Three Second Fall

I am falling.

And time saves its wasting of life on a weariness such as mine; my curiosity to reach the end has pre-dated my fall. These moments loosen the density of recollection tied up in my memory, bringing me back to an early memory, that I may begin another, new life. I am certain that there is a place for me somewhere, in some unknown place. I waver between accelerating and slackening the pace of my fall, drawn down though I am by the thread of fate. All my life I have thought that the thread of fate would draw me upwards and I wonder if it has, in fact, drawn me upward, without my realising.

Now I think of, or rather see, my wife, pregnant after years with our first child. Our first joy. Her solace in exile and her renewal of hope. I see her tears the day he was lost from this life. The inflection in her voice rings out loud in the dark emptiness.

"Bury him here," she is saying. "I want to visit him every day, to place a pebble cleansed with tears on his grave, a pebble for every day until I go to meet him." I hear his words when he was seven, saying,

"The clouds are bigger than the sky. If they weren't how could he hide the sky from us with the palms of their great hands whenever he wants?" At the time I was surprised by his words. It is only now, as I fall, that I understand exactly what he meant. He is saying, "If I die, do not bury me in this earth, for I still do not understand the language of these people, so I will never understand the language of the people of the tombs."

I am still falling.

I think of and see my brother visiting me after twenty-one years during the course of which we have not met. I laugh at the way his appearance has changed. I left him - when I left everything - as a young adolescent. And now he carries a large pot belly before him which quivers whenever he laughs about the soft white threads of time among the lines of my hair. I ask him how home is and the people. He falls silent. He changes the subject, and then he laughs and his pot belly is still.

I eat some of what my mother has sent: stuffed vine leaves and qulqaas ; and the sweet pastries, luqmat-il-qadi . The poor old thing still remembers my early letters, complaining of this place's wanting of her home made food. I doubt that the food my brother has brought is the work of her hand. In fact I doubt whether she is even alive. My brother swears that it is from her, he placates me. I swallow my bitterness, and tell him by way of excuse, "Ohh! Everything tastes different in exile."

My falling, continues.

I remember the news of my grandmother's death which reached me two years late. They lied to me for two whole years. They sent me old photographs. They loaded her with false history. "I will not let you go far from me," my grandmother is telling me before I leave.

Then they carried her with me to the airport, so that she could scatter the rest of her tears along the road. As though she knew that this was the path of no return. She died without knowing why. When I said, "I'll come back soon," I was lying to her. Her waiting grew longer and my waiting grew longer. And the meeting was postponed. Now I see her face, smiling at me with the same reassuring smile that she used to give me when I was a little boy. But now she is the same age that I was then. A little girl. I don't understand. I forget and hurry to hug her to me.

I accelerate, in my falling.

I remember many things. They come faster than thought. I remember the religion teacher when he beat me. I remember the day when I was chased away from the big house. I remember the day of my circumcision. I remember cold years outside the house. I remember this face, that place, the other thing whose name I have now forgotten. I remember. I forget.


It was a party with an invitation for me. And I was not wearing party clothes; no suit or tie. I felt from the first instant that everyone was looking for my tie. This disheartening feeling strangled me. Had the host not been a very dear friend I would never have accepted the invitation. I did not make excuses to him because I had told him about all the means I normally employed to escape invitations, both formal and informal.

The laughter became louder. Everyone was looking at me and laughing. Mouths full of food and hands carrying glasses of wine. And their fingers all pointing at me in derision. I lowered my head to my body to look at it and found myself stark naked. The laughter became even louder. I hurried to leave by the open door behind me. It wasn't a door. It was an open window in the shape of a door. And I fell into the void.

The strange thing was that my fall did not take more than three seconds. And when I fell to the ground I heard no thump. I fell more like a pile of straw whose falling disturbs no one.

Translated by Rebecca Porteous from Al-Gamal La Yaqif Khalfa Ishara Hamra
(A Camel Does Not Stop In Red). Short stories, Al-Hadara Publishing House, Cairo 1993.