A Night Tale – a true story

Michel Kilo1

8 October 2012

Suddenly, the door of my cell in the dungeon was open. It was around 3:00am. The security man ordered me to follow him. After about fifty steps, he opened the door of another cell, and entered before me, holding my hand, and pulling me behind him. He removed the blindfold off my eyes, and whispered to me: “I will come back an hour later to return you to your room” (in Syrian prisons, the solitary cell is called “Room”). He pointed out to an empty corner and said: “Sit there, and narrate a tale to this little/child boy.”

In that narrow place (2m x 2m), there was a woman in her thirties. The security man got out and closed the door, ordering me not to talk in a loud voice lest any of his colleagues would hear me, and then a disaster may occur which could see both of us sent to Tadmur [the most notorious political prison in Syria, located in the desert in the East of Syria].

I saluted the woman. She did not reply. She was besides herself and sitting bent double in fear as if trying to protect herself from an imminent danger. I told her reassuringly: “do not be afraid sister; I am also a prisoner, like you.” After a brief silence, I asked her how long she had been there. “Six years” she replied.

I looked at the little boy who was four years old and understood that she conceived and gave birth to him in prison. I asked her why she was in this state security branch. She replied as tears started flowing out of her eyes: “A hostage.”

I sat in front of the child and asked him what his name was. He did not reply. His mother told me that she had not named him yet, because he had never been registered in any civil records, but she called him “Anis2“.

I said while holding his small hand: “I will tell you a tale, Anis. once upon a time, there was a bird, a colorful bird that was really good at singing”. He interrupted and asked me: “what is a Bird?” I was silent for a while, and then decided to change the story. I said: “The sun was rising over the mountain”, but his facial expressions indicated exclamation and incomprehension.

His mother said: “he has never ever gotten out of this dungeon cell, so he does not understand what you are talking about”, then she burst into a wail and could not control herself anymore.

I was puzzled, not knowing what I have to do: narrating a tale to this boy is an impossibility that can never be achieved, or consoling a Mother whose dignity has been violated, and the years of her life were being lost in this stifling place, along with a little boy, who she does not know who his father is, and one day, that she does not know when will come, she will leave this place with her son to a world that will never show any mercy to both of them.

I was frozen in the corner far from her, my tongue unable to say any word, so I sat there beside myself. After a while, the prison guard came to return me to my cell. He opened the cell’s door and when he was assured that none of his colleagues had seen us, he asked me whether I narrated a tale to the child. When he saw my tears, he closed the door, and left.

(1) Michel Kilo is a prominent Syrian intellectual figure; he was jailed for many years by the Assad regime because of his political opinions, and his opposition to the ruling regime.

(2) Anis, the name of the child boy is symbolic and ironic at the same time. His mother called him “Anis” because was the only human being that was consoling her in her solitary confinement. The name itself denotes consolation, good accompany and a social personality.

Original article in Arabic

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