Like the implausible scallop shell he found years ago amidst gunfire (strange are the things one can see when gaping at Doom's face, there is a big lie called epic, he thought, or maybe it was just him), a bleached, sand-sealed scallop shell in a scorching desert, things change dramatically when you clip off years.. When you brush away forty years, you will only see an old man sitting in a box with a door, cutting vegetables to prepare a lunch while others shut their doors and went home waiting for the sun to soften its vengeful gaze..
A pair of unblinking eyes, conveying nothing but crammed memories, indiscernible, square..
He tried to smile back to greeting neighbours or friendly clients, but it would come out as awkward lip twitiching and a rigid look, in which he appeared to be on the verge of insulting them.. They'd take back all the niceness, while he'd try harder and only scare them more..
He held the knife point to the top of the tomato, but then stopped and listened.. There were footsteps approaching.. slowed down hesitantly (a kitten frantically calling), and then hurried on...
I couldn't tell exactly what that was, an alley, almost a corridor, shops enough old and deserted that one could think shop owners are spider-webbed to the walls behind the closed doors. I thought they were all shut, but I finally glimpsed the last one in the row...
All I wanted was a pen, but at a very unlikely time..
Sweat drizzled into my eyes as I hasted for no reason whatsoever towards the shop, which made the kitten alarmed and sent her crying in shrill voice.. Maybe to prove that I still had it?
As I stood there, breathing heavily, flushing with heat, I looked with watery eyes at the shop owner, who stood (consuming half of the area of his tiny shop) cutting tomatoes leisurely.. He looked sideways at me and resumed his work.. I felt too dramatic and silly..
I don't know if my usual military salute and smile somehow offended him.. He looked at me sternly, first time since I had arrived at his shop, but then he looked away quickly to his comfort zone..
I looked around the shop, it was most queer.. Probably a post-war survival project of a young man who stooped now trying to find the black pen I wanted from a stack he kept in a jar, its fading tag suggested it once had pickles..
Buying a pen here to write an article for the country's best selling newspaper sounded much like.. like the country itself..
I kept surveying the walls while he searched in another jar.. A cardboard picture of Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary, a brass work of a Qur'anic verse, and tens of yellow decaying papers with corroding child-like drawings.. I squinted to see more of them, for the shop was like a rabbit hole.. It struck something deep inside, I was scared.. Strange..
He didn't really need another jar, there was plenty of black pens in the first, and if it is one thing that was perfect with him, that would be his eyesight.. Pretending gave him a peculiar feeling of pleasure.. But that was not his intention..
Stealing glances, his heart felt like beating for the first time, and the dust from this abandoned heart's trepidations rose to his eyes.. He blinked to hold back tears.. It was her..
He could never forget her, slim, with draping dark hair, holding her hands at her back and bending one knee like no-one but her.. "You're late".. Always late.. She was always on the run.. "They must be at the venue now, hurry up! What are you dressed up for? You want to get beaten in style?"
She stood now, hands locked behind her back, bending her knee, looking at the contracts he signed with her memory...
He handed her the pen.. "Nice pictures, reminds me of something."
He tried to smile, but his eyes winced in agony..
I took the pen, paid for it and hurried out.. after the last look he flashed me, I felt uncomfortable, more over when I felt him come out and follow me with his eyes..
I choked in my confusion.. And for a moment, I wished I left the kitten to be run over.. and end this..
He tried to make himself want to call her.. But definitely he didn't want to.. El Artista.. He turned back to his shop and stood in there.. The walls whirled and closed on him.. For many years he hadn't looked at his hand work.. "I've never seen anyone who draws like you do"... Never.. a child's at first glance, a saint's when you look closer... Never.. But the problem was the ink pen..
"Do you know where this pen comes from? You pay them to kill you, for Christ's sake!"
He started carefully to take down the drawings..
He locked them in a drawer, and limped outside, across the alley.. He limped because of the ink pen.. but no, he limped because he loved her..
He thought everything would end after the war, and she would cool down enough to listen, to open her eyes and see the truth of it.. Carried back home for his injury, everything changed.. Her fervour, she made him believe.. but why?
He sat by the river..
Lost in the rippling water.. He betrayed her.. He betrayed himself.. He betrayed God.. He should have shaken her, taken her in his arms and kissed her.. he should have put a butterfly in her hands.. To relax the spasms of her emotions..
But the war...
Clip off years and see..
The branches were drooping with ripe plums, the smell was captivating, like a chant from heaven, whispering to him.. to leave all behind... (Heaven Obsolete, do they have ink pens that are made Nowhere?).. she was telling him something; how he changed, something about faith and doubts.. he was digging a trail with his cane for the beetle.. Then she stopped.. Silence, but for the singing plums.. "Who won the war?" he asked her, she looked at him with her fiery eyes, confused.. "What do you mean? What are you saying?", now she was lamenting his sanity, he thought.. "I am not a war, nor a country, I am a man, a life that happened only once and would never happen again.. dreams, hopes, memories.. We all lost, those who won have their hands clean but for a stain of ink.."
The plum tree was chopped down, an abandoned heaven post, he might want to apply somewhere else..
He stepped carefully on the slippery stone steps that led to the river.. The water was cool, defying the blazing sun playfully..
He was not late.. He was too early..
I remember that I ran and jumped off the curb, and stood there holding in my breath, my hands covering my face.. a dangerous game of mind had just begun...
The kitten, no more than two weeks old, was crawling with incoordinated steps of her tiny legs, looking downwards, in the middle of a busy road of four lanes.. I have no idea how she managed to get that far without getting run over..
Some cars passed it over, unnoticed, she survived.. She was walking along the street instead of crossing over..
Maybe because I held my breath too long, maybe because I was too much scared, but, all sounds became subdued, I could only hear deep pulses that came from within my head.. and images melted away, all I could see was the blurred asphalt and the little dirty paws..
It went dark for two seconds, a gush of wind unbalanced me.. I wasn't sure, my heart flipped and tossed inside me...
The deep, unclear pulses linked in a continuous hum, and gradually the humming tuned to a shrieking horn..
I looked, wide-eyed and drenched in sweat, at the kitten standing mid-way turning this way and that and seemingly meowing, while a car braked in front of it, and another behind it honked its horn incessantly..
I ran across to the kitten (my legs were very stiff), I picked her up and ran back..
I sat under the broken roof (with half of its red tiles on the ground and the rest looking as if frozen half way sliding over the sloping roof), a passer-by would think I was at risk of having the structure tumbling over me.. but the dust that covered the whole scene was enough proof of the coherency, like a glaze holding us all together..
I always came here to conjure up the first words of my columns, half of which fail to be published.. Daniella wandered on the shaggy grass after having some drops of milk I fed her with my little finger...
I sat there.. tapping the black pen to my notebook.. I had intended to write about the hunger strike in the south.. I held the pen to the line.. nothing.. My fingers were already smeared with ink, and the page was full of prints.. Bad quality.. My eyes casually searched the pen for the manufacturer's name.. "S___ - made in...."
The name of the country was scraped off, probably because of weak print..
I lost my thoughts in the blank page...
I looked up when I heard a toddler's laugh.. There was a man walking on the other side of the street, with his daughter hopping along, not quite balanced (like my kitty) but merrily proceeding, rocking her Afro blonde hair, and engaged in a lively conversation with her father, who spoke in a foreign language that I didn't know, while she spoke in the universal tongue of children her age.. She was so handsome.. something about the way she walked, the way she swayed her arms, and how her wild, short curls danced, gave an undeniable sense of freedom.. She struck me as the happiest creature in the world.. and her father..
The hunger strike sounded unreal now, politics, suffrages, the war wearing the cloak of peace bought at the flea market..
Is it the time to admit that I was wrong?
That I killed him?
The pen scribbled..
I sprang to my feet, I felt the heat in my cheeks... And all of a sudden, I threw the pen as strong and far as I could.. I fell to my knees and cried...
Daniella started from her nap...
This was it...
I returned home with her, it was getting dark by then..
On the couch, in complete silence, I cried again, and I knew,
I missed him...
After I woke up from my stupor, I proceeded to empty my bag and clean it from the excretion of the then-frightened Daniella.. I looked at the notebook, opened at the page.. The words were readible in the dim light.. At this moment I realized I wouldn't send it, I wouldn't fight as I was used to to get it published.. I walked to the desk and brushed off some of the chaos that rested on top of it.. I clicked on the desk lamp.. The paper I ripped from the notebook lay there under the spotlight like an interrogated activist..
I stared at it for some minutes, then I pulled a chair, cracked my knuckles, and I started cutting the paper into a square.. and by folding and unfolding its corners in a sequence I knew by heart, I made an origami butterfly... I held it in my palm and examined it in the light..
99% of what we regard as right and wrong is purely conditional and culture-bound, not intrinsic. This is a fact to keep in mind. This 99% I do respect, but not sanctify. I can no longer trust a word I write or say.. In this psychological war that I have been fighting since I denied my heart, the 1%, the right to speak -just by screaming too loud-, I have been losing bits and pieces of me along the way.
I am sixty two years old, things don't look the same anymore... and as I quote Gibran 'You see but your shadow when you turn your back to the sun.', I realize I have been fighting my shadow all these years I was thinking I was defending a noble cause, and all around me I see you inventing methods, smuggling weapons, charging emotions, to terminate your-very-own-shadows..
I put down my scalpel with which I was trying, like many of you, to amputate another infected limp of this body, that is already dead..
I am sixty two, but I decide to let a new life spring.. A three year-old will tell you that 'to fight for peace' makes no sense..
Gentlemen, this is a no-win battle..
I refuse to be exploited.. I am not a country, not a war..
I am, Made in God.."