The airport was jamming, very jazzy, cars cutting into the inside lanes, cars triple parked at the curb, traffic cops waving and whistling cars away that were not immediately loading or unloading passengers, a looping loudspeaker voice calling out the cadence. Tall bus shuttles from the local hotels jockeyed for position with honking yellow taxicabs hoping for a long drive up into the hills. Skycaps opened and closed doors, moving bags to and from stuffed car trunks and shaky-wheeled carts, and pocketed tips with a proud, expectant nod with no note of surreptitiousness.
If anyone took notice of us, we got no comments or looks, nary a glance, all about their own business. I pulled Penina close for another long hug, still no cameras shuttering, as if there had never been a war. We were a common couple. I had survived a war, and Penina had survived waiting. Whatever wounds she had yet to show me, her hair still smelled like baseball card bubblegum. I smelled of wheel oil, track grease, and sweat, my worn fatigues tainted from motor pool prattle, but Penina pressed her face against my chest, and I felt her take a deep breath. She rattled my dog tags playfully, and we fell in with a group of civilians waiting at a light and crossed the street. Penina pretended to help me walk through the parking lot, my arm around her shoulder. I stowed my duffle bag in the bed of the truck, and Penina drove us out of the airport, through the long tunnel under the runway, out Imperial, and down to Vista del Mar and the Pacific Ocean.
And so these used ideas
here worn like clothes
will be compensated, without apology,
by the softest chords of their instrument.
— Jim Jarmusch, “Verdict with Guitar”
We were drinking homemade alcohol in a small rented apartment in Tripoli the night they stole the statue of the naked women and the gazelle from the city center. That was the last naked woman in Tripoli, possibly even in Libya. No one knows where they took it, but the word on the street is that they destroyed and threw it away or that they sold it.
We were six young men drinking homemade alcohol in a country torn apart by civil war, and for four years since the uprising in 2011 we had all suffered from humiliations inflicted by the rebel militias on almost everyone.
Four of the young men who were sitting with me in the small apartment had been incarcerated for protesting in front of Sudan’s Embassy during the Sudanese protests back in July 2012. The militia that caught them follows the same ideology as the ruling regime of Sudan. The Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist and rebel allies were the rulers of the streets back then and nowadays too. Another had been captured because he is descended from an oppressed Libyan tribe some of whose men had fought the rebels in 2011. We talked about Denmark, Germany, the beautiful lives that awaited us if we could some day get out of this god-forsaken land.
Everything had became tiring lately, the war and what was happening around us and the memories. Even to think of it is tiring, or write about it.
On his last visit to Cairo, the German translator Hartmut Fähndrich was despondent about the lack of interest in contemporary Arabic writing, and he offered this interesting explanation of Western reluctance to engage with Arabic literature: “I think [readers] fear that it will destroy the Thousand and One Nights image they have in their minds.” One might argue with Fähndrich about the number of potential German book buyers who have the timeless classic lodged in their minds, but from a modern point of view, it seems clear that no one writing today can live up to The Thousand and One Nights’ lack of sophistication, unadorned sensuality, or aimless fantasizing.
كنت أفكر في ملكات طيبة؛ وجوههن التي لوّحتها الشمس، خصلات شعورهن الثائرة. كنت أفكر في روائحهن، نظراتهن. كان ذلك حين وجدت نفسي أمام إحداهن. لم أكن أمامها بالضبط. فالأمر بدا أشبه باصطدام مُربِك. لم يكن اصطدامًا مكانيًا حسيًّا فقط، ولكنه ذلك الاصطدام الأكثر تجذّرًا في الوجدان. فاستسلمت له، واستسلمت لها. تماهيت معها حتى بدت وكأنها موجة عالية أنتظرها حتى تحملني لأسبح في تيارها الذي كان من الحماقة مقاومته.
وظهرك محنيّ كقوس ردئ
وأنتِ تشكين من الزبائن الأغبياء
في حين تنقر أصابعي بحثًا عن الشامات قرب رقبتك
أخفيتُ جوعي حين نزعتِ نفسك
لكنك نظرت إلى نهم أصابعي وهي تأكل أصابعك وحكيت
كيف كانت الخراطيم تتصل بجسدك
وكل طرف ممسك بيد
دعه يقذف، دعه يهيص