(content warning: gore, death of children, war)
This story, like The Tree, is a piece of flash fiction about the Nakba- the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. It’s a very simple story of innocence and young love, war, and tragedy. It is also a retelling of one of the Palestinian folktale variants on Cinderella.
In it, two children play together. Their names are Hassan and Zeinab, the names of the prince and peasant girl who fall in love in The Daughter of the Rose and the Jasmine.
It is obvious from the non-sexual intimacy and their banter and play that they want to marry when they are old enough. Together, they create a drawing of their ideal house, taking turns adding in trees and birds. The landscape around them is keyed to this drawing–when they finish adding a bird, they hear a delightful birdsong.
When the war intrudes, and the children are brutally killed, it is the death of dreaming, of fairy tales of happiness and love. It is the time of the Nakba story. This story inverts imagery from the fresh, newness of childhood love, into the ghastly and gruesome imagry of death and decay: Where once Hassan had playfully teased her with water: “her face had become an orange washed with dew,” turns into: “their heads rolled, then settled side by side…they were like two wilted oranges…their flesh clung to the trees.”
This Nakba story ends abruptly with “Hassan loves Zeinab,” urging the reader to once again think over the short tale through a speculative mode. I am in awe of how compressed and effective this story is.