Tartous is as charming in the rain as when basking in the sun. It has been a long while in the waiting. Winter has fallen dry this year. The good earth is thirsty, the stone walls, the lonely trees, the narrow alleys, the souls of men. Then a flash of light pierced the sky and thunder shook the ground. Rain had come at last and as the downpour flooded the streets, ancient memories floated swiftly in the gullies of the mind.
I was a little kid again, unwillingly marching to school. I made it in a soaking parka and muddy rubber boots. In threesomes, we huddled close together sharing wet wooden desks. The cold classroom was meagerly illuminated by a couple of feeble light bulbs. The pompous teacher proudly walked in and ordered us boys to open our books to page seventy three. He was the master within the confines of a single book. He had been regurgitating its content ever since he was appointed for the thankless job. A bovine preaching a flock of parrots for twelve years in anticipation for one ultimate test that would either make or break their future. The bell rang and the herd released. The grubby streets became fields of dreams, the showers enhancing the joy of the experience. We played marbles in the mud while slowly eating soggy falafel sandwiches at a quarter of a Syrian pound each. The ten-minute walk home took at least an hour. We made a detour and headed to the corniche by the sea. Sneezing, coughing and wiping mucus with the back of our sleeves, we sat on the rocks and let the spray of the breaking waves cleanse our minds from the rubbish of brainwashing. The seagulls were sweeping the sky above searching for a bite to eat. The froth was murky and the surge carried logs and debris. It also brought discarded treasures from distant ships. The bigger-than-life Sea was our way out someday. Unlike our peers from the inland most of us broke free at eighteen. The implanted desire to travel, to reach the other invisible coast was overwhelming. Even among the best of parrots at school, those who scored high on the Bacalorea exam, the craving for the voyage was irresistible. We would rather cross the Atlantic then be left high and dry in Damascus or Aleppo.
As the years have gone, I remain an outsider in my own country once I cross the mountains shielding Tartous from the east. While the rain bathes my balding head, notions of a new journey seduce me, to board a ship and leave to a new shore where I am not a stranger among strangers. In the company of pipe-smoking fishermen and tattooed sailors of different tongues I can laze in a small café by a harbor in an unfamiliar city and feel right at home. I would be gazing at the chimneys of ships taking to the sea, dreaming of my Tartous and the day I shall return.