The world was still, and Yunus felt alone in existence. He walked along the shore beneath a sky studded with stars. It was his birthday, and he was finally returning home, after his drinking buddies had departed one by one. What was the essence of his solitude? A void and waiting… waiting for what? The end that no one can escape. All he could hope for was that the end be without pain or suffering, as if he were sleeping, roaming the seashore, leafing through a book, listening to one of his favorite symphonies, lost in thought, or recalling memories from his happy past.
Memory and pain are partners in crime. You will kill pain only by killing memory!
I sit facing the coast in a place where I can see the route by which I came. I stand and try to allow the burdens of memory to fall away. I start to slowly raise my hands as if to drag these burdens off me and throw them into the sea.
These days, I can’t seem to hold on to anything, and yet the screeching of battle takes hold of my mind, my fantasies, and my thoughts. The trainer yelling and the bullets flying were the sounds that pushed me to kill so many of my countrymen. I was led by the lust of my budding virility and my idiotic youthful pride. I was nothing but a fool. The war tricked me and played me like a fiddle. The shouts of Abdel Nasser, and wounded Palestine, and crazy Lebanon—my mind kept an account of them all.
Avenue Mohammed V is silent and desolate this late at night, empty apart from a few stray cats meowing like newborn babies; it’s a creepy sound. Then a she-dog ambles up, stops in front of me, and raises her tail at a black male dog limping past. A single bark of seduction from her and he’s mounting her. They’re cleaved to each other, clinging on, and she shuts her eyes in ecstasy, surrenders to his movements. A delicious tingle runs through me. How lucky they are! They do it in public. They’re shameless—as the saying goes, “Not only God sees them but his servants do too.” They don’t have to worry about a police patrol, or about what people will say.
It was almost time for lunch. The guests had grown tired of oohing and aahing over the properties, the streams, the lakes, the banks, the airplanes, and the beautiful women.
“You are about to behold a rare kind of sheep which you will soon be eating,” announced the master of the palace and surrounding farms, as he stood pointing with his right index finger at a giant television screen.
The guests stared at the screen, where a gaggle of beautiful young women, shapely and fair-skinned, their silky golden or jet-black hair streaming in the wind, picked flowers as they romped through a verdant garden filled with trees, cavorted in a turquoise pool, splashing one another and laughing, and finally sat around circular tables, surrendering themselves to ravenous and seemingly insatiable appetites as they devoured the finest foods. The master of the domain addressed his guests once more: “When sheep are upset or frightened, their meat is tough and leathery, and it tastes like sawdust. Our sheep enjoy only the happiest of lives, leaving their flesh succulent and juicy, so tender that it melts in the mouth and hardly requires chewing—moreover, they are all slaughtered in the prescribed, halal manner.” Turning to his eager assistant, the master added: “Yahya, please give our guests a brief summary of what is required for halal ritual slaughter.”
Before my feet even crossed the threshold of the main door, her voice reached me from the courtyard. She appeared from deep within the cloud of dust kicked up by the sweeps of her palm-leaf broom and called out her usual warning: “Don’t you dare play near Khaduj’sruins!”
An extinguished cigarette is suspended between my fingers. I don’t know who put it there, but I feel worms moving inside it. When I look at them I imagine I’ve seen them before, tens of small bodies—identical, without any features.
The cigarette is a large worm ingesting and regurgitating the smaller worms inside it. They slither into my mouth, filling my lungs, and after a short, loud party there, they begin to flow with my blood.
I don’t know why I felt compelled to jump from the third-floor window. I don’t know where that tree shot out from on my way down. And I don’t know what made our neighbor go outside to hang her laundry at the moment that I fell. I don’t know why I imagined that I died when I collided with the ground. I was happy at that moment of collision; I closed my eyes tight and slipped into something like a delicious nap.
It took only a few moments until I heard our neighbor scream and realized something was wrong. I hadn’t really died; I could still hear the honking of cars driving by.
When I stood up and dusted off my clothes, the crowd surrounding me started to back away. Maybe I scared them. I heard one of them tell another, with fear in his voice: “There are worms coming out of his nose.”
“They are not coming out,” I corrected: “they are spilling.” I left them and walked up to my apartment.
You may wonder how old this sleepless face is. You may put him to bed in a long-gone mountain garden. Or revive him in the gardens of years to come, centuries from now. That’s where I live, in a dimension unseen by your future eyes, where feather-light cars drive by, and words freeze in the air.
This face appears on the other side of the table from me, in a bar suspended at three hundred meters. We sip our drinks in their feather-light glasses: neither raising them up nor setting them down nor clinking them together makes a sound to be heard. We hear no motors grinding or jet engines screeching on the trails wrapping around the mountain lodge. We are immersed in what scientists call the hush void, a space of near-utter silence. Here, voices fall mute when they pass beyond the scant inches of one’s hearing range. In the hush void, words can always be heard by the ears of the person meant to hear them. But if they escape beyond the void, into the vastness below, even a softly-spoken syllable could set off an avalanche in a solid rock face.
Your games are upsetting; they always seem like they’re going to end in tears. Like this one you’re playing right now, for example—I’ve just woken up to find myself blindfolded, with my hands tied to the chair I’m sitting on. I don’t like it at all. But I’m smiling at you anyway, expecting you to come toward me. I’m only smiling because I’m frightened that if I don’t you’ll sense how weak I am and do me even more damage.
The muscles stretching this desolate smile across my face are cramping now, and I give up; I’m going to call out for you, even though I know it means I’ve lost.
They were first brought together digging up other people’s trash, trying to keep starvation at bay. And since that first encounter at the public dump on the outskirts of Marrakech, the two were inseparable.
Abbas gave him the name Minouche and saw him as the son he had never had. Abbas, whose mind was addled with the blind fog of hashish and such obscene quantities of alcohol as would have been enough to wipe out an entire building, was also a bohemian painter whose days blustered by in anxious gusts.