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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Atef Abu Saif: Portraits

He was delicate like a breeze, and soft like a virgin branch on which the birds hadn’t yet perched.
His face was like a sun when it first rises, and his frame spread out in the space around him like a solid mass.
He walked in a leisurely manner, looking at the road without stumbling.
He liked to smile for the people he met on the road, greeting them with a movement of his hand.
Whenever he came home, his children gathered around him like moths around a lamp. He was a warm person, and a kind man.
He died. How can death take away all this beauty?

She likes loneliness (as she claims), and to keep herself away from the world because it is full of evil (she’s escaping, nothing more), and she likes to play the role of a lover who can’t swim against the waves of love (and there’s a lot of that in her). She said to him that Gaza likes scandal, and that people’s tongues spread rumors like rain on a sloping street.
When he left the house for the last time, after they had agreed on a permanent separation, she appeared nonchalant and proud. “This is better than people’s chatter.”
He closed the door, pulling his shadow between its two halves and dragging it on the surface of the road.
That day she wept like a cloud. The rain fell from her lips. She threw herself on the floor. She turned around in the dark. The sun had disappeared; so had he; and loneliness as always remained her companion.
Who is it that can praise this pain?

Thursday Visit
Like other people in the camp he goes to the cemetery every Thursday to visit his mother, his brother, his two friends, his aunt, his grandmother, and the child who was his neighbor and played behind the window every morning.
The good time in which he could see all those he loved went away. The ones he loved went away and became boxes made of marble decorated with beautiful words about heroism, or about the last day, or about sacrifice and the homeland, but nothing about his grief.
When he comes back home, there will be a little girl playing by the door. No sooner does she see him than she jumps between his arms like a butterfly. He laughs, hiding a tear that almost betrays him behind his eyes.

There used to be five of us
He was not the first to be born, or the last
He was not even in the middle
It was not his luck to be firstborn, to be indulged most
He also was not the last to arrive, the final cluster on the vine and sugar crystallized
He was not the symbol of glad tidings, where middle is best
His birth did not suggest anything in the history of the family

Yet, in spite of all that, he was the most spoiled and closest to our parents’ hearts, most privileged and most rewarded
It was Joseph, whom we envied for the space people made for him in their hearts
We did not throw him in the well and we did not sing at his departure. We cried!
Now we must live without our jealousy, give up part of our nature, and we must accept that we have become four

Undesirable Wisdom
She was sipping water from the transparent glass and staring in at the bottom, that she might see his face like a sun darting between the clouds. She laughed as she removed the chapping from her lips, saying, “If only time were to return; if only the time were to pass!” She wanted the moment when she was holding him, but the wisdom of time (someone is bound to say, “how sad!”) is that it will not come back, that it will not pass, just as it will not die.

The Postman
He passes by every morning after the sun rises, around eight thirty, riding his motorcycle with its rusting handlebar but with bright blue around the wheels. He always wear a black overcoat, even in the summer, as though holding on to a picture of himself. Dangling from his neck is a black satchel with letters that seem to be looking out like birds wanting to fly the cage. He will park his motorcycle where the street begins and will start delivering the letters.
For the past six month when she saw his motorcycle, with the rusty handlebar but with bright blue around the wheels, turning into the street she would run to the door where he never stopped to bring a letter from the one who has been in prison for four years now. He had promised to write her, hoping against hope that they would allow him, as his mother told her after she had visited him.
Who will implore this postman to stop, even in jest. Perhaps he could bring some joy to her heart.

Translated by Ibrahim Muhawi.

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