Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Letters to a dead boy

Nada Hammad | 06-02-2016

To the little boy who died a few paces down the street from my house during the summer 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza: You are forever on my mind.

Dear dead boy,

I don't know who you are. You and I have not met, and now we never will. It is very sad, knowing I have lost the chance to meet someone, to get to know him. It makes me wonder wither I would've liked him or not. I'll never know now. The only time I saw you was when you were lying on the ground, drenched in blood and dirt; a canvas of reds and browns.

I remember your mother came screaming from your house, asking for help from my brothers and cousins. She was screaming that her baby was shot, her baby was bleeding, and somebody, please for the love of God, come take her baby to the hospital. I don't think she was aware of the tears running down her cheeks, or her trembling hands and wobbly knees.

I cannot say, dear dead boy, that I know you would've made a great man. Who knows what kind of a man you would've turned into? No one knows this. What I do know, though, is that you were loved. I bet your mother loved you to bits and pieces. They said that after they buried you, she refused to throw away or wash the clothes which had your blood on them. She wanted to keep a part of you with her, she said. You are still loved, dear boy, I hope you know this. I hope as you are looking down from above you realize just how much.

I hope your heaven is a safe house with your mother's voice as its jukebox.

Sleep well.

Whenever I think of the little dead boy, I imagine him in heaven. (Photo by Anas Jnena)

Dear dead boy,

It's been a while, hasn't it? I hope you're basking in heavenly bliss and keeping an eye on your mom. She's getting better, I guess. But she still misses you. You can see it in the way the smile never brightens her eyes fully anymore. The way she looks at young boys your age and her eyes glaze over for a bit, as if seeing you, as if imagining you there.

I still miss all the things I could have known about you but haven't had the chance to. I remember you in shades of brown and red. Always red. Beautiful honey eyes and a mischievous smile. Pink lips stretched over mismatched teeth.

She still has your shirt, if you were wondering. The one painted with your colors, covered with your scent. She never shows it to anyone these days because no one understands. She knows you're gone, but she has a right to every piece of you she can keep. She smells your shirt often before going to bed, so she can dream of you. I hope you've been keeping her dreams happy. Always look out for the prayers she sends you. She hasn't called anyone else habibi [my love] since you left. She never says your name anymore, just habibi. She always says, “he took my heart and left.”

I hope you're enjoying the new company coming your way these days. A bit older, aren't they? It's been a bit rough down here. Maybe more than a bit but I'm sure they'll tell you about it. Keep them company, dear.

I hope your heaven is a jukebox with your mother's voice as its soundtrack.


Photo by Rasha Ghobayen

Dear dead boy,

Every time death squeezes itself into the equation of life like a variable one must use to get the answer right, I think of you—of  all the happiness and beauty you never got to see or feel, the warm embraces you never received from your mother, the stories she was never able to tell you, her half-hearted scolding and her proud looks.

I think of you often, you know. Every time death knocks on someone's door I see you vividly. Drenched in red and painted dust brown: It is the biggest cliché of all to say you were beautiful even in death, but the truth is you were. Sublimely beautiful. Heart-wrenchingly beautiful.

They're saying goodbye to new young men—boys, really—and I thought I might send you a note with their souls. Take care of them, dearest. They're brave souls and you will be fast friends, I'm sure.

Your mother still thinks of you often. Whenever a new martyr's name is announced, her heart skips a few beats with her sadness for the mothers. Your shirt is her tears' favorite hiding place.

Always keep an ear cocked for her prayers, love. She sends them often.


Photo by Rasha Ghabayen

Dear dead boy,

It's winter. It's freezing cold these days, not that you'd know. I bet it's tropical, sunny-side-up weather all year long up there. Enjoying yourself, I hope.

Your mother misses your warmth in the cold of night. She keeps remembering the way you'd tiptoe to her room and snuggle wither under the mound of blankets on her bed. You'd press your cold toes into her feet, even though you know very well how much she hated it, how much she hated the cold.

She's doing much better now. Still misses you a fair deal, still cries a little here and there. But she's getting better. Grief is the strangest thing. It worms its way into your heart until there's a pathway for it to come back when you least expect it. It intensifies with the need for warmth. Her warmth, her home is loose paneled after you. It leaves room for the chill of remembrance to blow through. She's getting better though. She is.

Keep her in your prayers, dear. I hope your heaven is a home, with your mama's voice as its warmth.

Sleep well.

An estimated 530 children in Gaza were killed in the Israeli assault during the summer of 2014.


Posted: February 5, 2016

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