After my father was arrested, my brother Zuhair assumed the role of head of the family. He was only 18, but he tried his best to fill the gap created by our father’s disappearance.
Zuhair worked as a media activist, filming battles from the front line in Eastern Ghouta. Every time he came home to visit us, my mother would cook a feast in his honour.
The last time this happened was on June 15, 2013. Zuhair had just come back from the field, and my mother, my siblings and I gathered around the dinner table to celebrate his safe return.
He walked in and kissed each one of us, and we sat down to enjoy our meal. We chatted about many things, but the main topic of discussion was a special family event that was due to happen a few days later. My aunt – my mother’s youngest sister – was getting married.
“I’ll be going back to the front line for that period,” Zuhair announced, “and I’ll be staying there until this wedding farce is over.”
“Please stay,” my mother said, “she’s your aunt, you owe it to her.”
“How do you expect me to attend a wedding when my father and uncle are in detention, and the blood of Douma’s martyrs is still flowing?” he replied.
We all tried to convince him to stay, but we failed to do so.
Early the next morning, Zuhair packed some of his belongings and equipment and left. My mother saw him off at the door and asked him to try to bring back some bread and flour. Eastern Ghouta was under siege, and it was impossible to buy them.
Zuhair got into a car parked in front of our house. A few of the men from our neighbourhood, all about the same age as Zuhair, were waiting for him.
I knew them all. Not so long ago, they had been in the front ranks in our neighbourhood demonstrations. Now they were on the battle lines of Eastern Ghouta.
Shortly after Zuhair left, my grandmother passed by our house. She was on her way to the market to buy a wedding dress for my aunt, and she asked my mother to go with her.
I could sense that my mother was reluctant to go; she seemed scared and worried. Nevertheless, she agreed.
When she came home a few hours later, she seemed even more agitated than when she had left. I asked her about the dress and she told me they had bought one, but it needed altering so they would go back and collect it the next day.
The following morning, my mother and grandmother went back to the market, and my siblings went to our local mosque to attend lessons in memorising verses from the Koran.
I stayed at home alone, cleaning and tidying. The wedding was to be held at our house – a house that had known no joy since my father’s arrest.
All of a sudden, someone began knocking urgently on the door. I ran to open it and found a group of young fighters carrying Zuhair. He was covered in blood, and they were in tears as they chanted prayers for “the martyr.”
I ran over to him and hugged him. I tried to wake him, but Zuhair wasn’t asleep, he was dead.
One of the men asked after my family.
“They need to come and say goodbye,” he said, “so we can bury him and go back to the battlefield.”
I was choked with grief, but I managed to give them my grandfather’s address.
They left me alone with my brother, the martyr. I sat beside him and spoke to him for the very last time.
I told him how much I loved him. I told him how painful our father’s absence had been for me. And I told him that the pain of losing my father to prison was nothing compared to the pain I was feeling now I had lost him.
I sat next to him weeping until my mother came home.
She was in such shock she couldn’t shed any tears. She hugged Zuhair tightly until his friends came in to carry him away.
The funeral prayers were held at our local mosque. It had once been a place where our young men gathered for demonstrations. Now it was a place where families gathered to bid their sons farewell.
My mother’s grief was so intense that she remained silent for most of the day, speaking only once to say, “I was buying my sister’s wedding dress while my son was drawing his last breath.”
My grandmother was inconsolable. One minute she had been putting the final touches to her daughter’s wedding, the next she was burying her grandson.
Later that evening, I called Zuhair’s friends and asked them what had happened. They told me they had raided a mill in Adra to secure flour for Ghouta’s residents. A battle had erupted and Zuhair had been on the front line filming it when a shell landed nearby, killing him and one of his friends instantly.
Earlier that day, my brother had left our house with the intention of bringing back bread not only for his family, but the rest of Ghouta’s inhabitants, too.
That day, he came home a martyr, and the wedding festivities we had planned were replaced by celebrations of martyrdom.
Though it is associated with pain and sorrow, Zuhair’s memory will live on in our hearts for as long as we live.
This article was republished by The Syrian Observer with special approval from Damascus Bureau.