Month: July 2012

This Poem isn’t for You

This poem isn’t about you
This poem isn’t for bright brown
eyes lost sight lungs lost sweet breath beautiful smile lost life
it’s not for you or your
lips gone still blue unmoving and now I think
blue might really be the colour of misery
like they say

It isn’t about another day slow
sorrow stretches time into pale thin sheets
that can’t support happiness for long
before shattering
it’s not about another day that your
pillow’s
gone
slighty
colder
memory’s
gone
slighty
more faded and dimmed and
nothing can help that

(I’ve checked)

This poem isn’t about tending to a
small bush of the white roses you liked
or that watering and cutting out weeds
gets less boring with time

This poem isn’t about holding
my own hand in my other
but imagining yours on the other side
It’s not about a certain tender touch missed or
voice heard in those of others but
only for a moment
blind similarity lasts short

This poem isn’t about you
Because I couldn’t write that one.

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It Seems Like It

I see you there
Ahlan ya seedy
A cup of coffee, tea?
sit, listen to this
If you’re free
I want to tell
some things I see
It’ll only take a moment
or two.

I see you there
Living in the grey zone
The White and The Black
are too definite and you’re too
Unsure
Of where to stand, both are
At times right
So you pick the middle of the battlefield
It’s safest.

I see you there
Asking who I am, and
You never find an answer
past the painfully simple: the wrong,
and the horrendous clichés,
Do you?
Find a good answer or find a pre-cooked uniform
They offer many for the
Likes of you.

I see you there
You’re a walking cliché yourself
No opinion is genuine, you say
Everything is an imitation of something worse
And that’s wise, perhaps, maybe, why not
But it’s also funny because
It’s truest of you
But you hope
if you’re lucky
you’ll blow away that ash
Eventually.

I see you there
Knocking my door and I see you, excited
and like only the infantile do
knocking a cheery onetwothreefour and I
Have answered the door to a child afraid
Because you are a child still
The truth bears no insult, boy
It’s a curious thing, have your fill
Welcome to The Truth Store
We have truths in tightly capped
Glass bottles that shine
Like light itself

Pay at the till.

I see you there
Tending wounds that don’t exist and
fixing mistake upon mistake and another one yet
Wondering if it’s stupidity or ignorance that got you here but
you hope it’s the latter
because you can live and learn and
Ignorance can be fixed
But stupidity is eternal

You don’t want Stupidity.

I see you there
Waiting for the hole to be
Finally filled over with the golden sand
of a love or a greater understanding
or a few moments
(only a few, don’t be greedy)
that have your heart sing until its walls shake
or is it an imagined hole?
You can’t fill
one of those.

I see you there
A word and another
and a fair helping of bother
but with a few smiles too
The recipe to brew one of your days
Most meld into one
Don’t they?

“Indistinct” is the word.

I see you there and I ask you,
Little Child, afraid child,
are you me?

It seems like it.

By the Pale Blue Sign

The wind tickled her hair as she flew.

The chirp of birds was distant and low, like it had always been here in the park. Was it because it had always been either too hot or too cold for the birds to sing louder than they did? The desert climate had always been one that resided exclusively at the extremes: blisteringly hot so that the heat scorched the skin for a few months, then so cold the blood seemed to lodge frozen in fingers and toes another few. She had often observed, like she did today, that the birds’ song was insufficient somehow, soulless, like the birds were singing out of some innate biological obligation than genuine will. This was a summer day, but it was also early morning, and as the dawn took its first breath for the day, the sun was at its gentlest, the air at its crispest, coolest. Sacrificing the hour or so of sleep was a necessary measure, she had often supposed, to enjoy the park at its most accommodating.

They made for the park at the usual time, taking the faded black-and-white zebra crossing as the traffic light blinked red and a sole car stopped to await its green turning. Only one car had stopped as they crossed from one blue-and-green painted end to another, and scarcely more than one could have been expected: it was early, and the streets hadn’t yet been filled to suffocation with cars, as they will surely be in little over two hours’ time. They will scream, their drivers will curse, their horns will roar, and it will be another day in the city. Between two fingers he clinched his book awkwardly, and with his free hand reached for hers, dainty and swaying at her side as she walked. Their pace was deliberately slow. Her eyes met his as their hands touched, and a whimper of a giggle escaped them. They were subdued laughs, small and awkward ones, like those made by minds still half drenched in the thick residue of sleep.

A short walk lead to a metal gate that was always open, and as they passed through it, concrete slab became green grass and bush spotted with small purple flowers. The park was a modestly sized one, tucked between a car park, a hotel, and a residential complex, more than probably built, they had agreed, so that residents could enjoy a serene view when they push open their windows. She hurried to the swings, and he took a seat on a wooden bench to her left. The dawn sky was a low-hanging grey belly with red mists floating inside and across, crimson, the deepest red. The park was empty. Theirs were the first feet to meet its freshly dew-lined grassy floor that day. The week before, they had been too. And the few weeks before those. Two years had passed since their ritual began.

The swings were by the blue sign that split in three sides, one saying NO TENTS ALLOWED, NO PICKING FLOWERS, NO BARBEQUE ALLOWED EXCEPT IN DESIGNATED AREA, the second was a white painted arrow pointing toward the restrooms, and the third was a NO LITTERING sign, with a simply drawn hand throwing aside a piece of trash, with a red circle around it, and a red line running across the circle, end to end. The signs were dimly lit, but they knew them enough not to need to see them sunlit.

She declined his offer to push her when she seated herself on the right swing, one of the two mounted on the iron frame buried into the floor at the ends so it was fixed in place. She pushed forward and swung, while he read, the book’s pages palely lit so they looked, not white, but grey, like the sky above. Having someone push you defeated the purpose – being pushed was good for speed, for the thrill of playing on swings, but she hadn’t wanted that in a while. She had come to prefer the solemnity of slower swing-strokes: fast enough for a decent swing, not so fast as to exert that pulling feeling on her stomach as she hurled back and forth. The only sound was that of their breathing, their earth-muffled steps, and the lulled song of birds hanging above their heads, descending from high treetops.

There are three distinct phases to continued swinging: the first phase is pushing forward, and that stops at the apex of the forward swing, giving way to the second phase. Phase two is the short length of time, a second or so, when the body is suspended weightless, before gravity pulls it back down and backward, into the third phase: the backward swing, which also ends with a slowed momentary stop. The cycle repeats, as long as the person in swinging. Forward, still, backward, still. Forward, still, backward, still. She liked the short stops most. From time to time, he would let the book down and glance over to her, hoping she would be in her backswing and see him. The times she did, she smiled, and he did too.

It was at one of the stops that the question came to her. She settled to a halt, her feet scraping against the floor until she stopped completely. He noticed her stop. “Something wrong?” he asked. “No, no,” she answered. She took a moment before asking the question on her mind.

“What would you do if I die?” she asked.

“Eh?” he asked, peering up from a page.

“I’m wondering ya’ny.” She stuttered, found a word and lost it just as quickly. She had never been able to pronounce R’s, so her wondering was a wondewing. The first time he heard her lisp, he had laughed like the others, but it was a warm laugh she didn’t mind, it was seeped in kindness. “Nev – Never mind,” she said.

For a while, he did as she asked, finding the words on his book again.

“If you die?” he asked, setting the book aside. She nodded in answer, unassumingly and innocently like she does, with three quick shakes of her head.

“If you die …” his voice was frail with uncertainty.

The expectant question, “Aywa …?”

“I don’t know.”

“What don’t you know?”

“How I’d feel. I don’t know. It’s not something I want to imagine. If you die, I … I don’t know.”

It was a few minutes before he spoke again. Having been given no answer, she had resumed her swinging.

“Reem,” he called. “Reem.” She dug the tips of her running shoes into the dirt, forcing herself to a stop. “Reem. I think I know.”

“What do you know?” she asked.

“How I’d feel, if …”

“How would you feel?” she asked, cutting his sentence short.

“You know,” he said, “before I woke up today, I’d been dreaming. I don’t remember what about now, mesh faker khales, but I remember it was a good dream, one of the calming ones. The colours in it were soft, opaque, like the colours in good dreams, not like nightmares. Nightmares have deep, shocking colours. Colours like … well, like the images of a nightmare! Hahaha. Wait. I remember an image. I think it’s … a table. A wooden table. In a room that I think was brightly lit, sunlight everywhere. It was too bright, but not in a bad way. It was … unusual. It was a dream, of course it was. Anyway, mesh mohem, that’s not the point.” He gestured as if dismissing the unneeded details. “I remember waking in the middle of it, the dream hadn’t ended yet. I was so happy during it that its ending upset me. It was so abrupt and sudden, and it upset me. Do you know the feeling? The dream hasn’t ended, not properly, and that upsets you. I think I’d feel like that. I think it would feel like the end of a beautiful dream.”

His eyes fell downcast, and he looked away silently. He didn’t reach back for his book. She pushed forward again. The sun had risen higher in the morning sky, lifting the grey sky and replacing it with a blue one, bright and clear so the greenery below looked its true colour, not a dimmed, darkened version. She was smiling. The wind tickled her hair as she flew.

Case Record no. 49, Aydah Adam

Sunlight spilled through the open window and filled the room, so bright it shone that it must have been one of the brightest days they had ever lived to see. The file lay on the table, his file, she’d brought it with her as she entered. He wondered where they were made, the folders that hold the patients’ documents were manufactured, the ones that hold their case records, their nurse reports, their statements of release. His file was altogether an insignificant one: a light, thinly filled file, with only four sheets of paper inside. He was a new patient, and a young one. As far as she could tell, his wasn’t a case that exuded anything out of the ordinary. The boy smiled again, tapping the table lightly and incessantly, like it calmed him to do it. His moving finger was a blur as it drummed a hollow rhythm into the wooden desk.

“Good morning,” she intoned, like the statement bore little importance. He only smiled in answer. She took her seat opposite him, and with her there it would begin. She glanced at his file, a fleeting look – more out of force of habit than any actual need, she had already read his file and knew its contents –then back at him.

“Do you understand why you’re here?” she said.

“Of course I do,” he announced through a smile, almost pompously. His forefinger still tapped the desk. “I’m here because I have to. I’m here because I committed suicide.”

Attempted,” she corrected. “You attempted suicide, Aydah. If you had succeeded, would you be here?”

He grinned. “Of course I wouldn’t.”

“But that shouldn’t concern you now,” she said. “The reasons why you’re here shouldn’t concern you. What should, Aydah, is leaving. Do you want to leave?”

He grinned, but in it was a slight nod. His finger still rapped at the wood.

“You know why you’re here, Aydah,” she said, “and why wouldn’t you? You’re a smart young man. Now let me tell you why I’m here. I’m here because you can trust me. You can tell me how you feel, and I will help you. That’s why I’m here, Aydah. To help you.” Reciting the lines almost felt a chore.

He laughed, his head tilting backward at first so he looked up to the white false ceiling, then toward her again. His look was assured. “I don’t trust you.”

“Why don’t you trust me?”

“You’re not here to help me.”

“What makes you think that?”

“You’re not being honest. I value honesty, and if you value something you know what it is. I know what honesty is. And I know you’re not being honest.”

“But I am, Aydah. I’m being honest with you.”

He laughed again, louder now, the same shrill and hearty laugh that had him heave all the air in his lungs out.

“Adding more lies to the lie doesn’t make it a truth.”

“Let’s address this then, Aydah. Why do you think I’m not being honest?”

“What did the last guy think of them?”

“Think of what?”

“Your lies.” He gulped as if swallowing. “What did your last patient think when you said you were here to help him? What did the last guy think of your lies? Did he believe them? Did he believe you? Assuming there was someone before me, which is likely. A prestigious institution like this is nothing if not an old one, and you seem experienced … what did the last guy think of them?”

“My last patient trusted me. She believed me. I helped her.”

“No doubt she thinks you did.”

She looked deeper into him, searchingly. She probed his eyes and found contempt and happiness, melding into one. “You didn’t answer my question, Aydah.”

“And what was that, helper?”

“Why do you think I’m not being honest?”

“Are you familiar with bartering, Miss Helper?”

She looked perplexed. When she didn’t answer him, he did.

“Bartering is an act, you see, that has you exchange things of equal value.”

“I know that, Aydah.”

“I give you a cow, you give me a cow. I give you three green apples, you give me three red apples. So long as the two colours of apple have the same value. Long ago, people did that. They bartered. Equal exchange, Helper, and equal benefit.

“I know that, Aydah. I know what bartering is. Why is bartering important now?”

“It’s not. But what it represents is.”

“What does it represent?”

“Fairness.”

“I appreciate fairness.”

“Evidently not. You came to meet me and offered me lies. That doesn’t seem fair. Or do we have varying definitions of fairness?”

“We don’t, Aydah. I’m not your enemy. I’m here to help you. Why don’t you trust me?”

“Do you trust me?” he asked.

“I do.”

“All the same, I don’t trust you. I could, but I won’t. And I won’t answer your question until I’m given what I want.”

“What do you want?”

“A truth. You give me a truth, and I’ll answer your question truthfully. You trust me, so you’ll trust me to ask first.”

“Ask, then.”

The  sound of his tapping became the background of the room, low, almost imperceptible, blended with the sound of the room.

“Good,” he said. “Do you remember when you entered this room, Miss Helper? I’ll remind you. Bright room, boy sitting a chair opposite you. You said ‘good morning’ as you entered, and you lied to him, even as he had been just honest with you. It was the first time you lied to me, and you said ‘I’m here to help you.’ Do you remember, Miss Helper?”

She nodded. His smile widened.

“Why are you really here?” he asked.

“You’re my patient. I’m here to treat you.”

“Wrong. Try again, Miss Helper. Why are you here?”

“Aydah, I’m here to treat you.”

“Wrong. Again. Why?”

“I’m a psychologist, it’s my job.”

“That’s it!” He laughed ecstatically, and his finger lifted from hammering the desk and pointed, as if pointing at the truth, now uncovered. “That’s it, Miss Helper. Your first truth of the day. Congratulations. And you’re right, you’re finally right. You’re here because it’s your job to be here. And who does your job serve? It serves you. Puts food on the table, numbers and letters in the children’s notebooks. You’re here because of yourself, Miss Helper, not because of me. You’re here to help yourself. I’m a byproduct. However you help me, if you do, will only be as a result of helping yourself first. That’s why you’re here.”

He tapped the desk once so it clicked.

“Now,” he said, “I’ll answer your question. You trusted me, it would be terrible manners not to do the same. Why don’t I trust you? I don’t trust you because you offered me lies. Would you trust someone if the first thing they told you was a lie? You wouldn’t, so I didn’t. A truth for a truth, and the transaction is complete. Mago the Caveman would be proud.”

“I’m sorry I lied to you,” she said.

“Don’t apologize, you couldn’t help it. All you do is lie, Miss Helper, with occasional lapses of truth. But they’re small and few, and the truth gets buried under the lies. But that doesn’t mean the lies can’t be fished out. They can be recovered.”

“I have another question, Aydah.”

He clicked his tongue, tsk tsk tsk. His finger swayed sideways, as if saying no. “Oh, don’t get greedy now. All in good time. I don’t trust you just yet. If you have another question, you’ll have to answer one of mine first.”

“Fine.”

“Do you consider yourself a kind woman, Miss Helper?”

“I do.” He stopped her just as she started her next word.

“That wasn’t my question,” he said. “This is: Who are you kind to?”

“I’m kind to those I love.”

“Good. A correct answer on the first try, last time it took you three. You’re getting better. Granted, it’s not completely honest, but in this case it’s a lie you yourself believe. You see, you tell people you love them, but you don’t. You love how they make you feel, the satisfaction they bring you. Love itself is a lie. The greatest lie in history. We’re only ever kind because we want to benefit ourselves. Those who are kind do it to be loved, either so those around them will love them, or so they can love themselves. Kindness is an act of selfishness. So you’re right to say you’re kind to those you love. And you love yourself, Miss. You’re kind to yourself, for yourself. This is what you care about.”

He pointed at her.

“Your turn now,” he said. “Ask your question.”

“Why did you try to kill yourself?”

“It’s funny. The answer to this question is like the answer to the last. It’s a long story, but you asked, so I’ll tell it. It begins with a boy, a boy being told many lies. The boy is brought up and entirely fed lies. He’s told many things, not the least of which is a false idea of how his life will be. He’s given a false identity and he believes it completely. The boy grows up expecting the lies to be truths, and thinking that what he knows who he is. But lies … they’re like badly tied shoelaces. They have a way of unfurling in the end. Eventually, the lie falls apart, but not until something destroys it, and here, what will destroy the lie almost destroys the boy in the process.

“The boy grows dissatisfied with life, seeing that it isn’t happening the way he’s expecting it to, doubtless because he was given a faulty frame of reference. He’s comparing his own to lives imagined, and his life falls desperately short. He is disappointed. Look in your file, you’ll see that listed as Identity crisis. He grows upset. He feels inadequate, when really he isn’t, but that makes little difference, the feeling of inadequacy remains. That’s listed too, Extreme depression in your papers. He feels … he feels like a child. That’s it. He feels like a child sitting in a moving car, looking out of his window. Out of his window are the happy ones, all the people content with their lives. He can only see them for a moment as the car drives by. Only a fleeting moment that’s enough to depress him further. He waits for life to happen, to truly begin. He can see them, the happy ones, but he can never be like them. Never love like them. Never kiss like them. Never hug like them. Never live like them. He’s not them, only the kid looking out of the window of the moving car. If he’s lucky enough, he thought, the car will take him where he’ll truly live. Where he’ll be like them, dancing like them, loving like them, finally having what life has to offer. So he waits and waits again, until one day he grows too sick of waiting and drowns thirty valium tablets.

“The lies had become his truths, and the truths, and his own life, had become his inadequacies.” A moment of silence. “So you’ll excuse the boy, Miss helper. He has great reservations about being lied to. That’s the answer to your question.”

Her watch rings, and the alarm tells her the session is over. The beep beep beep shocks her into focus again, her taken aback gaze and distraught look subside. She gathers the file from the table. He resumes his tapping after having stopped as he told the story. He smiles at her as she stands to leave.

“Our time is over for today. I’ll see you tomorrow, Aydah.”

“Bring your truths with you, Helper. Truth is the only currency.”

July 22nd, 1848

Diary Dearest,

The dream had been a haze, an opaque set of unconnected images as they often come to me now. I wonder if my mind, too, is floundering as much as my body, if it can no longer sew together enough of the fabric of dreams to sustain a night’s slumber. Sara and my friends assure me that in my youth my dreams had been equally hazy, and the adversity I claim is imagined, but I do not know to believe them.

I woke to my usual great and debilitating back pain. I suppose this is the culmination of my long days of working alongside my blacksmith father – many would not deign to take up the order of the blacksmith, if there were a list where jobs are ranked in order of the comfort and wellbeing they bring those who work them, not only would the Blacksmith not find a place at the very bottom, it would not be featured at all! But my back pain is no pain, it is profoundly not so; in that, it is wholly unlike my notion of what pain is – it is clearer, more asserted and assured, as if an emboldened soldier with emotions vehement and heart irreclaimably ablaze with volition, bent ever so intently on my harm. The pain’s new different nature renders it both potent and exceptionally long-lasting, though I might also assign the latter attribute to my old sore body; surely, I do not presently deal with pain as I did when my most common of habits was running, jumping onto and off all manner of brick structures, and seldom standing still long enough for my hair to settle back down and tousle over my forehead. Now that I look on them, the events of my life have not been wholly unlinked to the act of running. And not only in the obvious way: my long journey from the village to the City gates. The skill of sustained running must have been useful then, but it was not only then that is was useful …

When I first laid eyes on Sara, I had been running. It was a bright subdued day, far from being distastefully hot but never the less brilliantly illuminated, as those of the spring are. My blacksmith father had sent me to an acquaintance of his, to deliver a written message that he regretfully could not deliver in person. My father’s friend’s son had passed, and the letter –penned on fine paper and bound in a silken band– was to be delivered immediately, a token of my father’s consolatory efforts. I had found it tragically funny that I would deliver such a message, when my own blacksmith father’s son had passed little over a year earlier, and in my blacksmith father’s eyes, I had been a somewhat solacing, if not wholly identical, replacement.

Perhaps fittingly, my father learned of his friend’s son’s death due to an absence. Before his death, the friend’s son, Laris, had frequently visited my father. Every week, rolling ahead of his a cart, he would deliver my father various sums of metal, as per his orders – if the blacksmith required, say, a thousand apothecaries’ ounces of iron for the breastplate of a suit of armor a high-born customer had ordered, the blacksmith would inform Laris, who would in turn – for a fee, of course – fetch the desired material from his father’s stores on the outskirts of the city where the rates of rent were least. The week before Laris had not paid my father visit, and when another young man in his stead, my father was informed that Laris had been raided by bandits and, resisting them, had received a mortal wound to the chest that left him breathless, delirious, and eventually, sprawled on a city street in a small pool of innocuous light-red blood.

The new boy looked younger and his face was warmer, his demeanor more welcoming, his words and gestures polite and considered. Unlike Laris, who had been a hasty one, and quick to joke, even at the expense of others. Never the less, Laris’s absence had left a discernible mark. “I’m sorry,” the new boy said. “Laris won’t be coming any more, but I’ll do my best to fill his shoes. I’m younger, but I’m every bit as quick and strong, you’ll see.” Where Laris was cavalier and cared for it little, the new boy exuded passion for their line of work. “Go ahead and tell me your needs, and I’ll see they’re delivered, earlier and faster even that Lar–” the faltering at mentioning the deceased “… earlier and faster, uncle, you’ll see. It’s a pleasure to meet you, uncle, I’ll see that I never disappoint you, uncle, you’ll see.”

Time would prove his pledges true. But now back to letter and Laris’s grieving father.

Laris’s father lived on the farthest edge of the City, so that though I started my journey to his old house in the early morning, I only arrived as afternoon broke. “As fast as you can,” my father told me, sliding the letter into my hands. “Don’t let it distract you. It’s big and busy, but you’ll see it all in good time.” I obeyed to the best of my ability: I ran and ran until I strained to pound air into my lungs, and then I ran farther still. Even a year later, the awe of big city had not worn thin, and I frequently caught myself with my mouth agape at the sight of it: so many people, such vastness and diversity: the men wheeling carts, the vagrants, the beggars, the rich: impeccably dressed and flawlessly groomed. As much as I wanted to deny, to wipe clean my past and pretend to start anew, I was still the boy whose origins were a small fisher’s village the population of which was scarcely larger than a hundred. But here were thousands upon thousands of complete strangers! The mild danger of the new and unfamiliar excited me.

I followed the route prescribed to me, running so quickly heads turned at my passing, when ahead of me stood a towering giant of a stone building. Out of its metal gate poured men and women, nestled in their grips books and pens and pads of paper, and she was one of them. I approached her, my head tilting to the side to catch the glint of her large unperturbed eyes, I ran and my head titled even more, tilting still, until …

The cart and its contents had upturned and the melons fell to the floor, and when I disentangled myself from the wooden cart I’d hit, I did my best to right it up again, lifted the melons back into it. Most didn’t break, much to my fortune.

“What’s that place?” I asked, handing the man all the coin I carried to pay for the two melons that burst red upon on the floor.

When his face calmed, he said, “The University. That’s the University.”

“And who can I enter?”

“Oh, you need much more than this for that,” he said, shaking the coin I gave him with a chink of metal. “But I’ll tell you what: your pair of browns will be here tomorrow at the same time. The students leave in the afternoon, every day, right through that gate.”

“Pair of browns?” What do you mean?”

He only smiled, patted me on the shoulder, and walked away, gentling his cart forward with frail arms. Only later that day, after I had delivered the letter and watched Laris’s father’s eyes water at reading it, did I understand that he meant her eyes. Lying in my bed that night, I resolved that nothing would stop me: tomorrow, I would cut across the city again, arrive at the University gate, and meet Sara. Of course, I hadn’t known her namethen. The next day, enamored by the very thought, I finished my work and set out to the University, and it was here that running served me well: I hadn’t started at early morning as I had the day before, so I had to run even faster if I was to arrive before she had left for her home.

So I …

Three knocks on the door. It’s her. “Come in,” I just said to her. Of course it’s her. She still is too good to disturb me in my study, a courtesy only extended to me by her. Three knocks, that’s how she knocks. Three slow raps at the wood, too tender and unmistakable to be misconstrued for the careless hands of anyone else. She slides the door open and steps through. Though she doesn’t believe me when I say it, she’s still as beautiful as the day I blithely ran to her University’s gate. She is walking toward me, silent like she always is in my study. Is she standing over me now? Is that her sweet breath against the back of my neck? Is she looking over my shoulder now, reading this as I write it? Is that a smile I see? She must be reading, then. Well, since she is: do you remember the first time I spoke to you? Another smile,  but no words, seems she doesn’t want to speak. Very well. Take the pen from my hand, write it down. What happened?

You stammered stupidly and said I reminded you of your mother. I thought to myself, Who is this maniac? But something told me to believe you. Was it the earnest eyes? You looked so helpless, you were close to tears, remember? I thought I really must have reminded you of her. But then you ran off, embarrassed, and I thought I’d never see you again. But then the next day, and the one after, and those to follow, at the university gate, there you were, stammering stupidly again. Is this the pen Syres got you for your sixtieth? Anyway, take your pen back now.

My thanks. And no, that is another pen, this one is Syres’s gift, see? The engravings are different. And that was told better than I ever could, truly a fine job. I wonder, now, if the good lady would grace me with a kiss …

July 21st, 1848

Diary Dearest,

It has been a most undesirable month, I should have to say. My days have continually melded to a coherent and boring structure: I have had neither entertainment in anything nor enjoyed that unparalleled excitement of living that so frequently characterized my more youthful years. I fear I am becoming an old man, I am joining the ranks of those whose feeble bodies and cautious strides I once mocked, once laughed jeeringly at in my more vain years. I suppose it is always so with the young: they think themselves all-knowing and all-powerful; ah, the delusions of youth. Delusions, I dare say, that are swiftly and rightly beaten out of them in time, though sooner for some than others. I was not as fortunate as to have my imagined greatness deconstructed in my teenage years, and have carried them with me until I had grown to twenty-and-some years of age. But, as it seldom fails to do, time caught up to me, and upon its arrival my edifice of grandeur was demolished, leaving me with a clear vision of my own self and the world around me which I had so vainly inhabited. Truly, I cannot say I am an avid admirer of the month that has passed, but as they say, there is redemption yet.

Today, on a day I would have otherwise deemed inauspicious and unbecoming, and comprising in its width a considerable ration of boredom, I was approached with a proposition; one thoroughly fitting and most delightful, I promptly contended, after agreeing to what was asked of me in a manner I can only describe as being of extreme interest, acceptance and excitement. It was a man who approached me with the idea, and through his mustached lips poured forth words of colossal integrity. I was bidden by him, a literary connoisseur of some considerable stature and expertise, to undertake one of his tasks in his stead, for he thought it most appropriate (and I could not but agree). He asked of me that I provide a synopsis of my latest and yet unpublished literary work, as well as provide some information concerning my early and more obscure years, to help him in writing my biography. It is true, accounts of my younger years –those before I rose to prominence and into the view of the public eye– are scarce and all but entirely absent. So, after serving the man a cup of tea (lightly sweetened for he thoroughly disliked the over-sweet), and considering his proposition for some time, I agreed and he was on his way before finally stating that he would visit once more in a week’s time, to collect the written aid.

I shall make haste in writing this, for at the mere thought of penning this chronicle my metaphorical writing-mouth waters wetly and heavily. Tomorrow I shall write it, and in this journal entry I shall write a brief overview that I may not forget any of the details my mind bears presently. I shall write the man a detailed account –as the connoisseur himself asked– and the synopsis of my work, The Man with the Rose Garden, shall follow. I have come to harbor a morbid fear of forgetfulness in my old age, and this is but a measure to calm my screaming worry that I might forget the details of my own life. Truly, it is not easy being old, still less easy being paranoid about it.

Of my childhood I remember very little. Indeed, of the years until I turned ten, I have but a few indistinct memories; these have ever since become increasingly pale and hazy, indistinct as only memories of childhood can be. I was born to a fisherman husband and a homemaker wife, and for all purposes my lineage was not any source of pride, and among the children of the fishers’ village I was mocked aplenty, for my father had not been the best of the village’s fishermen – indeed, he had likely been the worst, and his produce of ensnared fish had been humble, too humble to feed my mother and me regularly, much less be sold sustain a household; but where my father lacked, my mother exceled. My mother was beautiful, truly the image of both womanly and motherly splendor and greatness. She had been married to him, my father, on account of her father being a nasty drunk who sought to free himself of having to clothe and feed his only daughter that he may have more coin to –forgive my crass wording– piss away on drink. I have always thought that my mother, were the circumstance different, would have married a prince, or someone of similar stature and height.

My younger years were insignificant, and perhaps only what is worth noting of them is that during them my literary inclinations had not shown the slightest presence, and I thought myself as much a writer as king or mighty trader – it needs no saying, of course, that I was neither royal nor particularly rich.

My teenage years were more of the same, with the exception of my heart heating and pounding a hole in my chest over the image of many a fair maiden. I found myself enamored with many a young girl, and in that respect I think I was much a typical boy. By then, like most of my friends, I spent my days raising the hackles of my elders, favouring boyish instincts over maturity, and generally engaging in all manner of mischief. In that, too, I had embraced conformity. It begs mentioning that during those years my mother passed, by then I had scarcely turned sixteen, and after that there was no more mischief, and none of the village girls received the least of my attention, and I felt wronged in a way most unforgivable – wronged by life, chiefly, but also by my father: in his exceptional foolishness (such are ingrate wretches), he had not deigned to treat my mother as should be in her living years, as I treated her. My anger at him, and at the circumstances in which I found myself, grew so insurmountable that I finally decided, after much inner debate and deliberation, to leave my home.

I ran and ran, longer than I thought I could and farther than I ever thought I would lay eyes on in my lifetime, much less at the tender age of seventeen. I survived primarily on the kindness of strangers who fed me along the way (doubtless moved to do so by my pitiable nature), but instrumental, too, to my journey’s success was a few albeit key instances of theft. I thieved rarely, though, and took to care to steal only what the house concerned seemed to have in abundance, so that a minor reduction of their supply of beans, bread, cheese, water, vegetables and –once– meat, was not affected a great deal. I thought that very altruistic and commendable on my part.

Eventually and after exceeding hardship, I arrived at the City gates. To a fisher’s boy like me, it had been a sight unmatched, and for my first few hours inside it I walked its streets with what surely must have been a look of  marveling. It was so big and the markets and streets so busy, and not only was I fortunate to witness them, I was further fortunate to find work within a small window of my arrival: a blacksmith whose son had recently died of disease was in need of a young man with whom to work, who would help with matters of the job, and I was offered the blacksmith’s son’s place. He had called out to me as I blithely walked under his awning and offered me the job, saying that I looked like his passed son: tall, straight-backed, sinewed in arm, leg and shoulder, and not without a handsome face. “You’re not like the city boys,” he told me. “They couldn’t lift a slab of steel if you promised them a mansion and the fairest maiden in the lands. They couldn’t life one to save their lives!” He grabbed my arm in hands grown strong and deft. “No, you’re different, you’re like my Ahmos. He was like you. You have an arm on you, yes you do.” My being a brawny village boy had finally brought some good. I gratefully accepted the job, and for the years to come I had coin in my pocket, food in my belly, and a blacksmith father who cared for me. I made no attempt to contact my fisherman father, and to this day his whereabouts and condition remain a mystery to me – though it is likely he has passed like my mother, for it has been a great while since I parted from him.

My blacksmith father saw to it that I be taught to write and read, even do the sums (though with that I had much difficulty), but such a prodigious learner was I that soon I started writing my own literary work, much to the awe, pleasure, and admiration of my instructors. My first novel-length work, completed at the age of twenty, was The Day Horus Went Blind, a moving tale imbued with a fair measure of mythology – Horus, the Ancient Egyptian God frequently portrayed in the image an eye, and his going blind, was a metaphor I employed to pertinent effect, comparing the ungrateful nature of those lucky and fortunate to the blind. It was, by my present standards, a modest success, but one that delighted my young self like nothing other.

The Spring of My Life was my second offering, and was mainly a byproduct of falling irredeemably in love with a woman who I have since taken to wife, and who upon seeing reminded me strikingly of my long-dead mother (although whether the similarity was real or imagined I do not know). Never the less, I had come to love Sara, and wanted nothing other than to continue to love her for as long as I breathed upon this earth. To this day, I can name no greater joy than that of the day she professed that she loved me as much as I did her. A novel whose author could not have been more love-struck, The Spring performed remarkably well, perhaps because by then I had honed my skill well, but as I like to think of it, its success with the readership was a testament to my great love being true.

I would have this journal entry be longer, I would, but I grow weary and the day has been a long one. I shall retire to my chambers and continue in the morning. I note that I fall to sleep much earlier now, and that is nothing short of another reminder that I have grown weak of body and mind. Until tomorrow, then …

 _

To be continued. Maybe.

The Last Day

I’m writing this because, at a shopping mall food court, sitting opposite a family with children loud in the way only the infantile can be, a realization hit me. A simple thought, really, which is befitting, because the most awing and hard-hitting of realizations always are: simple, lean, immediate, and whose striking – often unexpectedly – feels like a ton of bricks to the face. I was with a friend at the time, and, seeing the look on my face, he promptly asked what was wrong, leading me to conclude that I’d worn the face of those astonished and smitten: mouth agape, a blank look in eyes staring indistinctly into space. The realization was this: I’m not going to school any more.

It’s been nineteen days since June 22nd, my last day of school. Before the realization at the food court, I’d had an indifferent attitude toward having graduated. The last day of school ended like any other, and the days after it ensued, and that was that. At their very height, my reactions toward graduation were lukewarm. This, wholly discrepant from the image of the very last day of school I’d created in my head: unimaginable happiness, exiting the exam hall in somersaults, warm hugs being shared, a mob of students dancing with impeccable choreography in near-perfect allignement and formation (a little too Bollywood-esque, I’ll concede, but if any day would be so prodigiously out of the ordinary, I thought it would be that!). It wasn’t, however, and I realized I’d been romanticizing the day too much.

I suppose a fair warning would have been appropriate (perhaps a little earlier in the post  would have been a better spot for it, too): this post is an entirely self-absorbed one, and contrary to what the apocalyptic-sounding title might suggest, isn’t a short story or poem about the end of the world (though that would be nice). But no, instead, this post is like many that I’ve read on friends’ blogs recently: The End of School Post.

Typing this, I sit here and look back on twelve years, and marvel (by smiling stupidly) at this, for want of a better phrase, end of an era. It really was obvious and simple: I was not going to school any more, that’s true enough, but knowing something is one thing, and fully understanding it is another. At that moment, with the typical, loud chit-chat of eateries thick and almost solid in the air, I understood that much of what I took for granted, completely and utterly, will cease to be. I’ll never absentmindedly enter the school gates again. I won’t walk past the white walls of the school again, and wonder when they had truly been white, and not old-looking and off-white, their pristine coat of paint now molested by dirt, time, and generations of school-folk. I’ll never have to slither between mobs of the spirited and ever-shortening (or am I just getting bigger?) fifth-graders playing football with makeshift balls of water bottles or emptied and flattened cans of whatever soft drink, because failing to grant them space will result in being violently bumped into (they take their football very seriously). The list can and will grow tragically long if I continue. Though I didn’t realize it while it happened, it’s been a good few years of schooling.

But even more amazing, jaw-dropping and colossally incredible is looking back at the last three or so years of my life. They’ve been as great a time of change and self-discovery as I can imagine possible. I look back on those three years and see my likes and dislikes, ambitions and hopes, and the way I see life changing in more ways that I can count, and then some! And then some more! And then, when I thought I’d finally arrived at a definite character and set of views, I changed again. (I’m told this is supposed to happen.) Three years ago, for one, I’d been a social deserter, bound to perpetual self-imposed solitary confinement.  I wasn’t so much an introvert as someone willing seclusion upon himself (and thus talked to no one, and made no friends past the most fleeting and casual of acquaintances). I found  inner peace around, mostly, books and television, and never around friends (who I hadn’t had to begin with) or around people. I’d go as far as say that I resented sociality. If ever there was one who preferred and thrived on his own company, I was he. And exceptionally so.

Three years ago that changed and, to spare you the long story of how it happened, I’ll simply say that I chanced upon and subsequently befriended The Guitarist and his brother, The Bassist, who fished me out from inside my self-erected walls – I became a social person with friends, though before then I had thought my ascension and induction into Olympus more likely, and far more believable. It had been so severe that, after becoming the slightest bit social, many thought I was newly transferred, when in fact I’d been a student of the school for five years! After keeping my silence for so long, I became quite the talkative set of lips; it’s funny, in a way it’s as if I’d had so much talk bottled up, and then once it could, it flooded out, seeming like I swallowed a radio (phrase that is much repeated around me).

I’ve met some truly amazing people since, of whom words don’t do justice. I’m grateful to have met them, because knowing them has been an absolute joy. I think, if meeting friends were a game of cards, I couldn’t have possibly been dealt a better hand. I also discovered and nurtured some very literary inclinations – after being a reader for so long, I started writing. I think it’s become, in every declension of the word, an integral part of who I am.

Before the end of the year, I’d also done everything on my list of things I wanted to do before I left school. I attended a class (just one was enough to satisfy my curiosity) in one of the classes with the comfortable-looking blue desks and chairs that looked so unlike our brown ones. (They really were comfortable.) I was taught by the one teacher who I liked the most but who didn’t teach me – my nickname for her is Miss Lovi, a shortened version of her name, but in my head I called her Miss Lovely, for being so nice. (In my mind, she unequivocally falls nothing short of being my favourite teacher.) I monkey-hung upside-down by my legs from a high metal bar – I was too afraid to do that when I was younger, but now I’d conquered the metal pole! I befriended the librarian, something I set out to do at the beginning of the year.

Something else that I thought was interesting: throughout twelfth grade, the final year, I witnessed the liquefaction and merciless demolition and effacing out of existence of the distinct cliques among the graduating class of highschool-folk.  Whereas a year earlier they banded together in staunch and vehemently exclusive groups, during their last year everyone seemed to want to befriend everyone else. All pretentiousness was dropped, and all friendliness embraced. It was as though the underlying dialogue was, “So, we’ve kept up this Highschool act for years now. Long enough, we think, let’s drop it now and make this year fun.”

I refused to attend my school-organized graduation ceremony, solely because it seemed to me a one-size-fits-all affair, one that I wouldn’t enjoy, so I resolved to make my opinion heard, and my need for rebellion sated, by not attending. I did, however, attend as part of the audience, and watched as the event unfolded, one painful drudgery replacing the other: a badly performed offering of dance, an equally poorly poetry recital, life-starved speeches, and a disappointingly hurried name-calling-of-the-students-to-walk-up-and-receive-their-certificates. The after-party that followed, though, was the most fun I’d had in months. I will, however, deny being the person in the pictures in my friends’ possession; while that singing and bellydancing individual does look like me, and wore a tuxedo that looked near-identical to mine, that person … errrr … that person isn’t me.

Two years ago, it’s worth mentioning, I was close to switching schools – it was all but done, I’d applied, been accepted, and was as close to doing it as windshield wipers are to windshields. But it never came to be, and I couldn’t be more glad that it didn’t. I can’t imagine what my life would’ve been like if I had.

I’ve learned a lot, about myself and life and everything, so much that I can scarcely think of it all without having my lower jaw unscrew from its joint from the awe of it. One of these things I’ve come to learn – and this after the lesson being repeated many times – is that things don’t strictly happen the way you imagine them. In fact they rarely ever do. The unexpected is always what happens, because the expected is infected to falsehood with our hopes.  But that doesn’t mean that when it happens, the unexpected is less impactful, less wonderful, less beautiful, less worth reminiscing over, than what you imagined would take place. I can attest to that, and I’m very grateful that I can. (I wrote this post many times in my head, in entirely different ways, but I ended up writing this, which I think finely illustrates my observation.)

School’s over.

يا لهوي!