Translation of Wadih Sa’adeh’s ‘Dead Moments’

By and | 1 August 2021


Friends on my windowpane but they quickly blur and fade, like someone running into fog, then vanish. I lift a foot. I place it on the couch in front of me. I inspect the twisted toes. A pine, battered by wind for years until it is dried-out and crook-backed. Its motionlessness now, its silence, make me think of a long life sprinting and shouting after a frightening unknown. It was my only companion and I did not repay it for its company other than to pick it up late at night and lay it anyhow upon the bed, and mostly I denied it even this scant comfort. Foot, so strangely devoted that it never parted company with me, not even for a day. I know of many feet that grew bored and abandoned their owners, parted from them pleading illness or suddenly uncoupled on the road. These feet were resting. Only mine stayed loyal and weary. It is more or less dried up now. It is still with me and this is one of the signs of holiness.

I pass my hand over this foot and tickle its soft hide. I pat it and caress it, I peer at it long and hard. I was never once its friend. Was always rushing, and cruel. Like I’m only aware of it now for the first time. What do you do when you suddenly discover that a lover has been following you for forty years without your knowledge? I got to my feet, walked softly on them, and fetched my tobacco.

In that far-off village, on the earth floor of a house, I took my first steps and my feet were bare. My father was not a man who believed that the recently arrived on earth must get to know it through their bare skin, but he couldn’t afford shoes. The shoes I wore were my brothers’ shoes, polished up and nailed. I knew this, and I would smile but I wasn’t happy. There’s a condition for happiness, I believe: that the shoes you wear be new. I know no happy people who wear old shoes. How can you be joyful when your shoes are old? Like, there are people who grow old before their time because of their shoes and people who die because of their shoes. Over the course of history entire peoples must have died out or been exterminated because of shoes. And my brothers’ shoes had a great impact on my life. On my early grief, on my grief today, on my shame and my weakness and my failure to love and live. For sure, they were the reason I left school, lived on the streets, slept in alleys. The reason I am so thin, that I stopped growing, that I now sit alone in this room from which the sunbeams have gone away, most probably because of a cloud, a cloud that might rain, when I will be able to stand at the window and watch.

Since I first took this room, no sunbeam has entered without me passing my hand over it. All these beams had bodies, soft and slim, but I knew each beam by touch. Once it was the light of a ship in the port opposite, and when it disappeared I felt a strange loneliness. Because it was a ship carrying migrants? People departing for distant lands, sitting on the benches at the back or climbing to the cabin roof to send a last glance out over the houses? People who swept the house clean and watered the plants, then plucked up grass from a crack by the door and departed?

I lit a cigarette and played with the smoke. Everything still. Even the little cat on the corner not looking my way. Everything in this room still, had been still for years, and I began to believe that I was a wall, that if I went out the room would fall in. Sometimes I wonder if the room’s steel joists are my bones, but my bones are delicate and frail and this body must be held up by other supports. How have these bones walked with me all these years without me hearing a creak, or witnessing their sudden slump in the road? But I am utterly alone, so I weigh less.

Why do I remember my father now? I was a child when I took him to the grave, but they were watching me and the correct thing to do was to grow older while they watched. Those I thought loved me did nothing for me. They did not tell me, Go and play with the children. They stared at me until my body lengthened out, and I carried the body with them to the grave. It was nailed shut. Would it not be kinder to cover the dead gently? Say, with the soft blanket which they’d known at home.

The tobacco tin on the table in front of me and it is enough to move my hand just a little. But it’s as though it has been emptied of blood. If it should move from time to time it is just the impulse of an old movement. The labourers before me in ceaseless movement with the lightness of those who know that they hold a monopoly on the blood of life. I tried persuading myself that the limbs in motion were something beautiful; that every man possesses thin veins through which clean blood flows. But it is repulsive to be a pump with an unvarying, life-long rate of flow. Like someone who has nothing to do.

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