At dawn the view of Damascus was glorious. I loved to watch the sun rise whilst Kurdish pigeon fanciers flew their little flecks of silver over the green minarets that illuminated the city. I came to love those birds, especially the ones who never obeyed the flight course taken by the rest of the group. They seemed to have their own rhythm, their own music, and they flew in any way they pleased, slaves to no one, as if in direct communion with God. None of the clapping of the pigeon fanciers could entice them to descend unless they wished to.

I lived in Rukn ed-Deen, a Kurdish neighbourhood with winding alleyways and houses made of breeze blocks that reclined on the slopes of Mount Arba’een. I rented a flat from a chain-smoking widow whose husband was killed in the 1967 Six Day War. The widow was kind and generous and never let you eat alone during Ramadan; apart from that she left you to your own devices.

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