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

By and | 1 August 2021


The factories were pumping out the fertiliser that the farmers were supposed to take and spray over the olive groves. And like every year the trees were waiting for their food, their branches inclining towards the houses, watching for their owners to come home. Even as hope declined grain by grain in the silos the fields were being abandoned field by field and the trees were falling as their owners fell, into exile, into war, into death. Their crowns of the trees were reaching towards the houses that had held them since they were small. Were bowing lower and lower and withering.

In these fields there was another pulse running through the veins of the plants, a human pulse side-by-side with the sap and the spirit of the sun and the soil. Even the grass and the thorns: there was an understanding between them and the people. When someone looked at the sky a plant’s eyes would lift with his. Most probably the trees had slept when people closed their eyes. The blooms of the broom plant, lone flower on the grasslands, took happiness from the touch of hands. Their lives had meaning in the happiness of a plant, in the satisfaction of a sheep. There was no separating their lives from what they lived on: their births echoed in the birth of livestock and the congress of flowers and the shooting green. Milk and mint were part of their bodies.

The fertiliser factory pumped out pellets as though they were a memory from the past. There was a tree there starving, a tree withering, a tree burning, a tree being slaughtered, and a tree that was resisting, waiting for people who could not come, for people who had fallen on the road, for people who had departed for countries far away.

By the factory gate a clump of grass was growing, day by day, as though it alone was benefitting from the fertiliser-given life. This grass was the last thing that I looked at as I left.

But why do I remember these moments, from days that now seem rusted-over to me, like a road sign stitched with bullet-holes? I am here now, on a couch in this small room. Aside from that, there is some kind of illusion. The past? Like someone trying to stop passers-by from stepping on their shadows.

The same window. The labourers. Some clouds. Nothing changed since morning. Only the clock’s hands a few minutes on. I pace the room for a while. I approach the mirror. I comb my hair. I pull two hairs from the comb and throw them in the bin.

My fingernails are long and I should have cut them. I should have done something useful. Where is the sunbeam? Not long ago it was coming towards me. It almost touched my body. I looked with longing at it crawling, at its first childhood in my house.

I look from the window. In the sky there are clouds. I think they will rain.

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