The Death of Nobody
It had been six months since Abu Naji had passed away of prostate cancer. The last words of Naji’s father were still resonating in his mind, and he could scarcely get his mind off them. They were more than mere words of a dying experienced man who had to let go to the oppressing circumstances of a poor warden. He died. His wife Salma, a plump brunette woman in her late thirties, had to contend against the daily life of a depressed family along with her son, Naji.
“Son, keep this gun with you as long as you can get a breath into your body. This is all what I’ve got to leave you just as my father did before me,” said Naji’s father stretching on his bed as he handed him a gun. Then, he continued in a dying voice: “Remember the two Israeli soldiers killed in Ashdod, don’t you? Naji nodded approvingly. They were killed by nothing but this gun,” Naji heaved a deep sigh each time he recalled his father’s last words. .
Naji was tall and skinny. His appearance would suggest a young man in his early twenties. He was struggling over bringing his mother and himself their daily sustenance. The new work Naji had obtained at the smuggling tunnels was good enough to bring them food; it was enough to keep them alive for a day more, yet it was alike enough to bring them death.
‘Get a move on,’ growled perspiring Naji with a huge trunk heaved over his shoulders. It was 3:00 in the morning when Naji was getting himself ready to go back home after being paid when a voice called him ‘Naji, come in here, I want some words with you,’ Facing a rotten wooden door and examining some keys, Abu Sham looked over his shoulders toward Naji as he called him. Abu Sham, a big-bodied man whose mouth was hidden in thick jet-black hair, was Naji’s boss. He had a good relation with Naji outside work as well. ‘Here is yours, 50 shekels!’ rumbled a hedgehog-alike man stretching his arms toward Naji. Drawing a big smile on his face—that was hidden by the uncertainty of its continuance and buried in the darkness— Naji grabbed the 50 shekels and gestured to him. Straightforwardly then, he headed to the small cornered chamber where Abu Sham was eagerly waiting his arrival.
‘Tap tap tap,’ Naji knocked on the door. ‘Get in, Naji,’ replied Abu Sham. Unhesitant, Naji stepped into the chamber. The place looked as though it had been inhabitant by none other than cockroaches and spiders. Naji anxiously went on examining the dim place as his looks were roaming across the chamber. ‘Here, Naji, come on, here,’ fizzed Abu Sham interrupting Naji’s uneasy looks. As Naji drew nearer, he spotted that Abu Sham was not sitting alone. He was surrounded by another three men with different beard lengths. They were as big as Abu Sham was, and all three of them drew smiles on their faces on seeing Naji step toward them.
IT felt disconcerting while Naji was having his usual moderate supper with his mother at home. He couldn’t help thinking of the discourse he had with Abu Sham and the other three bearded men. Salma took notice of Naji’s being absent-minded. Still staring at his plainly sullen face, she refilled his cup of tea. Naji’s eyes were leering at the pasty in his hands; his lower jaw moving up and down as sluggishly as his body appeared to be. Breaking the silence, Salma asked: “How was your day at work?” fully aware of the answer. “Tiring, I suppose?” she continued. Naji, however, sounded uninterested in his mother’s question. He was transfixing his eyes unblinkingly at the small scattered pieces of sage floating on the surface of hot tea. It had been a while before Naji realized that he was not at Abu Sham’s chamber and his mother was uneasily exchanging with him nervous looks from the edge of her watery eyes. “What’s wrong?” She asked him once more. “Nothing,” Naji lied. “Don’t lie to me,” she snapped at him. “You’ve been acting weirdly since you came home, what happened; just let me know,” she tersely continued.
Naji, foreseeing his mother’s prolonged worry at night in case he didn’t tell her the truth, made up his mind to tell her what happened between him and Abu Sham inside the rotten chamber.
It had been a week since Naji told his mother about his sneaking behind the green lines and staying in Israel for two days. It was today he is meeting the three bearded men in the same chamber where they handed him 2000 shekels in return for the ‘ok’ he replied to their proposal. Nonetheless, Naji had had to deal with the continuing image of his mother fainting at the moment he told her about sneaking into Israel—the image the haunted him all week and kept him awake all night long. Naji was up early in the morning. He dressed himself and tore his way to the kitchen where his mother was preparing him breakfast. As he drew nearer the kitchen, Naji could hear his mother sing in a low voice. Her singing was mixed with sporadic heartbreaking sobs. Naji felt as though his heart sank at each sob his mother uttered.
While having their breakfast, Naji couldn’t stand the idea of his mother staying alone for two days. Then, he cleared his throat and raised his eyes to meet his mother’s. “I don’t want you to be angry with me. I’m doing this for us,” said Naji in a distressed voice. Salma, who was not eating, shoot him an angry look, yet so compassionate. Lowering her face, she said nothing. Naji got up to his feet and headed to where his mother was sitting. “I’ll be back in two days; I promise,” His mother raised her face again while Naji was grabbing her hands. Salma perceived that it was a moment of farewell. It was a moment of inevitability. Naji lowered himself and kissed the back of her hands. Failing to gulp back her tears, Salma tightened her grab of his hands before she let go of them— of him.
Three years later, at daybreak, Salma was wrapping some packages of food and cigarettes. As she finished packaging, she dressed up and prepared herself well. Confusing feelings were occupying her. She didn’t know whether she must be in high spirits as she was or dejected as she intermittingly felt. It was only a few hours that separated her from seeing her son for the first time in three years since he was caught in a failed attempt to sneak beyond the borders. Since then, Salma sat, where her son kissed her the good-bye, sniveling and sniffing each of the three letters her son sent her throughout three years. She lived sobbingly reproaching herself for letting him go as though she had any chance to put a stop to what he was up to. She grew more pallid each day as she languished after her lost son. She wept bitterly over him that her eyes seemed to have drained off tears. It struck 5:00 in the morning and Salma carried the two packages and went off the house. She went to visit her son, who hadn’t stood in a trial yet, in Nafha prison inside Israel.
Tightly clenching a package at each hand, Salma alighted from the car with anxious thoughts whirling over her head. She felt ready-to-drop, but she had to pass one more last checkpoint before she could gain access into Israel. After having her packages inspected, she had to go through the metal detector. She passed through it when it gave a buzzing sound. Her blood ran cold. A blond capped officer with freckles on his face asked her to check if she had any metal pieces with her. Salma examined herself thoroughly but failed to find a sign of any single metal. The officer, then, required her to go through the metal detector for a second time. As she returned back, Salma felt her heart was pounding so loudly as though the smirking officer could make it out. She stepped toward the metal detector and attempted to steady her legs while she passed through it. And then ‘Zzzzz,’ it buzzed again. Immediately then, two slender female officers came straddling toward her when it flashed through her mind: she could tell it was the buckle of her watch that made all the fuss. ‘Good riddance,’ she said to herself gleefully that she could eventually pass through it without making it buzz. Salma speculated the picture of her son drawing nearer and nearer.
Salma finally reached the prison where she physically was going near her son more than anytime in three years. She entered a big hall she had never seen something alike before. Shortly after, she recognized it as the place where she was going to be inspected again. There was bustling. She heard many loud voices coming from hither and thither. It seemed like tens of quarrels were taking place at the same moment. The view of her son was fading in her mind when she found herself in a row of elderly women waiting to hand in their papers. After what seemed a long while, Salma found herself face to face with a blond female clerk. She was slim and short as to be sinking in the chair. Salma stood still while the blond clerk was sitting at a large glossy desk and talking as hastily as she typed. She looked up at Salma, and moved back and forth all four fingers next to her thumb at the end of her stretched hand as to tell her to hand in the papers. Salma handed her the papers and examined her fingers while they were hitting the buttons so gently. The officer pushed her back her papers while she gripped them and moved hastily to release herself from the restless nudging women behind her. She didn’t have the slightest idea where she should go. She was roaming in the place with the packages at her hands and the the papers curled under her armpit. She had the shortest thought of enquiring about where to go from an officer at one of the gates. But, she spotted the nudging woman limping with three huge bags outside the hall. She moved right away after her. Salma was hurrying to catch her when her shoulder drew level with the restless woman’s shoulders. “Hello, ma’am” Salma said, doing her utmost to catch her strides. “Hello,” came the throaty voice of the old woman. Salma was on her way to ask where they were supposed to do before the nervous woman’s voice came again: “So, visiting son?” ‘Yes,’ Salma answered straining to walk by her side. “and you?” she went on. “Grandson,” the old woman answered her promptly. “Seeing them now, are we?” asked Salma. But the old woman broke off to rest from the heavy weight of the three bags before moving on. Salma was waiting her answer while she was taking short breaths. Then, the old woman said: “not yet, still had to pass the last inspection,” Salma felt badly disappointed at hearing the word ‘inspection’. She couldn’t help waiting and felt more waves of cordial longing breaking through her body as she made more strides, now behind the old woman. “I know it feels embarrassing, but that’s it; we had no chances of seeing our sons if we thought about being embarrassed,” came the restless voice of the woman again. Salma thought for a moment the old woman was not talking to her. Then, when she assured herself she was, she tried to interpret what she meant by ’embarrassing’ before she replied: “Err sorry, but I didn’t understand what you meant?” The old woman said: “The inspection; I am talking about the inspection,” Salma felt as though she should have felt embarrassed at each of the inspections she went through so far. “What’s wrong with them?” she asked, feeling truly embarrassed.
“What? Don’t you know?” the old woman looked dumbstruck.
“Know what?” sounding stupefied, Salma replied; her heart was beating so fast.
The old woman looked at her pityingly. The old woman was quite wise to tell Salma that she had to strip completely at the last inspection before she could see her son.
Three years later, Salma, now at the age of forty-four, sounded paler than ever before. Stretching on her bed, she was striving to picture the vague view of her son whom she saw last time six years ago. Sweat was mingled with few tears and trickling down her cheeks. While she was reenacting in her mind the last moments she spent with her son, she recalled his promise that he would come back. Another tear tore its way on her cheek. The poor mother felt her heart drop again when she happened to hear a sound echo so loudly in her mind: the sound which was penetrating her ears all three years. It was the sound which bore her the news of her son’s death of prostate cancer. The last tear had come to a halt at her lips. Her lips curled. The tear dropped off.
Mohammed Rabah Suliman