Suad Aldarra’s commission for the 2021 Cúirt International Festival of Literature, part of the PEN x Common Currency residency.

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Suad Aldarra was the PEN x Common Currency Writer in Residence at the 2021 Cúirt International Festival of Literature, in partnership with Cúirt, English PEN and Irish PEN/ PEN na hÉireann in collaboration with the British Council.  This piece was specially commissioned for the opening night event, ‘The times were grand in size and we were small’, as part of the residency, and a recording of the event can be viewed here.


He is three.

My eyes are reflected in his. People say he has my face, and I wonder if I still have one left.

He is three.

I taught him how to count and how to walk. He taught me how to smile.

Every day, we leave the house before sunset. We turn right and walk within our two-kilometre radius. We read the houses’ numbers out loud, and we run, and we laugh like there is nothing wrong with this world. We return home knowing that the next day we can go left.

He is three.

I order a new toy for him to replace the closed playground. A book to replace the story time at the library where we spent our Fridays. A new T-shirt that he will probably grow out of it before anyone gets to tell him how cute he looks in it. I order anything for him just to enjoy a guilty pleasure when the postman rings the intercom announcing a delivery, and I will pretend, for the few seconds before I answer, that a guest is visiting.

My mother’s face appears on my phone screen. His smile stretches, ‘Teteee!’ he calls for his grandmother. She smiles, and her eyes are full of unleashed tears.

‘If only I can hug you, my dear. If only’.

He asks for his grandfather, and the camera is moving around my childhood house until it stops at a bed with an old man lying in it.

‘Jedddo!’ He screams in joy.

He doesn’t know Jeddo is sick and can’t move and can’t remember him, but he blows kisses anyway while counting to ten before he gets distracted by the sound of the TV. He forgets about the imaginary creatures living on my phone as soon as I end the call, but I don’t.

He is three, and he never got hugged by them.

They never had his tiny hands wrapped around their necks. They never saw him before he had teeth; before he had hair.

They never had a piece of his first or second or third birthday cake.

He is three.

We leave the house before sunset. This time, we go left.

He sees our friendly neighbour smiling back at him. He points and shouts, ‘Khalooo!’

I look back and forth between the two and realise for the first time how much my neighbour looks like my brother: the full beard, the eyeglasses, the dense black hair. I feel a punch in my stomach. I nod ‘yes’ just to make him curb his excitement. ‘Yes, yes, this is Khaloo’, and I explain to my confused neighbour, and he agrees to be his uncle for the few seconds we pass by him each day.

He is three.

Born before the pandemic, and before the lockdown, in a different crisis and a different lockdown.

It’s easier to say I can’t travel and be with my friends and family because of the pandemic than to say it’s because of borders, paper borders, thrones, passports and other meaningless things.

He is three, and soon he will be four. And I don’t know if the imaginary creatures from the phone will ever be real one day for him when he is not three anymore.

Suad Aldarra is a Syrian storyteller, data scientist, and software engineer based in Dublin, Ireland. She studied and worked as a software engineer in Damascus until 2012. She relocated to Egypt for a year before settling in Ireland and working with Fujitsu, then at UNICEF HQ in New York. Suad holds a Master’s in Data Analytics from the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG). Her thesis, which tackles the spreading issue of misinformation about refugees and migrants in the news, won international awards. Suad has spoken on several occasions about displaced people, women in tech and Syria in places such as the European Commission, in front of the Dutch Royals, RTE radio and in articles for various newspapers, including the Irish Times. Her memoir I Don’t Want To Talk About Home will be published by Doubleday in 2022.

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