The Dead

A short Story by: Salem Al Tuwaiya

Translated by: Badr Al Jahwari

 

If I were alive, I would have closed my eyes so tightly that I couldn’t see the yellow lamp hanging like a snake egg ready to hatch.

The phone rang twice. The third time, my voice, merry and apologetic, answered “Hi. This is Emma and Ali. Please leave a message and we’ll call you later. Thank you.”

I hear Emma’s voice thundering, “Ali.. Pick up the phone, Ali!” If I were alive I

would’ve picked up the phone. But why? I just want to close my eyes. This light is

hurting them. Who in the world can endure such light? “Ali.. Pick up the phone! Don’t make me angry anymore!”

What time is it now? If I were alive, I would’ve turned and checked the time on the clock. I would have turned and looked at the things and myself that ceased to exist. But why? It is over now. Emma cannot cry anymore, and if she did, her voice would only last for a minute before disappearing forever. Let us say it is 1 o’clock now. Emma would arrive at 11 p.m., which means ten hours of staring at the snake egg. Let us suppose three more hours pass. This is unbearable! Something has got to be done. What could a dead man possibly do? All it needs is some thought and eventually an answer will be found.

The phone rang twice. The third time, my voice, merry and apologetic, answered “Hi. This is Emma and Ali. Please leave a message and we’ll call you later. Thank you.”

“Mr. Mahmood Ali. We’d like to remind you that your kidney dialysis appointment is today at 7 p.m. Cromwell Road Hospital.” Ahh… I’m finally free of these pills, injections and appointments, and from that utterly dreadful machine that’s keeping me alive. Three times a week, I have to go to hospital. For four hours, I lie back while that machine sucks the light out of me, and then breaths it back. From a red light emerges a pipe that sucks my “dirty” blood mixed with filth and urine. From a green light emerges a pipe that pumps back my cleansed blood. Well, now, my body is filled with two liters of water and disgusting swellings from not taking the pills. Now, I am dead after 35 years. They were so slow, so boring, yet they passed like a train from Victoria to Wimbledon, or like a plane zooming above the village and then disappearing behind the palm trees as I raise my head and ask, “Where have the travelers gone?” My father answers, “To India.” “Where is that plane heading?” My father answers, “To the land of Jesus Christ. One day, you too, will go and land on other worlds.”

The doorbell rings relentlessly and then there is violent knocking. Who could this persistent visitor be? Could it be Mohammed, the Sudanese? Hart usually calls before coming. Brown visits me only on Sundays. It is still ringing. It is definitely not a stranger as it seems he knows that I stay at home most of the time. If I were alive I would’ve gotten up, opened the door, hugged my guest tightly and said, «Welcome, my dear. Perhaps a little wine and a chat before the end of the day!” But why? I think it would be enough if I could just close my eyes and bid this world farewell, forever. I had to do something to keep my eyes closed. The throes of death shook my body grudgingly, and I saw my soul fading away, departing and sinking in a tunnel as tiny as the eye of a needle. Then, that lamp descended right above my face and started emitting its light towards my eyes, pumping scenes one after the other.

What’s going on outside, I wonder! Is it sill snowing and forming white caps on people’s heads? Is my old retired neighbor, Brown, getting drunk in all five bars of this street? Is he still staggering around with his unbuttoned shirt revealing his fat stomach full of chicken nuggets, French fries and alcohol, as he yells the name of the his youthful love who had left him and went to Portugal? Is Emma still continuously smiling at the customers and serving coffee and corn pies?

Ah.. It’s the postman; he just delivered the usual advertisements and bills through the door hole. Perhaps there’s a letter from my family admonishing me for leaving them all these years. Ahh.. My family!

The phone rang twice. The third time, my voice, merry and apologetic, answered “Hi. This is Emma and Ali. Please leave a message and we’ll call you later. Thank you.” “Ali.. I almost broke down the door. When you get home, please call me. I have wonderful news for you!” It’s Mohammed, the Sudanese. Wonderful news? Mohammed, oh Mohammed! I would’ve been glad if you had broken down the door and closed my eyes. I’ll never leave until you close my eyes. The light is projecting my entire life right into my eyes. And now that I’m dead, how can I live in two worlds?

My life flashes back in this intense light. I’m overwhelmed by the stages of life crowding between my eyes and the lamp. I abandoned my life; after 35 years, I abandoned it! At first, I trained myself to sleep deeply because when I sleep, I’m not attached to the real world and this means I’m technically dead. Sleeping is an exercise for dying. It is death but without a grave, so sweet! Yet a dead person is not someone sleeping who’ll never wake up. Even the most dreadful nightmares stay with you after a long sleep. I only remember their sheer terror. It’s as if nails, stones and fists live in my skull, shielded by seemingly everlasting insomnia. And once it is done crackling and clinking and creating shapes and obscure shadows, I sleep. I don’t really know exactly when it happens, but it strikes me like a sudden slap, and then I go to sleep leaving behind remnants of a nightmare.

I gave up on my life; why doesn’t it give up on me? There’s another world, smaller, yet shining with joy I must’ve experienced once, when I was alive. When was it? It soon fades away.

The phone rang twice. The third time, my voice, merry and apologetic answered. “Hi. This Emma and Ali. Please leave…” My voice halts.. Instead, a long beep. Come to think of it. How many times did Emma say, “You have a dull voice. I’ll record mine.”? She always says that but then forgets, and I forget. She could be the one who just called. She probably will remember my “dull” voice and turn it off. Where’s she now? Perhaps she left the café and took a train. Will she stay so slim and gorgeous? Will she still wait in Hammersmith subway, walking quickly up and down the stairs, moving from Piccadilly Lane to Nethern Lane? From there Bus 131 would take her to New Malden, and on the way she would lie back and relax while cursing me. And at Kingstone Intersection she would yawn and cast a quick look at the Hammer Bar where we first met four years ago. Then she would make her decision, “I spend my holiday alone. How can this sick man go anywhere with me? And she would ask herself the usual disgusting question, instead of asking me, “How could we have lived under the same roof all these years?” Will she really say this, and remind me of our love in those days? She would slam the door; move her blond curls to the back of her milky neck and cry, “Again? Oh God! Sleeping and hospital appointments are the only things you’re good for!” She would take off her tiger-leather coat and throw it on me. I won’t be able to say goodbye to her anger, to her eyes, or to say with a choking voice, “Please Emma, close my eyes.

 

London, Abu Dhabi
12/1/1998
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