Free Verse by Jasmine Warga
I t is almost summer and everywhere smells like fish, except for right down by the sea
where if you hold your nose just right
you can smell the sprawling jasmine and the salt water instead.
In the summer, I always hold my nose to avoid the stench of fish and
tourists that smell like hairspray and money and French perfume.
The tourists come from Damascus and Aleppo. Sometimes even Beirut and Amman.
Once I met a man all the way from Doha.
I asked him about the big skyscrapers that I have heard reach all the way up to the heavens,
but Baba hushed me quiet before the man could answer me.
Baba does not like for me to talk to
He does not want me to talk to anyone that I do not know
and even people that I do know he always says,
and so I bite my tongue and it sometimes tastes even worse
than the way the summer fish smell.
Everyone is saying that there will be fewer visitors from Aleppo this year.
That there is no one left in Aleppo to come.
That everyone who could leave Aleppo already has. When I ask Mama if this is true, she says,
O ur city does not look like what they show on TV of Syria.
I remember the first time Fatima and I saw a story about Aleppo on the news. We felt proud.
I know that is strange to say, childish maybe —
it felt strange even then —
but it also felt like the rest of the world saw
But our city does not look like Aleppo, before or after. It is not sprawling and noisy with buildings
pressed up against one another
like they are crammed together in an elevator with no room to breathe.
Our city is on the sea. It sits below the mountains.
It is where the rest of Syria comes when they want to
No one is going to come this year, Fatima says.
And I wonder if that is because there is no one left who needs to
F atima is twenty-four days, six hours, and eleven minutes older than me.
She did the math.
Fatima hates math, but loves when she comes out on
We have always been friends.
Mama and Aunt Amal have known each other since they were girls.
We live across the courtyard from them and sometimes when I was little,
I would squeeze my eyes shut at night and pretend that Fatima and I
were dreaming the same dream.
When I was little, it was easy to imagine that. Fatima and I were always in step,
four feet pointed in the same direction.
But the last few months have been different. Fatima feels kilometers ahead of
me now. Her dark curls aren’t on display anymore, tumbling to her shoulders
in unruly waves that remind me of laughter. Her head is wrapped in silk scarves
that are bright and colored like jewels.
She is one of the first girls in our grade to cover. She has bled between her legs.
I am still waiting
To feel like I have something worth