“But as soon as one breathes on any image, any memory, it too becomes covered with mist, and reveals itself to be thoroughly webbed with imprecision. Around it is the past, which, like the dark night of that winter, is impenetrable.” Jacques Roubaud
Now I can see only one yellow light, lit from across the courtyard. Like a stain upon the darkness of all the other windows shut up into themselves.
You used to whisper to me in the night. About this country. About what I would find here.
Within all the apartments in the courtyard, within the walls and the rooms they hold, remains part of the night, breathing in and exhaling the sleep of it’s occupants. I wonder at them all. What small bits of them lie in their sleeping bodies that might still change this world?
We wanted to live grasping. To live like we knew what was missing, full of scars and still budding. Hearts scraped against the sidewalk, praying to God.
A sleeping body turns onto her stomach in her sleep, spindly arms and long-legged, she is twisted within the sheets. A mosquito flickers at the window. Bloated from blood, from dreams.
I couldn’t know that this country would be your grave.
It is the last stretch of the night now. The night air is unmoving, thin and drawn out, waiting. One lone bird cries out, from the crooked tree in the courtyard. Abrupt and insistent. It is a perishable cry, only an ember in the vast blanket of stillness all around.
You taught me how to handle pain. There is no use lingering. Just dive in. It’s coldest at the edges. Its not so bad once you sink in.
I hear a woman’s laugh from behind my bedroom wall. Tinkling and unabashed. Pushing forward. It sounds like your laugh. So distant and near all at once.
In your laugh, I am six again. Running barefoot through the blue painted hallways. Up the shaggy dark orange-carpeted stairs, ascending a year at a time, in step with the photographs of N and I, hung high in consecutive order. I stop at stair three, to look at N’s three-year-old “Frankenstein” head, bobbing beside mine in pigtails, both smiling the awkward smile of being forced and watched. Somewhere in the kitchen you laugh. I stop in the staircase, hearing your laughter as if through the opposite end of a long tunnel, the last wisps of you fading slowly away.
And I lose you all over again.
Placing my hand along the cold wall, palm down, I imagine you in your grave, somewhere on the other side of the cement slab. I imagine it filled with light. May Allah the Merciful, the All Knowing, the Gracious, fill your grave with light.
I have always had cold feet. You said it was because my warm heart sucked up all my heat. You also said it was because I had bad circulation, that it could be an early sign of heart disease, and that I should check it with a doctor. All of these, messages you would leave every Sunday morning, 8 am, on my answering machine. Your voice loud and urgent, irritatingly informative, and I would wish I had turned the volume all the way down the night before. I could’ve kicked myself that I hadn’t, as I laid in my bed, muffling your voice with my pillow as my roommate would groan from across the room.
I wanted to call you today. I had listened to a Sheik talk about dying. He said that the soul leaves the dying body through the feet first. You would have liked that. I wrap my hands around the constant coldness that are my feet, pushing my fingers into the arches, between the toes, chilling my hands. My father’s feet, you would say. Yet I think, because my feet are cold, because of all your attention to them, because to think of you is to think of dying, that maybe part of my soul never came with me into this body, but will be waiting for me in the grave. Allah, most Merciful, let me be a person of light, a person of Paradise.
Tonight I dreamed I spoke to you from a long plastic blue tube, growing from my ear and ascending up, up, up high to your mouth. Your voice reached down to me like a hallowed out touch. It made me yearn for your hands and how they would always reach to touch me. My arm, my cheek, my hands; as your child and later as a mother. Tonight your voice was telling me that we should go out onto the rusty marshy hills beside the cabin, to pick cloudberries together, later when rain stopped. You said that they should be nearly ripe now as you had been out checking them a few days ago. The mosquitos would be vengeful, you warned. Then you laughed reminding me of the summer I had been covered in mosquito bites, swollen red and irritated. A puffy mutation of myself. “You’re too sweet blooded. It’s your father’s blood,” you said, forgetting that I was just simply allergic. You said you were baking mormor’s plum soufflé for dessert tonight and you needed to go check on it. “I love you, my sweet girl. I’ll see you later today.”
I woke up with the wetness of the pillowcase pressed to my face. Muezza was meowing outside the door, demanding attention, demanding food. There was the quick pattering of a child awake, running through the hallway. It was morning and the sound of your voice was already fading back into the recesses of sleep.
I push open the window and sit on a chair beside it. It is night and the stars are out. The sky seems vast and deep. I remember another night like this one. A night when I hadn’t understood that the stars move across the night sky as daylight approaches. I thought the moving star was some sort of satellite, moving in a lower orbit, accompanying me through a sleepless night as I laid awake, contemplating death and love. We had been talking of Allah earlier. You had told me how the angels love when we speak to remember Allah. A different you, from a different time. You said that they call to each other to come and listen to us humans, rejoicing in our words, enfolding us in their massive wings. Wings that span up into the night sky, touching the lowest heaven.
I am eating the dates you brought me as I balance my feet on the window sill. Far down, below the open window, people’s voices drift up as a melody of conversations, like memories calling on me from my own past. It is one of those last summer nights of childhood where we kids stayed out as long as possible, playing hide and seek, before the voices of mothers and fathers cut in, calling us home from open doorways, through the night’s darkness. Parents’ voices echoing off the concrete and intertwining with our own calls back. And I think, here and now, by this window, on this night, a veil has lifted, and these voices now, are those caught in my memories, and that somehow, my heart is picking up their signal, being called back by them, to some other place where you still are.