Fares Al-Khodor Is Dead (And So Is a Piece of My Heart)
Fares Al-Khodor, 12 years old Syrian boy, left his home in Syria 5 years ago with his family escaping Assad bombs and strikes and went to Lebanon, Beirut.
Fares started to sell roses in Hamra St. west Beirut to help his family. He was not a normal kid; according to everyone knew him. His trademark gelled-back hair, smart dress and cheery nature made him stand out from the rest of the flower sellers on the streets of Beirut, earning the nickname ‘Hamra’s mascot’ after the area he worked in.
Fares returned to Al-Hasakah, Syria recently and was killed in a coalition air-strike that was carried out there on Thursday. “He died by an American drone missile strike on his village on Syria"; according to a friend of him.
Photographer Zeinoun Naboulsi met him when he and his family first came to Beirut.
‘Everyone loved him because he was so polite,’ he said.
'He wasn’t just roses’ seller, was not a beggar, was not sad or miserable. he sold roses to help his family,he was filled with pride, enough for all of us and he wore the coolest outfits and perfume with gelled-back hair. I spent much of my time down in Hamra, where Fares became my friend. He attended school and had a dream to become a doctor or a lower or an astronaut like the rest of the kids. He had big dreams.
'I still remember one time at Barbar, a famous Lebanese fast food place, he invited us to dinner when it should be the other way round but he insisted.
‘ He saved money to buy a camera and asked me to teach his how to take photos’
'Youssef his older brother was also a flower seller and taught himself poetry. He would take care of him.’
‘ He wasn’t just roses’ seller, he was a friend and a brother to us … we will always remember him, the king of Hamra street ‘
Artist Yazan Halwani brought his memory all the way to Germany. Halwani, a Lebanese street artist known as “the Banksy of Beirut,” went all the way to Dortmund in order to paint a portrait of Fares.
It’s Friday afternoon, the sun of June is accompanied by a soft breeze that I enjoy. I love the breeze. Now that my hair grew back, longer and healthier, shinier and softer, I enjoy feeling it in the wind. Mark walks far away in front of me, and I watch as he enters West Park. He’s here for his usual walk and book reading. In front of him a man bumps into a rose seller, a red haired woman that lets go of her bouquet at the impact.
The man, obviously rushed, mumbles a ‘sorry’ and walks away. The woman looks highly offended. She glares at him as he walks away, then she sighs and crouches down to pick up her flowers. “What an ass.” Mark says, crouching down in front of her and dropping his book onto the floor. The woman looks up at him and turns puce. I shake my head and watch as he helps her collect her flowers. “Thank you, that’s really kind of you.” She mumbles shyly, looking away from him out of embarrassment.
“Here.” Mark gives her the flowers he collected. “Thank you.” She flushes before getting up, followed by him. “For you.” She pulls out a rose from her bouquet and gives it to him. “Thank you.” He takes it and puts it in the pocket inside his vest. Then, ignoring her innocent intent towards him, he leaves. I walk past the girl who’s blushing alone, biting her lips as she remembers what just happened.
Mark sits on a bench, and on the opposite side of it, a woman is watching her son playing soccer alone. Mark discreetly looks at the woman, she’s blond, with green eyes, in her mid thirties. I wonder if he’s interested in her, he’s been looking at her for a long time. Then it occurs me: stability. Mark is thirty seven now, it’s time for him to have a family, and me, well, kids aren’t an option for me and he knows it. A single mom would be perfect for him, it would give him stability. Is he going to leave me?
Mark finally tears his eyes away from the woman, but chooses to read. He opens his book, killing his chances with the woman. I decide to help the situation a little bit and see how far he will go. You must find me weird for spying on him and helping him meet girls, but I’m just testing him. The little boy kicks the ball and it rolls to Mark’s feet, tearing him away from his book. The boy is taken aback as Mark picks it up, and he runs to his mother. I sit on bench right behind them, and they don’t see me. The boy doesn’t know what to do, and asks advice to his mother. His mom kindly tells him not to be scared and to say ‘excuse me’. The little boy nods and timidly walks to Mark who heard everything. The little boy is blond, blue-eyed, 5 maybe 6 years old.
“Sorry, sir. Can I have my ball back?” The kid mumbles. “Are you playing alone? Where is your dad?” Mark asks him. “I don’t have a dad.” He says. “Really?” Mark says, and the little boy shrugs sadly. “Well, at least you have a very pretty mom.” Mark says. The boy looks at his mother and shrugs. Mark plays with the soccer ball in his hands as he thinks. Then, he has an idea. “What’s your name?” Mark asks the little soccer boy.
“Kaiden.” The little boy says. “Kaiden, I have a deal: I give you your ball back if you get me your mom’s number.” Mark says, and the little boy nods. He runs back to his mother, asks her to lean closer to him, and whispers something in her ear. Kaiden’s mother smiles and looks at Mark, who is pretending not to pay attention. She says something to Kaiden, and Mark watches as he comes back to him. “She says she doesn’t give her number to beautiful strangers.” Kaiden says, and Mark smirks.
“Try this.” Mark puts the ball next to him and opens his vest. From the inner pocket he pulls out the rose from earlier, and gives it to Kaiden. The little boy nods and brings the flower to her mom. The woman smells it and smile, then she whispers something in her son’s ear, and Kaiden comes back to Mark. “She said to come and get it yourself.” The little boy says and Mark grins to himself. He gives his ball back to him, and gets closer to his mother while the little boy dribbles away, and I decide I’ve seen enough.
Mark comes back to me a couple hours later with a bouquet of Petunias, probably because he felt guilty about what happened in the park, it’s his nature. He crouches down in front of my grave, where he thinks I am, and drops the bouquet on it. While he does it, I’m right beside him, and watch as contemplates the picture of me on my gravestone. Mark doesn’t shed a tear, and I’m amazed by how far he’s come. During the first year after my death, Mark cried very single day, he spent his time yelling in pain, breaking everything in his apartment, it was hard to see. Then, I witnessed his soothing, then his first smiles and big laughs. Mark gets back up and looks down at my grave. I cross my arm as I stand next to him.
“Hi.” He says to me, and the corner of my mouth curl upward. “Today I met a woman, her name is Lauren, she’s a single mom. Her son is an amazing soccer player, he’s really good. But I’m sure you saw everything.” He says. He never tells me about the girls he meets usually, I knew this one was special. “I think I’m going to come here less often.” He says. Is he letting me go for good? After three years, I think it’s time.
“I feel guilty, but on the other side there is this small voice in my head that tells me that’s what you would have wanted.” He says, and I smile to him. He’s ready now, ready to love again, and ready to move on, and I am ready to go now. Surprisingly, I’m not sad about leaving him for good, I feel like it’s the start of another chapter of my existence. I get closer to him.
“Way to go, Mark.” I put a hand on his shoulder and whisper in his ear, hoping he would hear me. Feeling my presence, Mark turns around rapidly, but doesn’t see me. A soft breeze catches my attention, and I turn around. It’s a big light, that radiates with warmth and love, and it pulls me towards it. I see a small silhouette, a little girl giving me her back, curly brown hair falling to the small of her behind.
“Inaya!” I call and she turns around, locking her big blue eyes with mine. She smiles as she recognizes me. She’s prettier than in my memories, she’s a real jewel. I walk to her and she holds her arms open for me, as always. I pick her up and she hugs me as I join her in this place that makes her happy, and that feels like home.
I don’t think destiny reunited us to start another history together, we broke up for a reason after all. I think God knew Mark would be the best person to accompany during my last days, and I think he was right.
Rose campion – also known as dusty miller, mullein-pink, and bloody William – is a biennial in the carnation family.
At 75cm+ in height, these are imposing plants that yield a weeks-long succession of trumpeted magenta flowers. Pictured above is a single plant.
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