Faris Adnon: ‘The Kite Maker’

Iraqi author Faris Adnon, who now lives in the US, has translated his short story about kite-making, childhood, and power:

The Kite Maker

By Faris Adnon

Gazibia Sirry: The Kite
Plate 23 from “Gazbia Sirry: Lust for Color” edited by Musi Saad El-Din, 1998, The American University in Cairo Press

Once upon a time during my childhood, there was a Kurdish boy who lived among us, and he made kites that filled the town’s sky with color and magic.  The boy was called Hasson. To this day, I don’t know whether this was his real name. Probably he’s like most of the kids in my town, who have their official names only in government papers and use nicknames at home or in the streets. Who cares? He used to make exceptional kites, and we bought them from him without having to spend our entire daily allowances. He was creative in making them and had a particular way of selecting a kite’s colors for every occasion year-round. His talent was evident in the colors of the body and tail and also in his selection of material for the kite’s structure. In our southern town, several types of tree branches were available for Hasson to use in the kites’ structure all year. In most cases, he used palm tree branches, because they were all over the neighborhood and were strong enough to make kite’s structure cross shape in various sizes.

In addition to his talent in kite-making, he was excellent at making pinwheels, so we had plenty of options whenever we went to his shop. Actually, it wasn’t his shop. It was his mother’s, and she managed to be there most of the morning hours until Hasson returned from school. During the morning, his mother managed the shop by doing business with adult customers who came to her to buy groceries, and in most cases the regulars were women.  Hasson’s mother wore a black outfit and her hair was pulled behind her head, like the hairstyle of an old schoolteacher. She shared the apartment above the shop with her son and managed the shop during business hours.

Since his dad’s sudden death, Hasson’s mother had been running this shop to earn a living, because the government pension was not enough to survive on, as she told my mother one day. Hasson’s dad had been killed in some war when he was only 10 years old. I can’t remember the face of Hasson’s father, but I remember the government vehicle that brought his dad’s body in a box wrapped with the national flag. Because Hasson was four years my senior, he was several grades ahead of me in school: he attended middle school while I was in elementary, and he started high school while I was in middle school. He grew quickly into the big build of a typical young Kurdish man as my dad always said of the Kurdish body that it was fit for the rough mountain life.

There were many stories circulating in our town about Hasson, his parents, and how they ended up in the far South, but none were ever confirmed. Some said his dad met his mom in a Baha’i temple in Iran and then came to our town seeking refuge and a peaceful life, keeping their faith a secret. Others said his mom was an Armenian from the North who fell in love with Hasson’s father. Because they were from two different religions, they escaped to the South to marry and live in our town as a way of avoiding troubles from both sides: Muslim Kurds and Christian Armenians. I never heard any evidence of either story, but I remember that Hasson acted neither like a Muslim nor an Armenian. He was selected many times for the basketball team but refused so he could be in the shop after school. He didn’t talk to many kids, but I always felt that, around me, he acted like an older brother. He and his mother gave me special treatment, as though I were a family member who lived in a different household. Hasson’s mother aged quickly after losing her husband and became an old woman with two distinct features: a sad face and the black attire she wore all year round. She used to make a variety of candy from simple ingredients and showed off her products in the shop, where kids waited desperately for a different type of candy. I still remember my favorite candy from her shop: the cotton candy. The unique taste is still on my lips after all these years. She was the best producer of such candies, not to mention her skill in making other types of sweets, such as Samsamya, Asalyah, lollipops, and cookies stuffed with either figs or dates, which were available in the South all year round.

Two days a year, Hasson and his mother gave kites for free to the neighborhood kids, who already had an idea why they were granted free toys and candy twice a year. The first day was Nowruz, on March 21st, and the second was Christmas Day. We already knew the dates, and thus kites usually flew in the town’s sky on these two days such that the sky looked like a colorful carnival of flying kites. The alleys and streets also looked like a colored carnival of pinwheels, but for younger kids who were not yet going to school six days a week like me.

Hasson’s reputation as a skilled kite-maker grew to the point where our schoolteachers knew about it and asked him to make kites for the annual art contest held by all of the schools in town. He received an award from the mayor and national TV covered the ceremony with a short clip on the evening news. The entire country has two TV stations that, during news periods, broadcast as one station. Hasson’s appearance on national TV brought him simultaneous popularity and a curse. In the weeks that followed his TV appearance, ten black Mercedes-Benz cars with small national flags waving from both sides of their hoods parked unexpectedly on our small street. Frowning men with military uniforms or black suits and black sunglasses emerged from the cars and took their spots on both sides of the street. A person with a military uniform who looked like the President I’d seen many times on TV finally emerged from the car, walking slowly into the shop.  Five minutes later, the same person left the shop with Hasson, walking to one of the cars as Hasson’s mother stood silently in the shop’s narrow door, bidding farewell to her son with a sad face. In the hours that followed, kids or their parents circulated a rumor that the President’s visit was all about taking Hasson to the Republican Palace to make more kites for the President’s youngest daughter on her birthday. Hasson returned to his mother later in the evening with some money in an envelope from the President. This was the first time, as I remember, that a rumor in my town became real news.

The President’s visits to Hasson’s shop brought many other government officials in their wake. It was as if they were copying the President’s lifestyle and his way of making his children happy. One day, the provincial governor’s car stopped by the shop, along with military guards. Another day, a leader from the country’s only legal party stopped by the shop as well in an attempt to follow the President’s steps. At one point, Hasson admitted to me: “I’m getting tired of this. I like to make kites for the kids around here. I mean for the poor kids in our neighborhood, not for the filthy rich kids.”

“Why don’t you refuse?” I asked.

“You’re still young and you don’t understand where we’re living.”

“What do you mean?”

“We’re living in a dictatorship. Refusing means death.”

He whispered these words in my ear and disappeared into the dark, headed towards his place. A few months later, we woke in the early morning to a military statement on national TV, the radio, and on a siren announcement in the streets. It was the first official day of a crazy war that would end up lasting eight long, horrifying years. On the same day, a military draft was imposed through TV and radio announcements, saying certain young males should go to register at local recruiting centers based on their birth years. Hasson was one of them. I wasn’t included in the draft because I was only 14. Hasson went to the recruiting center and returned with military gear. He stayed the afternoon with his mother and left the neighborhood with his uniform on. I looked at him while his mother was saying her goodbyes. I could tell from his facial features that the boy I’d known all my life was gone. Gone forever.  His mother maintained her calm while she bid him farewell, trying hard to hide her tears.

During his absence, the crowd of kids at his shop every afternoon became smaller and smaller, and Hasson’s mother began to make less candy. She stopped making pinwheels and kites altogether. We were in the neighborhood monitoring war news, but until then no one we knew had gotten hurt.  One afternoon, we returned from school and saw a government vehicle with a box wrapped in the national flag approaching our street in slow motion, stopping in front of the shop. A solider left the vehicle with a government envelope in his hand and entered the shop. Ali, another kid on our street, emerged from the shop door and moved towards me, weeping.

“Hasson was killed on the front lines.”

The entire town went through a strange silent mourning that afternoon, filling the sky with kites made by some invisible hand. I’ll never forget that afternoon, and the kites that bid a singular farewell to a Kurdish boy called Hasson who immersed our childhood in joy, colors, and magic.

Faris Adnon was born in Ad-Diwaniah, Iraq in 1966 and was forced to leave his homeland in 1991. He entered the USA as a refugee in 1992. He contributed to an Iraqi poetry anthology in Spanish named Gilgamesh Curse in 2005 and his first poetry collection, مظلة من كلمات, was published in Beirut in 2009. He published his first novel  تحت سماء الأرطاوية with Safi Publishing House in California in 2018.