Hiatus

[translated fiction]

Tala drinks her coffee in bed every day. She gives free rein to her thoughts, allowing a breathing space to think, to remember, to plan, or just to be.

Nadim looks in her direction. “You don’t need to come with me to the airport. It’s too early. I’ll take a taxi.”

“No,” she responds. “I’ll be ready in a few minutes.” She notices his frozen smile and hurries up. It was one of the earliest things she had noticed about him. That inauthentic smile that told her he did not approve.

She shrugs her shoulders stubbornly. He told her once that he loved her intransigence. She took that for the compliment it was intended to be.

Tala doesn’t know why she is insisting on going with him. She hates airports. She sees them as worlds in suspended animation, places and times that are boring in their repetitiveness. She knows that the trips are important to publicize his book, but airports accentuate her feeling of being in a state of perpetual waiting.

She understands Eliot’s Prufrock so well: “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons…”

“I’ll make some coffee. I just want to shake off this headache.”

“There’s no time for coffee, habibti. Hurry up.” She could see the smile forming. He had called her habibti, my loved one. Clearly he was upset.

The kitchen sink is filled with plates and glasses from last night. The kitchen will be clean in his absence. She will not cook. A salad and some cheese are enough for her. She does not like to waste time in the kitchen. She will do what she wants without worrying about being observed, judged, or expected to be a person he created in his image.

She wondered when she had bartered the transparency of her emotions in return for this sallow phase devoid of longing or anticipation. He had been the sanctuary to which she resorted to avoid the boredom of the mundane. She had discovered the aesthetics of the universe with him, so why did she hold him solely responsible for the chasm that now separates them? Did she not also step back for fear he would let her down when he saw her dependence on him?

*     *     *

In the garage, Nadim gets into the driver’s seat as he always does when he is with Tala. He does not like Tala driving when they are together. As they merge into the morning traffic, he says, “Just what I thought. Traffic is very slow at this time of day…”

She turns ​on the radio in the car before he has a chance to complete his sentence about wanting to leave the house early,​ and how she had​ delayed him.

She decides that silence between them is better. It hadn’t always been like this.

*     *     *

“To extrapolate from your analysis, Nadim, this existence of ours is absurd because it is based on binaries.”

“Well, think about it, Tala.​ Within us we hold both the thing and its opposite. Part of us is God-like, capable of creativity and love, and another part of us is a depth of darkness that results from the pain and frustration that we have buried inside us.”

“I know just what you mean! Reminds me of something I read once: A blind man does not know darkness because he has never seen light.”

“There you go: binaries.”

*     *     *

At the airport, she stands aside and watches him as he waits in the passenger check-in line. He does not look at her. It is as if he is already gone. She is distracted by the sight of all these people around her. She puts her hand in her pocket and pulls out a piece of paper, glances at it, then tosses it into the recycling bin.

As he finishes checking-in, she sees him scanning the crowds looking for her. She waves to him, and he smiles, walking toward her.

But he is somewhere else, thinking about other things that have nothing to do with her.

“You do not need to wait any longer, Tala. I do not like farewells.”

She shrugs her shoulders stubbornly. He told her once that he loved her intransigence. She took that for the compliment it was intended to be. She took pride in the clarity of her thoughts, and her ability to express them. She found now that she was less and less concerned about his likes and dislikes.

“I will not say goodbye, Nadim,” she says. Nadim comes up close to Tala and brushes away a lock of hair from her forehead. He starts to hum a verse from Abdel Wahab’s classic song which both of them loved, “Her eyes taught me how to love her, but love can kill.” Tala laughs. That song had once made her imagine she was dancing on the edge of a magic chord left in her heart by a rebellious god.

She feels nothing now. She returns his look with another, showing no joy, no grief.

Tala looks for something to say. She remembers how the words had flowed between them. She remembers their conversations, their words coming effortlessly, needing no clarification.

When did she forget how to speak to him?

He often provoked her with the subjects he chose. She would google the facts so she could find the fodder that would allow her to hold her own in their interminable discussions.

Her thoughts flashed back to one of their early conversations full of passion and absolutes.

“You’ve read Ezra Pound, of course.”

She did not reveal that she only knew the poet and critic by name.

“You must recall his famous letter to Harriet Monroe in 1915, in which he referred to his quest to make the arts an authentic guide that enlightened civilization. In his literary criticism, T.S. Eliot discussed the connections linking poetry, civilization, and society. He underscored the importance of being inspired by the past without being limited by it, and at the same time, to create worlds aligned with modernity…”

 

They sip their coffee in silence. She watches him as he settles the bill for the coffee. She loves him in jeans. He looks younger, like she had known him twenty years earlier.

He continued to hold forth, and she kept silent, except for the occasional comment, for fear that he would ask her a question that would expose her ignorance. He seemed to intuit her discomfort and changed the subject.

“As for us, Tala, well just look at us, we copy and emulate at best, but where is our creativity? All we have is the silence of graves.”

“By us you mean we who live in the East?”

“How can it be otherwise in a society that persecutes thought and prostitutes the arts? The East is in a state of clinical death, my dear Tala. It reminds me of a poem by Khalil Hawi, ‘Lukewarm ashes here, hot ashes there … but ashes to ashes.’”

*     *     *

“Now how is that headache?” asked Nadim. “Ready for a strong cup of coffee?”

“Always.”

“At least I will make up for that coffee I deprived you of at home…”

Nadim takes Tala’s arm and leads her to the nearby café. Once there, he takes his hand away and puts it into his pocket.

They sip their coffee in silence. She watches him as he settles the bill for the coffee. She loves him in jeans. He looks younger, like she had known him twenty years earlier.

She says silently, “I want to embrace you so that my body fits inside yours and we become inseparable.”

Instead she says, “Long journey. I hope you can sleep a little bit.”

“It’s hard to find any comfort in the seats. They are so narrow that I feel I have to compact myself.”

She remembers a conversation they once had.

“Think about it, Tala, music is the result of the silence between notes. In the same way, we have to learn how to listen to the silence between words. The hiatus creates words that have a hidden rhythm. It reflects the shadow of the truth or its absence.”

“How do we embrace this knowledge of pain with less sadness, Nadim?”

“We allow our hearts to be vulnerable. We feel the wound without fear of grief. It is fear and not sorrow that is the opposite of joy.

*     *     *

“The pressure in my head has eased. This coffee is magic.”

“You’re always tense, you just don’t know how to soften your reactions to things.”

“Is that how you see me now, Nadim? You used to say you loved my spontaneity, and my desire to find hidden truths.”

“And I still do. All I want to say is that you should try to give yourself a break.”

“Do you remember that line by Adonis? ‘There is no power on earth that can compel me to love what I do not care for, or to despise what I do not hate.’”

He looks at his wristwatch and says, “I better go. I also don’t want you to be late for work.”

“Oh, I have time, don’t worry. I’ll finish my coffee and then go.”

“Oh, sorry, Tala, I did not notice you hadn’t finished your coffee. Of course I’ll wait.”

“You do not have to, you’re right, it’s better to go to the gate early. The lines will be long.”

She rises so as not to leave him room for hesitation, and hastily embraces him. “Take care of yourself, Nadim. You’ll call me when you land, right?”

“Of course I will.”

He walks away. She watches him hand his passport and boarding pass to the security agent. She wills him to turn around. He does not.

She follows him with her eyes as he moves away, becomes smaller, disappears.

She orders another cup of coffee to take away, and moves to the glass façade that overlooks the tarmac. She watches the plane take off, and follows it until it disappears into space.

She does not understand the mysteries of how an airplane, carrying hundreds of passengers, is here one moment and gone the next. Had Nadim been here, she would have asked him.

“The clamor of my feelings is compressed into a tattoo which is carved into my heart.” Tala heads for her car, fumbling blindly for the keys in her bag. Did the keys stay with him? If he has her keys, the spare set is in the apartment. She takes a deep breath and rummages once more in her bag. She finds the keys. She sighs with relief, delighting in the feel of the keys. The sense of touch is so often discounted.

Tala gets into the car. She settles behind the steering wheel, enjoys a quiet moment of freedom. Free from his presence, free from the weight of his absence.

صمت الكلمات

تشرب تالة القهوة في الفراش، ككل صباح، فترة محايدة تتسلل فيها أفكارها دون تتابع، تتذكر، تخطط، أو مجرد أن تكون.
يلتفت نديم نحوها ويقول: “لا داعي أن تأتي معي الى المطار، ما زال الوقت باكرا.. سآخذ تاكسي.”
“لا، سأكون حاضرة خلال دقائق”. وتنهض بسرعة حين تراه يبتسم تلك الابتسامة المصطنعة التي لا تخفى عليها والتي توحي
لها بأنه غير راض. لا تعرف لماذا أصرت على الذهاب معه، فهي تكره المطارات، عوالم معلقة بين الأمكنة والأوقات، مملة
في تشابهها. تدرك أن سفره ضروري لترويج كتابه، ولكن المطارات تزيد من احساسها أنها دائما تنتظر، تعيش حياتها تنتظر..
تفهم جيدا ما رمى اليه تي اس اليوت في قصيدته “أغنية حب لألفرد برفروك” حين كتب: “ مضيت أقيس حياتي بملاعق
القهوة”.
“سأعد ركوة قهوة طازجة، لعلها تخفف من هذا الصداع”.
“لا وقت للقهوة يا تالة، هيا يا حبيبتي أسرعي”. تلاحظ تلك الابتسامة الباهتة على شفتيه وقد دعاها بحبيبته، لا بد أنه في غاية
التوتر.
تنظر الى حوض المطبخ وقد امتلأ بالصحون والأقداح التي تجمعت منذ ليلة البارحة. سيبقى المطبخ نظيفا في غيابه، لن تطبخ
شيئا، السلطة وقطعة من الجبن تكفيها… كل هذا الوقت الذي يضيع بلا معنى.. ستفعل ما تريد دون أن تشعر أن هناك أحدا
يراقبها، يحاكم تصرفاتها، ويتوقع منها أن تكون انسانة صنعها هو، على صورته.
متى قايضت شفافية أحاسيسها بهذه المرحلة الشاحبة التي لا شوق فيها ولا لهفة، رغم أن نديم كان المعبد الذي لجأت اليه من
رتابة اليومي، وأنها، معه، اكتشفت جماليات الكون؟ ولماذا تحمله وحده مسؤولية هذه الهوة بينهما، ألم تبتعد هي أيضا خوفا من
أن يخذلها حين يرى مدى حاجتها اليه؟
يدخلان الكاراج، ويجلس نديم في مقعد السائق كما يفعل دائما حين يكون معها. تسترق النظر اليه لا تغفل عن وجوده وهو يقود
السيارة في زحمة السير.
يقول: “هذا ما خشيته.. حركة السير بطيئة في هذه الساعة.”
تدير راديو السيارة قبل أن يكمل كلامه ويلمح بأنه كان يود أن يغادر البيت باكرا ولكنها أخرته. الصمت بينهما أفضل. لم يكن
الأمر كذلك في السابق.

“بناء على تحليلك هذا الوجود عبثي لأنه قائم على الثنائيات.” ويقول: “نعم يا تالة، حتى نحن في داخلنا الشيء ونقيضه لأن
جزءا منا الهي قادر على الابداع والحب، بينما الجزء الآخر قابع في عتمة الداخل نتيجة للألم والاحباط الذي دفنناه في
داخلنا”.
“أفهم ما تقول، مما يذكرني بجملة قرأتها أن الاعمى لا يعرف الظلام لأنه لم ير النور.”
“تماما.”
في المطار، تقف جانبا تنظر اليه وهو واقف في صف تسجيل وصول المسافرين، لا ينظر نحوها.. كأنه رحل فعلا.. تتلهى
بالتفرج على الناس .. تضع يدها في جيبها، تتلمس ورقة قديمة تسحبها، تقرأها، تتوجه نحو سلة المهملات، ترميها… تعود الى
مكانها.
ينتهي من اجراءات تسجيل الوصول وتراه يبحث عنها، تشير اليه فيبتسم ويتوجه نحوها، غائبا عنها، يفكر في أمور أخرى لا
علاقة لها بها.
“لا داعي لأن تنتظري أكثر، لا أحب الوداع”.
ترفع كتفيها نفيا وعنادا.. قال لها مرة أنه يحب عنادها وتشبثها برأيها. أفرحها ذلك الاطراء اذ أنها تفخر بوضوح أفكارها
وبقدرتها على التعبير عما يختلج في ذهنها. لكنها لم تعد تعبأ بما يحب أو يكره…
“لن أودعك”..
يقترب نديم منها ويرفع خصلة شعر انسدلت على جبينها.. يدندن لحنا لعبد الوهاب كانا يغنيانه معا: “جفنه، علم الغزل، ومن
الحب ما قتل.” تضحك. مقطع من أغنية كان يثير عوالم راقصة في مخيلتها وكأنها ترقص على حافة وتر سحري تركه اله
متمرد في قلبها، ولكنها لا تشعر بشيء الآن.. تبادل نظرته بأخرى لا فرح فيها ولا حزن…
تتذكر كم كان الكلام ينساب بينهما ولا ينتهي… متى نسيت كيف تحدثه؟
كان يفاجئها دائما بالمواضيع التي يختارها، يستفزها، فتهرع الى غوغل تفتش عن المعلومات حتى تجاريه في نقاشاته. تتذكر
حديثا جرى بينهما، واحدا من جملة أحاديث مفعمة بالأحاسيس والمطلقات.
“أنت طبعا قرأت شعر ازرا باوند”. لم تقل أنها تعرف الاسم، وتعرف أنه شاعر وناقد، وهذا مدى معرفتها به. “لا بد أنك
تذكرين رسالته الى هارييت مونرو عام 1915، والتي يشير فيها الى سعيه لجعل الفنون دليلا مسلما به ومصباحا للحضارة.
الأمر الذي تناوله تي اس اليوت في نقده الأدبي حيث يناقش هذا الترابط بين الشعر والحضارة والمجتمع، وأهمية أن يستقي
الشاعر من الماضي دون أن يقتصر عليه، وفي الوقت نفسه يخلق عوالم تتماشى مع حداثة الحاضر”.
ويسترسل في الحديث وتبقى صامتة الا من تعليق هامشي، خائفة أن يسألها سؤالا يفضح جهلها. ولعله حدس ذلك، فيغير
الموضوع حتى يتجنب احراجها.
“أما نحن، فأنظري الينا يا تالة، ننقل ونحاكي في أحسن الأحوال، ولكن أين الابداع الخلاق؟ لم يبق لنا غير صمت القبور.”
“تقصد نحن في الشرق؟ “
“وهل يكون غير ذلك في مجتمع يضطهد الفكر ويعهر الفنون؟ الشرق في موت سريري، مما يذكرني بمقطع شعر لخليل
حاوي:
“رماد فاتر هنا، رماد حار هناك… رماد برماد “.
“ كيف وجع رأسك يا تالة؟” ما رأيك بفنجان قهوة قوية؟”
“دائما”.
ويضيف ضاحكا: “على الأقل أعوضك عن فنجان القهوة الذي حرمتك منه في البيت.”
تضمها ذراعه ويقودها الى أقرب مقهى . يرتشفان القهوة صامتين.
تتأمله وهو يدفع ثمن القهوة .. تحبه بالجينز .. يبدو أصغر سنا، كما عرفته منذ عشرين سنة..
تريد أن تقول: أود أن أعانقك، أن أدس جسدي داخل جسدك لا أنفصل عنك.
ولكنها تقول: “الرحلة طويلة، آمل أن تتمكن من النوم ولو قليلا”.
“من الصعب أن نجد أي راحة في هذه المقاعد التي ضاقت لدرجة يضطر المرء فيها أن يتكوم على نفسه”…
“ يجب أن نتقن الاصغاء الى الصمت بين الكلمات، كما الصمت بين الأنغام يصنع الموسيقى…لهذه المسافة بين الكلمات ايقاع
خفي يعكس ظلال الحقيقة أو غيابها “.
تتساءل: “وكيف نحتمل هذه المعرفة بحزن أقل”؟
“بأن تبقى قلوبنا طرية، ونبقى قابلين للجرح دون أن نخاف الحزن. فالخوف، لا الحزن، نقيض الفرح.”
“خف الضغط في رأسي… ان للقهوة مفعولا سحريا”.
“أنت متوترة دائما، لا تعرفين كيف تخففين من ردود فعلك على كل شيء.”
“أهكذا تراني يا نديم؟ كنت تقول أن أكثر ما تحبه عفويتي ورغبتي في ايجاد الحقيقة المغيبة.”
“لم أقصد ذلك.. كل ما أردت قوله أن تحاولي أن تريحي نفسك قليلا”.
“أتذكرين هذه الجملة لأدونيس: “ما من قوة في الأرض ترغمني على محبة ما لا أحب، أو كراهية ما لا أكره.”
ينظر الى ساعته، يقول: “لعله من الأفضل أن أذهب …لا أريدك أن تتأخري عن عملك”.
“أمامي متسع من الوقت لا تقلق. سأنهي فنجان القهوة ثم أذهب.”
“عفوا، لم ألحظ انك لم تشربي قهوتك بعد. طبعا سأبقى.”
“لا داعي، معك حق، الأفضل أن تتوجه الى قاعة المسافرين، فالصفوف لا بد طويلة.”
تنهض حتى لا تترك له مجالا للتردد، تعانقه بصورة تلقائية، تقول: “انتبه لنفسك، ستتصل بي حال وصولك، صح؟”
“طبعا صح.”
يمضي، تراقبه وهو يعطي جواز سفره وبطاقة صعود الطائرة لرجل الأمن، تأمل أن يلتفت وراءه ليراها.. لا يفعل.
تتابعه بنظراتها وهو يبتعد، يصير أصغر، يختفي…
تطلب فنجان قهوة آخر تحمله معها وتمشي الى آخر الفاصل الزجاجي المشرف على المدرج تنتظر اقلاع الطائرة، وتتابعها
بنظراتها حتى تتلاشى في الفضاء.. لا تفهم ألغاز الوجود الغامضة، كيف كان هنا، كيف لم يعد.. لو كان نديم هنا لسألته…
“ صخب مشاعري يخفت في ملف مضغوط وشما مدقوقا في قلبي”…
تتجه نحو سيارتها، تبحث عن المفاتيح في حقيبتها، هل بقيت معه؟ ماذا ستفعل في هذه الحالة والنسخة الثانية في مكان ما في
البيت… تسترد أنفاسها حين تتلمس يدها المفاتيح في قاع الحقيبة، تفرحها الاحاسيس التي تولدها حاسة اللمس التي تغفل عنها في
معظم الأحيان.. تفتح باب السيارة وتجلس وراء المقود، لحظة هادئة خالية من كل شيء… خالية من حضوره، خالية من وطأة
غيابه…

 

Mishka Mojabber Mourani was born in Egypt and has lived in Australia and Lebanon. She is a graduate of the American University of Beirut, where she also taught cultural studies and leadership courses. She speaks five languages. She is the author of a poetry collection, Lest We Forget: Lebanon 1975-1990. Her short story, “The Fragrant Garden,” appeared in Hikayat: Short Stories by Lebanese Women [Telegram], and Lebanon Through Writers’ Eyes [Eland]. Dar An-Nahar published her Balconies: A Mediterranean Memoir. She translates from French and Arabic, and she co-authored a bilingual poetry collection entitled Alone, Together [Kutub] with Aida Y. Haddad. Her piece “Once upon A War Night” was published in the Exquisite Corpse anthology by Medusa’s Press, “Fatma’s Fate” in The Studio Voice, “From its shore I saw Jerusalem” in Your Middle East, and “Stone Walls Do Not A Memory Make” in Rowayat. Her short story “Crossing the Green Line” appeared in Slag Glass City and “Aleri” In Sukoon Magazine. Her short story “Amira’s Mirror” was included in the 2018 anthology Arab Women Voice New Realities. Her writing deals with war, memory, identity, exile, and gender issues.

Aida Haddad was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and lived in Greece before moving to the US. She graduated from the American University of Beirut with a degree in Arabic literature. She taught Arabic as a native and foreign language. She has published her short stories and articles in various outlets, such as An-Nahar, Al-Hayat newspapers, Ghurba magazine, Cultural Studies Quarterly, Al-hakawati, Almukhtar, Mitra, World Bank blogs and others. She is the co-author of Albayati: Prometheus of Arabic Poetry. Together with Mishka Mojabber Mourani, she co- authored a book of poems, Alone Together, in both Arabic and English.