The Ghost of My Ancestors

By Maryam Chahine

Go back to your country! You don’t belong here.”

The threat sliced the stillness. Yet I never lifted my head to see who had wielded such a noisy knife, for I knew all too well who it was already, a woman who couldn’t care less for crisp mornings such as this. Minding my own business as usual, but this woman minded that I was Muslim. I don’t know that I could have minded my business any farther than my backyard. The scene composed of me and my next door neighbor, hanging her confrontation and heavy gun over the fence between us.

Quiet, reserved and harmonious describe me. I was anything but that at that very moment. I gave my pants a decided couple of slaps to shed the dirt and weeds from them.

I stood up to my five feet and four inches – all of it – but not quite enough for my neighbor who was a good six inches taller. To make up for what I lacked in height, I placed my hand on my hip at a decided angle in her direction. The curl of her lip told me she was not impressed. Neither was I impressed by her long gun pointing at me which I knew to be unloaded. She had a consistent habit of pointing it at anyone she wasn’t getting along with at the moment: her husband, her elderly father, her mangy dog and assortment of neighbors. I must have unknowingly got on her bad side recently.

But I wasn’t having any of it.

“You’d best take your gun and yourself off my fence.” My voice firm but not loud. Not firm enough it seemed.

“Yeah! Is that right? You’d best take yourself off this land. As I said before, you don’t belong here.”

It didn’t take much to get me labeled as invader except wheat colored skin, almond eyes and the quiet colored scarves I wore on my head. But I had never done any invading since I and my ancestors were Native American. Had I sung this fact from the mountain tops, it would have swung without an echo through the valley below in the consciousness of my neighbor. That didn’t stop me from telling her like it was though.

“I have more right to this land than you do. My grandparents were on this land first and died on it, too.”

“You’re a liar. You came out of Afghanistan or some cave in the ground.” Her voice curled around each word slowly.

Rolling my eyes tiredly, I titled my head to the side in a gesture peculiar to me and indicative of supreme exasperation. Might as well leave her to tire herself and her gun on that fence. I was just too tired…it had been a long day of bad plumbing, painting walls, and restoring other things in a house I had recently inherited from my great grandparents.

If I had thought the house insurmountable it was nothing compared to what was roaming through the property. Probably the house came into my hands because I was the only one brave enough to sleep in it. It was no family secret that our ancestors weren’t too happy about giving up their home to their descendants. They had a way of making it known that they were still the owners. They showed up at unexpected times.

My neighbor, still clutching her gun, still annoying me more than ever, had no clue when from behind me stepped what must have been one of my ancestors. He could have easily been an Indian chief.

It took a while for me to fathom his height for my eyes kept traveling up his frame. When it stopped, it was met by a long neck and an even longer face. War paint only served to make his expression more grim and thin lips told me that he didn’t do much talking. His lithe and sturdy frame made me expect terrifying and swift movements of hands and legs, yet it seemed that he was using all his strength to stand as an immovable pillar. The only thing of breath about him was the gentle swaying of a feather in his head dress.

It took a while for this to register with my neighbor. In fact, I’m not sure that she saw him at all at first. As he stood there, I saw him grow stronger in presence, not as shadowy as before. When her gun faltered for a bit, I knew that my neighbor also saw him. She looked confused at first and still the gun came down lower.

Swiftly and out of the corner of my eye I saw an arrow fit into a bow. Probably this meant he wasn’t in a good mood.

“What…what kind of trick is this?” Her gun came up a bit and turned towards him.

My ancestor gave a primal cry; guttural and instinctive, born of past pain, past remembrances. It was not one cry however but many in unison. What could this mean?

The answer suggested itself in the rear. There they stood, more shadowy figures sweeping grass with their tall and unnatural forms. An army of souls detached long ago.

Their cries were loud and mournful. I was surprised that not the entire neighborhood had converged to see what tragedy was being enacted. It must have been at least a hundred arrows that were now pointing towards my neighbor, and yet still she held the gun, a gun that did not shake or quiver in fear. For a moment I admired her strength. Then I saw that whatever fear was missing from her hands was surely being made up in the expression on her face. Mute unbelief mixed in with something else. Not that I could blame her.

Where was I as this ghostly army with taut arms and fierce bows awaited whatever was their plan? I had stepped away, but even as I did so their shadows grew purposely on the grass. Suddenly, their bows switched direction from my neighbor to the sky.

I couldn’t help but stumble back farther as their bows threatening the sky made good on their threats and pierced through the air. Surely, it couldn’t be real arrows? My neighbor had dropped her gun long ago. For the first time, there was some strange bond between us. We shared a mutual disbelief in what was occurring.

The arrows acted stranger than we could have imagined. Instead of falling back to earth as expected, they exploded in the sky like excited and frantic birds.  The sky divested itself of its blue and white colors to take on black and red hues. I saw men and women with the same features as myself running in terror, some women clutching babes to their chests. Many fell, mowed down by rearing horses and bullets. Then another scene – men, women and children bowed under the burden of being homeless in their native land, snaking their way through long grass, stumbling and falling to disappear. Rivers of blood and burned huts.

Then there was nothing. The scene evaporated and the sky again put on its blue and white clothes.

I watched as my ancestor slowly lowered his bow, and it seemed to take him forever to tuck it under his arm at his side. His ghostly army followed suit. For all that while, they had held their arms and hands in the same positions even after the arrows had left their bows. One by one his army resumed their places in the invisible world of forms until he was the only one left. Tall and mighty but somewhat desolate, too.

He contemplated something on the ground. Perhaps he was considering mistakes he could never make up. He looked long and hard at my neighbor, and she gave him stare for stare. In the passage, it seemed that he spoke to her and she to him, but I couldn’t comprehend the language of their silence.

When he turned away to look at me, I felt in his movements the grinding of gears. In his look, I saw all that had been and would continue to be. Time did not teach all things, and humans would remain the same. On the stage of life, they would act out the same scenes over and again. History is cyclical.

“Marty…I seen ghosts.”

Her husband scratched his chin, examining the gun on the ground, and wondering what could have made his strong willed wife do such a thing. There was something definitely wrong here. He picked the gun up hesitantly. As if he didn’t expect to stand back up with it still in his hand. But she didn’t make a move to take it. To Marty, this was more surprising than ghosts.

“Marty….I seen ghosts, I said.” Her voice less shaky.

Perhaps his wife was returning back to normal he thought, but still she didn’t grab for the gun. Marty didn’t believe in ghosts but might as well play along since he was enjoying his wife’s new mood. With his arm around her shoulders, which was something he was not often allowed to do, he shook his head sympathetically as she recounted all.

“You believe me, don’t you Marty?” She asked at the end of her narrative.

Marty nodded his head hoping his wife would believe the answer was a yes. He could lie except verbally.

“She ain’t from Afghanistan.” She hooked a thumb in my direction. I rolled my eyes as Marty turned back to give me a sympathetic look.

“I told you she weren’t,” he told his wife.

“She’s one of them Indians. Maybe she ain’t a terrorist like I thought. Since she’s Indian, I suppose that makes her American like you and me.”

“I suppose so….,” her husband answered.

“Marty, our ancestors done bad things…,” I watched as Marty went inside their home and my neighbor lingered for a while on the front porch looking up at the sky as if trying to memorize something up there.

The next morning was just as brand new as ever. I inhaled the crisp morning air as I stood in my yard with a shovel stuck in the ground. A mound of rich, reddish dirt stood beside me.

Placing one foot on the shovel and leaning into it, I started counting down in my head. Waiting for it to happen. And then there she was. On the fence again with her metal companion of a gun.



Maryam Chahine is an American Muslim woman living in Jordan where she works as an instructional designer for a publishing company. Her racial background includes Black, Palestinian, and Native American (Cherokee) roots. Her family’s frequent on the move lifestyle took her to diverse places including Florida, UAE and Oregon where she spent most of her life. Her work has appeared in Futures Trading, Free Verse, A Hudson View, Damazine, Projected Letters, ken*again, and others.

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