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Ever since I was a child, I dreamt of learning to play the guitar. With time, this passion turned into a weevil, a gluttonous one that nested in my brain, grew up as I grew and shared my life.

My guitar weevil turned into a series of misfortune: whenever I saved enough for the guitar something would happen, and the money would go up in flames. For starters, when I was in school I saved my money for a whole year. During the summer vacation I broke the piggy bank; the amount was decent enough to buy a good guitar. But I went to play with the neighborhood kids, we played street football and instead of hitting the goal I hit the glass façade of the neighbor’s balcony. It rained down glass and insults. Our ball was stabbed. At night the neighbor came to our house and said that I broke his mother’s vase, and so the guitar turned into a vase.

When I was appointed as a traffic policeman I said I would buy a guitar with my first salary, but when I got home, my mom said that the water boiler in bathroom had exploded and ruined the ceramics. The guitar turned into ceramic tiles with musical notes.

Then I got married, and with my meager salary and the obscene price tag, the guitar turned into bread, yoghurt, eggs, treatment bills, diapers, milk boxes and small gifts for my wife.

Now, the children have grown up, most of them are married, and I am nearing retirement. The weevil is now dancing in my head. I will buy a guitar and a Mexican hat and play music for the rest of my life.

My wife said that she also has an old weevil in her head that nags her and wants to travel to Beirut.

We travelled to Beirut and on our first day I bought a guitar and I hugged it all the way from the store to the hotel.

I must have looked like an idiot but I was afraid that the guitar would jump out of my lap or would turn into something else, something that was not very interesting.

When I arrived at the hotel I did not wait to go up to my room. I sat on the big sofa in the reception, asked for a bottle of water, took a deep breath, and started playing my first melody on my guitar.

My fingers moved on the strings. A single move then everything exploded; the whole front glass of the hotel, vases and chandeliers- all of it exploded because of this unfortunate guitar!

In the hospital, when they heard my story they laughed and told me I was scammed: the guitar was made out of weevil-rotted wood.

3

In front of me, I put a ream of white paper, a copper inkwell and a feather I snatched from my neighbour’s duck. I lit a candle and stuck it in the middle of the table. I rested my chin on my fingertips, planted my elbows on the edge of the table and leaned on them. I was completely naked. Droplets of sweat ran from the base of my neck down to my buttocks where I’d stop feeling them, others resuming the same journey from the neck down. I held my breath and waited for the Revelation.

Ten minutes, half an hour, an hour, nothing happened. A stinky smell rose from my body, my ass grew tired of my sweat and my weight. I blew out the candle in despair, turned on the fan and threw myself on the bed, exhausted.

I woke up in distress with a heavy head and stiff limbs. I glanced at my papers hoping they had been filled. But of course they hadn’t – the time for miracles has passed. I staggered to the bathroom and peed standing up, watching with a meaningless attention the yellowish stream of urine. I got under the shower, eyes closed and listened to the water as it splashed and fought my dirty body. Archimedes too was naked when touched by the Revelation, but alas I didn’t have the luxury of a bathtub. 

It was almost 10:00pm when I phoned my widowed neighbour, a hand on my flaccid penis. She answered in a whisper, she was sorry, she had guests. I cursed her with the crudest words. She hung up on me. I needed to let off steam; some idea might jump to mind. I walked around the house and finished my dinner, forcing myself to swallow it while imagining my hungry blood cells rushing from every part of my body to pile up in my stomach, only to find a cold piece of cheese and dry bread. I choked with laughter. 

The next afternoon, I sat in my favourite corner of the coffee shop, right at the back, where I could watch the world go by for hours; the people, the waiter’s movements, how he handled customers’ orders; the ringing of the brass bracelets on his wrist, the clank of his many rings hitting the table as he put down plates. Despite his thick beard, and without tangible evidence, I suspected he was gay.  I gulped a glass of water down my empty stomach, then cracked my back sensing the pain in its lower part. The night before had been stressful, I hadn’t slept at all and I had worked all night in vain. I had lots of unused cans of paints, so I piled them up against a wall and using an old brush, started painting randomly. The mixed strands of colours clashed on the wall and the place filled with the intoxicating smell of paint. Then I stood still in front of the mural, holding a paper and a pen. I let my eyes wander over the colours, hoping that an idea might pop out of my head. As if I, who had painted this, was part of a surrealist artwork that could be praised by critics and sold for a high price at auction in Europe.

I felt that thoughts eluded me, distracted by the overlapping colours, so I decided to paint the wall a single shade. White, red and blue jostle in front of me. I chose a dark green, hoping that all the African jungles would appear before me, with monkeys’ wrangles, reckless gazelles, lazy lions and dancing tribes. But the green only revealed an unfortunate mosquito stuck on the viscous paint, so I stayed there watching it die.  

In the coffee shop the number of clients increased, elderly people who had missed the train of creativity, creative young men whose writings could not find a way to the mind of critics replete with classics. Others who put the word penis between each word, those in search of a haven or a public, bohemians with a nasty smell that filled the nose, and indeed me, the novelist whose three novels had no more effect than a stone thrown in a river. My back pain increased. I cursed Dan Brown for his stupid advice. The day before – as recommended in an article I’d read – I did a headstand against the door. My ears deafened and my face filled with blood. The stupid guy alleged that such a position brought on ideas, but it only made me dizzy. I fell flat on my back, humiliated like no man in his forties should be.

 

I avoided looking at Abderraouf my colleague, but full of his usual nosiness, he came and stuck himself to my table. We hugged each other with false enthusiasm and started chatting. As an intellectual, when talking to your counterpart, you must puff up your chest, stare faraway at nothing, keep silent for a moment like a wise Chinese man and then use a few collocations such as assimilation, identification, Africanism and Anglo-Saxonism.

Like someone who just happens to see a funny thing on Facebook, I asked him, as I stuffed my cell phone into my pocket: Have you ever run out of inspiration?

He took a long look at me and replied: Of course not! As you know, inspiration never dries out, and I publish two books a year. Are you suffering from writer’s block?

I leaned back on the bench as if avoiding a stray arrow: No… never! But a young man has asked me for a cure for this disease.

He clasped his hands and said: Hemingway and Roth both said that the only way to get rid of writer’s block is to keep on writing.

True, I answered, silencing my anger at him and at that Hemingway.

We continued talking until Abderraouf saw a young poetess entering the coffee shop. He immediately interrupted our conversation, grabbed my soft drink and rushed toward her.

I ordered a drink from the many rings waiter, drew my pen and began fighting the white paper while sipping coffee. The waiter would bring another cup as soon as mine was empty. Once I read that “le grand écrivain Voltaire” drank forty cups of coffee while writing. Today I would smash this record and end my writer’s block. At cup ten, the waiter said to me with a sceptical look: Sir, are you sure you’d like another one? 

At cup fifteen, I felt numbness in my limbs that quickly spread to my entire body. The wretched table started to spin before me, my stomach contracted and I lost control of my throat, spilling out my stomach content, a yellow bile stained with black coffee, all over the table and my shirt. Each bout of vomiting was followed by an embarrassing gas explosion. It was as if my soul was hovering on the ceiling, watching the tragedy of my body. People rallied around me to help; I saw a young drunk man pull out his phone to tweet the incident, or record it as an idea for a short story focused on my abysmal state. Eventually, I caught my breath, my heart went back to beat regularly. They suggested that I went to hospital or home, but I chose to stay where I was to pick myself up. Little by little, people’s gazes shifted away from me and I was left alone at my table with an empty mind and white paper. 

Then things took a dangerous turn when a giant entered the coffee shop, barely passing through the door, his head a few inches to the ceiling, accompanied by an old woman with a loud voice and a husky manly laugh. They ignored every one’s gazes, only to stop at my table. The woman sat the giant man on two seats that could barely carry his weight, pulled herself a chair facing me, ran her left hand up and down her man’s thigh and with the right one, lit a cigarette.  

I cleared my throat: Who are you? I said.

I am Bint Majzoub and this is Esteban. She said in a ringing voice.

I stared at them stupidly. Bint Majzoub was a woman of medium height with a dark skin like black velvet, who although close to seventy, still retained traces of beauty. Whereas  Esteban was the tallest man one could meet, with a strong built and a kind childish face. He wore sailcloth baggy pants and a fine linen shirt. His hands were large, soft and pink, and his features Latin-American, as was his name Esteban.

Bint Majzoub called the waiter in a flirting voice, ordered milk for the giant man and tea for her. She winked at him as she indecently smacked his ass, a blow he received with an unmanly joy.

Esteban gulped his cup in one shot, while Bint Majzoub sipped her tea with a loud noise.

Who are you? What do you want?

Aren’t you a writer? Don’t you know us? I’m Bint Majzoub from the novel “Season of Migration to the North” by Tayeb Salih. And this is Esteban from “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” by Gabriel García Márquez.

I gaped, dumfounded, and pinched my thigh under the table to make sure I was not dreaming. 

Hey man, don’t look so stupidly surprised. I swear on my marriage that what I say is true. Like you, I was jailed between two book covers, but with a trick I broke free from the claws of ink and paper. I travelled the world and knew many men until I met my sweetheart Esteban. He made me forget my eight husbands and my reckless adventures. He’s got something in him stronger than a stake and more powerful than… etc.

She was, as I had read about her and as I imagined her, a licentious loquacious bothersome woman. While Esteban kept gazing placidly at his hands.

I interrupted her. What do you want from me?

While wandering, I passed you by and pitied you, my dear. You are locked into the weak story of an obscure writer. You’re a character like us, a brainchild of a writer. Unfortunately, your writer is a fameless young man and no one will read your story. Get out of this prison. Outside, the world is vast; you’ll find what will make you happy, just like I found my sweetheart.

She dragged away her silent man to whom Márquez had not given a tongue and off they went, leaving me in a complete mess.

I staggered toward the mirror and saw a bald head with an angry face looking at me with dull eyes, big ugly eyes. I had never liked my face. And who said that I liked wearing that multicoloured shirt, like a tourist on the Pacific coast? I brazenly grabbed the pen that was stuck in my collar and threw it far away, swore at the man who had created me, a failure who had thought no better than to give me a Hitler moustache.  That dog who made me fuck the widow’s flabby repulsive body so many times. He made me with no family and of course with no kids, alone with my writer’s block, circling around myself in a miserable closed world, between my house and the cultural coffee shop. And then came Abderraouf to snatch my soft drink and rush away, hoping to catch that girl. I smashed the mirror with my fist; not a drop of blood was spilled. I left the coffee shop like a hurricane, pinning everyone to their chairs, these idiots who didn’t know that they were all secondary characters in a bad story. No shackles after this; I’ll leave these pages searching for other worlds. I might become a Pharaoh King or a Tibetan monk or even a French teenager, I’ll satisfy all my whims and scoop up all the joys of life, and when I’m sick of it, I’ll fly over the clouds and I’ll save an unlucky soul suffering from writer’s block,  igniting in his brain an idea that would save him from madness and the shame of a headstand.

 __________________________________

Brocas Area:  is a region in the frontal lobe of the dominant hemisphere, usually the left, of the brain with functions linked to speech production. (Source: Wikipedia)

 

3

Emerging from his plastic cave awash in filth, Crow “J” toddled unsteadily over to the paved road with sullen, terse gasps. The radiant disk was rising from the mouth of the earth as he advanced through the wild cawing of his fellow creatures.

Along the sides of the path that led to the hole where he worked there were large numbers of crows. Some were copulating, exposing their genitals to the rays of the disk, while others quarrelling and fighting to death, and still others gleefully burying each other to the sound of drum rolls

With difficulty he found a place in the packed line of rank, naked bodies. He tried to move away from a pair of bulging tits that had been rubbing obnoxiously against his back, but whenever he managed to escape them he felt his organ rubbing colliding with another crow’s rump. He was stuck between a bunch of charred, filthy sticks routinely sliding towards the road’s downward slope.

Throughout the long march, he heard pained groans and dismal memories emanating along with broken songs, whose indistinct lyrics trembled in horror on darkened lips, yet without being released.

When the black caravan reached the grain mine deep in the Earth, the stern, reprimanding voice of the master hastened their steps, intensifying their dread and their fear of losing the accustomed meal. “J” looked into the master’s crimson eyes taken aback by the sight of his shiny feathers and his elegant suit. He was likewise taken aback by his bizarre obesity. It was the first time he had actually looked at him. His surreptitious gaze had hardly gone on for a couple of seconds before the crush of bodies thrust him forward to his workplace like a huge wave.

 

He took the pick and got to work. The mine floor was slippery and especially filthy, saturated with the stench of urine, blood and semen. He clung to the flickering pillar of light lest he fall or lose his job. As the disk of light retreated for some rest into the mouth of the Earth, the line surged forward again with flaming enthusiasm in anticipation of the meal. “J” found himself standing before the master’s assistant, having forgotten momentarily that he had been waiting for his turn. Jolted into awareness by the doltish smile that would appear on the assistant’s lips every day as he distributed the grain of wheat that constituted the longed-for repast. Holding the grain in his rigid grip, he felt like flinging it in his face.  However, flustered the hungry shouts behind him, he refrained from the gutsy deed.

On his way back to his plastic cave, he looked back and forth at the swings-turned-gallows hanging from the trees and gazing to the red sky that had left him drenched to the bone.

As he entered the dusty, dark grotto, it wasn’t the sky alone that was weeping. He, too, was weeping, though he had not felt it outside. Rather, he realized it only when he had come inside.

 

He lit his only candle. Then, as usual, he took the letter that he kept hidden under the plastic blanket, trying, if he could, to find something new in it.

“Be well, Jameel.. I will return soon. Don’t see the world as it is. Rather, try to see it with our eyes: as free and agile as a butterfly.” From Maya, your beautiful and playful sweetheart

He tried with all his mind, but wasn’t able. Instead, he fused with the voices behind him, and became one of them

 

3

I opened my eyes to the world in a city with a lifeless childhood. I opened my eyes in the battlefield. Nobody told me who the soldiers were, or what occupation is.

I grew up having the idea of abnormality as what is normal, and that those persons who inflict fear whenever and wherever they go are not of our own.

When I opened my eyes to the world, I thought that young men and teenagers running away from the soldiers were playing hide and seek or practicing their hobby of playing catch.

 I was wrong.

With the passing of days, weeks, months and possibly years, I began to understand that those men with weapons are the enemy, the occupation, and the ones who only seek to kill.

The first time I was very close to them was when I was with my mother walking down the main street on the way to the market. I was three years old.

The vehicles came from far away and the people started to run.

My mother suddenly pulled me closer to her, carried me and held me close while looking at the three military jeeps as they were passing.

I felt her heartbeats while she was hugging me. As she released me, I felt a wash of loose-limbed relief followed by a flush of confusion.

That moment, I knew that something was wrong. She never took me to the market again with her.

The first game I played with my peers in the neighbourhood was called “Jews and Arabs”.  The first few times, I did not reject the idea of being the Jew, which here means the army, “Al Jaish”.

One day, we gathered in the neighbourhood to play the same game when I was four, and as the youngest in the group, they decided I will be the “Jaish”

– “No. I want to be Arab”, I said.

– “No, we are Arabs, you are a Jew, you’re with them” one of the older children pointed out to the group.

I was not happy with that and I said

– “I do not want to be bad guy. I will not be a soldier”.

 

I felt angered and stormed away, then sat on one of the cement blocks near the wall of our neighbours watching them play. The Arabs were throwing stones and insulting the “Jews”, while the boys role-playing the soldiers were imitating shooting at them, making sounds with their lips.  After we finished playing, we used to set a checkpoint from rocks and tree branches, forcing vehicles to slow down, while holding our wooden sticks, simulating guns. 

 

Drivers would treat us differently. Some of them would praise us saying “Heroes” adding a bit of joy by showing his ID to us. Sometimes, we end up with hard-headed ones who would start insulting us, from far away, hence announcing the end of the game.

 

 

A day my eyes caught a newspaper someone threw in the street. I have always had a passion to look at the pictures in the newspapers. I slowly moved towards it with my bare feet covered with dust from running and walking in the street, picked them up and took them to the side of the street, sitting on the entrance of our home. I started to flip the pages of the newspaper, one after one, imitating my father when he reads the newspaper, but I was only looking at the pictures. Suddenly, my eyes locked at a page full of pictures. They were coloured images. The pictures had crying women, bodies, blood, children dead and soldiers with guns.

 I found myself kneeling, getting closer to the newspaper, squinting my eyes, trying to examine the bodies of the children.

 “Why didn’t they shout”, that voice ringed in my ears. Later, after many years, I learned that the voice of children cannot be heard in big massacres, only the sound of bullets and guns.

I spent more than half an hour examining the pictures. One by One. I was seized with rage, suddenly, carried the newspaper and went to my older sister.

-“Throw that garbage out”, my mother shouted from far away, referring to the newspaper.

-“Your dad will get you new ones tomorrow”, she said

I did not listen to her, opened the page where the pictures were, and asked my older sister:

-“Who killed them?”

She looked at me, and then looked at the newspaper and read a bit, then told me “the Army”, Al Jaish.

-“Why?” I asked

She paused a little, and then said, “Because they are like us, Palestinians”.

-“Will they kill us too?” I asked,

-“No, this is in Lebanon, Sabra and Shatila, it happened a long time ago” raising her hand to her face level and making movements to the back, saying, “Zamaaaaan, Zamaaan”, meaning it was a long time ago, in a way to calm me down and diffuse my fears.

Perhaps she saw that my words were showing deep fear.  

Since that moment, Sabra and Shatila never left my mind and I never forgot the massacre. As any child would never forget the first time they hop on the ship, I have never forgotten the first time I picked up a newspaper and was welcomed with such a brutal beginning.

Since that day, I became very attached to newspapers. One day, my father found me collecting newspapers in the street trying to look at the pictures.

– “Throw it away. It is dirty”, he shouted.

– “I want to see the pictures”, I replied.

-He said to me, “Okay. I will bring you new ones, tomorrow”, ordering me to go inside.

Later that week, I found a treasure. It was in my brother’s room, under the mattress of one of the king-sized beds at home.

There were around ten coloured magazines. The name of the magazine was “Abir” and it was a nationalist magazine and had a lot of coloured pictures of “Fidayeen” and “Moutaradeen”, i.e. Resistance fighters and wanted fighters. I spent many days, waking up, picking up one magazine and constantly looking at the pictures without being able to read one line.

That week, my father started to bring me Al-Quds Newspaper every day, after his work. He bought it daily until he retired. I used to wait for him every day when he comes back from work. Once he makes an appearance in the street, I run towards him barefoot, taking whatever, he was carrying, fruits or vegetables, and the newspaper.

One of my older sisters, who used to read the newspapers, used to take it from me, giving me the cultural and sports annexes until she finishes reading the newspaper. They had more photos, and I was satisfied.  When the Palestinian Liberation Organization returned to Palestine, two more newspapers were added to Al-Quds, “al-Hayah”, and “al-Ayyam”. My three older sisters and I used to compete who will read them first.

 

When I became older, I tried to imagine my childhood without the newspapers, without the magazines, without the pictures, without the words and the smell of the papers. Without them, the world would have collapsed. It would have been more chaotic. For me, newspapers, and pictures were the world that takes me from playing “Jews and Arabs”. They were my daily struggle to renew my world and ask delayed questions that I have been answering until now after more than thirty years.

 

10

“I haven’t written a word for a year (…) I’ve tried to write. Every day I sit at the typewriter, but I can’t get started.” – J.D Salinger

“What’s a director if he can’t engage in direction? He’s like a projectionist without a movie, or a mill without grain. He’s a nobody.” – Anonymous

“Even on my best days I haven’t been able to write more than a page or two. I seem to be afflicted or cursed with some failure of mind that keeps me from concentrating on what I’m doing.” – Paul Auster

***

Salinger, Anonymous. Auster. Don’t let names frighten you. I’ve read these confessions more than once. They’re nothing but a thorn prick. But I ask you: What’s a thorn prick compared to a piece of hot metal searing your foreheads and sides?

For two and a half years—let’s call it three, I found no words. All of a sudden, they evaporated. Writing a sentence consisting of a subject, a verb and an object had become a superhuman effort, the outcomes of which were nothing to be proud of.

Unlike Arturo Bandini, unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to find a great editor named Hackmuth that I could write to in complaint, “My God, Mr Hackmuth, something’s wrong with me. The old zip is gone and I can’t write anymore. Do you think, Mr Hackmuth, that the climate here has something to do with it? Please advise me. Advise me please!” Then he would say reassuringly, “Take it easy. Get out and about. Words can’t abandon you forever. And one last piece of advice: Don’t strain your eyesight. Remember what happened to Tarkington and James Joyce!”

It was the longest siege of determination ever, the longest siege in history. Longer than the Siege of Leningrad. I love the look of this sentence in Russian: Блокада Ленинграда. And the result? Nothing. I won’t delve into the causes of this disability, whose scars I’ll carry inside me forever. As for my body, there was no way to hide its fingerprint anymore: sunken eyes and a distant gaze, like that of a devil in torment amid a crowd of guffawing angels.

Throughout that period, I watched a lot of movies and read still more books. I slept like a polar bear, without a hope of anything. And the poetry that had once placed a golden crown on my head, I flung in the dirt. As I read, I became more alert, more sensitive to words, and my undisputed insightfulness expanded. Still, though, words receded into the distance. As soon as I put my hands on the keyboard, they would tuck their long ears like rabbits and go scurrying terrified for cover into the writing field. Then, nothing would happen but the swaying of dry grass.

I got up from the table and went to stand by the window that looked out over the mountain, but I went on hearing the grass swaying. I slipped into bed, and the swaying slipped in with me. Bleak tall grasses like violin bows at a funeral moved with a black subtlety and grace, as though they were congratulating themselves on the abundance of water and nourishment in my nightmare-rich soil.

My eyes went on sinking, and my gaze grew more and more distant. As the days go by, it became more and more similar to the look of Van Gogh—the Vincent Van Gogh that you all know. And I mean it literally, not figuratively. My gaze terrified me. The fear raging in my heart terrified me too. But I wasn’t afraid. Believe me—never once in that entire period did I feel afraid. You know what the movement of the grasses did to Van Gogh. It drove him out of his mind. And you know what it did to Hemingway. He endured it for a while, but ended up blowing his head off with a shotgun. Believe me. Even after seeing a picture of his brains congealed on the kitchen wall like quince jam, I didn’t feel a grain of fear.

I don’t mean to brag. However, it’s the truth, and not in comparison with these two men only, but with everybody. My stamina is incomparable. I’ve put it to the test on more than one occasion. In the military barracks, when I was in the army, I outdid everybody, soldiers and trainers alike. When everybody else was out of breath and blue in the face from fatigue, there was one lung that went on working, one that kept on breathing comfortably. And when everybody stopped, one person kept on running to the end of the barracks racetrack. As I said, I don’t mean to brag, but I think you know who I’m talking about.

I’d never known where this muscular strength came from. However, I did know that it had to be the source of every other kind of strength, be it spiritual or emotional. As for how to translate this muscular prowess into a spiritual and psychological immunity, and into a poetic and aesthetic salvation, this was the mystery I had to solve.

Three years in a strange city, in a house consisting of two cramped rooms, a bathroom with an area of two square meters, and what looked like a hallway that was supposed to be a kitchen furnished with a single chair and a table for both eating and writing. There was an Olivetti typewriter, two brown sofas, a vertical window opening onto a balcony overlooking the mountain, a horizontal window overlooking the forest, a couple of flowerpots, a couple of oil paintings, a couple of deluxe bronze frames housing photographs of my father and mother, and two vertical bookcases affixed to the living room wall, with books placed under them on a wooden stand, and others on the floor. There was also a bookcase in the bedroom. And there was nothing else. N-o-t-h-i-ng but that sound that roamed from room to room, a sound that resembled the movement of dry grasses in a field whose inhabitants had all died.

In all this, there was something that made me feel proud even when I was ridng the metro, a stranger among strangers. Even when I was drinking coffee at the rail workers’ canteen, or in restaurants that catered to petty officers, sporting the crown of thorns that had taken the place of the crown of gold, there was something that made me proud.

It’s inexplicable. But I might say I have a self-esteem that saved me throughout that period. Even when the water was up to my thighs, I was confident that I could bring the boat out of the storm.  My self-esteem kept me from leaving the helm even when the water had reached my manly 40-centimeter waist or was nearly in my mouth. When all I could do was stare up at the skylight, I kept hold of it, drawing the ocean air into my nostrils.

Meanwhile, on dry land, in noisy pubs, everyone was reporting the news of the boat’s sinking and its captain’s demise. Glasses clinked and sparkling toasts were drunk to the accompaniment of embraces and pats on the back.

The captain, of whom we heard no more until everyone forgot him, was now simply a “he”, free in the waters of the sea, and independent. As “he” was battling the waves alone, “I” was repeating the same monotonous cycle: drinking, reading, sleeping, waking, peeing, bathing, riding the metro, working, and leaving work.

Everything was quiet until I heard the sound of the engine roaring again, and the beloved words of Christ reverberating in the silence of the house, “He was unknown when He was alive.”

And I shed hot tears.

I went to sleep with wet eyes. As my eyelids began to drop, “he” and “I” plunged into each other with the grace of a rose stem as it plunges into the soil. Then the time that had separated us slowly disappeared, leaving a foamy streak like that left by the passing of a ship.

The sun rose.

I awoke beneath the weight of a feeling that a magnetic field was drawing me steadily toward dry land. Suddenly I was no longer certain whether I was in my room, or out on the ocean, whether I was “me” or “him.”

The boat wearied me as it was being drawn to shore.

As I tossed and turned under light blankets, it occurred to me that my long hours of sleep hadn’t been devoid of determination. I thought about the blank page that had humiliated me over the course of those three years, and how I could make public the agony those years had brought, even if the effort would be like emptying a waterlogged boat with a bucket.

Translating this effort into words, and from words into a mental image, is what prompted me to resort to silence. And it is this very thing that now prompts me to recognize that any style not dictated by your true situation is bound sooner or later to end.

 

 

11

This city — this city is so fucking expensive that I can’t bear it. And it’s so fabulous that sometimes I can’t bear it. Expensive and horrible — that would be better. To enjoy it, you need money; to have money, you need to work a lot; but when you work a lot, you don’t have the energy or time or desire to enjoy it.

The endless list of unpaid bills was like a noose around my neck. Debts to my friends and acquaintances. About ten thousand.

All of this — the debts, the fears, the fatigue — all of it has been building up for the last six months, and finally I began to think about getting free of it all — about suicide. The contemplation stage changed to the planning stage.

In the past I was always stopped by three things: my own cowardice, hope that things would get better, and my mother. But now I’m at the point where I’m alone with a storm cloud of shit hanging over me. I know that if I stay here, all that shit will rain down on me and I’ll never dig my way out. Why wait? Better to get free. The only thing left was to decide how to do it.

I read up on it. Drowning, hanging, shooting — too painful. I’m in enough pain as is it, and I don’t want to end it the same way. All that’s left are pills. Take enough, fall asleep and don’t wake up.

If you’re alive, at least once you’ve thought about having the power to end it. Don’t tell me you haven’t. I won’t believe you.

But I didn’t have the money to buy the pills, so I went to my best friend. I already owed him 6,750 shekels.

“I hate to ask, but I really need it. I promise it’s the last time.” I wasn’t lying. This really would be the last time.

“How much?”

“Two hundred.”

He made me a meal of rice and salad with tahina, put me in a cab, paid the driver, and sent me off.

It turned out awkward — this was the last time I’d see my best friend and I didn’t even really hug him. My taxi was holding up traffic, the cars were honking like crazy, so in the rush I didn’t even have time to say anything of substance to him.

One box of pills wasn’t enough to kill me — they must be popular with suicides so that’s why there weren’t many of them. In one box, I mean. That’s what I figured. To kill myself, I’d need four boxes. I decided it wouldn’t be right to buy all four of them in one Super-Pharm — I was afraid I’d get suspicious looks — so I decided to go to four different drug stores and buy a box in each one.

I bent down to tie my shoelaces — that happens to me a lot, my shoe laces coming untied — and when I stood up and reached for the little pouch bag that held my cigarettes, lighter, lip gloss and 200 shekels, I realized that it was gone. I spun around like a Hanukkah dreidel and saw an Eritrean boy, about 13 years old, running away with my bag. I ran after him. He saw me and took off like a panther. Today was not my lucky day.

I wasn’t going to catch him, and I wasn’t going to die.

The screech of brakes — still playing in my head on a loop. A crowd of onlookers, the driver in a panic, the boy screaming, and next to him — my bag, and in it my liberation, while I stood rooted to the spot.

Then: ambulance, stretcher, doctors… They drove off, and I remembered that the 200 shekels my friend gave me weren’t in my bag but in my pants pocket. I raised my arm and a cab appeared instantly.

“After that ambulance!”

They took the boy to Ichilov Hospital. Like a scared rat hiding behind the column of people, I followed them — the doctors, the stretcher and the boy.

He was playing with his phone when I went into the ward and sat on the chair next to his bed. He was already feeling better. The nurse told me he’d dislocated his arm. The boy looked up. We locked eyes and he cringed. I held out some chips, an apple and a Kinder chocolate.

“I didn’t know which you’d like.”

“I like chips,” he said, and took the packet.

We didn’t speak as he munched. His mother, a thin black woman, flew into the ward, hugged him and then something caught her eye and she shouted, “You’re doing it again!” She grabbed my bag, which had been lying on the bedside table. “You’re stealing again! I told you that I’d manage. I’ll save your sister! You hear me? She’ll live!”

And then she finally saw me and stopped talking.

I walked out of the ward without saying a word. I’d forgotten what it was like, what it was like when you wanted to live. I called my mother, told her that I loved her, and then I called my best friend and asked him out for a beer. I didn’t tell anyone about it. I was ashamed, you know?

But all that disappeared really fast. Only a few days went by before that storm cloud of shit was hanging over my head again. Only this time it was even worse.

“I hate to ask, but I really need it. I promise it’s the last time.
“How much?”

“Two hundred.”

This time I hugged him and told he was the best.

My friend suddenly said, “Tonight there’s going to be a great concert at Kuli Alma. Nina Simone’s songs. We ought to go.”

I almost burst into tears, so I quickly jumped on my bike and rode off. When I chained my bike by the Super-Pharm on Allenby Street, I saw that my shoe laces were untied — you know how that happens with me, my shoe laces come untied — and when I stood up and reached for the bag that had my cigarettes, lighter, lip gloss and 200 shekels, I saw that it was gone. He took off like a panther.

Shit.

But it’s always noisy on Allenby and the kid probably didn’t hear me. Just in case I checked my pockets. There was only my phone, which rang.

“You won’t forget? Tonight. Kuli Alma. Nina Simone. At ten.”

Looks like I won’t die today either.

14

The day I moved from the city to the country my dog returned his spirit to the God who gave it. I do not know whether it was the shock of the move or just a coincidence. Nevertheless, at one-thirty in the morning, after a death rattle that appeared suddenly and lasted a few hours, he lay his head in my lap, shivered one last time and went limp, while defecating on our new wooden flooring. Throughout that evening I could hear the jackals howling from the dry riverbed nearby. I don’t think there was any special reason, certainly nothing symbolic. The jackals were being jackals, and their howls were just howls. Yet back then their sound was still foreign to me and struck me as ominous. Moreover, at the very same moment the dog endured his final spasm, I heard a loud, guttural howl that was altogether different from those that had preceded it. I’m a rational person, but I must admit – it sent a shiver down my spine, and for a moment I was almost convinced it was the dog’s soul, parting from this world in fury and disappointment. Still, I ultimately dismissed it as just another of the jackals’ howls. For who can comprehend all their words and cries? And besides, whatever its source, the howl too ceased definitively after a few moments. Just like the dog.  

I buried him in the riverbed the following morning. It seemed more respectful than taking him to the vet, where they would have undoubtedly sent him off in a black trash bag to a crematorium for biological waste. There was also the issue of transportation: conveying a dead body, albeit canine, in one’s trunk is a rather messy affair for the average law-abiding citizen. A burial felt more dignified. For dust you are, and to dust you shall return. Since you’ve already made it to the valley where we hoped you would roam, at least your bones will be laid to rest honorably in its soil. I do not wish to exhaust the reader with the fine details of the burial. In a nutshell, the dog was somewhat overweight, and the dry rocky ground of early summer refused to accede to my shovel’s pleas. Eventually, I buried my beloved dog in a hole not as deep as I would have wished for him, and tried to compensate for it by mounding a large pile of stones I had collected from nearby.                     

In the days that followed, I refrained from going anywhere near the grave.  Maybe I was just being sentimental, or perhaps it was the strange odor that had come to envelop the yard, suggesting that the grave had not been properly sealed. All the same, after observing the traditional shiva week of mourning, I was overcome by an urge to check what had become of him, especially as the odor had begun knocking gently on the windows of the house during the nights. My heart told me that the scene I would encounter would not be a pretty one, but I was motivated by a sense of responsibility: what if a child walks by and comes across the grave, which I now began to suspect was open? Again, I will not tire the reader with graphic details. Suffice it to say that a half-eaten leg was protruding from the ground, like a strange summer bloom. The foot was completely intact, including the fur in its original honey hue: a true collectors’ item. Below, however, there was only gnawed red flesh with pieces of brown bone poking out. I fled home, praying the jackals would finish their sloppy work as quickly as possible.           

A few weeks later, on a mid-summer Saturday morning, I was out having a light breakfast in the garden when I suddenly heard another strange cry coming from the valley. This time, I was not under any kind of hurry, and could consider the sound more intently. It was a throaty, agonized cry, like the one a moose or a giant rooster might produce, though neither have ever lived in the southern Judean foothills. My next speculation was that a dog or a jackal had gotten caught in a leg trap, the kind that locks onto the bone and bores a serrated hole into it. I once heard that there were partridge hunters in the area, so it was possible one of them might have set up a trap and mistakenly caught an animal with which he could do nothing except toss it away on the roadside. I waited another minute to see whether the sounds would subside, and when they did not, I set out running through the back gate to see if I could help. As I ran downhill, a potbellied man of about fifty appeared before me, wearing a woolen sweater and hat, despite the hot weather.

“Did you hear the hyena down there?” he asked.  

I held my tongue. For a moment I was filled with a strange fear that he was an inspector who suspected I had buried the dog against the regulations.

“I saw it there, on the path.” He turned and pointed. “You’d be better off not going down there.”

“Is it dangerous?”          

“Only if you’re a carcass,” he laughed. “No. It’ll just run off the moment it realizes you’re after it. They’re smart animals, those hyenas. Smarter than dogs.”     

I got the hint, so I thanked him and walked back home. I waited quietly behind the orange tree in my yard until I saw him come up the path, pass the garden, and continue on to the street.

Every day since, with complete disregard for his instructions, I walk across the valley to look for the hyena. It doesn’t require a whole lot of effort. I fill a thermos with coffee, find a good vantage point, and wait. Mongooses pass me by in wonder; partridges march their chicks across; and one time I even inadvertently frightened a gazelle. But no hyena. Not once. Apparently, the scent of my yearning fills the valley.

And yesterday, on top of everything else, my house was broken into. I guess I forgot to lock the door when I went out for my daily walk. Upon my return I found it hanging from its upper hinge. I went through the rooms to check what had been taken. I do not possess many valuables. Still, there is my laptop, phone, car keys, wallet. All were left at home, and all remained untouched. I could not be certain that all the cash in the wallet was in place, but the credit cards were,  along with a few bills. I figured no thief would take only some of the money. On one of the walls, in the corner, just above the floor, I found a small drawing of a dog, sketched in black chalk. “This is not a pipe,” was written beneath it.              

I set out to look for a hyena in the valley near my home. Of course, I set out to look for a hyena. A genuine hyena, flesh, and blood. What else could I possibly be looking for there?


 

*The story has won the first place at “My one-hundred meters” competition, that took place during the Coronavirus lockdown.    

15

About one o’clock in the afternoon. The wind is busy rolling along some beer-can that has been drained of its contents in the deserted street. A massive silence links the arch of the Sea Gate with the enormous clocktower 1 The clocktower in November 7 Square is a symbol of the coup mounted by General Zine al-Abidine ben Ali against President Habib Bourguiba on November 7, 1987. The clocktower stands where a statue of Bourguiba stood before. 2 where Mohamed V Street crosses Avenue Habib Bourguiba. The tranquillity of the deserted capital city is disturbed by its well-known nutter: a paranoiac who circles the tower for the last time then starts pushing people away, warning them of the poisonous hands of the clock high above. He then starts to throw stones, pieces of iron, houses, trees, crows and goats at imaginary enemies; things that are invisible to anyone else. He imagines that he is picking them up from the marble base of the wrought-iron clocktower that flaunts itself like a whore in the last years of the struggle. People have forgotten the days of forced disappearances and fear. Not a single person has disappeared for a year or more. People are enjoying the sacred siesta of August. The temperature is over fifty degrees, and the devil of midday picks the crab lice caught in transient lust from its crotch.

Ambulance and police sirens suddenly massacre the slumbering siesta, and everyone rushes, with the traces of drowsiness and dried semen stains still on them, to the street of streets. Something is happening at the lofty clocktower. Cordons of police officers surround the place. Rapid intervention forces hide behind cold helmets, and press back with batons the onlookers at whom car horns honk from every direction. Human beings without number look up to the top of the stern clock. A small remote figure, apparently no bigger than a finger is climbing the clock-tower with the speed of a cockroach. Everybody is amazed. He is about to announce the end of the world.

Necks strain to look at the bold climber who has reached the top of the clock and is holding on to one of its hands. He takes a water-bottle out of his back pocket, has a drink and then empties what is left over his head. He removes his leather belt and secures himself with it to some iron rings, and turns to the crowds that have gathered below like ants. Nervous policemen surround the crowds and run in all directions talking into their radio sets. Gesturing nervously they ask the man up there to come down: up there is out of bounds. Meanwhile he mutters something, the content of which is lost in the air. Only fragments of what he says fall like droppings from a ram. There is a movement of his left hand and he waves right and left, indicating his refusal to come down. The police carry on pushing back the people who are circling the tower like dung beetles. They try to ban any photography, to silence voices and to prevent mobile phone cameras being focussed on the hands of the clock. Traffic comes to a standstill and the car engines throb like the veins of a hundred metre sprinter on the starting line.

Something serious is going on. No one has been bold enough to get near the clock for the two years since a soccer fan fell off it in a delirium of happiness after his team won the President of the Republic Cup. On that day, the water bubbling up from the fancy fountain beneath the clock turned into a pool of red. From that evening the clock was subject to strict surveillance: it occupied a strategic site in the heart of the capital, regardless of what the nutter sometimes said about it.

The crowds grow and the front rows are reinvigorated by tourists who pour in from the beaches and from hotels nearby. The policemen’s batons are a little muted, but the men grow more agitated. They run about everywhere, barricading the pavements and extending the restricted area. Meanwhile the man clings to the end of the hand at the top of the clock like a gecko.

For years on the site of this clock stood a verdigrised statue of Bourguiba on a horse, with one of its forelegs raised to the faces of those who looked up. It was said that it raised its hoof in the face of Ibn Khaldun, whose statue had been planted like a bad dream opposite Bourguiba – and at his request. After he was swept away by order of the present rider, the statue was removed and there sprouted in its place a giant clock-tower with a cold cement pedestal. It was not long before it gave seed to smaller versions that were planted in each town and village, while statues of the Leader were banished from every part of the land.

The clock was changed for another that came from Switzerland or England or America – there were conflicting reports about the nationality of the new clock – and a bronze plinth was decorated in arabesque style. Groundless talk without proof about the clock of unknown origin was installed in the heart of the city that was heedless of its sons. No trace was left of the Leader whose statue was moved to La Goulette to gaze at the bitter sea.

Spiderman remains above the restricted zone, supporting himself with the leather belt from which he hangs as he swings about, like a professional mountaineer. Below, the world, bewildered. The crowds grow after workers leave their offices. One whole hour passes by and the police are chewing their sticks, unable to persuade the man of the hour to come down. Among the crowd strange things are going on. Thieves and pickpockets are busy stealing mobile phones and necklaces from the women onlookers; hands grope startled breasts or oblivious bums.

Climbing to the top of the clock is a serious crime, an unpardonable sin.  What is happening today undermines security. The police are facing a dilemma: how can they get on top of the situation when the scandal is unfolding in front of everybody – citizens and foreigners, and the whole country at the height of the tourist season too?

An officer almost bites the head off one helpless policeman, asking him for the thousandth time, “How did that dirty son a of a bitch get up there? Where were you, stupid idiots? How did you let him get near the clock and let him climb up as well?”

Elsewhere a policeman pounces on a tourist and snatches the camera that he was pointing at the clock. The policeman rips out the battery and nervously hands back the camera, cautioning him against using it again. The barricaded area is a restricted security zone.

The crowds start to mutter about the behaviour of the police as they clear a large space between the people and the location of the incident. Their grievance becomes louder when they see the man on the clock waving his hand and addressing the chief of the rapid intervention forces. As he is waving the empty water-bottle about, they understand he is asking for water. Another bottle is brought. A policeman scales the clocktower’s inner stairway. He throws the man the end of the rope tied round the bottle. The man grabs it and, after the policeman tries to open negotiations, orders him to go back down.

Nothing of his conversation with the policeman is heard. People are busy listening to the ravings of one young man who is shouting, “They’re showing what’s happening on television and you can hear what the guy is saying. Look, I’ve had a text message giving the news and the frequency of the channel.”

People take out their phones. The message reached everybody at the same time. The policemen get more het up and frenziedly start to look for something or other. Another group of policemen come and busy themselves searching buildings all around for the source of transmission and for the camera that is filming the incident.

Some people rush home but crowds remain and others arrive until the pavements and streets are packed to overflowing.


The translation appeared in “Emerging Arab Voices: Nadwa I”, Edited by Peter Clark, Dar al-Saqi in collaboration with IPAF, 2010.

4

You wanted me a slave bought and sold

You wanted me in despair joyless. 1

 

***

 

The distance between one floor and another was months and years. Sometimes the lift was crowded. Sometimes it was empty. Another lift might pass with people going down, but everyone was trying to go up, or convince themselves that they really had ascended. I would have fits of laughter when from my place on high I saw the fraudulent indulgences in the hands of the obsessed down below. It was tragic that they did not perceive the existence of the lift in the first place. So many faces, all looking only for what pleased them. Things and people always change, but the indulgences remain the same. I watched each fight the others to make them pleased with what was pleasing him! Everybody seemed content with their own chance delusion, and fought for it. How could such people have invented Him and striven for Him? I cracked up with laughter when I noticed disciples of the bearers of fraudulent indulgences. They imagined that through their intercession they would ascend. Absurd! Utter madness!

 

“Part of you is still there,” said my companion who had just appeared as he pointed down below. It appeared I had crossed the forbidden zone.

“Perhaps it is you who is not here.”

He leaned against the metal wall behind him. A gaze as deep as the years was etched in his eyes.

“I have been here since before time and space.”

“They created Him and He was created, my friend. What’s with the black?”

As if only then noticing that he was dressed in black, he looked at me, his eyes thinking. He did not answer, but his eyes, to say that is hubris, malevolence.

“Didn’t I say created? It was a joke.”

The lift picked up speed. In fact, it vanished when it exceeded the speed of light. My cells were obliterated. Madness and nothingness encompassed me. Everything was calm. There was no quality of silence to silence that I might describe it.

The number 6 lit up before me. I contemplated it for a moment and burst out laughing. He was almost marked with anger, and I deliberately laughed more. “One more left.”

He came slowly towards me, fixing the essence of his being in a stare: “That will not come to pass if I am with you.”

Casual and sarcastic, I asked, “Perhaps if you kept going, you would get through?”

“How did it escape Him to leave you and those like you?”

“Many things have escaped him, my friend. Now get out of my senses.” And he went.

The lift did not move, but the number 7 suddenly appeared and the door opened. I stepped forward.

I had reached my furthest point in Heaven.

 

***

In nowhere the expanse stretches to the non-horizon. All is white, no end to the white marble and pillars, although they support nothing. White here is a process: He is so it became to be. It bears me to what I am certain is the encounter with Him.

An oval office of mythic proportions. A gigantic desk as expansive as what is behind it, vast in size and appearance, but only four books on top of it! I saw the one seated behind the desk, ensconced on His throne, and He was smiling.

Everything about Him was white too. His countenance created emotions made tangible. His actions gave rise to the attributes, but no attribute surrounded him. I drew closer, a stone’s throw or less.

“So, here at last.”

“As if you didn’t know!” I said.

“My knowledge of an action does not predetermine anyone to do it.”

I wasn’t listening, but resumed contemplating the place. I couldn’t avert my gaze from Him. Meekly, I took in his countenance. I composed myself and said, “Are those the only books here? Do you have a book about Lincoln?”

Anger marked His countenance. I continued defiantly, “He did something that You have not done. He ended human slavery.”

“Don’t test My wrath.”

“Of course,” I said sarcastically, “I’ll ask no questions so as to do no wrong.” I looked at the hands of my watch. It was working fine and I pretended to be busy with it. “This watch has been working perfectly for ten years. A skilled watchmaker made it, but he’s no longer concerned about how it runs. It just works by itself. I thought it wouldn’t work here. But in fact, time passes unconcerned.”

“You come as a supplicant. Ask and I will answer.”

“In the past you did… many things. What I want is a tiny proportion of what has been achieved. It will not change whether I ask you or not. Incredibly, the result would be the same if I entreated my pillow. I have discovered that I must act, not ask.”

His countenance froze into a look of terrifying anger and He was fixed motionless before me.

A glass barrier seemed to enwrap the place. The clouds and the vast expanse were visible behind it. People floating and joyously becoming one with the clouds appeared behind it. I stared into His eyes. Inside I longed that He would know my wish to float away from Him with the others floating outside.

 

5

Someone looking at the large photograph hanging on the spacious sitting room wall would imagine that there was something anomalous about it. An anomaly impossible to define at first glance, and perhaps not at second glance, yet there was no shame in continuing to look. Afterall, these large photographs in their carefully chosen frames hung there for everyone to look at in contemplation of their static details. This picture, however, was not like other staid and solid wedding photographs, out of which beamed smiling faces and where gazes intersected or looked straight ahead. It was an old photograph, perhaps a touch faded, and the gazes were unusual, or perhaps their interplay was unreadable.

“Can the bride please look at me. Over here, here, towards the camera. No! No, not into the corner. Yes, you, hold her hand and look into her eyes, and you as well Dear, look into his eyes. No not like that! God, what’s the problem? Please, just look at the lens or into the groom’s eyes!

 

“No, don’t look at that bloody monstrosity,” he thought to himself, then gave up.

The shutter clicked at that instant, capturing it all, sharply and starkly. A groom with frozen features looking into the space in front of him, a bride looking to her right, where the enormous wooden side of what looked like a wardrobe was visible. Time gets canned like that, without regard for a history that is out-of-date. In the frame along with it we preserve some unspoken convictions and some satisfaction, too, at days when we ask, “Has it really been twenty years? Thirty?”

 

The mirror hanging in the bedroom with the ugly scratches on its surface belies the fallacy of photographs and preserved time. In front of it, the now-elderly bride counts her new wrinkles and laments her faded bloom, then pats conviction and satisfaction on the back before their serviceability expires.

 

The conviction was that she married for cultural wealth in the shape of a giant wooden wardrobe. That conviction itself bequeathed her the satisfaction, and both together ensured her survival. She did not know how far back the history of the wardrobe went, but it had been a reason for the tranquil married life of two or three generations of women up to her mother-in-law’s time. The fourth generation had begun with her.

Some married in exchange for ten gold bracelets, others for an elegant and spacious room in their mother-in-law’s house or as a pampered rival to a barren first wife. But Warda had married in exchange for a wooden wardrobe, behind whose solid panels she piled thick wool mattresses.

 

When still a radiant newlywed, over the wall she heard one woman say to another hanging out her washing, “She got married for a wardrobe. Everyone knows it. Her mother never pretended otherwise. They say that on her daughter’s wedding day, she said between one ululation and the next, ‘My daughter the bride has something that none of you have! A wooden wardrobe that goes from floor to ceiling. A dozen men couldn’t move it.’”

A giant made of wood overshadows the bride and groom in a traditional wedding photograph. They stand next to it, adjusting their looks and their awkward poses.

She had great respect for that wooden giant. As for her husband, she was confident that she fulfilled her duty towards him, as an obedient and conscientious wife. But the two of them brooked no comparison. The former won hands down. Were it not for its towering presence in the spacious sitting room, she would have felt that she had been led to the marital home like an underfed ewe. She maintained it like she maintained her dignity. She had sold off her few pieces of jewellery, and only kept hold of a few items of clothing that had not worn out and from which the whiff of memory had not faded.

But the wardrobe however! She took care of it just like one of her four children. The rituals of cleaning it and repairing its edges, which got scratched by a blindly wielded broom or a lazy body, were rituals that emulated the celebrations of joy in her immediate family, and sometimes surpassed them. In the hidden recesses of her mind, such a comparison caused her no embarrassment.

Almost all the village houses had dispensed with wool mattresses and heavy blankets. There was no longer a need for a large wardrobe with split doors to store their bedding. Only a few houses made washing and restuffing the mattresses a time for celebration, after which, revivified, they would be put away in a modest wooden wardrobe. Her celebrations were more than the mere washing of rarely used mattresses; they were times to restore the sheen to the idea that she was a dowried bride and that her dowry was no less than that of any of her married peers.

When her sons grew up, she married them off without any great worry. Little did she know that she would be recompensed with a great deal of worry when a young man, who owned nothing more than a modest room that he had partitioned off in his family’s home, asked for her daughter’s hand, and that her daughter would fall in love and insist on marrying him, despite his scant means. Back in the day, she had not allowed the women of the district to make fun of her situation, or did not like to let the feeling that she was inferior to any of them worm its way into her heart. Now, however, when she was marrying her daughter in exchange for nothing at all, how would she protect her from belittlement by the village girls? Since this did not seem to be of the slightest concern to her daughter, how then would she protect herself, having given her daughter away in marriage for nothing?

For nothing.

In the morning hours, as the whole household was busy preparing for their only daughter’s wedding, an enormous truck pulled up at the big gates and out jumped five burly men with bulging muscles fit to burst the sleeves of their tight shirts.

Within minutes, the five men were struggling to haul the heavy wardrobe into the truck to head off to the bride’s new home as a present from her mother. The eyes inspecting the blushing bride observed the compelling scene and watched the mother as she warned the men not to scratch their load. “Slowly does it, slowly! Watch out for the edge. Wake up man, there’s a step! Oooohhh, don’t you know how much a wardrobe like this is worth?”

Perhaps she wanted to say, “Don’t you know I bargained away an entire life for it?”

Perhaps none of them understood what the woman who had bargained away an entire life was referring to. No more than a heavy wardrobe with split doors.

“Here comes the bride, or here comes the wardrobe?”

The phrase must have been on the lips of many, or at the very least come up when they tried to relate the details of the strange wedding to those who had missed it. During the rounds of morning gossip it was present with a vengeance, no doubt about it: “Here comes the bride, or here comes the wardrobe?”

“If only they’d taken the mattresses with them too. Weren’t they the pretext for keeping the wardrobe? The objects provided the rationale for their container, how unfair!”

For many days, and with a large empty space having taken over the sitting room, she was plagued by a strange question: Hasn’t the life I’ve lived also been a container? What excuses have I clung onto to keep hold of the container, I mean my life?

A few days later, her husband’s twenty-year-old sofa took up the space vacated by the wardrobe, and right above it hung the faded old wedding photograph. The husband did not ask and did not object. He sat on the edge of the sofa and shouted grumpily as usual for his coffee.

She laughed in her heart as she brought him his cup.

There was nothing more amusing than a wooden husband insisting on his sugary coffee.

 

12