There is the smell of snow in the air as he wakes, along with the usual morning chill. Throwing on some clothes, he peeks out the window to find the streets covered in snow, a blanket of new flakes falling gently on the city. A rare occurrence in this semi-desert.

The city is silent save for the occasional footfalls as someone walks past on the sidewalk below. Across the street Abu ‘Ali opens his store, the metal shutter momentarily breaking the silence with its rude clattering. Then all falls silent again. The occasional car passes by, leaving slushy tracks and muffled sounds in its wake.

An old man selling butagas walks through the snow, his horse-drawn cart piled high with tanks. He bangs out a quick rhythm on one of them with his wrench to notify his customers. It’s a familiar beat, two quick raps followed by three longer ones, reminiscent of the hit song “Habibi Ya Nour al-‘Ayn.” The wheels of the cart creak as it rolls through the snow. The horse snorts then lumbers to a stop as a woman steps gingerly into the snowy street to order a tank. They exchange a few words, then the old man pulls a tank down from the side of the cart and, bending over, places it on his shoulder and hauls it over to her building.

The wind blows down in short, angry gusts from Jabal Qasiyun, the mountain lying veiled in white as it surveils the city, impassive guardian of time.

No doves circle in the morning sky today.

No children play in the streets.

No one dreams of spring jasmine or summer roses.

Only the drip and hiss of mazout in the sobia as it warms the room, and in the distance the old man’s hollow beats.

A wintry day in Damascus…