In North Carolina I missed the ocean, but less than a mile from my new house I discovered a network of running trails that snaked through the woods alongside a creek.
He shrugged his shoulders. “I never played on one,” he replied in such a deadpan way that I thought he must be joking. “On the Libyan coast, where I grew up, we made our own swings — from ropes hung between palm, olive, or apricot trees.” I fell silent, trying for a moment to imagine a childhood without playgrounds. “Do you have any siblings?” I asked.
He nodded. “My mother gave birth to thirteen kids. Eight survived.” He went on to tell me about his younger brother whose nose had poured blood for days — and about the local healer who burned rubber on the fire and forced the child to inhale its toxic black smoke. He told me about the slippery, long leech that emerged from his brother’s nose days before he died — and about the daylong pilgrimage his parents made to the shrine of a Muslim saint in a remote village to pray and make an offering so that Ismail would be cured from his own chronic nosebleeds and survive childhood. Swept away by his stories, I lost track of time and distance as we wove through the trees.
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