I can hear the sounds of birds—not seagulls, little birds whose twittering is drowned by the cries of the vendors and stomping feet of many passers-by. I can even see them, it has been such a long time since I have seen birds like ours and since I had heard warbling instead of a seagull’s cries. I pause a little; I can feel a breeze while I adjust my mask and rub my hands with sanitiser and watch the never-ending Bosporus. I sit next to the river, lost in time while watching schools of fish, groups of jellyfish, empty containers and fishermen. When I was bored, I walked around aimlessly, freely—or boarded the ferry and crossed the distance between two continents, each time conquering all borders and checkpoints and crossings. I didn’t tell you before that I wouldn’t do anything without exaggerating, giving it a Palestinian feeling. In Palestine, there is no place for ordinary walking; for example, in the ghetto where we live, each walk expresses a certain identity, whether we are walking in a mountain, or to go to pick olives or even between two cities. Over there, the only thing I knew about myself was that I am Palestinian and that we are Palestinians. The occupation allows us to move within only one framework: that of the victim. The Israeli occupation smashes our reality into smithereens and imposes thousands of procedures related to it. So, we grant ourselves our supremely Palestinian narriative without which we feel lost and faded.

When I left Palestine, you were still nt part of the picture. Isn’t it very strange that I reduced 30 years of being in Palestine into only two suitcases? My mother, father and sister cried, but the cats didn’t pay any attention. While we were driving the car from Nablus to Jericho, I felt a slight tingling, as if I were on a high swing and falling to the ground. Since early morning, I waited at the border crossing with my passport and exit permit stamped, I paid many taxis, I sat on the bus and waited, then got off. I always avoid getting of the bus first in Israeli areas because I feel that if I make a mistake—like stopping, walking too slowly or too quickly—I might end up dead. So, I let others lead my footsteps and avoid touching the plastic strips. It was not yet the time of corona but I still felt disgusted. I glide lightly between them. The soldier points his gun at me and I look at his weapon—at its cold, black nozzle. I follow orders and count. This has always been my secret trick—counting.

I count my breaths because taking many gasps mean that I am attacking the oxygen here and the oxygen isn’t mine. I follow the people and then stand in the middle of a space, finally ending my hesitation because a solder is staring at me. I present my papers, laissez passe and permit, and ponder whether to say “good morning” and “god give you strength” or just “good morning” and whether to smile. I present my papers and say, “Here are my papers,” and stand there. I can’t really see what is happening behind the glass screen. The female soldier sitting there hands me my papers. I follow the line and have my documents stamped once more, hearing the sound of metal bullets—three bullets and I escape death. I am almost free; on the plane, I close my eyes and don’t look behind me.

No one knows me in Istanbul; no familiar faces see me and I don’t have familiar faces to look back at. Not even the language is familiar. A feeling of loss gradually seeps into my heart. Strangers ask about my identity and it catches up to me; then I am only the daughter of a stolen land. Israel has oppressed me and I have wronged it and we have changed places. Or which one of us is the victim, who has stolen whom? Did they steal my place, or did I steal theirs? To which land do I belong? The one whose birth certificate I carry, or the one whose passport I hold? Or the third whose identity I was given? All eyes can see me but all they can conceive is a story—a story with multiple versions and different branches and I do not own any of it. I have no heroic story to protect me from defeat or from my unsettled reality and I cannot escape from the fact that I am Palestinian. I wanted, when I came to this never-ending city, to wake up, to drink coffee, to listen to music and to decide that I no longer wanted to stay here and to pack my bags and leave to another place. Somewhere where the fact that I am Palestinian cannot affect me. But I have been stuck in Istanbul for six months now, unable to move neither forwards nor backwards—I was holding a temporary passport, my residency permit is over and my application for renewal was refused. I am currently an illegal resident waiting for a visa to enter Europe and I have one dream:  to reach you.

I am plagued by fear and I change it like I change my few shirts. I left half of it at home and carried the other half here with me. My face is not mine anymore. I wake up at three in the morning and open my eyes in fear. I close the door and windows again and watch the cat’s light breathing while I console myself with reality: I am here, outside the place. At nine in the morning, I carry my bags and coffee book and wear another face, but I am afraid that because of it I will suffer from loneliness, that the vehicles will fill up with water, from my heart, from others around me and from the Other. Even though I have perfected this very well, I am afraid of the trains when they go underwater and of being unable to perfect reading the maps in the summer. I rent a car and carry what is left of me, wandering the streets for hours outside the city—no one stops me when another car turns near me or when I end up in a wrong street or when I travel up a mountain or when I decide not to go along a road or when I draw the map of my own character. It is not full of darkness, but I am afraid of the sound made by an army helicopter or when I take a wrong turn, so how am I going to heal myself from this fear to reach you?

I realise that there is no way to get to you—I dream of holding your hand all the time while crossing the distance separating two continents and of laughing together. I want to take you home with me and dream of the scenario of our love—we met five years ago and ended up engaged. Our grandmothers would say, “those who are unlucky end up together!” as you are unable to visit my home and it is most likely that I am unable to visit yours. And when we are finally able to bring children into this world, they will inherit their mother’s strange nationality and maybe even her passport and from you, your heavily loaded memory, your sarcastic laugh and your height. They will never know what a home is, neither mine nor yours, and the question wells up in my heart: Where is our home? And how can I take you there?

I spread in front of you all the identities that have given me freedom—those that you don’t possess and all the long letters in which I explain to the Europeans my claimed Palestinianism. However, the occupation has not done what the Syrian government’s henchmen have, you say to me, and this is the only irony that enrages me. This is not an apology, justification, cancellation or even a historical mention concerning the higher rate of suffering. I barely escaped death there, but the occupation doesn’t want my death, but instead keeps searching for methods to suppress and obliterate me and erase my simple human capabilities, such as taking you home with me.

My dear,

I know that you will laugh now at my childlike complaints about the world and that you will spread in front of me all the identities you own, your expired passport, your torn identity card, your valid residency permit, your application for Turkish nationality, a map of immigration—a very detailed and illegal map. My heavy Palestinian presence seems like a pigeon that a magician conjured from his sleeve and left to its own devices to fly in the theatre. So, I am embarrassed to invite you home. I now take refuge in my memory as it constitutes my only identity, as you take refuge in your memory. However, I feel like revolting against all that I have written above, and want to exercise Palestinian self-centredness. This self-absorption allows me to inform you of moments that are merely repetitions of perilous times related to my personal tragedy. I cannot escape, as my Palestinian identity has stuck to me, no matter how much my papers deny it. It represents the face through which I see the world.

I stand in my/your dream, in the middle of a road that sometimes seems familiar and at others unfamiliar. The cold nozzle of the gun is very smooth; I feel as if I cannot breathe and that I am drowning. In the street, we stand facing each other, you and I, passing through this world. I extend my hand towards you, but we are mere passers-by heading to an impossibly faraway chamber.

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