Once Again…For Hatred

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No. 9 Ola Hejazi
In the idle situation of smoking a cigarette in the summer sun, memories surface like scenes seen from a scratched and scarred wooden windowpane. The heat radiates from the cement buildings, and from the windowpane the memory of the mountain breeze amplifies my fiery stillness on the flared sidewalk. An army convoy creeps its way across the street, its wheels are steady, a soldier mounts the gun on top of the truck, his eyes scan the panorama in front of the convoy, people indifferent to his presence, beggars following fast maneuvering shoes, cars honking at them from all sides, and in front of him a secret line he knows the convoy must follow stringently even though the gun he rides offers neither solace nor threat.

…But to go back to the mountain where my aunt would take me for indefinite weeks away from the blaze of Beirut; I take another drag from the cigarette and through the mind’s windowpane I see a cloud of dust in the distance approaching me, the pebbled road beneath me shaking. I am strange on this road, my aunt’s house is still unfamiliar to me and it’s just across the street, yet the cloud of dust entraps me within it from far away, and soon it is as if I am the one who is approaching it, even though its inevitable danger, this ominous taupe billow, freezes me in place. In the moment of immanent peril my legs respond again, but it’s too late, already midway on the road, I’m cloaked in a rough taupe mist…

They call me inside to the sound check. It’s midday, the chairs are still neatly arranged, ashtrays are clean and the smell of the detergent still fills the air with its thin sharpness. I pick up my violin as Hazem starts playing, waiting for my queue to start. Hazem’s oud picking syncopates between western rock and eastern melodies, my violin keeps to the eastern, alternating between different maqams depending on Hazem’s use of scale.

I started my violin playing as a child with a private teacher, a friend of my mother. She was a hoarder who lived alone; her house smelled like mold, and dust particles would mushroom after every step. My mother thought of it as a perfect arrangement: I’d learn the violin, and her friend would have someone to talk to, but I came to hate her after I joined the conservatoire. Her left hand had a nervous disorder forcing her to perch up the wrist  of her fretting hand more than usual, a condition I needlessly emulated because it was the only way I was taught to play. As long as my left hand fretted awkwardly, the teachers at the conservatoire separated me from the rest of the students.

“The person who looks at you playing will think this is a circus show,” Hazem says sternly, still giving me shit about my perched up left hand.

“If you were born after me and I before you, it would be you on the violin now”

“Me, unlike you, would have adapted.”

“What can I say, see what only one year of learning can do? Less, eight months. But no matter, I play as if I can’t wave my hand to saw hello in real life, I play for myself. You’d play with your hand extended, for others.”

“So existentially deep, as always. Next thing you’ll tell me is that some people pray with their hands on their sides, other with the right hand over the left.”

“Well, yes, they do. And they play the same game equally as good. The difference is I don’t play God and judge who is better. You do.”

Hazem, my older brother; he is playing football behind the house in the mountains. A stampede of bicycles, young kids, thinking whatever lay in their way on the road is a necessary victim; an unmerciful army sparing no reserves seeing no defeat in site marches to a steady rhythm. They ride together and form the taupe cloud; metal bodies collide with mine, one after the other they trip over me, scrubbing my body on the mountainous pebbles. But I feel nothing, floating, as if this moment is eternity, painless. I’m motionless on the ground, lying like a lie waiting to be found out, the blue sky slowly recovering from the taupe invasion. Then the discovery, hands over me, carrying me frantically, my body almost slipping from their hands, my blood spilling on the ground, and the bolts of pain…I think, the only way out of this is death.

I go back home after a long night of noise, music and smoke. I open the door of the garden full of mint roots that spread as other roots died of neglect. Brown and yellow roots rest wilted on the ground, begging for a modicum of water to remain motionless, but I decide to uproot them all. Mint roots spread crazily wherever you plant them, and uprooting them is as hard as forcibly forgetting what binds you. What’s left of them reforms them, as embers are promises of fire.

I dig in with my hands, insects crawl on me and I feel the tingle of necessary human transgression. Every root is a memory that I pluck for a momentary period of clarity.

rhizome

My aunt sits me on the porch, my elbows patched and a faint red slowly seeping through the most elemental form of a patch. She tells me to show the bikers what they have done to me, as if my lacerations are to be a source of my pride and a wellspring of their shame. I tell her to bring my violin, but my request is refused. This is not a time to flaunt my talent, but my soon-to-be scars. Don’t read. Don’t play. Simply be as if in the hoped-for state of perfect. A charade that I’ve been adopting ever since, even when in play.

One of the basest feelings you can ever feel is hatred for someone or something unknown to you. But to hate them exactly because you don’t know them, because you want to know them, that is to love them, these phantom foes and their phantasmal plans.

A wreath of paranoia adorned my mother’s head ever since, one that translated itself into a mortal hatred of my absence. She’d threaten and curse whenever I gave myself to the umbra of her sight. “Be late once again, and I’m never letting you back in,” she’d say, “I’ll never speak to you again,” she’d say, “I’ll close the door on you and forget you,” she’d say. But she’d never uphold them. Late and negligent, I always found the door open. Her threats functioned more as promises of endless acceptance and forgiveness. And I adopted them. I can no longer uphold a threat, neither as a promise to myself nor as a method of negotiation.

I pluck as much mint roots as I can in a performance of forgetting, even if only momentarily in the drunken rage of soiled fingers and bonds. But any act of uprooting is also a commemoration of a tragic event, so that one can always sense the last gasp approaching again and again…

…I know, something must happen now, someone must appear, or at least recognized, so that I can cease to hate and continue again in the state of play…

My Big T0E

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memory of a head david lynch

“Man is a self-conscious Nothing.” Julius Bahnsen. [1847]

To tell you everything. Everything that is on my mind. The most burdensome demand placed on my head. Did the Gods ever tell Atlas to describe what he sees from above? Can you not be satisfied with my keeping the ceiling from crumbling?

Or do you want it to crumble because your self-consciousness is not good enough?

You became frantic when you saw the nicotine stains on my fingers; and the keyboard was clicking weirdly. And my teeth were yellow. And my toes stubbed. How about the time when I started bleeding, from my gum, from my nose. My eyes were red and I was nonchalantly still standing up, indifferent to the senseless suffering of my system.

And you asked me to tell you everything. The question is a persecution.

You haven’t seen me for two years, let me remind you of that little valuable fact.

“What do you believe in?” You asked me. And I answered with impassioned clarity that I believe in nothing.

“How can you believe in nothing?”

You pressed the hot iron on my chest and forced me to give you an answer.

“My big toe,” I answered, immediately wishing I had said, “my brown, corn-filled faeces.”

Does it matter?

I know for a fact that I am not the only one who believes this, but the masses do not matter.

You took me as being insincere, cynical at best, and you looked at me, disgustingly sneering, facial muscles suddenly existing.

I held the cigarette, my first cigarette of the day—you had woken me up, remember? You had come to my house with sage sandwiches, expecting a jaunty good morning, and then you found me still in bed, not yet willing to relent to a rude awakening.

I held the first cigarette of the day, ignoring the sage sandwiches dripping oil and stinking of ideal morning routines. The first cigarette is bound to be the best. You had decided to make some tea, still believing that I cared for some. I hadn’t even brushed my teeth.

The spark will become a flame and angels will weep. A small flame trickling towards me by the power of my own suction and each drag decreasing my life-span by minutes, or maybe hours. Who knows? But even angels do not know, all real knowledge is obscure.

The future is an empty pickle jar. I’m pickled to mere energy by the holy sucking wind that finds its source in my slowly eroding lungs.

You poured tea for me and you; you started talking about what you’re planning to do after summer.

“And you?” you asked.

“Nothing in particular. Same old same old,” You took a bite from one of the sandwiches and chewed on it, hatefully. My honesty was not to your liking. You remained silent, as if you were waiting for me to give you a reason to stay.

“Don’t you have a goal?” your retort comes as a declaration of victory, but too soon, still-born.

I sucked on the fiery straw in my hand. The muscles of Atlas loosened and rebellion beat me down and overcame me with its creeping velvet. The astounding fire travelled through capillaries and arteries, opening up and transforming my cells into something other.

You saw the fire and the smoke change me; my eyes went dreamy again; it was then when you noticed the nicotine stains, my yellow teeth and my stubbed big toe.

“What’s happening to you?” You asked me.

“Selma ya Salama,” I joked around.

Atlas changed to Prometheus, and Prometheus unbound, who stole and swallowed fire, sat in front of you spiking his still cup of tea with whisky.

“Don’t you think you shouldn’t drink as much as you do?” Who can blame you for asking such a question? I once stood before you like a piece of art, a canvas in a brightly lit exhibition. My white skin was impeccable; my white teeth were radiant; and my clothes talked of money.

But you still view and read me through the impoverished lens of a spectral spectator; feeling obliged with judgement. Do you ever go to an art exhibition for pleasure.

I want you to stumble upon the shared misery that I represent. I want you to take off my winter coat and lick the scabs with your rough feline tongue. I want you to feel my liver being corroded by drug abuse. I want you to crumble your foundations upon the explosion of the sun from within me. I want you to stamp on my big toe as if its all-too-human form disturbs you. I believe in my big toe like you believe in your Nazarene; and I need it mutilated and crucified.

My body is all that I have; and I’m rich because of it. Luxury demands that I defile it through the brilliance of explosive loss.

“I began reading a book the other day which started with a sentence of grave magnitude.” I told you, your eyes sparkled at this chance for a conversation. “Its words grew like tall cypress trees from the page, only to fall on me, tying me still to the ground.” I got up and picked up a book lying on the floor at the other end of the room. I flipped through it while you munched ferociously on your sandwich, with the easiness of a lover.  I read, For ages they had been without heads. Headless they lived, and headless they died. How long they had thus flourished none of them knew. Then something began to change.

“Ages without a head and then a change. How could we not see some kind of motive in that? And then how could we not see a kind of motive in nature as a whole; in us?” my facial muscles tighten as if smelling something vile. “How could we not make ourselves conspiracy theorists and say ‘there is a goal to all of that; it’s supernatural. We just have to believe.’”  I closed the book and looked at you with murderous eyes, smirking, without a tinge of mercy or decorum. My words disturbed you more. Your left eye twitched You got up and headed for the door.

I lit another cigarette and followed you to the door, and screamed at your lovely wavy hair and your slender back, “Fuck off you stupid cunt! Go and give me no head!”

Go and give me no head, no reason. I believe in my big toe which stomps on the ground like the feet of any other mammal; dwelling in the dust and mud of our base existence.

the earth andre masson

Giving Up The Ghost

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I don’t know what has gotten into him. He walks heavily, as if struggling through mire. He talks slowly, lightly, quietly. He barely looks at me. He just wanders around the apartment like a cat getting acquainted with its new home, afraid and insecure.

When he’s not walking around. He’s drinking something. Coffee. Tea. Whisky. Pepsi. I tell him to come near me. “Come sit next to me.” I tell him to confide in me. “Come we’ll share a joint and you’ll tell me all about it.”

It. Ambiguous. Vague. Perhaps non-existent. And my pleading is met with nothing, spurring my frustration, agonizingly twisting my spine. I want to help. I need to help. For us.

Us. Charged now with a possible schism. Us. Breaking apart, a rupture, a fissure caused by a communication breakdown. We sit in front of each other; a medium of silence between us becomes viscous in its transparency. His eyes seem to be looking right through me, right through the wall, towards a horizon not knowing a boundary; empty.

“So what do you see?” I ask him to show me the invisible.

He puffs smoke in no particular direction, the cigarette still in his lips, burning and being the only track of time. A quarter of a cigarette has passed.

Half a cigarette. No response. “So what do you feel?”

And it becomes pathetic. Ash falls on his lap; his gaze doesn’t budge, still staring at the horizon as if it’s a black dog that he had lost in his childhood and has finally found again.

A cigarette. I get up; go to bedroom where my laptop is open. I sit down, and notice that he has followed me. Something tells me he needs me, and I smile. But he looks at the laptop and disgruntled, he rolls his eyes, dissatisfied and deeply annoyed.

“What? Tell me!” I shout and go after him. He turns when I put my hand on his shoulder.

“Don’t stress it,” he says, “I’m down. I’m out. Just let it be and it’ll go soon.”

“Why don’t you talk to me? Don’t make me miss you when you’re right here in front me.”

“Don’t make this about you. This is not about you.”

“It’s not about me. It’s totally about you. It’s just you and all I want to talk about is you. Just share it. Whatever it is.”

A mild vibration of anticipation reverberates between us. His eyes seem to wander towards the horizon again, but this time it’s the horizon of expectation; he summons what he wants to see and he describes it.

“Come closer.” And I approach his open arms which enfold me. I feel his heartbeat, steady. His hands are on my back like blocks of ice. I feel unwelcome and uncomfortable in his arms, but I close my eyes and withstand the coldness of his murderous embrace.

“I keep thinking about this story. A story about a writer.” A story about him, a writer. “A writer who’s dead, and it’s a great tragedy that he has died so young, full of promise. Withdrawn. Finally, his few remaining friends, more fans than friends, take a chance to go through his belongings, his once vaulted private apartment. When they’re looking through his house, rummaging, digging like treasure hunters through his notes, they find tons of letters addressed to this girl called Ariadne…who no one knew about.” He holds me tighter. “This mystery, this elusive lady, this stranger to life who has been born in the memory as a result of his death, her only record of existence borne in their old fashioned correspondence is suddenly the centre of attention of his death.” He swallows.

“And?” My limbs suffocate, the blood in them turning cool, my breath smoking out of my mouth.

“And she’s there but not there.”

“And why is that making you feel this way? As if she got away from you?” A tinge of emotion in my voice, creaking.

“She’s raging between the crowd and dark alleys with nothing but a thin dress to cover her. She’s crying, and I can hear her. She’s miserable and I can feel her. She’s real and I can remember her.”

And he lets go.

“I remember her with her camera, attached to her like a mechanical twin, a technological advancement like no other. I remember the elaborate set designs and the formless images that resulted, the surreal, the magnified humanity caught in a still-image. And this still-image of her in my mind is what I remember…”

And he’s moving away and I’m like a marble statue, questions and inquiries running through my head like a gushing wound, searing as it violently rushes, driven by insight that is slowly overcoming my previous blindness.

“…I see her the way she was. Naked under the rain. On her knees and bending down, arching her back like a cat. Her hair is tightly tied, but there’s a perfect fringe cascading her forehead. Her eyes defiantly look forward even though the umbrella is completely useless, completely destroyed. This is how I left her.”

“When did you leave her?”

“But sometimes, her head rotates and she looks at me with the same look, the same expression, and my soul shrivels up, covered with contrition and guilt. A ghost haunting me in its non-being. There but not there. A spectre.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about it before?”

“You wouldn’t have understood it correctly. You’d have assumed too much. You would have read too much into it.”

“And why is she pre-occupying you now in particular?”

“Because of this.”

He takes out a shriveled wrinkled piece of paper from his pocket. Smudgy handwriting in the centre; artistic.

“Read it aloud,” he says as he lights another cigarette and sits on the couch. I start.

You left me. I knew it before I came home that day. I knew that I would not find you. And I know why you did it this way. You would have told me that we can stay friends, and I would have accepted that because I would’ve taken anything like a fool. I would’ve accepted that even though I would’ve known that I can’t handle it. And after my shameful acceptance, I would see you with another girl and that would kill me. So in a way I should thank you for that. But you still left me, with nothing. Not a trial at an explanation. My heart sighed endlessly. My body cried incessantly.

Half a cigarette. My eyes seeing nothing but the page.

She’d be really nice. She’d be amazing. So amazing I would’ve been her friend if she weren’t your deepest bond, like I used to be. I’d see you with her and then every thought of you would be accompanied by her perfect being next to you, an image which no lens can capture except that of the mind. The way you’d hold her would, the way you’d kiss her, the way you’d try to make her smile when she’s miserable, lying on the ground, weighed down by the burden of history; or is she not like me? Is she not a hassle? Would you be the one weighed down by history? By the memory of us still itching your thoughts? Anyway. I…

He stands, the contrite look on his face; my cheeks flourishing with a red hue. There’s no need to read it anymore.

Do you want to go?” I ask.

“No.” A fading utterance.

“What do you want?”

“I want to forget.”

"Then let’s go inside and forget. We’ll put all her letters on the bed and drown them in the pool of milk and glue and relish their death.”

An Untimely Remembrance of a Timeless Memory

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She sat on the balcony late at night, puffing coolly on her cigarette; a nightly routine which she has been doing for the past ten years. She’d sit cross-legged and look downward at the changing quick-paced world while her husband and her children slept inside. Trails of cigarette smoke disappeared in the darkened space like forgotten memories dissipating inside the dark caverns of the mind. But a sudden breeze blew and the air-born memories came blowing in her face, seeping into her veins again. It was the smell of meat and blood which took her back thirty-four years into the past.

She was in her uncle’s car, the same car he used to transport the meat he sold. The smell penetrated her every pore like the sweat of a rapist dripping on her skin, but there was no room for complaint or second-thoughts. They were fleeing a country in flames. Syria, for the first time, seemed to be very far away. Her uncle was driving at lightning speed, but the more he drove, the closer the heart was to home, and the further Syria seemed to be. Just sixteen back then, she thought what every teenager facing, or more accurately, fleeing the threat of war would feel: this life is not the life I deserve; that phrase, to which she now responded cynically, this undeserved life has taught me who I am.

She smiled at the ridiculous memory as she puffed more off of her cigarette. The jab of nicotine gave her full remembrance of her time in the Comoros islands where she spent four years, trying to enjoy herself, but always feeling like a refugee hiding from the terrors of home. A small fire joined what was left of the family together at dinner: the uncle, the brother, the aunt. The parents were absent. Perhaps, she thought, if her parents were near, home wouldn’t be so far away.

Her brother talked about the well-known strife of their grandmother; a story always told in times of trouble to garner strength and perseverance. That supernatural quality made the story more fictitious with each retold, slightly re-shaped account of it. Her grandmother, born in America and returning to Lebanon, found herself, somehow—the details scurry off and are not important—as the only Muslim child in a Christian family. The story goes on: how she was trapped in chicken dens for countless days; how she was forced to go to church; how she was forced to take part in rites not of her own; how she was beat up when she would not obey; and eventually, the apogee of the tale, how she fled the pseudo-home, and luckily enough, found a goodhearted Muslim family to take her in. So feathered a story, told around the lightly burning fire, constantly inspired anyone looking for any sort of cause. Her brother would always conclude, “We should take our grandmother as an example.”

We? An example? A metaphor of the strife of a country; an example of fleeing, and they had done just that. A sad solidarity. She exhaled the accumulating smoke in her mouth and exuded the trickle of sweat on her forehead. Her parents were in Paris while she was in the Comoros. Family, dubbing itself as protector, once again failed to protect, but somehow, family always takes the indomitable form of something religious, or, for that matter, something irrationally believed in.

Where were her parents now? Her father, dead for sixteen years. Her mother, dead for one day. The formidable thought of death could not escape her. In the distance, she can hear her brother recounting the story of her grandmother once more, to his children, to his grandchildren, or even sometimes, to them, pretending they’re all sitting around a small shy fire, which the lit cigarette can be compared to. And that is all that is left: the story of her grandmother (soon to become the grandmother); the Muslim child persevering against the throes of Christian perdition; A prototype of reality in the minds of children sleeping inside; a timeless memory taking the form of a lesson to be learned. And what would be left in the heart of the woman smoking her cigarette: the saddest thing: the truth that we were meant to be together from the start, but a story of perseverance entrenched and bolstered the immutable order of the home which will always have someone flee it.