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.”
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.
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.
Morning air pumped off, cannabis-induced despondency
Replaced him and her. Far away, his ball-playing days,
His cap floating on the river, his soft tissues
Like severed seaweeds. This happened in 1976.