December evenings, his wife and daughter would linger at the kitchen window to watch the deer come down their switchbacks. There was a stand of chinkapins. The deer would prize the nuts from the urchin-shaped husks. He can see his wife leaning over the sink. His daughter on a stool beside her.
He once cherished this time of year. Days of red sumac and rime, days when the rock walls along the mountain parkway bared swags of gray ice. The rhododendron would curl up like tubes, near blue. Everything on the hillsides would be exposed, including the deer. He sees them standing there still, two images of each other across time, their red aprons on, matching bows at the back of their waists, watching the deer. Such a small, true pleasure, to watch something wild and vulnerable. He rides along the parkway, heading home, knowing his wife and daughter will not be there. He watches the roadbed for ice, for rocks that broke free in the first hard frost. It’s an old habit, the way a parent drives, wary of any threat.
The village had many corners, of which the far western side, leading to the bus terminal, was the bleakest. Om Saber sat on the clean plastic bench installed by the village’s youth committee and waited for the first microbus to take her to the city. With an anxious movement, she reached into her bra to check on the piece of paper she had placed there. Abu Hosny, the old taxi driver, had written down for her all the instructions that she needed to get to her destination: Shatta Prison, where the sweetest part of her now resided, which made distance and time nothing but an illusion. A large cat rubbed its dewy fur on the hem of her black dress. Om Saber smiled and tried to stay still so as not to disturb the cat. She smiled again when she found the paper in its fold.
The mind works like a solar system, an interplanetary medium to keep things running smoothly. Moses speaks in a memorized whisper, his voice soft, like the warm towel he places on her forehead.
Hawa closes her eyes, drifts with the sensation of rocks pounding palm nuts open, small fingers reaching inside for kernels. They are teenagers again, and he is her caring boyfriend who brings her palm kernels for snacks when she lies sick with malaria. She healsand they celebrate with dance: the small of her back supported by his palms as she melts into a ballet fondu. They dance under the palm tree, pretend they are ballet partners at school, performers onstage. If only things were that simple again.
Farah was struggling to keep her balance in the heaving crowd near the locked gate. Despite how long she would have to wait to get into the hall at Amman University—where she’d already been standing for more than an hour—she remained both calm and cheerful. She was even humming a song—the last one she’d listened to on the way from the border crossing to a modest hotel in the Jordanian capital where she was sharing a room with the university friend joining her for the Fairouz concert.
At the end-of-year meeting, the teacher had informed me that Izadi needed to take up a sport, “discover the strength she had inside her,” “meet people,” “socialize,” “work on her independence.” The teacher said these things and other things, just as he did at the end of every school year. I pretended to be surprised, but I knew all of that already. Usually, I was on top of her, and I figured that was a good thing, or maybe I didn’t know, I wasn’t sure. In any case, Izadi was special, and that was the price to pay for raising her with principles. I wanted to enjoy her company as much as possible—after all, I’d wanted to have her so badly. Before Izadi, I’d never taken care of anyone, at least not for such a long period of time, and it was more complicated than I’d thought it would be, much more complicated than just loving someone. Weekends, holidays, every single day… I took care of everything as if it were a lesson plan. I was tired; maybe that was why our relationship had deteriorated. So that summer I signed Izadi up for kayaking lessons even though she didn’t want them.
Ottaviano held the staff high and steady as Scipio tugged at the bunches of leaves fixed to its top.
“He remains content?” Ottaviano asked the giraffe’s keeper.
“He does,” the keeper said. “Twice since sunrise he’s moved his bowels.”
Ottaviano watched Scipio chew. With his knobbly horns, his puzzled hide, and his great neck, he had clearly been made for a far different existence in his home beyond the Nile, a home for which even the library’s grandest atlas possessed only the most rudimentary of maps. And yet, snatched from that home, confined to his pen, the animal betrayed neither alarm nor sorrow.
It was raining nonstop, and the flowing stream of rainwater collected anything it met along the dirt track. As if this apocalyptic scene weren’t savage enough for God, the rain brought with it thunderstorms and gales that threatened to uproot the streetlamp and thin cypress trees dotting the neighborhood.
It was freezing cold, and my grandmother crouched in a corner of the house near the dakhoon, which no one had lit, shivering under her black woollen shawl. From time to time, she muttered, “Oh, Mary, mother of Jesus, protect us!”
I was leaving El Rafidayn supermarket in Ramallah. I had bought coffee, wet wipes, and two cans of tuna. One of the Israeli occupation’s patrols was parked at El Rafidayn roundabout. I was alone in the area, and the hour was approaching midnight. The patrol blew its impudent horn. I ignored it and kept my course due home. But a soldier opened the window and called out, “Come over here, monkey.”
He stormed out of the house, yelling and cursing. His belly, hemmed in and taunted by high-waisted underpants (which had once been white), flopped over his waistband as if trying to flee from his too-short pants. He cursed those raucous kids; cursed their parents, those bastards; cursed the father who spawned those wretched creatures. As for his other neighbors: in a matter of seconds they were at the black iron railings, gripping onto the bars that surrounded the high windows to stop reckless children from falling yet still allow the adults to enjoy the view over the city. Meanwhile, the Syrian characters of the soap opera were left to discuss amongst themselves the various methods of smuggling weapons and prisoners, and how to free themselves from the yoke of the French colonizer.
The pores of life are clogged in this room. Making it difficult to breathe. There’s a hanging smell of death that’s impossible to miss. Visitors are unnerved by it. Except those visitors whose nerves have been hardened by the tedium of their dutiful weekly visits to the woman at the far end of the room: boredom and emptiness compressed into no more than half an hour.