For the Voice, For the Fragile Echo
Here we consecrate to shiny paper a
recluse’s scattered reflections drawn
from the emptiness of solitude.
Everything That Diverts Us
The news came as a surprise, despite the information we announced about the forthcoming events as they happened. Our heads leaned toward each other in consecutive consultations as we applied the balsam of disdain on the fissures and breaks that destiny covertly imposed on us when we split safety with the sash of radiant repose, which is our captivating mirage now that the event has occurred.
It was not typical for us to encircle and enmesh ourselves inside remarks of the family, where one word slips into another and exchanges of stories appear to be suspended in the flasks of a memory that grooms the reports it stumbles upon in an endless cycle. But we, ever since the young lady plunged into the dark nooks of a love that proved a bruising diversion, have found our feet taking us to their gatherings, which we have joined, supporting wrath’s partisans and the calls for rejection, censure, and detention—thinking that perhaps our young lady was inexperienced and seduced by a lightheaded embrace and would awaken from the enchantment of the moment as the startling facts became clear to her.
That was during the year’s first months when the fates’ mockery of the terror that affected us and their mockery of our tendency toward appropriate conduct (as we considered separating the threads binding two opposing lives) followed each other in succession. Here we now seized death as a darkness to transcend the senility of its errors, even in this bodily deliverance.
The dwelling continued to be haunted by the challenge of her flight to him throughout ten months that we counted out precisely, ever since she had brought down the knife and severed the jugular vein as blood daubed its splatters on smooth walls and a faded carpet. Our pain was severe when we perceived our devastating failure in attempting to deter her and then her renunciation of us before strange eyes when she recorded her testimony in avid letters: “Keeping me from him will kill me!”
That was her great betrayal of us—the burden of discovery—to announce the disgrace to a crowd that continued to caress her slender body within its white sheets. One of us slipped away, distressed, to bring out, after a brief period, a small bag, depositing it with total submission on the edge of the bed. “Don’t ever come back.”
That voice echoed in all our throats. After that, the matter ended, or that is how it seemed to us, because we continued to be apprehensive about the complexities of losing her completely and of our submission to a group that delineates with pen-strokes the acceptable boundaries of the spirit’s frustration with another person. Then we contemplated squeezing ourselves into the intervening distance and pondering the rubble deposited in the north corner of the house adjacent to the mulberry tree, which had begun to shed its leaves and twigs because of the drought that had reduced it to a skeleton that rested its dead weight against the ledge of the wall.
Anger was sharp, and we could feel its blade cutting and rending like a violator of honor, reputation, and family name—like one whose offense had not ended with his illegal deed. Meanwhile voices contended with each other and blamed one another, increasing the bitterness in the heart and depositing its dark residue in the breast, at a time when two faces were visible to us through the small aperture of this flimsy barrier. These faces, surrounded by spite, were, arm in arm, requesting compassion.
All the same, it was hard for us to understand her affection for him, because the young lady’s husband was known for his penchant for theft and for his drug addiction, which was revealed clearly by the blue blotches that stretched along his arms and legs. His homosexual relationships were also on every lip and tongue. For this reason, perhaps, we clashed like waves, searching for a fork in the road that would take us from the outflow of a torrent that was eroding our destinies, which cling to an arrested aroma that is a balance of creation in its perpetration of the self and in our excessive attachment to fondness toward them in our turn, as we looked for the gentler side, approaching a provocation from their imagination, which sways between loyalty to the heart and advocacy of relatives enflamed by the arrogance of the calamity.
“We apologize to you, Woman Endowed with Captivating Charm, but do not understand your attraction to him or this passion that adulterates your feelings.”
This is what we told her one dawn when insomnia had sunk its talons into our vision—or so it seemed to us.
“But I don’t care about that.”
The voice’s statement came to us mixed with the fresh dew of the day—or so it seemed to us.
After we had warmed ourselves with the heat of the sun, while we were waiting for the right moment, we blurted out at a family meeting during the siesta hour, “Perhaps we were mistaken.”
Then Aunt Mardauda struck her chest and screamed at us as her plump body trembled, “What about the wound here!”
The suspicious look of her eyes gnawed away at the self-examination that had been imposed on us. We attributed her excessive harshness to an aging maternal instinct. She had been afflicted with a nursing baby that kicked, without knowing any better, the shoulders on which it reposed for months while in the daze of infancy. Her pain itself was scandalous, and her grief almost affected our breathing while she was yearning to plan an escape from the rash violence that had come to roost within the circle, which it frequents now—brothers with all the arrogance of manhood and sisters weakened by a succession of female defeats buried in lengthy stories that their tongues whisper back and forth in weekly meetings, in which each woman discloses whatever has infiltrated her innards and remained imprisoned there for days while she experiences it as a lump in her throat. They swallow these tales repeatedly, hoping for imminent release. Then we adorn ourselves with patience, which is a metaphor for time clothed in threads of forgetfulness, as we hope in turn for release from the anxious silence of many months, which are a sentry for small concerns compressed together in knotted clumps. Meanwhile members of the family are engaged in loosening some of these threads and in ridiculing some of the others, while demonstrating their authentic knowledge of what matters lead to and of what events disclose.
Our grief penetrates the breast when we capitulate to successive, unruly images. Their blaze smolders in his blue-tinted body—a miserable wretch in his final rout, which he chose season by season, to conclude his transient life story with an eternal truce, relying on a hypodermic obtained with a bribe consisting of the only bracelet encircling her wrist at the hour of her hurried wedding party one hot and humid evening. He took everything from her and left her in the crapshoot of widowhood and the rubble of the misdeeds that he had formulated as prophecies, which he uttered between one sober moment and the next: “With me, the fires flare up around you. There is no escape there. Get your blood away from me!”
He was screaming excitedly with the fury of a drug addict’s intellect, kicking out at his ghosts around him.
So what, then, do your eyes grieve for, Young Lady, in a tyrant who has contrived traps for you and continues to contrive them with his death? We bend our heads thoughtfully, searching anxiously for a sign that the sensitive heart directs us to—the voice in fear, the whisper that escapes us, while we remain despondent because of him.
In the beginning it was up to us to lift the thick veil from a mélange that announced itself with a harsh exterior. Then it surprised us with its softness when we lifted our fingers with agitated despair, searching for a hole that would be our guide in the gray opulence that was disintegrating into cotton fluff, which flew off with a grace our eyes did not miss. The wind lifted our eyelashes for a second and vanished. After that, we stood in front of the door, the planks and nails of which were concealed; for two successive days its small brass handle was hidden from our sight while we suffered from alternating bouts of wariness, curiosity, terror, and fear. At last, during the final hours of the next day, we confronted the moment of release that, in turn, introduced us to the inferno, which was anything but soporific, of a yearning, which burdened our chests and left us feeling compelled to plant our fingernails in what seemed to us—after close examination—to be caked slime to the fragility of which we should yield, because it betrayed precisely the moment that had planted us before this wooden barrier.
We feebly stretched out our palm and pushed the door all the way open with a high, delicate squeak while observed by the woman, whose pain was obvious as it glided toward us in a calm but upsetting flow. As soon as we stepped over the threshold, we were enveloped by a sorrow that sank us into a daze that possessed us. Then we three pulled ourselves together and formed a small circle, pressing against each other and attempting to discern what surrounded us with a misty fragrance. The clouds encircled us, and our overflowing memories were distilled as grief and solitude. They spilled out that way without any prior warning and allowed us no chance for astonishment. We saw once faded images that regained their fiery flame and that stung our aging hearts with their obstinacy. Unable to block them, we stood as alert as a victim, staring at her the way she was staring at us, pressing our veined fingers together till they hurt.
We had to hold our breath, because we found ourselves pushed by some force down a dark and narrow tunnel. Then a hand grasped our head, which was sliding into confrontation with a pale light as our throats released primitive noises that sounded uncouth to our ears. An ethereal wave of the wanton storm of a passion, which we had imagined to have dissipated along with the merry spirit of our fleeting one, exhausted us. We saw the face, lips, and body that had captivated our breathing with an excess of desire. Then we became aware of the deception; that realization lasted for a glowing second while we were afflicted by trembling that created a fissure, which twisted back on itself and curled up in its secret heart in the middle of a gray courtyard. The body of Aunt Mardauda was disclosed by the play of light. She was stretched out in total submission on her favorite rocking chair. Only then did we regain consciousness; but we were unable to move, because there in the space that stretched from our aunt’s chair and the bed, on a side of which the bones were piled—wrapped in a piece of cloth with little lilac blossoms printed on it—we saw his specter, which immediately turned its face toward us. Then we turned our faces toward the other visage, which was relaxed in a dreamy kind of swoon.
“Wake up,” we said to the face under the sway of the charm of the nightgown. We locked hands in the concentrated magic of the circle, cheek by jowl. We crowded together in our dread, face-to-face with the darkness and what it revealed by mastering the onlooker.
There lay the bones, which we kept carrying, at every sunrise, down paths the light revealed, vanquishing our extreme sleepiness. We searched in the humble cemetery for the dark pit that our aunt’s pickaxe had made. There we confided to the earth her secret and gently patted down the moist soil’s concerns as we laid the bones to rest and then retraced our steps, afraid of stealthy eyes. We recited one Qur’an sura or another to ward off misfortune in a rough and thorny shelter and whispered calmly, “Hares, rest quietly this time, for our sake.”
We invoked God’s name on the dirt that we patted down over him to prevent a suspicious eye from detecting this aberrant nighttime deed by a flame that seems to us to blaze a long time.
This confusion lasted a moment, because once we turned our eyes away, we gravitated toward images glimmering in a clarity that revealed itself in the scene that joined her body and his specter while he oscillated between two worlds, standing consecrated by agitation among his bones, whose worlds were folded up in a cloth triangle, which our aunt’s hands had crafted. Although he was beginning to appear, he remained thwarted by his nebulous existence and a body with no extension.
The images dissolved into each other, undulating between the two of them, glittering and fading away, trailing behind them little memories—of an olive pit that rolled away while still scenting his breath, of the compliant way he nibbled her earlobe when her affairs distracted her from him. Between their two bodies, images flew in all directions, lay dormant, and blazed—their hiss stretching out like unhurried sexual desire that takes its time and is deliberate—until the two interpenetrated and we no longer saw anything.
The woman, whose passion had been excessive, had devised an idea that seemed eternal. We knew her charm and how she set out every day with her small but powerful censer, which drove away confused spirits that clung to him in the boredom of their misty diffusion as she murmured talismans the whispered reverberations of which calmed our distant memory. We trailed after her carefully to avoid creating a fissure in the frame where our aunt’s image appeared. She was kneeling and prostrating her supple body, which was overflowing with sweetness and granting all this fullness to the grave that enclosed him. Then she brought out her small pickaxe and struck the ground with a firmness that spilled the rivers in our bodies. We tried every night to be cautious when we lurked behind our shadows as we followed her to him.
“Aunt, Aunt, let Hares rest in peace.”
Her strong arms fell with precision and care. With assurance she excavated and gently gathered the bones, whose exhumation was reflected on our pupils when she lifted the piece of cloth with multicolored beads on wool threads worked into its fabric. The cloth held his bones on the dark path home; then she laid them to rest on her bed in her room, which was crammed with memories that harmonized and struggled with one another as their origins and history mixed together in a misty, foggy bequest replete with loss in which we, for our part, prostrated ourselves till we collapsed into each other in a huddle, through which we sought to ward off whatever we were powerless to sweep away. That was why our feet were set in this tight circle as we succumbed to the magic of the circle and brooded about the icons hanging from small nails pounded haphazardly into the whitewashed walls, which he himself had painted numerous times without successfully overcoming the moisture that oozed from the wall, in the crevices of which cluster tiny snails that continue to reproduce with death-defying lust. The icons, some of which he had brought in a small wooden box, were worn at the edges and pockmarked in the corners. Hieroglyphic symbols stamped arcane pride on their marriage, which they frequently contemplated till they could almost have sworn they had seen its daily occurrences transpire and disclose to them in the evening hours their union, which they doubted to the point that they came near to touching it. The man’s night-like color charmed her, and she remained enthralled by the rich and aromatic pitch-blackness of his skin. The color became a mode of being for him and introduced her afterwards to the insomnia of racial differences with which things initiated her in the morning and brought with it the weight of its features, pointing to the matter of Hares with a frivolity that exhausted her through ambiguous hints.
“How can I leave all this now?” she asked with little apparent concern while she carefully recorded his words, which he dictated to her during those many noon-time hours to create lengthy letters in which he implored an international court to examine the question of slavery, which continued to amaze in a century that was burying its blemishes and burnishing the history of its doubts, leaving them in the custody of change till liberties could be seen as clearly as if hung in frames in corners, discharging their luster now, denuded of memory.
He turned his gaze to the old leather bag and to the papers, some of which contradicted others—regarding which statements were recorded and which stories were testimonies of the first instance. He could almost hear the shrill ring of his invisible chains, which had left shadows around his feet and wrist. His painful wait for these repositories of humane dictates to pay attention to him—these people concerned with the legal violations that had accumulated in the memory of the documents they reviewed calmly in a sedate atmosphere, enchanted by its neutrality. Then events grew confused for him. So he would join together historical periods and erase imaginary maps, pointing to them with the suspicion of a migrant, a resident of continents’ thresholds. He was a prisoner of this port, which was convulsed by endless childbirth. When she noticed him in complete submission, he was a little agitated, and his rattling voice rose to the level of weeping as he explained his bodily remains, whose remnants were scattered with the resolve of a person blocking a high wind in a smudge of what is around her with hallucinatory forgetfulness.
His specter was guided to an ancient debate the events of which transpired before our eyes. We were in a circle with one another, hunched down to share in the struggle, watching him while he braced himself and screamed, scattering the papers around him, and then went back to counting the foreign currency tied up in a cloth bag that hung around his neck—until he grew tired and fell in a desperate heap at her feet.
“Isn’t death a conspiracy? How can I repose peacefully, Mardauda?”
Certainty about a secret collusion pervaded us—we who persisted in extricating his bones from her hands while she slept soundly. Then we ran with them down the paths at dawn in a breathless race against the light, which was slipping through the walls’ cracks. We obstinately threw them in their hole, the darkness of which seemed to gape wide before our suspicious pupils.
In this roaring sorrow of his, will he forgive us for the nebulous terror we have inflicted on him? With its contradictions, it restrained the traveler whose spirit floundered in a gloom that is a jest of fate. It compounded his existential crisis, which was represented in files that numerous months stole from a life in which doubts and questions were multiplied about who possessed the greatest share of it. His sudden death occurred after the feeble effort that international laws in The Hague, in a building like an embryo guarded by bullet-proof glass, electronic checkpoints, and hard-to-obtain IDs, made to humor him. What we assumed was a raging anger the intensity of which would fade after Hares grew accustomed to his ultimate destiny, obtained our compliance and afflicted us with the restlessness of a marginalized, alienated spirit, which was humiliated every night when Aunt Mardauda rose from her solitary sleep to share his pitch-black gloom so he would come back and return the arrangement of his life’s story to the folders covered with dust, assiduously ignoring death’s conspiracy, which spent the night disturbing his everlasting sleep, not knowing the substance of its rude timing and incredulous that it could be mercy of another kind.
Mardauda did not rise at dawn; instead she was moving her body back and forth in that rocking chair of hers and submitting to an intimate geniality that is not conscious of loss. By holding his specter captive, she wallowed in a torrent of words and images, in which her amassed breaths were crammed with the scent of desire that broadcast its terms in a fetching, harmonious motion, which we could observe. We were the intruders involved in aggressive surveillance, ignoring obedience to the dream and its force. We clung to the guidance of the intrepid reality that was heaped in the scrap of cloth toward which we stepped cautiously for fear that the long eyelashes, which lay in the enchantment of the everlasting, would quiver. As soon as our fingertips grasped a corner of the cloth, we felt the colorful striped beads until the circle’s talisman was disabled. Previously we had fallen for minutes into its wilds as the agitation of hesitation overwhelmed us.
Our guts suddenly responded to running as we stumbled down trails on which stillness had printed its murky traces. We stroked the moist earth with our fingers, which dawn had chilled. Then we bowed our heads till our brows touched the earth: “Rest in peace, Hares, and spare us this agonizing night watch.”
As soon as we lifted our faces, we confronted the familiar scent of the place, which encircled us with the trappings of his final existence and then with the fluctuation of our bodies, which did not leave the narrow confines where they reposed for the warmth of the ordinary daily clinging to its well-known superstitions. At that time we realized that our going had not really been confirmed by our considerations, which captured the scene, as we had previously imagined, in the same place that had welcomed scattered bits of their life and that had afforded them a time outside time.
We thought of the intervals when he was here or there as we attempted to find the fissure that led us to this condition while we were deluged by the scattered fluff of a woman who drew her silken touch across our faces. We stood, like this, in clear view of the doorstep and the brass door handle.
It won’t be easy for the stranger standing before this spatial abatement to grasp the struggles that have retreated into our bodies. Here our tiny, dilapidated courtyard is seen by us—static, immobile, and sullied by a torrent of despair, while blood stains mark the rough walls and the velvet pillows, which are strewn about like fall leaves that sense the angst of departure.
Here they are with their daily quarreling, wailing, and screaming—our relatives who are as close to us as our jugular veins. The stranger almost falls, disoriented by the claims of recording, explanation, and favoritism and at the same time senses the craving for bloodshed, fisticuffs, and a clash of bodies motivated by this rage.
He is heading toward our courtyard—driven by the complaint of a heart to parade his slenderness—seeking a truce with the rattling scream in the convulsed faces before him. Not knowing, not caring, he lowers his eyes and hopes—pretending to forget the flaming doubts in the clarity of each morning; when his body is about to move, it struggles in ethereal gravity, which is momentary submission to the image of death revealed before him.
For this reason, he stands at a distance and gazes, searching for her image in her ringing voice, which is chokingly frivolous. He believes that his audacious calm will cast its shadow toward her and that Ihab may then turn her face toward him, surprised by the light’s abatement.
The stranger with the misty eye will never deal judiciously with her seduction. She seduces with the snare of a mastery that is securely tethered by its sturdy, dark threads. This snare has been fair game for years that have revealed, elapsed, and disintegrated in an old age in which time has hummed for her while she has turned toward her mirror and released a sigh. This was followed by her moan, with which she evoked whatever was fickle and crept or strutted rashly in the quarrel she invented, savoring with it the licentiousness of the word that discloses a force and a despair cloaked in self-replication overseen by a diaphanous existence.
It would be obligatory on the face that submitted to this spatial abatement to grow accustomed to the spirit’s revelations so that it is conscious of the ingrained tranquility that follows each struggle in our radiant courtyard and also of the fragility of those who knew her and who were penetrating deep into the excesses of forgetfulness and then sinking into the intrigues of deception, the distrust of silence and clamor, and the moments of truce. There was no savior for them other than the severity of this anxiety when they retreated to a cache of fancies they sealed with gadgets that scrutinize the intimate and the innocent against a longing that harmonizes with what it represents of another longing that closes the door to absence and that stages in degrees a relaxed withdrawal into the body’s sweetness and the tipsy staggering in whichever of the spirit’s instruments it musters.
They plunge into the heaviness amid exchanges that close and blossom, that vaunt their duplicity, that demand a language that addresses and chatters on with impertinent sentences that placed their severed remnants around the group’s shoulders and left them with their heads bowed. Whenever they set traps for her, she touched them with her dark artifices. Thus some of them ambushed some of the others—our relatives who are fascinated by failings of heart and body.
A nervous spirit seizes hold of them as they notice her latent sarcasm when she rests quietly among them during temporary moments of calm while she prepares a time for the man who has withdrawn some place, dividing his time between her and his other women. Oblivious to the wound sunk into their spirits while they observe their little girl—as they always imagine her, she is snowed by him and pleads on behalf of his excessive egotism.
One of them weeps when his imagination is too daring and the captivating Ihab appears to his mind’s eye crowned with the act of love, immersed in an assault of moaning and thrusting, stained by their fluids. He pounds his head, hoping to rid himself of this vision and then sinks into the thralls of wine, hoping to forget.
At a time when the fever of surveillance overcomes another of them, he falls into the expedient of wires and a network of lines in a fusion of voices and their yearning, in the impudence of deliberateness and its oppressive ropes. Every time his anger increases, he is confused by the loopholes of the letters that he transcribes in the lines he devotes to her as a place where his capacity increases and he is diffused, eliminating the perquisites with which a man surrounds himself.
“I don’t need this,” he says as he seizes and throws down the necessities for which he had spent whatever he spent.
“Not that either.”
The others are fascinated by his generosity. While the room becomes packed and pregnant and swells, overwhelmed by a torrent of taped conversations that stretch and moan and contend with a whiff of pride for all the possessiveness that colors her impertinent existence, she pushes him into mysticism. So he secludes himself in the flirtatiousness of Ihab’s voice, which is scented with quavering supplication.
He allows his life to steal away in the silence between one syllable and the next and isolates himself in his small room, which is imprinted with the magical existence of the woman whose prey he has become in the midst of his own plotting, to which the family’s jealousy and his own haughty fantasy of masculinity have blinded him. He forgets his caprices and desires, which long had directed their fingers toward him, to drift into her dreams, which are veiled by a fabric of the tales she recounts with all the passion of an addict, while he swallows them hook, line, and sinker—embracing them and opening with them the structures that are hard for him to understand in devouring all this—the role that unravels, swaying from his memory. He no longer comprehends the meaning of anything except his immediate situation.
We see him befriend the stranger who has been seduced by her seductions, and they spend many hours together, going back and forth while discussing her, drinking mint tea in widely dispersed coffeehouses, rolling their cigarettes and puffing their smoke in the air, while searching for a foothold that will guide them to her and trading stories of naïve adventures with her and of the disaster spawned by a conceit of masculinity, which gains only a nod of disapproval from her. They toy confidently with each other and multiply in that place of theirs as faces replicate themselves and withdraw to the evening’s stillness, which treasures the mark of a place that sketched for their limbs, which extend before them in shocking indolence.
The stranger resorts to this game of welcoming. So he is blissful, and his little whispers yield to the counsels of her relatives, who are exhausted by the orbits woven around her. Thus he hopes, when they cast their words toward him, sketching their plots for him to imitate, that he will acquire her, coloring himself with daring. Like them, he will interrogate her about her departure and her secret preoccupations, about her hushed conversations, about his status of not yet being a spouse whose future tie in the normal course of events is a present reality that will bring him to her attention.
Ihab, who responds to many other men besides him, men who are as far as possible from his scrawny leanness, which she refers to somewhat sarcastically, is fascinated by the bulging muscles of the group of men who surround her, men who give to her and to whom she gives forceful movement and the captivating, supple domestication of her thighs, which are amply provided with a longing that stretches, touches, presses, and contracts, leaving the spirit’s appetite in its habitat, monopolized by the voice that spreads out with a diction that grows louder while the place remains haunted by its ethereal vibrations.
We observe her greedy embarkation and censure her a little—our female who is bathed with the scent of lilac.
What next? Our Ihab, queen of the deferred wedding, breath of perdition—when will we embrace your youthful flippancy or screen and conceal ourselves to prevent any of them from noticing our confusion and our excessive consternation about you?
But she adorns herself with her conquests, unconcerned about the death lurking in the distance. She glamorizes her existence with a powerful perfume and fashions scenes for a gaiety that strides daisies on her skin. Her anklets tremble with her ringing steps down clear but gloomy paths.
Ihab is delighted. She is delighted as she scatters the stories’ fluff on the locks of her admirers, who trifle with her, who compete for her, who feel the weight of anxiety when her relatives flee to her from the traps they have set for her.
Lil-Sawt la hashashat al-sada (Beirut: al-Mu’assasa lil-Dirasat wa-al-Nashr, 2000)
This is the second part in a three part series. The third part will run in 2013. The first part can be found at www.tinyurl.com/8amyos8.