the house on one of her rare outings.

“What happens if I take all these drugs at once?” Anan envisages. Nothing forbids her from doing that, except her love for her two children, and her unwillingness to make them grieve over a mother who committed suicide after the death of their father in prison.

On a summer day, Anan opened the door to her son, who was visiting her in spite of her warnings not to take such risks, especially that the Syrian security forces were keeping an eye on the entire family. Her son was carrying a little white puppy.

“Who told you I want a dog in my house! Do you think I’m capable of looking after dogs? I’m barely looking after myself!”
“Consider it mine and hold it in trust for me. And try one month with him.”

A week later, Anan’s son left the house and left her with Bruno. Bruno was a small Bolognese puppy, more like a moving toy. In fact, Bruno did not stop moving and following Anan even when she went to the bathroom. Anan never liked animals, or more precisely never bonded with them before. Domestic animals create a commitment that restricts movement, just like small children. You can neither take them everywhere, nor can you leave them alone at home, and moreover, you have to meet all their basic needs. Little by little, Anan stopped forgetting about feeding Bruno, or about changing his water. She felt compelled to leave the house once or twice every day to take him on a stroll where he embraces nature. Whenever he wrecked something in the house or made a mess in one corner, she would chastise him like a mother chastising her child, then rearrange and clean up the place. Everything in her life became about Bruno. When her son called her she would often complain: “When will you take Bruno back? I can’t stand him any longer.”

“Tomorrow, if you want,” the son laughed.

“That would’ve been great!” a composed Anan replied. At the end of the night, however, when Bruno sits in her lap, giving her that typical doggish look of unconditional love and loyalty, she forgets her conversation with her son and abstains from raising that issue for several weeks, until Bruno messes up something and makes her angry again.

Bruno managed to energize the house and helped Anan regain her ability to laugh. There is nothing in the world more amusing than watching him play with something, or jumping insanely during his peak hours of activity. There is nothing in the world that matched the overwhelming feelings of love and warmth of him enjoying her company and sitting at her feet after a gratifying meal. Anan now has another reason to cling to life a bit more. What would happen to Bruno if she was hurt?

On one picnic outing with Bruno, he ran a few meters in front of her and waited, shaking his tail enthusiastically. “Wait for me!” Anan shouted, walking quietly towards Bruno. She had no idea what was about to happen. A reckless teenager wearing huge combat boots suddenly kicked Bruno, throwing him several meters in the air, before he fell on his head and began screaming with a terrifying howl.

For a moment, Anan stopped breathing, her feet paralyzed, then she rushed to Bruno, whose face was covered with blood and teeth splattered on the ground. “You’re a monster! You’re crazy!” she held Bruno while screaming in amazement at the snickering teenager.

“Don’t you know that having dogs is haram?” the teenager uttered, taken aback by her reaction.

Anan took Bruno to the vet, with his blood covering her clothes. His teeth were broken, and so was his jaw, while his left eye was completely blinded. The veterinarian did what he was capable of doing in his clinic, but Bruno needed a more sophisticated surgery. Anan traveled to Beirut with Bruno, who underwent expensive and complicated treatment. He passed the risk stage, but he eventually became a disfigured, one-eyed toothless dog.

Anan’s psychological defenses almost collapsed, and her depression attacked her violently, creating a profound sense of antagonism against all human beings. But she collected her strength, prevented herself from collapsing, and refused to give up Bruno for a moment. She kept feeding him with a dropper, mashing his food, giving him painkillers, putting water in her hand for him to drink, consoling him and apologizing all the time for her failure to protect him. His groaning was indescribably painful to her, and it made her stay up tirelessly to ensure his wellbeing. This continued to be the case for weeks, until Bruno recovered. Bruno no longer thought of the eye that he had lost, or his missing teeth, or his face that was no longer symmetrical.

Bruno continued to play, constantly drawn to things on the right side. He continued to overwhelm Anan with love, and to fill her time with caring. She no longer let him run too far from her in the street, but she did not deprive him of excursions. She did not care about people’s mockery of his strange appearance, nor did he. For Anan, nothing could be more proper for a woman broken into a thousand pieces than looking after a dog with a deformity caused by a psychopathic beast? There was no other person in the whole world for Bruno. It was a feeling she would never exchange for the most precious thing in the world. Bruno, the weak disabled being, was stronger than all the national and foreign-made drugs to which Anan had once resorted. He still lives with her until this moment, and they still make a scene everywhere they go together. Unconditional love still brings both of them together. Sometimes, Anan thinks of what will happen to one of them if the other one dies. These dark thoughts haunt her from the old days of her depression, but she tries to expel them and think the way Bruno thinks, unconcerned about the future, and absolutely absorbed by living his day—as best as he can—with someone he loves.

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