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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Atef Abu Saif: Four from Gaza

He hadn’t watched the television for two weeks, and hadn’t read the newspapers for longer than that. He hadn’t opened his e-mail for two weeks, and hadn’t listened to the news on the radio for ten days. And he hadn’t left the house for a week. The electricity was a strange visitor that hadn’t visited their neighborhood for fourteen days. The city was wrapped in darkness, and destruction was coming its way from the edges slowly but surely. He saw the air raids on the neighborhoods, and his only recourse was to tell his child that their home was very, very far away from where they were shelling. He lied, telling his child that the jets had used loudspeakers to make the shelling sound close when it was very far away.
He’s terrified because he doesn’t know anything about what’s going on around him. He wanted to stand at the window and stare into the darkness, that he might understand something, but the darkness brought him nothing but more fear and more sounds of jets and ricocheting of bullets and the sirens of the ambulances. He thought the best thing would be to sleep, that he might dream about what’s taking place and see it clearly. Darkness taught him to sleep early, since he could do nothing in the dark except stare into the emptiness. He would sleep to wake up early, before the sun, and drink his coffee very slowly as he looked through the window to the sea that had no ships except the destroyers and the fierce wind of December. In a while the children will wake up and their day will begin full of questions to which he will give answers that their eyes will say aren’t convincing, but they are sufficient for these times in which he is cut off from the world like a disconnected computer.

A Game of Luck
No expression can describe his life better than luck. When he borrowed money from his brothers to open an ice cream shop, all wondered why he would gamble on a shop in a distant neighborhood on the edges of the camp that people had a hard time reaching. It all appeared like a short-lived adventure at first, because when the army attacked the camp from the edges to control it, it set about destroying all the fields and orchards that separated it from the fast road. It was a stroke of luck also that the bulldozer blades stopped at the sparse houses in which only a few weeks ago he had opened his ice cream and cold drink shop.
The army left the camp and went back to its barracks in the distance, and the huge space that the bulldozers left behind became an open square for public celebrations. People started to come by the hundreds then thousands to take part in these celebrations. The narrow street leading to the space became congested with demonstrations lifting the banners of different factions and organizations, and the youth running behind these banners. When Fatah organized a celebration, the cassette player inside the shop rang out with the Fatah song “Oh Fatah, mother of the masses!” And when it was Hamas holding the celebration, an Islamic song rang out from inside the shop. The shop became the only refuge for people who wanted to lighten their mood after hours spent in shouting out or listening to speeches and slogans.
And the shop became part of the celebration.

The Mayor
As soon as he became the Mayor, the electricity was never cut from his house, while all the neighborhoods around were bathing in darkness for the whole summer. And all the house in the immediate neighborhood were the only ones with water tanks. And the dirt road, neglected for decades, was paved, with shady trees and street lamps planted into the sidewalk that was made of stone.
And from that day on, that is, since he became the Mayor, the rain no longer gathered in puddles that children had to jump over to go to school, and the handsome car started to pass through the street in orderly fashion while the policemen interfered with all those passing there. And we got used to that.
And we got used to seeing him only in newscasts, cutting ribbons or making announcements.

Hard Times
He kept good track of the morning.
Al-Jazeera news before breakfast showing picture of the dead and the wounded that night, and sudden death.
Radio 105 FM is also broadcasting songs of pain about a mother who says goodbye to her son and starts to cry, while the loud voice of the announcer says, Death has a great flavor (it doesn’t matter what he means).
Every once in a while the police car fills the atmosphere with its siren. Also the noise of trucks and huge carts pass through the narrow streets.
The whispering of the two young neighbors (they are arguing) will soon turn into shouts and shrieks. The whole neighborhood gathers (but they say that contrary to expectations it didn’t lead to divorce).
The voice of the old woman who was muttering a song about old times is lost in the crush.
It was also a fatiguing day. The sun appeared like a ball of flame that could barely catch fire.

Translated by Ibrahim Muhawi.

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