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.
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.
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!”