The Tooth Fairy

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I was eight years old when I learned about tooth fairies. My sister was six. It was her tooth.

We were living in Egypt at that time. Lebanon was in the middle of its civil war; my father was stationed in Saudi Arabia, but we couldn’t join him yet. So, we lived in Cairo with my young mother.

The day my sister lost her first tooth, we were extremely excited to see what the tooth fairy would bring. But I was cynical.

How could there exist these magical creatures that we don’t see? And will they really come in the night to take a tooth? I suspected that if anything happened it would be my mother’s doing.

So I spent the entire day watching my mother. She wouldn’t leave my sight a single minute. I didn’t want her to sneak anything past me.

At bedtime, I pretended to be asleep just to watch the door and see if my mom would come into the room to replace the tooth (by now under my sister’s pillow) with a gift.

But I was only eight. I eventually fell asleep.

The next morning as soon as I opened my eyes, I ran to my sister’s bed and woke her up to check under her pillow. And there it was, true as day, a Barbie doll for my sister!

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Since I had hawkishly kept an eye on my mother, and since I was so sure she hadn’t come into the room, there was only one logical explanation left for my eight-year-old brain: The tooth fairy is real!

My sister was screaming with joy, unboxing her full of the excitement of her years.

I jumped up and down, wide-eyed with realization that magic was real. “Tooth fairies are real, mama!” I was shouting to my mom. She smiled and patted my head.

Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, who went all the way to protect our childish sense of magic and mystery back then.

And to every mother who is doing the same today.

Fear of trees

I was on a family vacation the first time I witnessed the fragility of the human body.

My father had taken us to Cyprus for a few weeks. We went on a guided tour along with other visitors. The tour lasted several days, during which my family befriended an Egyptian family whose children were the same age as my sister and me.

The son was so funny. He would make me laugh till I teared up. He made the long bus rides more tolerable. His parents were easygoing, and his sister was friends with mine, so it was a great setup.

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One day while on a bus break to stretch our legs, we all went playing near a tree, and the boy climbed it quite quickly.

The tree wasn’t tall; the brand he stood on was just about higher than his father’s head.

But then he slipped.

I don’t know how these things happen and I never will. In the blink of an eye, the boy had landed head-first on the ground below and wasn’t moving.

My parents rushed us away from the scene so we wouldn’t witness what was happening. I could hear his mother screaming and I could see his father waiting anxiously for the ambulance to arrive.

The ambulance got there and took him away, along with his family. We never saw them again. I prayed he would survive, and I believe he did.

Meanwhile, I have never climbed a tree since. And when my boys started climbing trees, my heart freezes with fear every time I see them.

A few years later, life would show me how resilient humans can be. I would save my brother from certain death by electrocution, and he, only two years old back then, would fight back the sparks with his baby fingers until I arrived.

I like to believe that Cyprus Boy survived that fall. That his parents and sister were by his bedside when he opened his eyes.

And that he is now as old as I am, with a family of his own, with children who climb trees, and with a story to tell them about fearlessness and the fight for life.

The scapegoat (a meditation on vengeance)

“Why did you break their closet?” my mother asked me. “I didn’t,” I answered.

My parents were really close friends with a couple (Mr. B and Mrs. R) who had children our age, so we always hung out at each other’s houses.

The night before, we were at their house and the children played in the bedroom while the adults discussed boring things in the living room.

The next morning, my mom accused me of breaking their closet and wouldn’t believe me when I said that I didn’t do it.

A week later, they visited us in the morning. My mother and Mrs. R were in the kitchen having a coffee and catching up.

The son, M., hung out with me in my room. I questioned him about what happened with the closet that night.

It turns out that M.’s cousins, who were also there that night, broke the closet. They broke it while playing hide and seek after I left. When the parents got upset over the closet, the kids blamed it on me because I wasn’t there.

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What M. didn’t know was: I chose to interrogate him while sitting next to my stereo, and I had recorded our entire conversation.

I had the full interrogation on tape. I took the stereo to the kitchen. I told mom and Mrs. R. that I had something for them to listen to, and proceeded to play back the confession.

“See? It wasn’t me,” I declared proudly when the tape was finished playing. I knew, without a doubt, that I had proved my innocence and defended my good name.

But my mom and Mrs. R. looked at each other with a. smile. I was expecting them to say sorry, or to acknowledge my innocence, or to reprimand M. for his lying. It didn’t happen.

“Look at you, Sherlock!” my mother mocked me. They both laughed at what they considered to be childish antics on my part. They completely dismissed my efforts to put clear my name and prove my innocence.

It wasn’t vengeance. It was the unveiling of truth, and it didn’t work.

The late night visitor

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The doorbell rang and startled me awake.

Everyone was fast asleep on this last night of Ramadan. Tomorrow morning, we would all have to wake up quite early and drive for an hour and a half to visit my grandmother. We visit her on the first day of Eid Al Fitr every year.

No one got up to open the door, so I did. I walked past the bedroom of my siblings then that of my parents. They were fast asleep. No one heard the doorbell.

I approached the door with apprehension. Just before I reached for the peephole, I glanced at the clock that hung above the door. It was nearly 4AM. Who would be at our door so late?

I looked through the peephole and in the light of the hallway I could see my hunched grandmother standing. I quickly opened the door, held her arm, and walked her into the house.

“what are you doing here, Teta?” I asked her. “We were heading over to visit you in the morning!” After she finished catching her breath, she responded.

“I came to see you. I missed you.”

The phone rang. I helped my grandma onto the armchair by the entrance and told her to wait while I woke up my mother. The phone continued to ring, and my grandmother asked me to answer it first.

I turned around and walked to the phone. I picked it up. “Hello?”

The phone continued ringing. I pressed the green button again to answer it. “Hello?” I repeated. The phone rang again in my hand.

Then I realized it.

I was dreaming.

The phone was ringing, yes, but for real. I woke up from the dream to the sound of its continuous ringing. I was in my bed. I glanced at my bedside clock and it was nearly 4AM.

I ran to the living room, throwing a quick eye at the armchair where, moments earlier, my grandma sat in my dream. I picked up the phone. “Hello?”

This time there was someone on the other end. It was my uncle.

“Rami, wake up your mother and gently inform her that your grandmother has passed away.”

On shoplifting

The neon green wallet called to me.

Not only was it a great color, but it was also held together by Velcro, had pockets for change, and had space for business cards for when I grow up and have a job.

In my pocket I had a 20-Riyal note. On the wallet hung a price tag. It said SR 50. The small amount of SR30 stood between me and the daydream of owning my first ever wallet.

Not only would I not be able to afford it, but even if I had the SR50, “why would someone buy a wallet if they won’t have anything left to put inside it?” I thought to myself.

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I won’t deny it, I considered putting that wallet into my pocket and walking out, but that wouldn’t be right.

As I stood there with the neon green wallet in my hand, I remembered what my religion teacher told me about stealing. I remembered what my parents told me about stealing. I listened to my own inner moral guide, aged nine but still wiser than his years.

A few minutes later I was done deliberating and weighing the pros and cons of the situation, particularly with respect to my chances of going to heaven.

I walked out of the store and back to my mom.

Under my shirt was my first ever wallet, which cost me zero.