When the boys playing ball saw the fancy automobile approach, they stopped their game and fixed their eyes on these strangers visiting their neighborhood.
Shepherded by her husband, Ali Jibran, Tha’ira descended from the Mercedes in front of a dilapidated three-story building. They left the driver in the car to wonder what could have brought them to the most renowned center for Qur’anic healing in the city.
The couple disappeared through the low entrance, which was enveloped in shadowy gloom. Their driver took a deep breath and replaced the cassette of Qur’an recitations by al-Qariti with a cassette of songs by the singer Ali al-Anisi. He pulled a pack of cigarettes from under his seat. With intense satisfaction he began to smoke and sank into delightful daydreams.
The chicken vendor’s stacked cages combine manure and death. Flatbread browning in the baker’s oven wafts smoke and flour. Metallic hints of thrown-out bean cans, misty exhaust of diesel trucks, heady tangs of eucalyptus trees. Even from inside our house the smell of fire is usual, from water pipes for smoking dried fruit and tobacco, whiffs of the neighbor’s incense, a sniff of matches and candles each time the electricity blacks out. Once we watched neighborhood kids chase after a rolling tire set afire, orbiting whirls of black and flame until the blaze consumed the tire, which wobbled in circles, then lay motionless on the ground. Children watched while acrid plumes of soot spread, lingering bitterness infusing the air.