Death of a Builder

<p>And once again the darkness is so deep, no light can drive it back. And the abyss is so dark, so mute and echoing, it swallows her up and wraps her in eternal silence. This is Salima, 62 years old, from Um al-Fahm. That night, five years ago, when cars converged on her humble home and the grandchildren alighted, she knew that Ahmed, one of her eight children, was no more. Five days of intensive care had stopped time in its tracks. Hope had not survived.</p>

And once again the darkness is so deep, no light can drive it back. And the abyss is so dark, so mute and echoing, it swallows her up and wraps her in eternal silence. This is Salima, 62 years old, from Um al-Fahm. That night, five years ago, when cars converged on her humble home and the grandchildren alighted, she knew that Ahmed, one of her eight children, was no more. Five days of intensive care had stopped time in its tracks. Hope had not survived.

I am strong, Salima says, my morale is high, I take part in all the celebrations around here, of my seven other children, of the grandchildren, of neighbors and acquaintances, but inside I am dead. No other child can compensate a mother for the loss of a child. Not even seven. The tears struggle to flow, but are once again held back, into the internal darkness. What more can be said? It’s Allah’s will.

From the door, a picture invites one to enter. A large picture of Ahmed, besuited and smiling, perhaps on his wedding day, and beneath the photo two dates separated by a hyphen. The beginning, and the end, which came at the age of 35. The walls of the somber house present numerous other photos of Ahmed: pictures from his youth, a faded reddish-brown; pictures of his bride on the day of their wedding anniversary with their first son. There is no space on the walls for the seven siblings. It’s as if they have become irrelevant in this house.

The remaining four sons work in construction too. They didn’t finish school, and they’re Arabs, so what else is there for them to do? Six months ago, a blade from the circular saw used by her third son Wa’il flew into his face, cutting up his cheek and jaw, smashing his teeth and partially impairing his ability to speak. Even now Wa’il often tears the night apart with his cries as he sees the blade rushing towards him. By some miracle he survived, by some miracle his picture is not beside that of his brother, dressed in a fine suit with the two dates below separated by a hyphen in the darkened home of Salima.

But there is no anger in her heart, Salima says. Doubt rises in her, marking her face and her shaking hands, when she hears the claim that he might still be alive had they supplied him with the correct safety equipment. Nobody killed my son, she says irritably. My son was a good man, who worked to support his family. Nobody intended to kill him. That’s true, Salima – Ahmed died because he simply wanted to live.

She doesn’t know, and nobody wants to discover, how he stumbled and fell to his death from the second floor. The contractor, it turned out, was a member of the same large family. He provides a livelihood to many other families, “doing favors” and taking sons to work in construction, and nobody will say ill of him. The contractor was the first to visit the bereaved, and took care of the expenses. All this in order to ensure that no complaint be filed against him that could put him behind bars for three years if he be found guilty of manslaughter by negligence.

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About Asma Agbarieh-Zahalka