On Page “184”

Sweet. Provoking. Sometimes the two attributes reconcilably fuse together into one where I stand unguarded against the impulsive temptations for cursing the holiness of the vacancy of the place. Around the bend I stood, waiting for a cap so as to escape the impervious darkness of our house except on rare occasions when the feeble beam of a candlelight can reach and dimly lit a tiny spot here or there, blown by the maddeningly raving winds of mid December, my growing wrath which had now cumulated itself in my chest which was already brimming with pent-up ages-old anger the causes for which, unlike their united implications on me, vary disparagingly, stifled; and engaged in my desperate endeavors to stop myself from cursing the place where I have grown and become a man whose tongue can strikingly respond to the most abominable of curses having learned in the aisles of the camp and furnished myself with a remarkable arsenal of phrases and swear words accompanied with the most influential way, pitch and facial expressions of communicating them to my opponent (once he dares to set himself up as one) sharply and in a matter of a few seconds in order to leave him perplexed and wordless. I sank my hands into my pretty warmer pockets, and furtively searched the place with my looks for any sign of a coming light. In vain.

I thought how warmer it would have been had I said “No” to my friend’s invitation to go out for a walk, only to be struck with the charm and loveliness of the scene of our home when I left it. My father would be reading all alone now, having the whole light of the candle, the whole small-sized wooden table with its four dwarfish legs he made with his bare hands and which we used for reading, the whole cup of coffee,  and all the time in the world, only for himself, without me who would usually share him and bask in such pleasures, the flavor of which is still distinct to me. “I should have stayed.” I thought. I was in the bosom of my essential practice of ultimate dominance which rendered me eternally victorious over everything around me; pliable and inferior to my over empowered self, pain, through the intransigence I gradually gained against  which, was usually curbed in one very small portion inside me, and when released, however, it would have been quashed into leisures, having lost its potential to torture, and thus, granted me such distinct flavor. I acquired dominance: dominance over rules, over conditions, over place and time, and dominance over fate. I ruled myself. I sucked the morrow out of the concurrently most tormenting moments in the life of others (my sisters, my neighbors, my friends including he who invited me for a walk and many others.) How could I be so stupid, so assailable against a walk—in such a horrendously bad weather—so as to give up the total dominance of mine? I muttered to myself rebukingly, and cuddling up to myself,  went on waiting for a cap.

Bespectacled, my father and I, at a table, each sunk in his own book, and the candle at a moderate point between myself and him, our cups of coffee growing chiller (and more tasty) as they remained untouched, the two of us would be reading. The swishes which the pages of my book would produce as I turned them would oust the reigning silence and the still candlelight (probably both flirting with each other.) Silence—appearing more of a male to me—must have felt enchanted by the light’s charismatic glamour; and; the light of our candle, possibly noticing our inattentiveness, and coaxed by the solemnity the dark and his sober being, would flicker in an enticingly feline-like manner the opposition of which is indecently imprudent. I’d fidget, annoyed and taken off my reading; my father, however, wouldn’t seem slightly troubled as though nothing really happened and this flirtation scene is such a normal and allowable behavior in our morally-founded home. I wondered how he can be so engrossed in his reading as such. That took me back to when a friend of mine and I, power cut off certainly, came home to fetch something and rush off again. As we stepped inside, I headed to the kitchen, and left him wait in the sitting room where my father had already settled in behind the same wooden table, his head engulfed in his book. A short while passed while I blindly ravaged the utensils  of the kitchen cupboards looking for our thermos which our out-of-the-blue all-night picnic would have been unimaginable, and when, having obtained it and felt all the way out of the kitchen, I got to the sitting room where my friend had been waiting. “I got it, come on, let’s rush,” I bid him festively. But, tightly embracing himself for warmth, and overlooking the whole existence of me, he didn’t move, his eyes firmly fixed on my father. “what’s up mate, move on!” He seemed exasperatingly riveted, rooted to the spot. I turned my face and looked at my father who, in such an anomalous state of assiduous obsession for reading and unwavering determination, momentarily rather looked more of a stranger to me, and only then did I realize how foolishly blind I had been. The scene of the “old man” was never mentioned again between us perhaps due to the combined senses of shame and embarrassment (plus swelling pride on my side) it would spark inside us, two young individuals who thought of themselves rather as different, intellectual, and capable of making a change.

My mother used to tell me that my father is an exceptional man, who every acquaintance and several dignitaries of his, in case she had the chance to meet, would communicate to her spun-out panegyrics about his ingenious and sharp wit and concede to her that had there been justice in the world, he should have been in their place. “Had his fate been quite altered and less destructive, he would have been nothing short of a minister.” My mother would tell me, and I’d reply “Then, we’re quite content with things as they are,” and, looking on the bright side of it, I’d continue, “the last thing I’d wish he be a Hamas minister! Awful.”

I was snatched off my muse by the sudden light of a yellow Mercedes; and sliding toward me, the light was followed by two very short successive honks which signaled to me the driver’s inquiry about my destination. “Nasr.” I said coolly—it was rather rude in view of the current positions of the two of us, so it wasn’t a surprise when the driver, not uttering a word, left off. I confess I perhaps needed to be less defiant, and put on sort of a pitiful tone in an attempt to coax him into giving me the ride. Anyway, by now I started to despair and thought I should return home.

“I’m on page 263, 32 pages to go!” disconnected from reality again, I thought about my would-be favourite book.  “The last page in chapter 1, page 33, 165, 156, and…” I stammered in an attempt to figure out the other two pages which impressed me the most. In one of them, he narrates incidents that took place during classes in which his classmates would mock their English teacher making a laughing stock out of him as they mouthed at him imprecations (that was the word he used) in intelligible Arabic and wrapping them up with a “sir”. “I am sure I’ll do with a laugh each time I come to read that over again,” I was soon replaying the scenes when I was given that book. “It was indescribably fabulous.” By now, It started to look as though I was reading those lines before my eyes. Everything seemed to be real. “There was my father, the candle, and I could hear them. Yes, I can never mistake them, those darned disempowered revs of our neighbour’s generator. Oh how much I abhor them” As I write these lines, I wonder when in the world I developed such a miserable habit of replaying things in my mind. That sure has nothing to do with my sense of deprivation. Of “counting on my fingers” the happy moments I lived through over the past years, including those when I received that book.

A few moments later while, it looked, I was spying from behind the door, on our nieghbours, crossing my fingers desperately, as they persisted in their endeavours to run their decrepit generator, all of a sudden, a yellow Mercedes, its engine revving handsomely, halted close to me. “Get on, son” called an old man in the front seat next to the driver.

“No, thanks. I think it’s quite late. I’d better go back home.”

“Aha suit yourself” replied the old man cheerfully.

No sooner had the car disappeared than my head was to be flooded with thoughts as I, on the way back home, painstakingly strained to figure out why the “184” which I read on the car number plate as it left seemed extremely familiar to me.

Mohammed Rabah Suliman

20th December

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