Friday, March 15, 2013

The Toy-shop

I have this strikingly-red chilli-shaped rocking chair in my room that I reserve sitting on for pensive moments. Seriously, I believe the chilli is endowed with nostalgia-provoking powers. As silly as it sounds I don't want to end up exhausting them.

I'm on my desk (in a charged up mode, because I'm in the process of creating my next comprehensive to-do list) when my sister comes in, props herself on the chilli across the room.

And that's when lightning strikes, and the magic begins.

Her eyes cast about the room like it's the first time she sees it, as she often likes to do, pointing out random bits and pieces and pronouncing on them her latest observations.

'Those, it's time to get rid of them'. I look up to see what she's talking about. Two, barbie-sized cardboard shopping bags, one with a Dalmatian dog and one with a Winnie the Poo sticking out from. They sit on the edge of the desk, looking as abandoned as ever. Twelve years of age coat them. Their furry bodies surrounded by that greying dust that's difficult to get rid of.

'No way,' I reply, and she doesn't need an explanation. We both remember the day we brought them. It was one of the best days of our lives.


A green Volvo is driving along one of Baghdad's most popular streets- Al Mansour Road- carrying on its wheels a load of excitement. It slows down, moving towards the sidewalk and finally parks in front of its destination. Just two seconds go by before the doors swing open and four children clamber out, moving slowly because they are slightly dumbfounded. They crane their necks to read the shop's sign, squinting in the sunlight (Al- Jalaywi; a family name scribbled in large Arabic letters across a yellow board) before they are hurried on inside.

A splendid array of red, yellow, green, blue, greets us. The shop is rectangular, its shelves run from ceiling to floor, and there's not a single bit of the wall that can be seen. Toys smile back at us from all sides. There are walkie-talkies and trains and remote-controlled cars. Play-tills, play-kitchens, and anything else imaginable. Cards and trick-games. "Look at the quality of these footballs," gasps my cousin Ali, throwing one from hand to hand. "Barbie sewing machine," whispers his sister Maryam, moving towards the pink display of Barbie and her accessories.

"Remember, Jidu said as many toys as you want. Anything." We all turn and eye her, trying to fathom this foreign message.

People think children aren't fit for making decisions, but nothing could be further than the truth. Give a child an infinite number of choices, and they will end up picking the most rational ones after careful and calculated evaluation. We took a very long time picking our toys in there, but we left with an appropriate number of bags stuffed with goodies, and there were no 'If only's or 'I wish's in the car. We rode back home in silence, clutching on tight to our bags and wearing satisfied smiles.


It's the same day, afternoon, and the "hall" (iraqi term for sitting room) is strewn with evidence of a birthday party. Paper hats with badly-stapled elastics lie on the floor, bored balloons float around, pieces of torn wrapping paper over the sofas. The coffee table in the centre groans under a half-eaten cake, used plates and tea-cups with sugar residues.

Of course, we had to have surprise guests in the midst of our promised party. We watch the garden outside from the open kitchen door, look at the family setting out enough plastic chairs for everyone, eye the guests' girl-our-age from top to bottom. Then we go back to hide all the gifts and tidy-up the party remains as instructed, feeling very disappointed at losing the prospect of flaunting them.

'Not one word about the party,' they whisper to us again, as we call her inside to play.

As soon as we do, in trots our witty three-year-old. 'Did we have a party without you? No, we didn't. And did we get any toys without you? No, we didn't. Okay?'

We all look at each other and burst out laughing.


Al- Jalaywi's toy shop doesn't exist anymore. I'll never be able to throw away those two filthy and lame cardboard-shopping bags with a Dalmation dog and Winnie. One day, I might show them to my grand-children and tell them about that day. And how an innocent man and his two sons, who sold the best toys to the children of Baghdad, had their lives taken away.



  1. Is this a true story? This was mesmerizing. You're an excellent writer!

    Tina @ Life is Good
    Co-host, April 2013 A-Z Challenge Blog
    @TinaLifeisGood, #atozchallenge

  2. Love your lightning pic! Great post!

    Hugs and chocolate,

  3. Loved each bit of it, such vivid descriptions. Comepletely overtaking!

  4. Interesting style of writing. Always a joy reading your posts.

  5. You are a born writer Ghadeer (Y). Beautifully written that I can easily imagine the scene in my head :)

  6. Very good writing. Loved the lightening picture.

  7. This is so vivid, you have such pretty and simple descriptions. It's such a powerful and warm memory, I'm sorry for the tragedy that seems to surround it now :/

  8. As always, marvellous writing! :D
    (I kind of feel sorry for the Al- Jalaywi's toy shop; makes me want to wish I'd visited it!)

  9. Very tastefully and creatively done!

  10. Hi Ghadeer .. toys - so sad the losses incurred and carry on being lost - souls should not be destroyed - there will be many tales of hope, but rather more of sorrow ...

    Those traditions from times before when life could be lived ...

    Lovely combination of writing and story telling ... sad, yet compelling to read ... with thoughts - Hilary

  11. Nostalgia. Im not a fan of it, because it always reminds me of the past happiness. But still I'm glad you found a way to remember your childhood :)

  12. Oh my gosh, what a story. So bitter sweet. I think it's important that you keep those bags. You are not just remembering that wonderful day, you are remember a man and his sons and the joy they gave you and many other children. You carry his legacy in your heart.

  13. So lyrically sad. Beautiful writing. Glad I got a chance to read it.

  14. What a great memory. I'd hold onto those toys, too.

  15. This was beautiful, stunning writing. I can't believe I haven't been following your blog.

  16. The red chilli-chair makes me want go Bu-ha-ha-ha!
    And we never outgrow our old toys,do we?
    And your writing,love,as always.:)

  17. Beautiful writing of fond memories.

    Sadness re the loss of the innocent man and his two sons...

    Anna :o]

  18. those little engrossed reasons give worth to our lives.

  19. These little memories deserve their own monument, which is what you have. How awesome.

  20. so harsh and beautiful at the same time.


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