BLACK AND WHITE STREETS
The light went out in the sky of Cairo.
A blind man bumping into the metal railing of a bridge
became smeared in green paint.
The paint was invisible in the dark
but he could feel its texture on his skin
and he fell into the Nile.
I was hit by two cars,
one of which was going against the traffic,
I was caught in the middle
but blood did not gush from my head.
I am here under the vehicles
in a small place surrounding my ribs.
An insect jumps out,
biting my right arm, and I cry out.
Water hoses put out two blazing cars.
The fire is dark grey.
The water sprays me and nobody is looking.
I come out from underneath the tyres
wearing top hat and tails
and head for the old Opera House,
the rain spattering my Rolls Royce.
The music is loud tonight
and I need to dance with a sickly girl.
I drive towards Klot Bek,
then leave the car and jump on a donkey-drawn cart
going over the Abul Ela Bridge
with a group of women headed for the cemetery.
I fall asleep in the lap of one of them
and wake up wet through.
The police chase me during a student demonstration,
I run and hide under the cars,
twice it has been bloodless.
The two cars have disappeared into a large hole.
I jump in after them,
and fall head first into a large-scale funeral,
greeting all those present with laughter.
A man who does not like me ties my hands with a chain
which he shoves into everyone’s hands, one after another.
The coffin of the dead man flew off into the grave.
The dispenser of shrouds, the nurse and the grave’s watchman,
as well as his family, the dead man’s children and the neighbours,
appear in a snapshot taken in honour of the deceased.
In a white gallabiya I stand in front of them,
holding the camera.
The man lets go of the chain to cry.
The cigarette falls out of my mouth on to the rug
and the funeral party catches fire.
I run away,
a child on my back
The child will not stop crying.
I press his forehead, he stops.
I press once again, he starts again.
This child, with his glittering eyes
and a single expression engraved on his face,
within four hours
I have let him fall from my arms as I run,
and following a mild explosion, he is scorched by fire.
Am I passing these fields for the first time,
with a murderer on my tracks?
Who will destroy my fingerprints,
or flood these fields in my wake?
The dead child occupies a large portion of the land.
His blue eyes
are thirty metres from the site of the explosion
and his blackened shoe hangs off a tree branch.
His metal hand melts slowly,
and there’s no blood gushing from his head.
Send me a new box of colours
so we can paint in his eyes and tongue and lips,
and raise him like a flag over the fields.
Since the night seems clear
and the moon’s on the verge of shedding its full light,
I tack onto the end of
a passing camel caravan.
At a far-away unfamiliar café I sit down.
Twenty spoons are stirred in the glasses
at the same time
and there’s no other sound.
A woman walks in staring straight at my member
so I start undressing in front of everyone,
and we moan together in an exposed corner of the café.
The woman walks out into the dark never to reappear again.
It must be the power cut
and the fact that we never know for sure
if we have candles
and the heat whose source is unknown
and my friends’ unimportant glasses
and the roads that block their residents in
and the windows that can no longer see:
all of this must have helped pass the words
over our heads
while we talked for hours
until our throats got dry,
the words that come out without us paying attention to their meaning,
the strong words we exchange for hours
until the door opens suddenly
or two vehicles collide on the street
or the tap leaks water
drop by drop
and we fall sleep to the sound.
Lots of people
talked to me about myself,
manufactured large tweezers to pluck out the dross of my soul,
turned me into a saint, a joker or simply a little genius,
organised everything to get me out of my room,
placed me in a dark lift
and sent me up and down
without me understanding why I liked
the humidity and the darkness of that place,
or why I did not totally disappear from the building
so I could smile at myself in the mirror of the bathroom, any bathroom.
The Two Houses
I wake in the same room to find my hand splashing the lake that lurks under the bed, to find the thick wall of my old house with its dusty window where a main wall of this apartment should be. I opened the window and the evening was still there. And my father was in the kitchen, his hand on the light switch and his leg which is missing five centimetres looking longer than the other, I called to him and he did not reply, he only smiled and invited me with gestures of his hand to go on sleeping. ‘The universe is a handkerchief’, they say here. Over there we say ‘Small world’. At night I go to my parents’ house, through the opening I made behind my new house. I stay there an hour or two to check on the family’s medicine, on my parents’ sleep and their breakfast. At dawn I set up my vehicle and go back again.
The Big Escape
They had sentenced me to execution with two of my friends and it was by what they called euthanasia which had already killed a fourth friend of ours. We did not understand very well what they meant by these statements and so they left us free without guards or cells and sentenced us instead to a kind of death they called a mercy killing which is carried out by a middle aged lady who has a benign face and which is painless but is death anyway. I consulted with my mother and my friends a little while before the execution and I decided to escape. They all agreed I should go while my two friends remained to wait for the lady. As soon as I went out after they gave me all the money they had I met with the merciful lady face to face next to my home. Neither of us looked at the other. She avoided me and went off and I went past her and started to run looking over my shoulder in other countries.
Her hand is on the box, my foot outside the house. Suddenly it grows dark, while she continues rubbing the tobacco on her shiny thigh.
She stops a little to move half the tobacco to her other thigh, while I enter the tunnel and start smoking.”
How can she not
read what I write
How come she waits by the door
until someone passing
gives her a few words
those strange obscure words
Yet she listens and smiles
as if she was there with me
at five in the morning
as if her hand
relocated some of the words
moved them from the wrong places
moved them and went to sleep
But how can she not
read what her own hands inscribed only yesterday
How come she cannot open the balcony
in the morning
to receive the sun
with a copy of the book in her left hand
that she reads slowly
winking at the neighbours
pointing to her son the wordsmith
waving the book in their faces
while she mutters
strange and obscure words.
Translated by Youssef Rakha