I Saw Ramallah – Mourid Barghouti…
Once in a way, a passage affects me deeply.
Cairo airport is, in any case, a difficult one for the impatient traveler. Everything happens with a slowness caused by people who think they are doing their job well. It is a point of view.
We went into the house by night…. We did not sleep at all. The three of us chattered our separated lives in houses that came together to become one.
As the days passed, I began to understand. You do not rejoice immediately when life presses a button that turns the wheel of events in your favour. You do not arrive unchanged at the moment of joy dreamt of for so long across the years. The years are on your shoulders. They do their slow work without ringing any bells for you.
…I had to divide my memory between the absurd past, the concrete present taking shape with Tamim and Radwa in our house, and the future that could not be determined by our decisions alone. And dividing the memory between an old weariness and a new found comfort was impossible. Memory is not a geometric shape drawn with instruments, mathematical decisions and a calculator, an area of glorious joy next to an area of pain. The scales of need were unbalanced despite us all. The three of us needed the same nearness at the same time to the same degree. Sensations of a new beginning and of the resumption of a broken past jostled with each other. The clarity of the “return” to the house was crowded by the uncertainty of the common future of the family and those close to it in faraway places.
We had to bear the “clarity of displacement” and now we had to bear the “uncertainty of return” as well. And we did. We realized – and it was a discovery – that the one who returns comes back with burdens on his shoulders that a sensitive person can see as he sees a porter bent double in the fog of a port.
What is needed here is slowness. The vibrations of the past will take their time until they calm down and find a form in which to rest. This needs the slowness of a magician. A precious slowness, allowing feelings of comfort and calm to work their way gently within us. These feelings do not form at once or suddenly. Slowness teaches us how to accept the new; to regard it as natural and the way things have always been. We have to live the new intensely and slowly.
We have to learn this together…..
…They snatch you from your place suddenly, in a second. But you return very slowly. You watch yourself returning in silence. Always in silence. Your times in the faraway places watch too; they are curious; what will the stranger do with the reclaimed place and what will the place do with the returned stranger?
As for the relationship with the city, that is a different story. In Cairo the world had sorted itself out without me in my long absence. Friendships had gone their own, improvised way. Some landmarks remained in place, but not in exactly the same place. A cofee-shop had closed down. Friends had adopted a new one. Groups had formed and so had enmities. Positions, ambitions, and loyalties had been realigned. People’s daily schedules had been designed and it was difficult for a newcomer to find a place in them. The friends of the past were living lives dictated by necessities and choices about which I knew nothing. The fortunes of those who start out with you on the same road turn in contradictory ways; one becomes a man of influence, another loses his talent and other talents are invented for him, one becomes an editor-in-chief, another works abroad, a thrid has forgotten you, and the fourth, you have forgotten.
…When you meet friends from the past you find that everything is different. One day I joked to a Hungarian friend who used to help with the printing of the Federation magazine in Budapest: “All my girlfriends have left me, Zsuza. What should I do to get them back?”
I will always remember her reply: “We have a proverb in Hungary, it says: a dish of cabbages can be heated when it grows cold, but it will never taste the same.”
The taste of those early days had been lost. I do not particularly like cabbages, nor do I like talking about human relationships in terms of food, but folk consciousness everywhere is brilliant at summarizing the human condition.
…..What is it that was lost in this that I have found? A specific look of the sidewalks I trod? A rhythm? A type of sunrise and sunset? Footsteps I waited to hear – and heard – one desolate night? Wisps of fog that formed themselves into a shape that pleased me one early morning? A row of trees down the center of some road? It is always the same problem: the problem of stitching two times together. It cannot be done. Time is not a length of calico. Time is a mist that never stops moving.
Say you are romantic. Time will coldly discipline you. Time makes us reel with realism.