"He wished he could have said something. His throat is so dry it feels he has been choked to death, but the eyes are still alive. He shook."
Basima Al-Takrouri was born in Jerusalem in 1982. He lived and worked there until 2014, when he moved to the United States to study. In 2017, Al-Takrouri moved to Montréal, Canada. His first novel, “The Absentee’s Chair,” was released in 2001 by the Palestinian writer’s union. Al-Tikrawi studied English literature and sociology at Bethlehem University and in 2016 received his Master’s degree in communication and media from Lasell College, Massachusetts. Al-Tikwari has published three children’s books with the Tamer Institute for Community Education. With the same organisation, he also released the book “A Diary Under Occupation,” which was translated into French and released in 2006 by Daar Lakourt Ishiil in Marseille. In 2009 his novel “A Complicated Passage” was released, which won the publishing prize from the Next Beige organisation and was released by the Ramallah-based publisher Al-Bayraq Al-’Arabi. Al-Takrouri texts have been translated into English, Swedish, French, and Korean and have been published in several journals and anthologies.
He contemplated the trickle of blood running down his face. It made him nervous. A stinging sensation in the mouth spread itself like fire down his throat. His hand felt distant, as if it had lost contact with the rest of his body. Something has undoubtedly happened. Why had he never before this appreciated the luster and shine of the paving stones?
I can’t move anything in my damn body, he thought. The face began to get nearer his own, feel his throat, move across his neck. The stinging sensation intensified. “He’s still breathing…” It is clear he is. “There is a pulse, but it’s fast.” His nostrils burn like pepper when he tries to take a deep breath. His throat fills with blood when he coughs. He was close to vomiting up the plastic tube being stuck in his throat. “Take it easy, Sheikh! For your ancestor’s sake, take it easy, we are opening your airway.” He wished he could have said something. His throat is so dry it feels he has been choked to death, but the eyes are still alive. He shook. A slight whimper emanated from him every time he tried to say something. “I am Ayman, son of Sheikh Jihan Sa’ida, do you remember me?” Of course, he remembers him. “But why are you holding me by my throat, Ayman? May God guide you,” he says in his thoughts while he resists the twists in his stomach as the plastic tube digs its way into his pharynx.
Suddenly he remembered. He wanted to slap his palm against his forehead, like he usually did every time he forgot something. What’s going to happen her, Suaad? He felt a remarkable calm, despite being frightened by the pool of blood growing around him. Such a stillness. Every time he tried to imagine the last hour of Saiid’s life, bleeding out by the National Bank of Amman, he convinced himself a calm had overcome his entire body. He was still sure that Saiid’s soul would be freed calmly and peacefully, together with the blood soaking Abu Alwalid’s lap and shoulder. He who leaned on the steering wheel to stabilise Saiid’s head. They said that he was with Saiid, in the same cell. Suaad visited his grave every time she went to Amman, as if he were her own son.
He was loath to see her hit herself in the face, crying in pain and loneliness, after Saiid’s death. Abu Alwalid died and hour before him. These were the kind of small details she sought and questioned after until her last breath. He remembered a day when he knew the danger took over Saiid. In the stillness, he prepared himself for the short trip to Amman or Damascus as if he were an automaton. He wandered around, packed up a single piece of clothing and his pack of cigarettes, nothing more. He hurried to the telephone: “I want to order a car.” Naturally, no “car” would ever drive to Amman that day. His thoughts about her and about Saiid were interrupted by a powerful wave of pain, as if his ribcage had been exchanged for knives boring into his heart. He heard Ayman moan. Ayman and his friend followed his breath while they moved him using all the power they could muster.
They muttered: “They have destroyed him; may God take revenge on them.” His feeling of stillness disappeared with the pain, as if it were poured from a bottle. He felt an enormous fire in his eyes and nose. Even from his nostrils streamed this strangely fluid fire. Suddenly a sound took over his ears, like a radio had been abruptly turned on. The scream broke and rose in volume. It mixed with the sound of the shells and canisters of tear gas. The grenades falling towards the earth echoed in his ears, creating a ringing sound that was more than he could endure. He wanted to grab his head and yell “my turban.” But from him came instead a word that had more in common with the rumble of a diesel tractor. Neither of the two nervous young men could understand his rumbling. However, he locked his eyes onto his turban, which Ayman noticed. He hesitated a bit. Every second in this madness was valuable—either Ayman would use that second for this old man’s soul, or to allow it to leave him. Ayman decided to follow his calling, and maybe that was the poor old man’s last wish. He jumped toward the turban, plucked it off, and quickly returned, without understanding how he possibly could have avoided all those people running in different directions, or the stones, shoes, and bits of wood, together with all the armed soldiers and all the shots that hadn’t reached their targets between all the people running around.
He looked at Ayman with contentedness, then at his turban lying rolled up on his chest. A deep tiredness came over him. He tried to focus on the green wooden door before he felt his body shake over the surface. When they brought him through the city gate, the view looked familiar. He wanted to wave at the lion cubs carved from stone which guarded the old stone gate. They wanted to wave back. He passed out at the sight of the gate to the Bab Al-Rahma burial grounds, where they lifted his body up into an ambulance. He left his body to sleep, with a floating apparition of himself leaving Saiid’s body to Al-Fostuqia.
He didn’t know why he now felt his body was so much lighter and softer than he could ever imagine. The image of Saiid’s letter—the one which he hadn’t destroyed, and instead stuffed in between some books—took over his mind. He will undoubtedly die. Unquestionably, so says this immense pain. Suaad will sit herself by his bedside, while the grandchildren play with his books, throwing all of the notebooks with his speeches and texts into the rubbish. He saw his youngest grandchild before him. Someone who made him feel calm and assured. Nobody but she would notice the letter. And she would not say a word about it to Suaad. It was one of Saiid’s long letters. There was nothing in it to differentiate it from the other letters he had destroyed. But the shame, which filled him from head to toe when he read it before throwing it in the bucket like the rest of the letters, stopped him. It was one of the first letters. It was so accusatory it shook him. And the sarcasm, those insulting words that scathe the heart, it hurt him.
He didn’t know why he woke up again. The blood bubbled from his mouth and he felt that his soul was leaving him, bubbling away with the blood. He looked out the rear window of the ambulance. He understood that he had come to the Mount of Olives and the hospital. Something touched his heart. It was clear she hadn’t come home from school. All the schoolchildren usually left their lessons to strike in the mosque’s courtyard. Tonight, he should have, as usual, taken her with him to his library. Her package was still on his table. She was not even two years old when Suaad said something that fulfilled him so: “Her eyes, they have Saiid’s soul.” The more she was asked, the more she got lost in her darkest fantasies. Every time she smiled over one of his books, Saiid shone through her eyes.
He didn’t know why he was smiling for no reason. The fear had left him. Like he had nothing to leave behind. He didn’t want to open his eyes. It seemed to him that he would let them rest, that she would settle for her fate. All the talk about death and the angel of death and the moment of parting, everything felt like a joke. He couldn’t keep himself from the laugh creeping up inside of the plastic tube, he couldn’t hold back the tears that were welling up between his eyelashes. “What’s up with you, Sheikh!” The remark came from Ayman, the paramedic, who mildly swallowed his laughter. His remark only made the laughter grow. Everything he had said from the mosque’s pulpit about death, every question that he had answered about the final hour, was going through his thoughts making him laugh more and more. A feeling of love, delight, and passion enveloped him, and he felt a lovely warmth. “Quiet,” he said to himself, while he saw himself kiss his old wife’s head, Suaad, a few hours earlier before he left. “If you don’t get any candy on your way home, don’t come back.” The laughter came again, surprising him, together with more tears. The laughter blended with sobs. “There is no force or power that can overcome God, the all-powerful and most high” … “May God give you His greatest mercy, Sheikh” … With the breathing tube removed, the laughter flew out from between his old lips and wet eyelashes.