Door to Life

A DRAGON’S DREAM

Sitting there on the dock at the edge of the lake, with tears in her eyes looking up at a sky full of stars, she just could not give up her newfound obsession.


It started a while ago with John asking her: did you ever watch a dragon fly, chasing after it's dreams?


She was already high on adrenaline from winning her last modeling contest; she smiled fully and said: No, never, but how does a dragon chase its dreams?

-Oh you don’t. Ok then I will show you! He said with a slimy smirk. And that he did. It was her first introduction to crack cocaine …. The experience was magical. She felt as if she was flying high above the fluffy clouds, so happy and light catching those glorious shimmering starts. However, that dose was crazy, as she kept on going back for more. She could not stop. She knew it was wrong, she was trained to avoid drugs of all types. She knew quite well how bad they can manipulate your brain, and affect your body and physical health. She is a smart girl, or at least that’s what she thought she was. Definitely, she knew better. However, she could not, she wouldn’t stop. That happy fluffy flying dragon she rode the first time kept on calling her to come back for more, yet every time she tried, she wasn’t able to catch it.


Now there she was, on the dock, filthy, high, broke, and alone, very much alone, staring at the stars and hoping to fetch that dragon’s dream.

Lubna Shaban





The Swing


Somewhere, in the sheer destruction of what is now Northern Syria, where nothing meets the eye but ruins of buildings that once housed the hopes and dreams of parents and families. where children’s laughter used to fill the space with a message that tomorrow is coming for sure. he stood there with his bleeding shoulder and broken heart. He scanned the ruins of a building bombarded recently, searching. 

He was a gifted artist. He was a painter, sculptor, and author. He was well recognized within his community. His exhibits used to attract a wide variety of audience in the capital.  After studying a few years in Paris and returning to Damascus. he was able to establish a studio and a name for himself as one of the edgiest, modern artists. He was always able to criticize society, and the government at the same time without ever getting in trouble. This went on until the Syrian revolution swept the country in March 2011. Most of his fellow artists, musicians, actors decided to join the peaceful demonstrators. They just could not bear the injustice anymore. It was a call for freedom, but once it became an armed conflict most stepped out of the seen as the bloodshed taking place no are not acceptable and not what they were asking for.   He hesitated in the beginning. He feared for the life of his wife and newborn daughter. One day, he was walking home from his studio with a couple of his pupils when the regime’s soldiers opened fire on peaceful demonstrators right there in front of him. It was just too much for him to bare. He helped the wounded.  He looked up to see a security officer snapping his photo.  Oh, no this meant he was now a wanted man.  Sooner or later – probably sooner- The security forces would come to pick him up. He headed home and told his wife what happened,’ Pack” he said: “We have to leave now.” 
Since he is now a wanted person.  There is nothing he can do but grab his loved ones, identification cards, and take as much cash as he had available, and run. No one can help them. That was what he promptly decides to do. He avoids as much as he could the looks in his wife’s eyes.  At last, the taxi finally arrives.
He and his small family got in the taxi, but where to?  His friends advised him to head north, to Aleppo, where friends were, and stay there for a while. That seemed reasonable. On the way, he called his parents in the United Arab Emirates informing them of his journey. He spared them the details, hoping that no arrest warrant had yet been issued for him.  Too many roadblocks, and checkpoints. The trip that usually takes around three hours lasted ten hours, but nonetheless they finally made it.  He was too tired, and exhausted his daughter cried most of the time but they arrived now, and that was all that mattered.

His friends were kind and welcoming, but all that he needed was a shower, a cup of black coffee, and a cigarette. He just needed to absorb all the changes, and to think of what to do next? His friend had many questions, but he had no answer.  He just wanted to be alone for some time with a pencil and a blank canvas so that he could maybe start sketching what could be a map for their future life.  

The security situation in Aleppo was tense, even security forces started coming to ask for him. After only a month or so, and they had to escape to Northern Aleppo, closer to the border with Turkey, to areas where the Syrian Regime had no power anymore.  Still, they were bombarded on a semi-daily basis. Eventually, it became a part of their daily life. He was wearing his ripped jeans and faded black sweater, cutting wood for the elders. One would never recognize him as the same fashionable and trendy artist, fresh out of the posh fashion houses of Paris.  

He took it upon himself, together with a few of his new friends to teach the children and give them some stable perspective in their lives.  He became the Art teacher. Right there in a half-destroyed building, they collected some desks, and a board; they established a normal routine in the most unlikely place where planes might at any minute start bombarding their tiny village.  But they decided to cheat death and steal some joy. They wanted these children to learn about art and what being happy felt like in the midst of bloodshed, cold, hunger, and death.  Among the children, there was Talia, a five-year-old girl with blond braided hair. She always had questions for him, and always held his hand when she wanted to go home.  Talia was full of life and would laugh at every little joke. She enjoyed drawing so much. Every morning, she would be the first in class, asking him to draw things for her, to describe things and places she’d hear about but never knew.

On a Thursday afternoon of a brisk cold spring, the bombardment was heavier than before. It lasted all night nonstop until the early hours of the morning. Men rushed out to help the injured and bury the dead. Searching through the rubble for any survivors only to find the golden blond braids of Talia, with her body smashed under what used to be a window. He froze. He felt as if all the air had been sucked out of his lungs. Yesterday, just yesterday, she was shelling him with all her childish inquiries. He held her dear lifeless body close and tight. He wanted so much to cry, to scream louder than all the explosions of the missiles jointly, but even tears became so elusive for such a loss. He could not afford them. He murmured a few prayers and handed her reluctantly to her family.
It was time for class and he had to be there.  Teaching was extremely difficult on that day. Wherever he looked, he could see Talia’s empty desk, or hear her distinctive laughter. Yes, it was unbearably hard for him that day. The cruelty of life.  What was the value of a life that would deprive one of even the right to cry out one's pain and sorrow? Eventually, the school day was over, and the children left their classroom.  His mind drifted far, far away, and all that he could see was that beautiful little girl, sitting in her little corner. Teardrops escaped his eyes, leaving behind a burning trail on his cheeks. 
Suddenly, he felt a tiny little hand, grabbing his sweater. His eyes froze and so did his heart. He turned around to find Rein, with her ponytail and huge brown eyes, asking him gently:
"Mr. Fadi, would you please take me to play on the swing?" 
He inhaled and exhaled for a few times as if he had forgotten how to breathe. He was trying to grasp both the irony and agony of the situation. Where can he find a swing in this almost lifeless place? where the ghost of death inhabited the demolished houses? He remained silent for a few moments and then he finally said:
"But my dear, we have no swings here!"
Her eyes widened warning him that tears were close. He started cursing his destiny, the war, death and drew in a deep and heavy sigh. He patted her head and said: "Oh my dear, don’t be sad, OK? Can you wait right here for me? I shall go and find you a swing.  Just please do not cry." She smiled and off he went, a man on a mission.  "Now where would he go?" he muttered to himself.

He remembered that within the rubble of Talia’s house, he’d seen some rope that he could use. He ran towards it, and, while searching, a piece of that windows' glass cut into his right shoulder. It was an excruciating pain; He could not worry about the blood nor the shooting pain. Now, where was that rope?  He found it at last.  He made a makeshift swing in the courtyard of Tallia’s demolished home. There was the perfect tree to use for the swing. Soon Rein was singing and laughing as Fadi pushed her higher and higher. He did not know whether to laugh or to cry. He felt completely numb. The primacy was that she was laughing, and playing on her swing with her ponytail in the midst of the rubble, destruction, and death. As the echo of her laughter traveled high and surrounded the place, saying: Yes, there is still hope after all.     


 Written by: Lubna Shaban

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An outing:

Why do you want me to leave the house again?  Another drive around the neighborhood? running another errand? 
Well I am quite content here on my couch, with my coffee.  I don't want to feel the sunshine on my skin, I definitely don't want to remember how fresh air smells. I don't want to check my body image in the mirror when putting on my outfit. I don't want to go to work.  Let me be! 
Right here in my own bubble, a world of my own creation.  I don't need to remember that this body is not mine, the job suffocates my soul, and my daily chores feel like a hanging rope that I  never bargained for.  Yes yes.. I don't need to remember that nagging urge to leave, I don't want to leave all of you behind because this doesn't feel like my life. So please let me be, with my numbing pain killer, couch, coffee, and small window,  you see now you can stay and hold my hand and you shall be my whole universe.

Lubna  Shaban

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Biography
Lubna Shaban is a writer and social work professional. She is currently a Settlement Counsellor in Toronto, Canada, where she works with refugee claimants on their legal rights and assists them in establishing residency, employment or study in Canada. Lubna also works on outreach and connecting newcomers to Canada with local communities, and educating them on resettlement and cultural safety issues. She has certifications in counselling for mental health issues for refugees, sexual violence in refugee and migrant communities, and intimate partner violance.
Lubna has extensive experience in group facilitation, public speaking, and content production for public relations and corporate communications. She is a passionate writer about issues pertaining to women’s empowerment and overcoming traumatic experiences in both the English and Arabic languages.  

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