We lived in the heart of the bustling city, but the neighborhood was more like our village. We knew most of the building tenants across a good circumference. If not well, we at least knew something about them, their faces or a part of their names, their hometown, what they did for a living, their idiosyncracies, how they hung their laundry, one or many of their stories, real or imagined... Same for the store keepers irregularly sprinkled along the sides of the closeby streets. There was "Hassan eldikkanjeh" (the grocer), who daily as far back as I can remember, sat glued to his chair at the entrance of his humble store, next to a dozen crates of seasonal local produce and greeted every passerby. A few doors up on the other side was "Brahim lemnajjid" (the mattress guy). He lived his days on the floor mending mattresses and pillows amid a mountain of cotton and wool, then his nights laying on one, all the while not missing a story or a creature on the street. Not too far was "forn elmayyese" (the bread bakery). The tiny place swelled mightily on weekend mornings with reluctant kids on the sidewalk holding their zaatar w zeit or kishik containers and impatiently awaiting their turn to spread them on the flat round loaves. These and many more were an integral part of our lives, literally a fixture, and something about that stability was warmly reassuring. Of course, not only did we know them, they knew us too. They watched us grow, live our days and years and later move on.
I look for them when I go back to visit. Many moved on as well, pushed away by the mighty forces of time and change. A few are still there today, struggling to survive, barely recognizing the new world around them, barely recognized or even noticed by the new oblivious little ones who took our place.
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