Flinching again, Sabah scoffed at the ice cream. It had been 30 minutes since he filled the bowl,
but he had only managed to make a tiny dent in it. Maybe, had he been big and bulky like his
neighbor, he would have had a chance at winning. He wanted to compete in the small ice cream
contest held on the last day of the semester at his school anniversary parade, the participants had
to eat three bowls of ice cream, and the first to finish wins! the entry fee was used for charity at a
children's hospital. Sabah had had no luck winning the past few years, but this year was going to
be different. it had to be!
It seems that his pondering would have to delay, as the footsteps advanced towards the kitchen.
In a rush Sabah frantically plopped the ice cream back into the tub and slammed the lid on in the
quietest way a 12-year-old can. Swinging it back into the freezer, his arm accidentally brushed
against the lamb chops, causing them to tumble down with a loud thud. the footsteps paused and
his eyes followed the long baggy pajamas up, finally resting at his mama’s distorted face.
“again? ….. Do you know what time it is?”
Sabah tried his best to avert her sizzling gaze “ dad said it was okay!” that was a lie. She sighed
and let him scurry back into his room.
Usually, he was a bit more sneaky, but today he had awoken 30 minutes later than usual, the
stress of the approaching competition was messing with his sleep cycle. his mother had always
lectured him on the importance of sleep to make sure he ‘grew up big and strong like all the
soldiers of Damascus’ but most importantly like his grandpa and his glorious mustache. His
grandpa was the bravest man Sabah knew, not only had he defended his country, and constantly
protect his family, but he had also owned the biggest and greatest gelato store in town! Many
people back in Syria remember his grandpa’s gelato shop with a sparkle in their eyes. Sabah
imagined, that he had also saved people's souls with it, curing them of all the worry and pain of
the wars and riots. And now, staring at the gold-framed picture of his grandpa’s rugged face, he
could feel the same. Sabah liked to imagine that his grandfather's soul had traveled with him,
across the big vast seas and into the wide framed photo in his tiny walls somewhere in New
Jersey. To teach him how to become a man!
This is exactly why Sabah was so content with winning the competition, he had to prove
himself to the stern man in the photo, and most importantly, to himself. What's a soldier's boy
who couldn't even handle vanilla ice cream?!
After a quiet breakfast with his mama and baba, Sabah kicked at the small pebbles on the
sidewalk as he waited for his bus to arrive. Grumbling, Sabah knew he didn't have much time till
the frantic bell would signal the start of another Wednesday morning. The sun was beating down
onto his thick curls, leaving behind drops of sweat running down his neck, his feet ached as they
pressed onto the scorching pavement, but he never complained. Instead, he imagined the pain
his grandpa would have endured across the rocky dirt roads in the deserted war zones.
Passing by a few houses, Sabah tried to revise what kind of excuse he can come up with for
being late, without having his parents called. The last time that had happened, his father had to
take a day off work to see the principal, which ended with a beating that he still felt sore from.
Eventually, he would find himself in the school's parking lot, next to Mr. Hethway's truck. Mr.
Hethway was his math teacher, he never was fond of Sabah. One day Sabah had heard him
mutter bad words at Sabah's mama when she came to pick him up after prayer time, and from
that moment on, Sabah made it his duty to hate him, after all,
‘a real man would never say such things!” He could almost hear his grandfather's raspy deep
Today though, Sabah would have to be in Mr. Hethway's mercy, since that was his first class of
the day. He knew that he Wouldnt just be able to slip in, so he decided to simply wait in the
library till the first period was over.
While Sabah did get along with most of the boys in class, he still never had many friends. His
parents would never let him hang out with them after school, he was only allowed to see Mahir
and his little sister. Mahir was the only other Arab in the entire school, quite a weak boy with
hairless olive skin. Yet he was still a year older than Sabah, but his English wasn't as good, so he
had to repeat a grade. Mahir and his family had come to America 3 years ago, though Mahir says
that they spent an entire year before that in an immigrant camp. but Mahir's oldest brother wasn't
allowed to enter the country yet, since he was an adult. Mahir never played with anyone besides
Sabah, since the other boys would pick on Mahir's little sister, Haleema. Haleema was nice, but
she wore a hijab just like his mama, and for some reason, people didn't like that. Sabah never
knew exactly why, but he knew that for as long as living, he would protect his mama, just like his
Luckily the English teacher never asked Sabah why he was late so he managed to get through
the day. And decided to call up his mother to ask her if he could have lunch at Mahir's house.
The two boys had set up a plan for Sabah to win the competition on Thursday, Mahir's baba,
Ahmed, was a dentist back in Lebanon, even though he works cleaning roofs now, and with a
mustache nowhere near as grand as Sabah's grandpa, he was smart.
“ Sorry boys, I don't think there's a way to teat that.” Ahmed chuckled, but Sabah was persistent.
“There must be a way! Oh please uncle I have to win! It is for all of Palestine! “
Ahmed’s eyes widened in amusement, eventually, he shrugged and went into the pantry, after
emerging with a tiny bowl of turmeric.
“Just rub this into your teeth when they start to hurt, if there are any more ways I can help you,
little soldiers, I’ll be at your service” he pulled his hand up in a saluting gesture as Mahir
giggled, but Sabah had a very serious look on his face, and he saluted back “ yes sir!”
y Bthe time Sabah was aware of the ticking clock, it had already been too late. He heard the
loud series of knocking on the door. With a faint sigh, Sabah mustered puffed his chest, and went
out to greet his father. after a warm goodbye to Mahir and his family, Sabah and his father
headed back home. The silence was awkward, filled with all sorts of worries and emotions, but
Sabah maintained his compositor.
‘Real men stand up tall!’.
The dreaded silence would last all the way home. till finally it was broken at the dinner table
“ WHY THE HELL WERE YOU LATE YOU BASTARD? DID YOUR MOTHER NOT TELL
YOU TO HURRY BACK?!”
..The table was set nice…
“WHAT KIND OF SON ARE YOU? DO YOU EXPECT US TO JUST FEED YOU AND
CLOTH YOU LIKE A FREELOADER?”
…the plates were stacked neatly and the spoons were shiny…
“ I WORK DAY AND NIGHT, TO PROVIDE FOR THIS FAMILY. I GAVE YOU BEDS,
FOOD, WATER AND BROUGHT YOU HERE, AND THIS IS HOW I'M TREATED?!”
… his mother had made a few side dishes, there was even his favorite-
“LOOK AT ME WHEN I'M TALKING TO YOU ”
Sabah's father had grabbed his face with one hand, forcing their eyes to meet.
‘real men look danger right in the eye’
instead of looking away, Sabah stared right back.
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU LOOKING AT?? DO YOU NOT HAVE AN OUNCE OF
RESPECT FOR YOUR-”
“ YOU'RE JUST A COWARD.”
Sabah could feel his mouth moving, and he could hear his voice, but he didn't know who was
“ YOU ARE JUST A COWARD WHO RAN AWAY FROM HOME. YOU'RE NOTHING
It seemed that his mouth was moving without his control. He tried desperately to stop the words
from vomiting out, but it was no use. And as the room fell silent, he faced to consequences of his
words. His father's face was unrecognizable, it was neither filled with anger nor spite, it was
something that Sabah had never seen before. He realized that he couldn't feel his babas fingered
digging into his cheeks anymore. In confusion, he gazed into his father's eyes and instantly
regretted it. There was a slight shimmer in their corners.
‘Real men don't cry
He remembered once Mahir telling him about a story, that men's tears are used to water their
beards, which is why they were so thick. He had thought then that his father must never have
cried since his beard was always long and well kept, and his arms big and concealed under layers
and layers of hair. But now in front of him, stood a huge tanned man he didn't know A man with
eye bags from the stress of working two shifts, unkempt hair from restless nights, and patchy
hair. The strange man never said a word, And then quietly, Left.
Sabah could faintly hear his mother crying.
‘Real men never make a woman cry!’
but he paid it no mind, and instead, dragged himself to his room, flipping the photograph on his
wall, not wanting to be seen.
‘Real men never run away from-’ OH SHUT UP.
The next morning, his room felt emptier. Sabah knew that his grandpa had left him, yet
somehow, he wasn't sad. He got out of bed and slowly got ready for the day as if nothing had
happened. On his way to school, he stooped near the creek and sprinkled the turmeric powder in.
Sabah watched as the glittering water slowly dyed with a deep passionate yellow and for once he
could admit, he never liked ice cream.