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.

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