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

By and | 1 August 2021


Ten-thirty approximately. I switch off the radio and I glance outside. The street as ever, and the labourers, some clouds. I think they will rain. The rain has been trapped too long and in the village in the north they must be waiting for a deluge. Though how many are left of those who listened to the secrets of the wind, who divined the clouds’ intentions? Tens of thousands have migrated since the newsreader began to broadcast the names of the bodies. Thousands of those whose fingers trailed over the trees must have touched the leather of their cases for the first time and carried them, grieving, to cruel and unknown countries. They packed their portraits in their cases, smiled beside the door and by the basil pots, then loaded the cases with the rooms’ breath, gave out a final glance, and went.

They told me that people didn’t have time to put their shoes on before they went. They arrived barefoot and naked at towns and villages, took the open ground as a friend, to sleep there. They said that death had come suddenly as they slept; that death had come suddenly, dressed as friends; that death had come suddenly from a sky that the day before had rained on them and on their fields. They said that many people had fallen after a single step and that many people had fallen without taking a step at all. That on many roads the moaning could still be heard. That from sheer terror mothers had forgotten their children lying in bed and had left without them.

I think they will rain. The clouds come from far away. Most probably from the skies of countries where migrants are, and maybe some of their tears will fall here. They mass like the breath of the migrants and in their slow crawl over the houses there is something of the migrants’ longing. I think they will rain.

When we were young the rain was our favourite game. My father, a poor farmer, couldn’t afford toys, so we played with nature’s things. Water and snow, the butterflies and boughs, were ours. There was no division between us and the earth.

I did not understand why my father would rebuke me for counting the stars. Now, I see he was worried that one of my companions might be missing. He knew that not all my companions would always be there, that one day many of them would vanish, and that often I would sleep in that tall tent, open on the open ground, without any companion at all. My father knew my deepest feelings and he loved me beyond all imagining.

When we parted ways it was at the coast. The house which we rented was built over arches on a rock by the sea, and the sea was a member of the household. My father stayed behind, up in the village, with his house and his trees, his wooden steps on whose lowest stair he sat each evening waiting for the post to come from the city. For the van to stop at the junction and one of his sons climb down. But for years these steps saw only a man waiting and the smoke of a cigarette.

When I said goodbye to him for the last time, it was at the coast. Thick smoke was climbing from our house and the smoke had the smell of burning flesh and my father had become a blackened skeleton. I climbed up, cast a final glance at his black char, and went on my way, carrying life’s firewood. On my own.

Firewood? No: I believe I was carrying green shoots as well. I, and some of my friends, we thought that a great spreading tree would grow out of these shoots, would cast its shade somewhere beautiful. We had other families: dreams. And even as we walked with our dreams there was, in some hidden place, someone hunting them down. Then they fell, like our families.

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