Yalla tnam Rima.
Yalla yijiha elnaoum.
Dear God, may Rima fall asleep. May sleep come to her.
Fairuz’s voice hums softly in the background of my childhood nights. A lullaby soundtrack to simple prayers uttered, dreams and wishes made. Falling asleep to the words and the conviction that they will come true tomorrow. Some tomorrow, some day.
Yalla thibb el sala.
Yalla thibb el saoum.
May she love to pray and fast.
Yalla tijiha el ‘awafi, kil yaoum byaoum.
May she grow healthy, day by day.
Fairuz sings me across a bridge between two worlds in which I live. In the first I am awake, and life is imposed and real. In the other I am asleep, and I am free to dream.
Rima Rima elhinda’a,
shaa’rik ash’ar w mna’a.
Rima, Rima, wildflower girl,
Your hair is bright and blond.
W yalli habbik bi bousik,
W yalli baghadik shoo byitla’a.
Those who love you will be near and kiss you.
Those who do not will be kept away.
Across the bridge there is a city, where every time, I fall in love. With broad streets and yellow lampposts, a blue grey sky. With white doorframes and hardwood floors, tall glass window panes. Narrow staircases and accordions, oil paintings. There I read and write and dream by the river, live on love, fresh water, some wine. Book stalls, cafés. Museums, fresh bread. I love and am loved, have a family of four; we spend sunny summer days scouring countryside roads. Searching for adventure in an old white car, stopping for picnics, flying kites.
Wil tishtshi , eltishtshi,
Wil khaoukh taht el mishmshi.
I will take you on a little trip,
To a place where there are prunes beneath an apricot tree.
W kil ma hab el hawa la o’tof la Rima mishmshi.
And every time the wind blows, for Rima I will pick an apricot.
There is no sadness in my dream world. No disappointment or hospital beds. My lottery ticket always has the winning number, the weather is always warm. In this world I am not tired of fighting. I do not have to worry or plan. I am not scared of alarms going off in the morning; I know the story ends well.
The odds of winning the lottery are fourteen million to one, at best. The odds of life unfolding like a fairy tale, even more unfair.
Fourteen million to one are sobering odds. Odds the human brain has not really evolved to understand. Our ancestors learned the difference between one predator and ten. Between an enemy of a hundred soldiers and an army of a thousand men. But beyond that, ‘who needed to count the millions of stars in the sky or blades of grass in a field?’
To survive in the real world, we eventually had to, and did. We learned logic and probability, statistics, basic math. That winning the lottery is near impossible. Happy lives and endings, rationally mad. That dreams are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
Which is as thin of substance as the air
And more inconstant than the wind.
- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (Act I, Scene 4)
But through some evolutionary oversight, we did not unlearn how to dream. We still buy lottery tickets every week, and cross that foggy bridge each night. To that other world where we believe we will win and everything will be fine.
O blessed, blessed night! I am afeard.
Being in night, all this is but a dream,
Too flattering-sweet to be substantial.
- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (Act II, Scene 2)
To dream is to be set up for disappointment. What a cruel, painful thing to do. To blur the lines between two such different worlds, deceive our eyes and hearts with the fog. To cross the bridge, to fly away, and in the morning have to come back.
We could choose not to cross the bridge at all, many of us do. Survive in a nine to five, predictable world, a painless reality. No lottery tickets with the wrong numbers scratched, no hopes and dreams to let us down. But then we’d miss the possibility of old white cars and countryside picnics. The one in fourteen million chance of a rooftop view of the Seine.
We may not win the lottery, we probably will not. But nights without lullabies are just a change of light, and days without dreams are survival, not life.
Now life probably will hurt us. Certainly, in the end, kill us. But I will take those odds, and cross that bridge tonight anyway. If my parents ask for me, you can just say,
Khatafouni el ghajar min tah’t khaymit Majdaliyye.
I ran off with the gypsies, from under the tent of Majdaliyye.
- Fairuz, Yalla Tnam Rima