A Child’s Beginning

We would wait at the side of the main road for the coffins to arrive. Bassim and I were eight. The war with Iran had entered its fourth year. The coffins were tightly wrapped in the flag and hoisted on top of the cars which had come from the front. We wanted to become adults because the adults stood in solemn sadness at the passing of the coffins, raising their palms to the sky. And we greeted the dead as they did.

And if a death car turned into our neighbourhood we ran through our muddy alleyways after it, and the driver slowed lest the coffin fall. Then the car chose the door of a sleeping house to stop in front of, and the women came out of the house screaming and crying, throwing themselves in the pools of mud and smearing their hair. And my friend and I would rush, each one to his mother, to tell her at whose door the death car had stopped. My mother would reply: ‘Go wash your face,’ or, ‘Go to our neighbour Um Ali and ask if she has any spices.’ And in the evening she slapped her face and wailed with the neighbourhood women in the slain person’s house.

One day Bassim and I sat awaiting a coffin. We were eating sunflower seeds. We waited a long time, until we’d almost lost hope and turned home disappointed, when a death car appeared, approaching from the horizon. We ran behind it like happy dogs, competing to see who could overtake it. It eventually stopped at Bassim’s door, from which his mother emerged, screaming wildly and tearing her dress in the mud pool. Bassim froze beside me, staring in amazement. His big brother noticed him and pulled him into the house. And me – I ran to my mother’s lap sobbing hot tears. I said, ‘Mother, my friend Bassim’s father is dead.’

She said, ‘Wash your face. Go to the shop. Bring us a half kilo of onions.’

Translated by Rana Zaitoon


A Child’s Country

I was born in a country where everyone demands revenge on the present. From the rostrums they screamed, ‘God’s book and the Shariah, God’s book and the Shariah’. From the newspapers poets and artists called, ‘the Heritage, the Heritage’. And whenever I touched God and the heritage my heart would ulcerate and my fingers would rot.

These people were wounded. They were dreaming of healing their pain with the ancestors’ bones and the incense of the tribe. While I was thinking of the soul, of music, of dreams, of bodies colliding with bodies, and of this universe whose mystery and wildness increase whenever we pluck from it a flower.

They screamed in my face, ‘the Roots, the Roots’ – but I was suspended in the air; my roots were nightmares. I was born in a mass grave. At night. Conceived by two corpses. The illusion and the past. And the sky was the colour of blood.

Translated by Rana Zaitoon

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