There once was a man who left his home every morning at about six or six-thirty after shaving his face. He sprinkled heavy golden droplets of cologne onto his palm and then patted his cheeks. His cheeks tingled, and he experienced the subtle scent of lemon. The sting and aroma made him feel as if he were passing by a fruit orchard whose scent was dispelled in the air. Next, he put on a clean pair of shoes, one that he had polished as the final chore of the previous day, just before going to bed. He quietly stepped out of the house. In wintertime he encountered the first beams of the rising sun. In summertime, everything was lit already. He picked up a pebble from the sidewalk nearby. He used to choose one carefully, scooping up and inspecting a handful until one special pebble called out to him and his heart was pleased with it. Now he automatically put a pebble in the pocket of his pants, feeling it from time to time. The mute texture gave him comfort, and the solid roundness made him feel that he was carrying something unique and precious, something whose value was not diminished by the fact that it was picked up from the sidewalk.
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.
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.
When the boys playing ball saw the fancy automobile approach, they stopped their game and fixed their eyes on these strangers visiting their neighborhood.
Shepherded by her husband, Ali Jibran, Tha’ira descended from the Mercedes in front of a dilapidated three-story building. They left the driver in the car to wonder what could have brought them to the most renowned center for Qur’anic healing in the city.
The couple disappeared through the low entrance, which was enveloped in shadowy gloom. Their driver took a deep breath and replaced the cassette of Qur’an recitations by al-Qariti with a cassette of songs by the singer Ali al-Anisi. He pulled a pack of cigarettes from under his seat. With intense satisfaction he began to smoke and sank into delightful daydreams.
Like everyone else on the train to Roskilde, his eye was caught by the woman in the tattered dress handing out candy to all the children in the carriage. When she reached him she gave him a piercing look and said, “Although I usually give candy to children only, you deserve a piece, because you’re just a big child yourself.” He took the candy and stuffed it in his jacket pocket as he stared after her until she vanished into the next carriage.