Saturday, January 19, 2013

Too Late

At first I didn't understand why I felt uneasy around this lady. She was articulate, accomplished and reflected the image of a confident woman. I spent a couple of afternoons in her company on one of my trips out of town. We talked about world politics, books we've recently read and loved, family matters, different diets, dreams to be chased and hopefully realized. Through it all, a thread dangled in front of me, beckoning me to tug at it and see what secret weave it might unravel. A look in her eyes when she talked about her teenage son confused me. Not the twinkle of pride and love that I see in every woman's eyes I knew. But a sudden dimming of the soul, as if a switch turned off the lights inside her when she mentioned her son's name. A shadow passed quickly over her gaze, and then disappeared again.

I've met women who lost sons in wars, illnesses or car accidents. Some lost their sons to mean wives that kept them away for years. No matter what the reasons were, none of them had that strange hiccup of a look, an oddity so unique, I can't find the right word to describe it.

From then on, I paid more attention to the words she used, her body language, the nervous laugh she uttered when I asked specific questions. I repeatedly reached out to pull the end of that dangling thread, but held back. Every family has secrets. There was no need to chase hers, I convinced myself. The nagging feeling to find out why I felt uncomfortable with my new friend when she mentioned her son mushroomed inside me.  I kept it in check, hoping it was caused by my over active imagination.

On my last afternoon visit with her, she invited me over for coffee at her house. Though cautious, my curiosity triumphed and I eagerly obliged. With the aroma of rich coffee, and a wonderful slice of apple pie, I lounged lazily in her living room, chastising myself for my suspicions. This was a cozy house, a family home. Her other children roamed around with innocent vitality. Nothing seemed out of place. My friend joined me on the couch, relaxed and joyful.

I heard a rough voice behind me, a man clearing his throat.
My friend's face froze, that weird look returned to her eyes. The coffee cup in her hand shook.
Must be her husband, I reasoned, making an unexpected stop at the house in the middle of the day.
She jumped to her feet, coffee spilled on the cushions.
I turned my head and saw a young man towering over me behind the couch. His eyes fixed on his mother, ignoring me. She launched into a series of apologies. I couldn't understand why she was so flustered. My friend rushed to the kitchen, pulled out a plate from the fridge and put it in the microwave. So she apologized because she was late preparing his meal?
He didn't utter a word.
I rose to my feet to face him. And there it was, slapping me hard, gluing me to the floor. A look in this young man's eyes so severe, so strange. The only way I could describe it is to say his eyes were empty. As if looking into a doll's glass beady eyes. Lifeless. No emotion, threatening or otherwise.
I introduced myself, explained that I was the reason for his mother's tardiness, feeling silly for playing into this abnormal charade. I wanted to get out of there as soon as I could. No, I needed to get out there before I witnessed something more awful. I saw it coming when he went to his mother's side, moving like a lion stalking his pray. He shoved her aside with his fist, took his plate and left. She kept her back to me, head bowed, hands rubbing her upper arm.

This woman was afraid of her own child. What a twisted world she lived in. I spent the remainder of my visit discussing ways to help her. She listened, nodded her head and then offered to drive me to my hotel. Helpless, I left, knowing she would not follow any of the suggestions I presented. Not until something tragic happened, to her or to someone else. Too late. Way too late.

Lilas Taha is a novelist, winner of the 2017 International Book Awards  and is the author of Shadows of Damascus and Bitter Almonds.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Looking for Godot

What an arduous chore.

Sitting on a chair by the door, shoes on, jacket in hand, an old man waits for his ride. He stands up, checks his wallet, his keys, sits back down. Taking his glasses off, he wipes them with the special cloth from his pocket, looks at his watch.

An hour passes.

He sits in the waiting room. Freezing cold air hits his head. He looks up. An air duct right above him blows straight into his face. He moves to another chair, close to the glass door warmed by bright sun light. The flat screen TV mounted in a corner is running a cooking show. Grilled Salmon. He checks his watch, 8:30 a.m., too early for Salmon. His eyes roam over to the receptionist; lower half of her body hidden behind a desk.
She smiles.
He raises his eyebrows.
Soon, she mouths, points at the giant clock on the wall and lifts up her hand. She spreads manicured fingers apart. Five finger nails sparkle with stars and stripes. Really long nails.
He wonders how she can do anything with those nails, brush her teeth, hold a pen, eat a sandwich, go to the bathroom.
Tap, click. Tap, click. Tap, click. Her nails dance on the keyboard.
He scratches his head. At least she can do that.

Thirty-five minutes pass. The cooking show is followed by another cooking show, different host backing different pies.

On top of the examination table, his feet dangle. He pulls his dark socks as far up as they go. The flimsy gown barely covering his body scratches his back. The gown has been washed to death, original colors either blue or green. Are those flower prints? He takes off his glasses to have a better look. Hearts. Gray hearts. Do they think they're funny? He becomes angry. Why can't they have new gowns with red healthy hearts?

Forty minutes pass.

The doctor walks in. She briefly makes eye contact, flips open a folder and discusses her findings.
The old man listens patiently, tracing with one finger gray hearts, counting them. He imagines the one lazily beating in his chest as colorless as the ones under his finger. Warnings and instructions are repeated; prescriptions are handed over, more pills for his collection. No cure. The damage remains done.

He goes home, nothing new learned, nothing solved.  What a waste of time this waiting game he has to play. Will Godot ever come?

Lilas Taha is a novelist, winner of the 2017 International Book Awards  and is the author of Shadows of Damascus and Bitter Almonds.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Memory

New year, new beginnings, more chances to make good memories. After the celebrations and the good wishes, I pen down my resolutions. The list is long and, of course, starts with the everlasting promise to get in shape. This year, I added another item close to the top: getting my book published. One more is to post my blog on time every Friday. Another is to honor those who did not make it to 2013.

Remembering my aunt . . .

When I think of my aunt, the aroma of extra virgin olive oil saturates my nose.
I absentmindedly lick my lips, the taste of fresh bread backed with thyme leaves causes my mouth to water.
I see in front of me a traditional dress embroidered with red flowers and a headscarf infused with the scent of rose water.

When I think of her, I instinctively look at my hands, examining my fingernails to make sure they are clean.
I check under the cushions of my living room couch for crumbs, dust between stacks of books in my study, run a rag above the fan blades in the ceiling, and scrub the tiled floor of my kitchen with disinfectant Friday mornings.
I spray my best perfume in the bathrooms, burn incense and walk around the house spreading special earthly scents.
I cook a feast for my family, remind my kids to wash their faces with cold water before going outside, ask about my neighbors and hug my friends' children.

When I hear my aunt's name, village women sing folkloric songs to announce a bride's wedding. Colloquial expressions in the Tul Karem dialect twist my tongue, my mind racing to translate and failing to catch the beauty of their collective words.

Her memory is a portal, calling me to step through, to be transported to my homeland, to connect with my roots, my heritage, my origin.

Lilas Taha is a novelist, winner of the 2017 International Book Awards  and is the author of Shadows of Damascus and Bitter Almonds.