13th of June, 1947
Today is a very special day. A jewish family is moving into our neighbourhood for the first time, and it is also the day I started keeping this diary. I am the youngest boy in my neighbourhood and it gets very lonely when the older kids leave me behind, so I am hoping this new family has any children for me to play with.
I spent all seven years of my life with my father, listening to news about the war, and the horrible things that have been happening to our jewish brothers made me sick and it made me happy when they were finally free of german tyranny.
I couldn’t understand why my father and the elders of our town were angry about these war victims taking refuge in our country. Hasn’t God instructed us to take care of our fellow man when he is in need of help? In any case, I am glad to welcome new people to our community and I hope they finally find their peace with us.
16th of June 1947
Our new neighbours moved just down the street in a small house that used to be empty. I finally convinced my father to go with me and greet the newcomers. I was very pleased when we reached their doorstep and I saw a boy around my age looking at us through the window. My dad knocked the door and the little kid bolted away, and after a minute or so, his dad opened the door with him holding tight to his father’s leg.
My dad greeted the senior with a hard look I still couldn’t understand, and after introductions, I found out the little kid’s name was Noah. I took him by the arm and we got to talking on the street as our fathers entered the house. He was timid at first, but slowly he grew more comfortable as he told me about how his family ended up here.
He had a card game he told me about, and he was happy to teach it to me. As he stood up and started running inside to bring it out, we heard shouts from inside the house and my father stomped his feet through the front door and spat on the house’s porch. Noah waved his hand at me as my father took me by the arm to our house.
24th of August 1947
I have been meeting Noah secretly for a couple of months now, as both our families clearly did not like each other. This has been a common problem in our town, Muslims and Jews fought often over matters I genuinely did not understand.
In any case, I didn’t care. I spent my days hiding in the bushes with my best and only friend Noah. We sat for hours playing cards and telling stories, giggling softly so that the elders did not find out about our friendship. Our uncles regularly warned me about my friend’s family, using vulgar language to describe people that have done me no harm. I wish it was different, but I could not do anything about it.
Today was a bad day. I was with Noah in our usual place, hiding between the trees. He was trying to teach me Hebrew as a fight broke on the street near us. We started sneaking peeks through the leaves and to our mutual horror, Noah’s dad was beating my youngest uncle senseless on the pavement.
I was very scared as I saw my uncle’s blood flowing down the street and I couldn’t move a muscle because of the shock, I never thought it would be this bad. I looked at Noah, and he was as scared as I was. We were both so afraid to be seen here, but I was more afraid for my uncle’s fate. I prayed silently for his well being.
When people heard the fight, they started streaming down the street and that is when Noah’s father ran to his house and Noah followed him secretly through the trees. I was overwhelmed. Women started crying around my uncle’s body, and I started crying too. I hoped they were wrong, that he was alive, that there was no cause to cry. There was much I didn’t understand, but I knew that I was not going to see Noah for a very long time.
13th of June 1950
It has been three years since I found the will to write in this diary. The death of my uncle was the first and least of the violence that took over our village. A huge conflict has split up our entire country based on religion. Jews and Muslims are at each other’s throats for dominion over the land. They even want to change our country’s name to Israel. I could not fathom how they would think it to be rational, thousands of dead civilians just for basic etymology.
Israeli militants are raiding our town to protect murderers like Noah’s father, who faced no consequences for his crimes. The hate I felt for him was so intense that I rarely spend a night’s sleep without reliving that day in my nightmares. But I never blamed any of it on Noah. He was a child, same as me, and his father’s crimes were not his. I have never seen him since that day, I assumed he was afraid. I missed playing with him, but I knew there was no way I’d play with him again, not after what happened.
It is pointless to say that today was also a bad day, as we have seen few of the good ones since the last entry in this diary, but it was one of the worse ones. I was walking to our house when I saw from a distance an Israeli military vehicle just outside our door, and heard the screams of whom I presumed to be my mother. I ran as fast as I could to see what was happening.
Of all the horrors I witnessed for the last three years, nothing broke me like this one. Soldiers were attacking my father with the butts of their rifles as others were throwing our belongings out on the street. Hate rose through me and I did not know what I was doing until it was done. I rushed to defend my father and one of them hit me on the back of the head like I was not ten years of age. I sat whimpering on the floor next to my father, who for the first time since my birth, I saw helplessness in his eyes.
Sadly the soldiers succeeded, everything we owned was on the streets and we were lying next to it not knowing what to do. Half an hour went by in a miserable confusion, until a truck came in with the belongings of another family. My eyes can barely focus through the pain, but I recognized them as they came out of the car and rage overtook me like a plague. Noah’s father started unloading their things from the back of the truck and Noah came to help him.
I considered him a friend, and he came to steal my home. My eyes watered as he looked right through me with near dead eyes, I was a ghost to him, a waste of space. I finally understood. They did not come as refugees, they came as conquerors and we were closer to animals than to humans in their eyes. I feel like this diary will not feel ink for a long time. I only pray that our struggle does not last.
25th of September 1961
I haven’t seen this little book for a while now. I guess it would not hurt to write another entry. Reading this I actually felt silly. Now I feel desensitised about what happened, it has been my daily life for the past eleven years.
After getting kicked out of our old homes, our family split up and everyone went to live with a relative. No one would have supported all of us because of how small our houses were. And even those houses now feel like a blessing from god. Eventually all of our houses were raided by Israeli scum and we were homeless, until we were driven to Gaza where we spent more time beneath the ground because of the constant bombing.
I learned how to kill not soon after. At first it felt unworldly, I never thought before once in my life that I would have to take another man’s life, but now it just feels like duty. Along the way, I lost uncles, cousins and my father who died the day we fled to Gaza. I left a piece of my soul in my old town and Noah, the kid I thought was my friend, laughed at us through the window of my old house with his father.
We never counted how many we killed, we were too busy counting how many of us died. Death followed us through the tunnels under the city, we got sick and died for lack of medicine. And if we try to seek a habitable environment, we get gunned down like animals or flattened by bombs that never seem to end. We sometimes get the chance to take some of them out with the little resources we have.
Our numbers dwindle more each passing day. It is hard to fathom the feeling of extinction until you actually start feeling it. I wake up every morning thinking I might be the last one standing. I wouldn’t know, but I imagine dying would feel easier than the constant worry about everyone around you. I wish I could call my brethren a family, but how could I? Families live in houses, go to work, study, go on vacation. We live to kill or be killed. We are an army that learned to fight out of desperation and hope for survival.
I wish that I have written more on this book. My life feels safer in between these pages, it does not seem as brutal without the horrific images and sounds that seem reluctant to leave my night’s sleep. I also wish i lived long enough to write at least one more entry, an entry where our people are free of the terror inflicted by people that should have known better.
17th of October 2023
If I was asked forty years ago if I’d survive to this day and write in this diary, I would laugh at how ridiculous that is. Yet here I am, twice the age of my dad when he was gunned down by militants, a man of eighty-three years. I can barely hear or walk, let alone fight. The only use the cause has for me right now is teaching the children and tending to the victims of war.
Our struggle went on for longer than anyone anticipated but the spirits of our soldiers do not seem to weaken. They fight as if they’re not outnumbered a thousand to one, and I wish they continue until they regain the lands lost to their fathers. I still keep a key to our old house back in my hometown. No matter how much I forget, I will never forget that house, with its small rooms and creaking windows. It is mine by right, and although it seems to be impossible, I’d like to walk its hallway again, to feel like a child one more time.
Today, I saw the true devil in the hearts of Israelis as I sat on a stool on the pavement looking up at the stars for a short moment of peace. Sadly the moment did not last for long. The bomb fell on the city’s hospital like a lightning bolt splitting the sky in half. At first, I thought it was a meteor, for I could not believe it for what it actually was. This is a line no one has crossed ever since mankind began to war.
I saw the hospital’s walls collapsing and even with my old ears I can hear the patients inside screaming in unison, not understanding what has become of them. My eyes watered and tears started flowing down cheeks as I wished with all my heart that I was with them. Death is mercier than my fate, carrying these disgusting images with me to the grave.
I begged God to smite their hospitals and schools, to plague them as they have plagued us for a land they had no right to own. How can a race that lived tragedy inflict it on those that have done them no harm? Death is a kind fate for the animals that are capable of this heinous act. But even then, I wish it upon them, not as punishment, but to rid the world of an evil so terrible it could consume the whole world.
Today is the last day I put ink to these papers. Tragedies seem to overwhelm us more day by day. There are no more moments for peace, no more time for me to narrate our horrors. My people need me more than ever and I will only stop helping with my last breath. One day we will reclaim our country, and then the whole world will understand.
Written By : Hachem Saihi
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Chapter 1 : Persephone , Caged spring .
I have been staring at these three doors facing me for longer than I can recall. Curiosity has been eating me from inside out, but I just couldn’t decide if the risk is worth taking.
Until now, everything about this place has been bizarre. And as I weighed in all the possible horrors that would happen to me if I stayed here, I decided that cowardice wasn’t the way to go.
I took a deep breath in. And with slow steps, I started heading towards the door facing me.
The air hung heavy with dust and silence, and a bead of sweat strated making its way down my chest. Only one step to go now. I reached for the door knob, a rusty bronze. And I …
“Where were you when Pandora opened that box? She could have used some of your willpower.”, a chilling voice echoed from nowhere.
My hand came to a halt, hung mid air between me and the door. The sound of my heart was tearing at my eardrums. I turned my head slowly, until my eyes caught her.
Nothing about her was intimidating per se. She was beautiful, and iridescent. But something deeply haunting was lying beneath her calm appearance. It radiated from the way she moved, a painfully slow pace, a dead silence and piercing eyes that were studying me from head to toe.
One thing was sure; she knows something that I don’t.
“You people usually get jittery after the Charon cruise. This is quite refreshing.”
With every word that she uttered, she took a step closer to me. But my body was no obeyer of mine and my tongue grew heavy with terror. I stayed put, lowering my gaze instead, praying for gods I don’t know if I believe in.
“You know, I’ve taken an interest in you. Everytime I walked by this hall I made sure to check if you were still here. Thank god you finally moved, you were starting to fade into the background.”
She let out a long shriek. Shivers ran cold through my spine.
The hollow sound echoed through my head, waking me up. I have to do something, anything, to save my neck.
“My lady, please, have mercy! Charon implied that my visit was expected, but he left any kind of details out and…”
She looked down at me. And for the first time, I saw a glimmer of sympathy in her eyes.
“Hmm, should I take you to the man in charge then, human? Perhaps he’ll help you figure out whatever it is that you want to know.”
A storm of thoughts was raging in my mind. Would she mean harm to me? If not, what would she gain from helping me? But by then, I was too desperate to get out of that place…
“- I… yes… I mean, would you do that for me? Would you take me to him?
– Well, given our current circumstances, that would be me you’re looking for. My husband is fully booked, for two or three decades at least, give or take!
– Your husband?”
Her lips twitched, clearly amused by my confusion.
“- Forgive my ignorance my lady, but I haven’t the slightest idea about who you and your husband are.”
She stared at me for a moment too long, then looked at her hands. As one would do when he wishes to hide whatever his eyes were telling.
– It’s alright dear, call me Persephone. I’ll tell you all about our tale as we stroll through this room. It is quite a long story.”
She offered me her arm, and I held on to it. It was cold to the touch at first but we started walking and the warmth was setting in.
“As you may have guessed by now, I am a goddess. daughter of two olympians. However, my birth is a happy memory for only one of them. See, father was a god of many powers. He was mostly known for his never ending conquests, at his poor wife’s dismay. And although he was intelligent and knew a plethora of words, one never made it into his dictionary. After all, who would ever dare to say “no” to the almighty Zeus?
One day, my mother caught his eye, and from that moment the pursuit was on. But Demetra isn’t one to be swayed with sweet words and kind gestures. He was her younger brother and as such, she knew him well. Despite his relentless efforts, his constant courting and begging, she kept giving the same answer, and he started to run out of patience. One day, he decided his ego couldn’t take another rejection, and he will get his way whether she likes it or not. I can assure you she did not like it one bit! She still gets bitter at times when that memory resurfaces.
Fortunately, she never took out her anger on me. On the contrary, she loved me like no mother has ever loved her child. She was constantly looking out for my best interest, going to the greatest lengths to protect me by threatening and killing any possible menace to my being. She herself has seen how dangerous this world can be for vulnerable little girls, and she swore she would never allow anything of that sort to happen to me.
It was sweet at first; the reasons behind her protectiveness were clear to me, but I was starting to grow bored and constrained, up there on mount olympus. Tending gardens and running through landscapes can only be fun for so long. I wanted to get out and see the world, and as it turns out, someone from another world took an interest in me.”
A small smile unveiled a fondness that I haven’t noticed before. And she carried on with her story:
“My Hades was always the shy type. People like to pin him as a bad guy in all of their stories; no matter who’s involved, he’s the go-to scapegoat. All because he runs the underworld! As if he tortures the souls himself. That would be way too much work to do…. But I digress. He came on mount olympus one time to attend some business, and I happened to be in the garden with some friends that day. Right place at the right time, although back then it didn’t seem like it.
He took an instant liking to me, and he went straight to my father asking for his blessing. Granted, it is an uncomfortable conversation to have with your brother, but what can I say? Chivalry wasn’t dead yet back then. Father granted him the permission to pursue me and gave him a few tips of his own, saying things along the lines of “take her by surprise and show her to your world she would absolutely love it” or “whisk her away, she won’t know what’s coming for her”… All of his brilliant ideas involved abducting me while Mother wasn’t looking in some capacity, for he knew her rage would be boundless. And my poor suitor, seeing just how successful his brother was with the ladies, decided to take his advice to heart.
That’s how my lovely evening spring came to an abrupt end with a blindfold and a hellish carriage ride to the world of the dead. And sure, Hades tried to make my stay alongside him as enjoyable as he could. He made sure to give me his most luxurious suite, with servants bearing foods and gifts daily. He was showering me with unprecedented love, unwavering under the swarms of hatred I was sending his way. He would try to satisfy all of my wishes, promising me everything but liberty. But nothing was enough to stop my wailing and hailing. I was insufferable and unconsolable.
I spent most of my first week there banging at the walls with my weak fists, spitting threats and curses, calling him every name of the book. No matter how hungry and greedy I got, I would never accept any of his peace offerings. I have never spent more than a day without Ambrosia before, and the more I stubbornly refused to eat, the more unhinged I became. He even brought me pomegranates, my weakness, as a way to tempt me. It was all probably a ruse, I have heard before that consuming anything from the underworld would bind you there forever. I simply couldn’t give in. The only thing that kept me going was my rage, fuelled by my blind faith in Mother, that was certainly moving heaven and earth to get me out of there. And she was!
I won’t bore you with details, but from what I’ve been told, she went berserk. Plenty are the people she trampled to find me, gods and mortals alike. And when she finally found out the truth about my whereabouts and couldn’t make Father get me out of there, for he was fearing Hades’ potential response, there was no mercy left. She held out the harvests, abandoning her work on the crops, and left thousands of innocents to perish. Her message was clear: bring me back my daughter, or else, no mortal would be left alive to worship the lot of you.
As time went on, I was starting to get calmer, and quietly accept my fate. Mother hasn’t swarmed the underground yet, nobody seemed to be coming to my rescue. Maybe it was time to stop denying the bitter truth. I started getting out of my room, despite my fear of the dead, and started wandering about these halls. I went to Asphodel fields and talked with newcomers and long-time spirits alike.
They told me about their pasts. They shared with me their grievances and their hopes for future generations. And I watched the pearling tears at the mention of loved ones, bitter gulps of regret, crimson tints, as crimson as a ghost can get, here and there at the mention of past mistakes…. I had never known how much suffering one could bear in a single lifetime before conversing with them. There was so much more to the world than the endless spring I was accustomed to. How could I have been so blind? So ignorant?
I now look back at my former self, knowing what I know, and all I feel is pity and shame. I used to be so weak and vain, it’s almost laughable.
Ultimately, after spending so much time under the earth, I started to pay attention to Hades for the first time.
His sunken eyes were what I noticed first; dull and devoid of any light, weary from reading names and looking around in this constant ruckus. Then, it was his infinite patience, not only with me and my frequent outbursts, but also with Charon and the Furies and everyone under him waiting for him to give out orders. Under his gloomy exterior, he was nothing but a lonely god, surrounded with nothing but darkness, monsters, and whiny spirits. Nothing about him beside his stature gave away his godhood. He wasn’t exuberant and reveling in his power like Father and the Olympians I grew up around. In fact, the only times some resemblance of life was breathed into him, were whenever I caught him gazing at me, in ways no one ever could.”
Our walk came to a halt. Persephone turned away from me, letting go of my arm. For a moment too long, we stood there in silence. I, staring at her long hair, gleaming in the light, and she, lost in the waves of her memories.
“I am used to being looked at, growing up a beautiful child”, her voice a soft whisper. “But there was something in his gaze I had never found anywhere else until then. He chose me, although in a rather unusual fashion, but he did choose me ultimately. To ease his loneliness. To make this hell hole a little more bearable. As I was slowly starting to get used to this idea, the war Demeter was raging up on earth was finally taking a turn. Zeus conceited to her demands and sent out the god Hermes to retrieve me from my prison. As word of my delivery got to me, a sudden realization dawned on me. The thought has been brewing in the back of my mind for a while now, but this return to reality made it all the more clear.
The real cage that trapped me all along was the sheltered life I have led on Mount Olympus. I remembered who I was, running aimlessly through the gardens: an airhead. Just another spoiled princess parading in her parents’ castle, oblivious to anything that didn’t revolve around her. I couldn’t let this be. I couldn’t go back now that I have opened my eyes. I had to act on my feet and make it quick. I had to find a way to stay.
I started ransacking my room, looking for the fruit of my salvation. And when I finally found it, I started eating the pomegranate seeds at everyone’s dismay.
That forbidden fruit… I suppose you can relate to how sweet and tangy the first bite feels, how the more you succumb to temptation, the less you’re quenched. I ended up eating 6 of them. 6 heavenly bites of freedom. I thought it would be the end of it, how wrong was I. Mother wasn’t going to accept my fate and fought it with all that she got. In the end, she and Hades decided on a custody agreement, stating I would spend half of the year with her on earth, and would go on to spend the remaining months alongside my future husband. She wasn’t happy with this deal. And she stated her displeasure yearly by forbidding the trees to bear fruit and the grass to grow for the cattle to eat. Nevertheless, I was overjoyed with the situation. I wouldn’t want to bid farewell to her forever, no matter how hard I want my freedom.
All and all, she feared the darkness, how it would forever taint my soul, but I have grown accustomed to the shadows by then. If my life had stayed an eternal spring, I would have slowly grown to resent its warmth, my existence would have gone stale. And I would have sought out the darkness myself. It gave me power and perspective on matters beyond my understanding.”
She looked my way, enticing me to pay attention.
“You know, there’s a great deal you can learn from the dead. Especially when your movements are boundless.”
When I reverted back my eyes in front of me, I found myself facing the same three doors from before. But this time was different, this time I knew what I had to do.
Persephone is the queen of the underground, and her riddle skills are unmatched. My question was left unanswered, nobody enlightened me on my purpose here thus far, but something deep inside of me changed. I know now that my presence isn’t accidental, that the answers I’m seeking can only be found behind these doors.
Taking a deep breath, I looked at her for the last time, then waving goodbye, I opened the first door and jumped right in.
Written by : Eya Belkhodja .