Morning Light

By JEMAL HUMED 
Translated by ADDIE LEAK

The piece appears below both in English and the original Arabic.

 

For the fighter Taha Mohammed Nur [1]

1

The hallway is cold and disquieting, lined with austere doors marked with consecutive numbers, giving no indication of their occupants.

The corridor is never-ending, leading to a room at its end whose grand entryway, formidable and rigid, seems to surveil the movement of the other doors.

He stood in front of it and straightened his service uniform. He took deep breaths, as if to expel the fear that had accumulated between his ribs on this particular morning inside the prison.

He knocked on the wooden door three times. His knocks were timid, trembling and feeble; even he couldn’t hear them.

Maybe I’m too focused on my breathing to hear, he thought. This horrible morning.

He filled his lungs with air, and the old pain awoke in his chest; then he breathed out, half-groan, half-whimper, and knocked quickly on the door.

Don’t fidget while he looks at the papers; stand at attention, don’t relax, just let your eyes bore a hole in the faded curtain behind him. Don’t rush to answer his questions; he’s talking to himself. He’ll ignore you. You ignore the objects around you. Don’t let him see your fear. Pay close attention. He’ll seem preoccupied, but he’s actually watching you, keeping track of your silences and your breaths. He has antennae and a third eye.

The room was poorly lit, bathed in stale tobacco smoke, and its atmosphere was gloomy and suffocating, reminiscent of the prison’s inner cells; the only difference was the smell of alcohol that permeated the room. Papers and files were piled high on the desk, and old newspapers were scattered everywhere. Dried-out bits of food rested atop plates, some paper, some plastic, disposable napkins were strewn about the leather seat, and there was an ashtray full of cigarette butts, the stubbed-out remains of which were also visible in the dregs of old coffee cups.

He turned his attention to the advice he’d just given himself, and his gaze returned to the drab curtain before his eyes wandered again, despite his best efforts: narrow temples with a prominent forehead, a bald scalp, a stony face—lifeless except for the eyes, which glittered only dully—an untrimmed beard, and a mouth with protruding teeth. Prodding his molars, the man asked, “Have you received Corpse #61 from the hospital?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Pick-up is from the prison gate. No more than three adult men. Make sure to write down their names and ID numbers, and stress that they must not bring women or children. 8:30 p.m. will do; the burial should be an hour after receiving the body, with limited mourners present.”

He slipped in a little feigned sympathy: “Official orders, out of my hands; they must be carried out to the letter.” Then he handed him a faded blue folder. “Drop this off at Room #9 on your way out.” In large, ugly handwriting on the folder were the words: “SECRET. KEEP SAFE.”

Once his back was to the door, which had closed behind him, his limbs were freed from their trembling, his fear dissipated, and he walked with slow, deliberate steps across the damp hall, indifferently, his mind occupied by a far-off time when he was outside these mildewy walls.

At the end of the corridor leading to a small room, he stopped, looked around him, then opened the file cautiously.

Name: Hamed Saeed Karrar

Age: 76

Date of arrest: 17 September 2005

Address: Central Region, Asmara, Gezabanda Tiliyan neighborhood

This information was followed by handwritten interrogation papers stamped “Top Secret.”

The color drained from his cheeks, and the trembling returned.

2

Its evident frailty couldn’t hide the nobility in the old face’s gentle contours. It was a face that resembled so many others in the city, adorned with light white stubble that grew so quickly they hadn’t been able to keep it shaved, atop a diminutive body.

When the corpse was lowered into the damp grave, the rumble of the mourners made itself heard, brazenly trying to break through the graveyard walls. But he felt besieged and naked. Naked except for the years of weapons, comrades, and anthems that now seemed distant and faded.

His eyes probed the circle surrounding the grave. Many eyes were trained on the damp rectangle, and others rose over the tombstones, came to rest in the middle distance around the cemetery, then hovered, penetrating his chest as the murmur became more harmonious. There is no power or might except in God. God sufficeth us and is the best disposer of affairs. He chanted and melded into the whole, joining with it to become one, like a dervish in a Sufi dhikr circle. He went deeply into the flowing sadness; his body shook violently, and his breath rose, restless, recalling distant echoes that had faded, repeating old rhythms that transported him into a state of intense devotion. Various images from different eras appeared to him now, in this location, from time immemorial, and he saw flakes of many-colored light emerge from the source of his selfhood to gather in the distance and occupy it, forming tableaus, some faded, some resplendent, brightly colored, showing some faces he knew well and others he knew not at all. He summoned them, and they summoned him, and his breath rose amidst the flagging hum of the mourners; then he began to hear the neighing of horses that had galloped past centuries before, leaving their markers in his blood.

He tried to wipe away the sweat covering his face and chest in the cold night, but he couldn’t, and he found himself raising his palms in front of his face, listening earnestly to the venerable sheikh’s supplication. His words were as cold and impartial as the night, and like a powerful marid escaped from its bottle, a sharp, ancient lamentation issued from his body, a wail that had been petrified within him for decades and that suddenly came back to life.

God is one. God is one. Only God is eternal.

The sound woke him up.


3

The miserable bar kicked him out, along with the nightmares and ravings that had occupied him ever since he saw the dead old man’s radiant face. He stopped in the middle of the street, which, at this hour on a Sunday, was empty of cars. A column of racing bikes dodged him, and a few pedestrians on either side of the asphalt watched him with pity on their faces. He started looking for something in his pockets, which he emptied onto the pavement. He picked up his military ID and brought it close to his face, stared for a long time at his photo, then flung it away. Banknotes blew off in the breeze. He followed their trajectory with tired eyes. He balled up the rest of the notes he found on him, laughing with a hysteria that only increased the number of curious and confused onlookers, and then trampled them. He walked down the middle of the street, and felt his body light and elastic, like a wandering cloud.


4

Visions flashed thick, fast, and clear before you.

You, buying a blue folder and stuffing it with random papers, then putting on your morning persona and entering after three light knocks in succession. Him, sitting behind his wide desk stacked high with papers. You give a military salute, and before he raises his head from the papers in his hands, you summon all your skills, your sangfroid, and your wasted past, aim your gun, and fire.

The six bullets brought down the curtain and shattered the windowpane, and the light poured in.


[1] Taha Mohammed Nur (b. 1934 in Asmara, Eritrea) was a prominent figure in the Eritrean revolution. He studied law in Italy and, after graduation, co-founded the Eritrean Liberation Front, working for the revolution in various capacities, including as the foreign relations officer. He was arrested in November 2005 and died in detention in February 2008. His family was summoned to collect his body, but just as no reason was ever given for his arrest, they were given no details about his death.

*

انهمار الصّباح

جمال همد

للشهيد المناضل طه محمد نور

 

الردهة باردة ومريبة، تصطف على جانبيها أبواب متجهمة تحمل على صدورها أرقامًا متسلسلةً دون الإشارة لشاغليها.

 الممر طويل ومرهق، يؤدي إلى غرفة تحتل الصّدر منه، تقف بوابتها مهيبة وقاسية كأنها تترصد حركة الأبواب الأخرى.

وقف أمامها وأصلح من هندامه العسكري. تنفس بعمق كأنه يُخرج الرهبة التي تراكمت داخل أضلاعه هذا الصباح الاستثنائي داخل السجن.

 طرق الباب الخشبي ثلاث مرّات. كانت طرقاته وجله، مرتجفةً وواهنه، لم يسمعها حتى هو.

“ربما طغى تنفسي على سمعي،” قال لنفسه، “أفٍّ من هذا الصباح الكريه.”

 سحب نفسًا قويًّا، واستيقظ الألم القديم في صدره، أنّة في إثرها أنة، وطرق الباب طرقات سريعة.

عندما يتشاغل في النظر إلى الأوراق التي أمامه، لا تتململ،  ولا تغير من وضعية الاستعداد، ودع عينيك تخترقان الستارة الشاحبة خلفه. لا تتسرع بالإجابة على أسئلته، فهو يسأل ويجيب نفسه بنفسه. سيتجاهلك. بدورك تجاهل الأشياء التي حولك. لا تُظهر ما يشي بأنّك مرعوب منه. انتبه جيّدًا. سيبدو مشغولا عنك، لكنه يراقبك، يحصي سكناتك وتنفسك، له قرنا استشعار وعين ثالثة في قمّة رأسه.

 الغرفة سيئة الإضاءة، تسبح في دخان تبغ رديء، والجو قاتم وخانق يشبه جو الزنزانات الداخلية للسجن، الفرق فقط في رائحة الخمر التي تتخلّل الغرفة. تتكدّس الأوراق والملفّات على المكتب، وصحف قديمة  متناثرة. بقايا طعام متيبس في أطباق بعضها ورقي والآخر بلاستيكيّ، ومنفضة مليئة بأعقاب سجائر، وأخرى مهروسة في قيعان فناجين القهوة، وثمّة مناديل ورقيّة تتناثر حول مقاعد الجلوس الجلدية.

تنبّه للوصايا التي حدّث بها نفسه قبلها، وعاد ببصره أدراجًا إلى الستارة القاتمة قبل أن تعاود عيناه التجوّل مقاومة رغم ذلك: فودين ضيقين تتوسطهما جبهة بارزة، وخلفها رأس أصلع، وجه صخري لا حياة فيه إلا من عينين تبرقان بالكاد، لحية غير مشذبة، وفم بأسنان بارزة. ما بين كزّة وأخرى على أضراسه سأل:

“هل سُلّمت الجثة رقم 61 من المستشفى؟” ولم ينتظر الإجابة. “يجب أن يكون الاستلام من بوابة السجن. ثلاثة فقط من كبار السن. تأكدوا  من تدوين الأسماء وأرقام الأوراق الثبوتية. شددوا عليهم عدم إحضار النساء والأولاد. الثامنة والنصف ليلًا وقت مناسب، والدفن بعد ساعة من الاستلام، وبعدد قليل من المشيعين.”

أدخل قليلًا من التعاطف المفضوح: “هذه تعليمات عليا يجب تنفيذها بحذافيرها،” ومد إليه ملفًّا أزرق باهتًا، “سلمه في طريقك إلى الغرفة رقم 9.” بخط كبير ورديء ومنفر، كُتب على الملف: “سرّي، للحفظ.”

عندما استدار معطيًا ظهره للباب الذي انغلق خلفه، تحرًرت أطرافه المُصطكة، وتبدد خوفه، وسار بخطوات وئيدة قاطعًا البهو الرّطب دون اكتراث، وامتصّه زمن بعيد كان فيه خارج هذه الجدران وعفنها.

في نهاية الممر المؤدي إلى صالة صغيرة توقف، تلفّت حواليه، وفتح الملف بحذر.

 الاسم: حامد سعيد كرار

 العمر:  76

تاريخ الاعتقال: 17 سبتمبر 2005

العنوان: الإقليم الأوسط، مدينة أسمرا، حي قزا باند طليان

تلتها أوراق تحقيق كتبت بخط اليد، وعليها الختم: “سريّ للغاية.”

انسحب لونه، وارتعدت أطرافه ثانية.

 

2

لم يُخفِ النحول البيّن نُبل التّقاطيع المريحة للوجه العجوز. وجهٌ يشبه عديد الوجوه التي تملأ المدينة، تزيّنه لحية خفيفة بيضاء نبتت على عجل ولم تتوفّر رفاهيّة حلاقتها، فوق جسد ضئيل الحجم.

عند إنزال الجثمان داخل القبر الرطب سرت همهمات المشيعين محاولةً اختراق سور الجبانة بجسارة. لكنّه أحسَّ بالحصار والعري. كان عاريًا إلا من سنوات السلاح والرفاق والأناشيد التي بدت بعيدة وباهتة  .

 جالت عيناه الدائرة التي تحيط بالقبر. كانت عيونٌ كثيرة مصوّبة نحو المستطيل الرطب، وأخرى تتصاعد من شواهد القبور، تتوقف في المدى الذي يحيط بالمقبرة، ثمّ تحوم وتخترق نحره، بينما بدأت الهمهمة تأخذ شكلًا هارمونيًّا. لا حول ولا قوة إلا بالا لله. حسبنا الله ونعم الوكيل. اندغم والتحم وتماهى فيها كدرويش في حلقة ذكر صوفية. توغّل في الحزن المتدفق، وارتج جسده بقوة، وصار نَفَسه يتصاعد باضطراب  مستعيدًا أصداءً بعيدةً صارت باهتة، ومردّدة إيقاعات قديمة كانت تجعله ينتشي بوجد عظيم. توالت صور شتى تنتمي لعصور بدت الآن، من موقعه هذا، غابرة، وصار يتابع رقائق ضوئية بألوان تعدّدة  تخرج من ينبوع نفسه لتتجمع  في المدى فتحتلّه مشكّلة لوحاتٍ بعضها باهت، وبعضها زاهٍ وبعضها فاقع الألوان، تظهر فيها وجوه يعرفها جيدًا، وأخرى لا يعرفها، يستدعيها فتستدعيه، ثم تتصاعد أنفاسه وسط همهمة  المشيعين الضعيفة الواهنة، ثمّ أصبح يسمع صهيلًا، صهيل  خيول مرت قبل قرون وتركت بذورها في دمه.

حاول أن يمسح العرق الذي غطى وجهه وصدره في هذا الليل البارد فلم يقوَ، ووجد نفسه يرفع كفيه أمام وجهه، مستمعًا، خاشعًا، لدعاء الشيخ الوقور. كانت كلماته باردة وحيادية كهذا الليل، ومثل ماردٍ أفلت من قمقمه تدفّق من جسده نحيب حاد قديم؛ بكاء كان متحجرًّا فيه لعقود، وعاد فجأة إلى الحياة.

وحد الله. وحد الله. لا دائم إلا الله .

أيقظه الصوت.

 

3

لفظته الحانة البائسة بكوابيسه وهذياناته التي احتلته منذ أن رأى الوجه الصبوح للعجوز الميّت. توقف في عرض الشارع الخالي من السيارات في هذه الساعة من يوم الأحد. تفاداه رتل من دراجات السباق، بينما وقف بعض المارة القلائل على جانبي الأسفلت يتطلعون إليه بإشفاق يبان على تقاطيع وجوههم. طفق  يبحث عن شيء ما في جيوبه التي أفرغ محتوياتها على قارعة الإسفلت. رفع بطاقته العسكرية،  قرّبها من وجهه، حدق في صورته مليًّا، وطوّح بها بعيدًا. تطايرت الأوراق النقديّة. تابعها بعينيه المتعبتين. كوّر الأوراق كلّها التي وجدها معه، مقهقهًا بهستيريّة زادت من عدد الفضوليّين الحائرين في أمره، وداسها بقدميه . سار في عرض الشارع، وأحس بجسده خفيفًا، مرنًا، كغيمة شاردة.

 

4

تهاطلت  الرؤى  أمامك والتمعت بروقها سريعة وواضحة.

أن تشتري الآن ملفًّا أزرق وتحشوه بأوراق كيفما اتفق، وتتّخذ هيئتك الصباحيّة، وتدخل إليه بعد طرقات ثلاثة، متتالية وخفيفة، فتجده جالسًا خلف مكتبه العريض المكدس بالملفات. تُلقي عليه التحيّة العسكرية، وقبل أن يرفع رأسه عن الأوراق التي بين يديه، تستدعي كل مهاراتك ورباطة جأشد وماضيك المهدور وتصوّب فوهة مسدسك وتطلق النار.

 الرصاصات الست أطاحت بالستارة وهشّمت زجاج النافذة وانهمر الضوء. 

سيرة شخصية:
________ من مواليد مدينة اغوردات غرب إريتريا. اكمل دراسته الأولية في السودان وسورية، ودرس الآداب بجامعة دمشق ولم يكمل. انضم قبيل استقلال إريتريا عن إثيوبيا للثورة الإريترية، وعمل في اعلامها. عاد بعد التحرير لاريتريا ليعمل معدا ومنتجا للبرامج، ومذيعا في الإذاعة الرسمية. شارك في تأسيس “جماعة مبادرة الاريترية” في منتصف التسعينات، وهي جماعة تعني باشاعة المفاهيم الديمقراطية والحقوقية. نشر عدًدا من النصوص القصصية في الصحيفة الرئيسية في اريتريا قبل مغادرته للمنفى. اعتقل في السودان نتيجة لنشاطه الاعلامي المعارض للنظام الحاكم في اسمرا، ثم غادرت إلى استراليا حيث يقيم الآن.

 

 

Jemal Humed was born in Agordat, western Eritrea. Early on, he was educated in Sudan and Syria and later studied literature at Damascus University, though he did not complete his degree. He joined the ranks of the media in the Eritrean Revolution shortly before Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia; after liberation, he returned to Eritrea to work as a producer and broadcaster for the official radio station. In the mid-1990s, he helped found the Eritrean Initiative Group, dedicated to spreading information about democracy and human rights. He published a number of short stories in Eritrea’s main newspaper before going into exile. He was arrested in Sudan as a result of his media activity opposing the regime in Asmara, then left for Australia, where he lives now.

Addie Leak is a co-translator of Mostafa Nissabouri’s For an Ineffable Metrics of the Desert and Hisham Bustani’s Waking Up to My Distorted City, and her translations from French and Arabic have also been featured in Souffles-Anfas: A Critical Anthology from the Moroccan Journal of Culture and Politics, Words Without Borders, The Common, Exchanges, Shuddhashar, The Huffington Post, and more. She is a former Fulbrighter in Jordan, where she lived for six years.

[Purchase Issue 27 here.]

Morning Light

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