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

By and | 1 August 2021


I look at the furniture in the room without moving from my place. A brief glance might make this furniture my friend. Why today this obsession with friends? They were sitting here, on the couch, and they were looking at the walls. Their gazes still cling to the paint and, in the same way, I imagine that I am looking at their faces: as though, when they departed, they left their gazes, then sent their faces to examine their gazes, and then their faces clung to the walls as well.

In my life I have known people, departed, whose eyes remained behind for years, sitting quietly in the last place that they were looking. I have known people who treated their limbs as a crowd encountered by chance at some event, before each one goes its separate way. On the stairs and in the streets and squares, numberless limbs are scattered which once sat with their owners then grew up and left them. I saw limbs lost, limbs drowsing, limbs smiling. Some of them as though they’d just been born and some of them dying. I met eyes that stayed awake without their owners and legs that walked alone down the alleyways and lips that spoke with passers-by. I met words and breaths and glances which had left their owners and became new beings.

I am sitting with these beings now, with things that have withdrawn from their past and begun their own lives, and I feel as though my limbs, too, are about to withdraw from me to begin their lives. In any case, I have never looked at my limbs as inseparable from me, but as things that have always enjoyed their independence. Some of them leave me while I sleep in order to sit on the balcony. Some go out to wander the streets. Often, after I wake in the morning, I will spend the day searching for a missing limb. Sometimes I do not find it.

My hand moves and presses the button on the radio. Outside, as always, the war. I am surrounded by horrific slaughter. Years filled with corpses and I do not know how I am still here, between these walls, a body whole and hale. Many people are now walking about outside with limbs missing and searching, not for the limbs, since they have most probably forgotten about them, but for a scrap of bread. And many people bring back nothing to these limbs because they are scattered with these limbs in places neither they nor their loved ones know.

Spread out over more than one place, a scattering here, a scattering there, at one with the invisible dust, with the cement of the buildings, with the terrible forgetting. Limb by limb, I run my hands over my limbs. I am still a whole body and what I thought I had lost over the years was lost only in my dreams.

When the war began I was not living here. I was in the north, in a village on the coast, working in a fertiliser factory, and every evening I would walk home through the lemon trees.

The village, set on a small hill: like a seagull about to land on water then banking away. Tiled roofs that never had time to talk to their owners so taken are they with the sea and the sky. The stones in the walls and the trees in the gardens engrossed every gaze and trailing finger. I believe that the trees there grow and give fruit by the glances of the people and the rain falls in response to them. I would see them staring into the sky, divining the clouds’ intentions. The wind passing over them familiar and frank, as though they were its friends. As though they had once been fellow travellers, swapping confidences on the road.

The newsreader’s voice gives the names of dead and wounded. Some of them reaped in the north, some reaped in the south, some reaped in the mountains, some reaped in the cities. Just days ago they were friends. They visited each other and drank coffee and made plans to meet next Sunday, and suddenly the encounter: armed to the teeth. Encounters: enemies and corpses. The newsreader broadcasts the names of their bodies and concludes with a song.

I am surrounded by walls which shield me from the sight of the outside. They told me that people out there died being dragged through the streets. They roped them to cars and pulled them through the streets amid the women weeping, women ululating, then dumped them beneath the bridge, a trail of their blood over the asphalt behind them. They told me that much death and much weeping happened in these streets, until the asphalt split and human flowers grew through, and every passer-by can see them, though only the grieving find in them the scent of flowers.
Occasionally I smell something like this scent. Those who have left me without demanding a tear or a word of farewell. Who have withdrawn weightlessly out of life, like a small leaf dropped in water.

I was a small boy when my father talked to me about war. He told me about the victims of gunfire, of hunger, of disease. About the dead who found no loved ones to bury them. About those made homeless by hunger, roaming the villages and towns and getting nothing. He had been one of them, he said. He found himself, aged five, a wretched beggar going from house to house, and searching the woods for a bone that he would pulverise with a rock so that he could swallow it. My father told me about war and all I did was look at him.

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