Excerpt from: The Boy from Aleppo Who Painted the War by Sumia Sukkar (Eyewear Publishing - September 2014)
‘I can’t draw! There’s too much noise outside!’ I shout to Yasmine.
‘Adam, calm down and just continue Habibi!’
‘Yasmine, tell the kids to yes, yes, yes, stop making noise! They listen to you.’
Yasmine lowers her head. She does that when things are difficult to explain. I don’t like it.
‘Adam Habibi, you’re old enough to understand this is the beginning of a war.’
Mama never used to shout at me. It’s at times like these that I miss her the most. Yasmine’s fingers ruffle through her hair, her fingers look frail, just like the number one. I feel sorry for the number one, it seems lonely. So I think I feel sorry for
Yasmine too. Yasmine lifts her head up now. That means she is not upset. Her eyes look like the number eight, friendly and sad.
‘Yes I’m 14, does that make you happy Yasmine? What do you mean a war? Do you mean like in Dighton’s paintings? But I can’t see that from the window. Look here Yasmine, kids are just running around. No one is wearing uniforms.’
Yasmine closes her eyes. She looks green. She is usually ruby. That’s my favourite colour. I use it in most of my paintings. I remember when mama used to say I should never stop painting. She promised she would keep my paintings with her. But now they have to stay with me.
‘It’s okay Yasmine, I’ll just paint with the noise.’
Yasmine blows me a kiss. We do this to show our love. Before she died, mama told her that she should blow me a kiss every time she is proud or happy with me. Mama used to do that to me because she understood I don’t like people touching me.
‘Yasmine, do you like my painting?’
‘It’s lovely Adam, but why not try painting something new for a change?’
Yasmine always says this. She thinks I paint the same picture. I don’t. No two pictures are ever the same. It’s hard to explain that to her. She starts walking away, so I don’t need to explain anything. The colours are always different. I sometimes use pastel colours and at other times harsh bright colours. All the paintings have different feelings behind them. I wish Yasmine would understand this like mama used to. I feel content now so I use a lot of turquoise. I continue painting until it is time for Baba to come back home.
Baba comes back home every day at 4:48 p.m. He doesn’t even need to ring the bell any more. He knows I’ll be waiting to open the door for him at that exact minute. It has been like this for three years, ever since mama died. He looks more tired every passing day. The bags under his eyes are clearer now. I blow a kiss onto them every night hoping they will go away. I don’t like seeing him tired. Yasmine has the hot water ready for Baba to soak his feet as soon as I open the door. He is never a minute late and is always holding a bag full of papers to mark. When he is not too tired he even stamps them with colourful words like ‘well done’ and ‘excellent’. I like to help him when he uses the stamps. They’re fun to play with. Baba
sometimes complains about me playing with the elastic band around my wrist. He says the sound annoys him, but I can’t let go of it. It has to always be on my wrist. It helps me think.
Yasmine has made stuffed vegetables. It is the 26th of January and mama isn’t looking down on us today. I love stuffed vegetables: they are like a bowl of emotions because they are very colourful. I sometimes imagine the peppers arguing with each other because they all feel differently. ‘I feel melancholy in this bowl of food’, the red pepper would say. ‘Oh red pepper, how can you feel that way? You should be so angry that we are going to be eaten,’ the aubergine would frown. My imagination sometimes takes hold of me and I get louder.
Yasmine always brings me back, reminding me that we shouldn’t be too loud because Baba is tired. When Yasmine cooks six peppers, I know that mama is watching over us, because mama always made six stuffed peppers. Today there are five on the plate. This makes me sad, but it’s okay, mama is probably resting. She is ill and needs some rest. I sometimes wonder if mama eats stuffed vegetables and baklawa in heaven. I know they have a lot of yummy food up there but this is her favourite dish. Yasmine sometimes sighs and smiles a weak yellow smile when I tell her about how I know when mama is watching over us. I can’t explain why some things are true. But I am sure this is true. I don’t lie. The definition of a lie is an intentional false statement. It confuses me. Why do people lie? They say one thing, but it didn’t actually happen and so that means something else happened. So two things happened according to them but that doesn’t make sense either. Why can’t they just say the one thing that actually happened? My brain hurts when I think about it. I don’t understand some people.
A BBC Radio 4 drama based on the novel was broadcast this weekend and was featured in both the Sunday Times and Daily Mail as their Radio & TV Pick of the Week. Sumia Sukkar was also interviewed on BBC Radio 4 Front Row last week (in between Benedict Cumberbatch and Pink Floyd!) The show also featured a discussion on how the war is affecting the arts in Syria.