28 August 2013

fragments cut from manuscript

(c) photo by khulud khamis. Manuscripting.

Editing my Haifa Fragments manuscript, I have to mercilessly delete some scenes. Here's one of them:

Half way up, Maisoon stopped. Turned around and started walking back down Share’a El-Jabal.Now what? Ziyad followed in silence. “Take me to that nargila place you go to sometimes.” She wasn’t asking him. She was making a statement. “Bas Maisoon! It’s just a small place full of white smoke and sweaty men. No women.” Great! Just mumtaz. “It’s… it’ssort of a closed club… and all they do is smoke, play Shesh Besh, talk politics and make up nonsense conspiracies.” His words were carried backward up the mountain. I want to feel it. I want to sit and smoke a nargila like Majid did. “And the chairs are really really uncomfortable!”
No response other than Maisoon’s scarf swooshing behind her.

It was nothing like what she thought it might be. It wasn’t even a nargila place. Jihad lived in a dilapidated stone house, with the original dark green wooden shutters, coming off their hinges. Ziyad opened the narrow heavy door and walked in without knocking. Maisoon had to will movement into her body to follow his shadow; even in the almost-darkness, her eyes were naturally drawn upwards to the high ceiling, lending the long, narrow entrance an illusory sense of spaciousness.“Yalla, ta’ali! What are you waiting for? A special uzumi?” Ziyad was already opening a door at the other end of this outer room; yellow-grey light escaping from beyond and landing on the cream tiles. Dense smoke swirling around in the light.She followed slowly, her courage discarded at the front door like shoes left at the entrance to a mosque. A cough, shaddi being thrown, shesh besh tiles moving around hectically, slapping down on the board. A sudden scratching of a chair and the movement of bodies as Ziyad walks in. “Ahlaaaaaan ya Abu El-Hasan! Shu hal honour! We thought…” Maisoon’s entrance caught the rest of the words in the man’s throat. The body turned into stone, the mouth remainedhalf-way open. Four heads raised, scanning the space between Ziyad and Maisoon. Drawing a line with their eyes. “Assalamu Alaikum, shabab,” Ziyad didn’t lose his balance and laughed. “Ya salam, one sabiyya and you’re off your tiles? And you call yourselves zlam!”
“You know this is no place for any sabaya, Abu El-Hasan,” Jihad threw his shaddi and played his black tiles, closing off Mu’atasem’s white. He looked at Maisoon sideways, his nod half an apology, half an acknowledgement of her boldness to enter this space reserved for men only. Maisoon accepted his apology with half of a crooked smile of her own.

When the men realised the invader was here to stay, they settled back into their shesh besh game, not without grumbling under their breath as a sign of protest. Maisoon found a frayed old smelly kanabai in one corner and settled down. Ziyad sat down in a wooden chair and watched the game of shesh besh, waiting for his turn to play. Soon Maisoon was forgotten in the corner, and Mu’atasem continued with his interrupted stories of his prison days. In the darkness, he looked almost as old as Majid, and for several minutes Maisoon thought that she would get something, a thread. But when he mentioned some dates, she realised he couldn’t be talking about the same period. She closed her eyes, absorbing the story which, all of a sudden – or so it seemed to her – turned into a tale of women and sexual journeys. She opened her eyes and looked at Ziyad – he was immersed in the game. She closed her eyes again, lowered her back on the kanabai, and dozed off. Dreamed of prisons and nymphs and desert. The persistent ringing of her phone jerked her back into the room.

From the corner of his eye, Ziyad saw Maisoon stepping outside to the back garden, the phone to her ear, an unsettled look on her face.He watched her intently from the window, but the darkness obscured the contents of her face. All he could see was her skirt pacing up and down, followed by the bluish smoke of a cigarette. And then another. Fifteen minutes and three cigarettes later, she walked back in. Sat on Ziyad’s knees. Drank from his beer. “Oh, I hate beer,” she said, making a sour face.
“What was that all about?” He drew back as much as he could from her warm body.
“Shu? El telefon?” she now moved to a free chair next to him, seeing how awkward he felt with her sitting on his knees. In front of other men. “Oh, hayati, it was Shahd. She was telling me about this cousin of hers from Khirbit Jbara. Some soldiers broke into his house last night.” Her voice was brimming with anger.“Just like that, for no reason. They broke some furniture. Searched the house. Didn’t give a reason. And they took all his research. He’s been working on it for months. His pregnant wife was terrified… she’s bleeding and he doesn’t know what to do.” Her face became clouded, weighed down with this new story. Too many stories.Too little space in the brain. “Let’s just go home, Ziyad. Min fadlak. I’mexhausted.”
Silently, he followed her in the dark.

Can’t have even one single night with you.
You alone.
Just give me one night, evening, I’ll even settle for a morning kahwa and cigarette on that crammed balkon of yours.
But without checkpoints, soldiers, ta’ashirat, crossing borders, the chasm between this world and theirs.
Is that too much to ask of you, Mais?
Will we never be alone – just the two of us?

“I’ll walk you home, but I’m not coming up.” She turned around, noticing only now that he was walking a few steps behind her. Looked away – knew a lie was forming on his lips.
“I promised Basel to help him with this project he needs to submit at the end of the month. Have to be at his place early in the morning.” Maisoon kept walking, increasing the distance between them. “But I can be at your place for lunch tomorrow… I’ll make you a nice shakshooka.” He caught up with her, touched the small of her back, but her body evaded him. The rest of the way to the souk passed in silence.

They parted in such incongruence with the building tension between them – could very possibly be physically touched. He kissed her lightly. Turned around, without salamat. She grabbed him by his shirt and pulled forcefully towards her. Collision of bodies.Cold stone against her back. Warmth spreading down her legs. His tongue on her neck.Fingers invading her belly. Feeling the muscles of his back tense at the touch of her palms. The very subtle groan – almost a whisper – released involuntarily with his outbreath.

Two teenage boys approaching, their laughter pushing the wind ahead of them. She cups his face in her palms, kisses him violently, pushes his body away, and disappears into the dark stairway. “No shakshooka tomorrow. I want a restaurant. Tisbah ‘ala alf kheir albi.” Her voice tumbled down from the top of the stairs with the same violence of her kiss.

(c) khulud khamis, deleted from Haifa Fragments, forthcoming by Spinifex Press in 2014.

25 August 2013

(c) photo by khulud khamis

She lay in bed, unable to sleep because of the air heavy with humidity. It seemed to her she could actually see it dripping from the air. Her body was melting – she traced the wetness between her breasts, slowly moving down – circling her belly. The softness of it felt nice now. But it wasn’t always like this. Her body used to be an unrelenting enemy. Until Shahd came and helped her become friends with her own body. It was a long process of getting to know different parts of her body, accepting each part as a friend.

Growing up, her aunt had drilled into her brain that a woman cannot – under any condition – have a belly. When she was 17, that same aunt had told her she had crooked legs and thus mustn’t wear skirts unless “they reach way below your knees.” So she gave up on skirts. She hadn’t realised how much these seemingly careless remarks shaped her relationship with her body until she met Shahd. Until then, she didn’t even give it a second thought.

A fleeting image disturbed her line of thoughts: she remembered a day, back when she was still living at her parents’ home. They were doing some construction work in the house right across from theirs. It was early in the morning, and she went out to buy some fresh bread. Dressed in loose sweat pants and her father’s warm coat. Five men were getting out of a jeep, taking their work tools with them. She was invisible, passing them by. Air. Glad to pass by unnoticed. Got the bread, went back – again invisible. A few hours later, dressed in tight jeans, knee-high boots, and a tweed jacket, she went out again. Getting closer. The five men were sitting down to have a coffee break and a cigarette. As she was passing them, from the corner of her eye, she noticed the abrupt halting of all activity. Bodies that were swinging in conversation became rigid. Five heads turning all in the same direction – at the same time.She was visible all of a sudden when before invisible. Five pairs of eyes following her all the way down the narrow alley, until she turned the corner. The following morning, with the same loose sweat pants, the same oversized coat, she walked out of the house to buy fresh bread. Smiling to herself at her protection from invaders.

The obsession with the body what to wear how long it should be what it should cover why and for whom. Always self-conscious. Sometimes invisible sometimes air sometimes – the object of their masturbation she would feel how they were taking away – stealing from her – parts of her body to take home with them so that late at night, in their bed, alone or with another woman what did it matter – they could release that image of her and masturbate or imagine her while they entered another body. The obsession with the body – what to wear how long it should be what it should cover why and for whom.

Shahd. Asal. Honey. Three short letters. She carried her beauty carelessly – like it didn’t even belong to her. Her hair was either loosely tied with a long colourful scarf – about the only colourful item she would allow herself to be caught in – at the nape of her neck, or else it was set loose to the capriciousness of the wind. Her only makeup was black kohl that made the violet dots in her eyes even more pronounced and mysterious-looking. Still, with all that beauty, there was something boyish about the way she carried herself. Maisoon couldn’t make up her mind if she was doing it unawares or if she was purposefully teasing those around her. 

(c) khulud khamis, cut from Haifa Fragments - forthcoming by Spinifex Press in 2014.

14 August 2013

We demand life

My stomach is turning. A father murdered his 17 year old daughter by burning her alive. The reason: she "sullied her family's honor" by being in touch with men on Facebook. After reading the article, my whole body trembled. When will our society realize that a family's honor has nothing to do with this?! My honor isn't between my legs. My honor lies in leading an honest life and in being true to my own values. Enough killing girls and women. Our gender is not an approval for murdering us. Nothing constitutes a reason to murder us! We demand life!

Links to the article: 
Ynet: "Indictment: Man set fire to daughter for meeting men online."
Haaretz: "East Jerusalem father charged with killing his daughter over 'family honor'."