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  • I still remember that day, even though I was only five, and only learnt the significance of it years later. I was in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and I vaguely remember that when Dad was leaving, I asked to go with him. He’d told me he was going somewhere for grown-ups, but I kept begging. In my head, Dad was going to the corner sweet shop, but didn't want to take me because I would pick up too many sweets and chocolates. Eventually, though, he said yes, and so there I was.

    I sat in the back seat of the car behind my uncle and Dad, who was driving. A grim silence had dawned upon the vehicle, and all I could hear was its engine roaring. We passed the sweet shop and I stared wistfully outside as it flew past. I wondered where we were going, but for some reason I didn't dare ask. There were barely any other cars outside. Who would want to leave their lovely, air-conditioned houses to this enervating heat?! I can’t begin to comprehend why my father did, but at the time it hadn't mattered. Every day was a good day for an outing to me, then. I knew of no such thing as weather. I only recognised being cold, being hot, but never too much of either to go out and play.

    I looked outside the window up to the sky. A cloud or two were scattered across the blueness. I remembered how just a few weeks ago, I couldn’t even see a hint of this beautiful shade of azure, replaced instead by thick, grey clouds. “How can the clouds just come and go?” I wondered. I had it in my head that maybe that was why it rains, because maybe the clouds are sad to leave each other, so they cry. Where do they go, though?

    “Daddy, what happens to clouds?” I asked, finally breaking the hush of the atmosphere.

    “They turn into rain,” he answered quietly.

    “How?” I was genuinely curious.

    “It's a long process, you’ll learn about it one day when you go to school,” he said. “They basically travel in the sky until they're too tired of carrying raindrops inside them- that's when it rains, and then they go away, giving the chance for other clouds to come instead.”

    I thought how nice and kind the clouds were, carrying water droplets inside them for so long, and then letting other clouds try, too. Maybe it’s like when Mummy gave me her Barbie dolls. She had taken care of them for a very long time and then she passed them on to me, so I could take care of them after her. But then, the clouds are probably nicer than Barbies. Barbies don’t taste like candy floss, as I imagined the clouds would.

    We finally arrived. I got off the car and walked, my hand in Dad’s, and we passed through a gate of iron bars, their black paint peeling to reveal the rust beneath, as the effect of long years took its toll on them. There was a large expanse of sand, not the soft, beautiful orange type, but the type with coarsely chopped rocks. There were rows of small rectangular hills. I was scared, even though it was broad daylight, something about the place frightened me. Maybe it was the smell of dust, or maybe it was the quiet, holy peacefulness that I wasn't used to. I am still not entirely sure.

    ‘Daddy, where are we?’ I asked.

    ‘This is the graveyard, honey,’ Dad answered. I wanted to ask him what those little hills were, but then I saw my uncle make his way over to one of them. He stood there for a bit, and then a tear escaped his kind eyes and silently fell on to the sand. He was the first man I ever saw crying. I looked up at Dad with wide eyes. Deep sadness was etched into his forehead, in a masterpiece of twisting wrinkles. I didn’t understand.

    ‘Daddy, what are those mountains?’

    ‘They are not mountains, Majd. They’re graves,’ he answered, still not looking at me.


    ‘That is where our dead go. We put them in their grave and pray for them to go to Heaven.’

    ‘People die?’

    ‘Yes, when someone’s time on earth is over, they leave. They go to see God.’

    ‘Is that a bad thing?’

    ‘Not if you are a good person.’

    ‘Why is Uncle crying?’

    ‘Because he lost someone.’

    ‘Can’t he go look for them?’

    ‘No, honey, they went to God.’

    ‘Can’t he ask God to get them back?’

    He looked at me now. ‘Sweetheart, dying is more complicated than that,’ he explained, looking somewhat regretful for taking me to this alien place, the graveyard. ‘You can’t bring someone back when they die. You can only help them by praying for them to go to heaven.’

    ‘Who has Uncle lost?’

    ‘His daughter, your cousin.’

    ‘Hamss?!’ I didn’t understand much of what Dad was saying at the time, but what I did understand is that when they go, they don’t come back.

    ‘No. You haven’t seen her. She was his first child. But she died when she was just your age.’

    Dad looked back at Uncle. I looked at him too. He was staring down at that mound of earth. I remember wondering how he knew that’s where she was, when there were so many other… graves spread across the landscape.

    I looked around once more. So these hills are graves. People lay inside them. Dead. They don’t come back. So many rows. Do people come visit them, too, like Uncle visits Cousin? They must be very lonely. I let go of dad’s hand and walked a little.

    ‘Don’t stand on the grave, Majd.’

    I realised I was standing on one of those hills. “I am on someone’s body,” I thought. I shrank away, scared that maybe they’d be angry that I walked on them. I walked back to Daddy, and slipped my hand back into the safety of his.

    I remember thinking, if I had to be in that tiny space without my mum, I would start crying. It’s funny, now, but I remember how seriously I thought about asking my mother to come into the grave with me, if I ever died.

    ‘Dad, will I die?’

    ‘Everyone dies,’ he said, with a hint of sadness in his otherwise calm voice.

    ‘Even you?’ My father was the strongest man I knew. How could someone so strong just die?

    ‘Even me.’

    I kept quiet. I didn’t cry. It didn’t strike me as a very sad thought at the time. If my father was going to meet God, then that was a good thing, because Dad was going to heaven; I just knew it, at the time; and then I too could die and go to see him.

    ‘Daddy, is Cousin going to heaven?’


    ‘Then why is Uncle crying?’

    ‘Because he misses her. He wishes he can see her.’

    I thought hard about this cousin that I had never met. Would she have been nice? Would she have let me play with her toys? I didn’t know, and I was too scared of upsetting Uncle by asking. It struck me that cousin was just like the candy floss in the sky. She had just left without saying goodbye, but maybe she thought she was being nice. Maybe she thought if she stayed, there would be no space or toys for her little sisters to play with. I wished I could speak to her, tell her that it’s okay to come back, that I will share my bedroom and Barbies and even my Mr Cuddly, my teddy bear, with her. I whispered to her inside my head, but she never replied.

    Then Uncle was back, and as we were leaving, I flashed a backward glance at the place. The graveyard. I silently prayed that the kind, candy-floss-like people would not be very lonely, and that they would go to heaven.

    That visit to the graveyard had been haunting me for years after, in the strange way that memories you can’t quite let go of tend to haunt you. I wanted to make sense of this strange memory. I had a feeling that if I looked deeper into it, I might just find the hidden meaning I’ve been searching for. The day I lost my 3 year-old niece was when the bitter reality of death struck me, and I remembered my trip to the graveyard. In that moment, I realised the significance, the meaning it took me so long to find. Had I not clung to my father that day, I would have learnt the hard way that death takes away my beloved ones. I had already been accustomed to that at the early age of five, though. My dad probably only agreed to take me because he knew I’d never forget that strange little trip, and he was right.

    Note: the photo is one I found online and not of the graveyard I went to as a little girl, so my description of the graveyard may slightly differ than the picture. It's difficult to get a photo of that one, since we live somewhere else now.
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