Odra: The River Parable

Marilyn Silverstone, lotus head bent over by snow in Srinagar, Kashmir, 1968. Source: magnumphotos.com

Before a river stands a peasant.

Earlier he had the simple objective of traveling to another village. He was a man of plain speech, for him to be “overwhelmed by a river” simply meant drowning, but there he is, standing, stunned, gaping at a river, overwhelmed by some ineffable attribute.

He passed other rivers before, never had he stopped and felt so enthralled by one. “Only booze can make it any better,” he thought, so he camped near the river bank.

That night he drank to excess: he accumulates hubris and greed in his inebriation, and merely observing the river was not enough for him now. So he waded through the river. Then he realizes what he has done when the water slushes his jaw; he has grimed the river, he couldn’t bring but filth to it, he panicked. At first, he thought drowning would be the only resort from the overbearing remorse that awaits him. But that would only defile it more, leaving a decaying bloated corpse for the river to deal with. He floundered helplessly out of the water, and ran as far as he can before trembling and perching in his place.

He slept. And the next morning he couldn’t resist going back to the river, this time making a pact with the gods: “O gods I shall only observe.” But this can only last for a week before he misjudges his capacity to control the urge to drink, and he falls for it again, and he staggers in panic out of the river again. Only this time he tries to cripple himself by jumping off a cliff nearby, and that only added blood to the filth he brought to the river after.

The peasant wondered why the river seemed so inviting, he’s so certain it was only his imagination when he’s sober, looking at all the filth he brought and is still bringing. “Only if the river stopped me,” he consoles himself.

Now the peasant keeps wading through the river begging it to rebuff him.

Mina Nagy: A Portrait of the Artist as an Agoraphobe

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Istanbul by Ayhan Ton. Source: instagram.com/ayhanton

There is no escaping the fact. Since 2011, I haven’t been in downtown Cairo except twice, heavily sedated and only for as long as it took to run my unavoidable errand. With the help of medication, my condition had improved enough for me to go there frequently when the protests started in January that year, instead of being confined to Heliopolis as usual. After I was shot with a pellet gun and had to run away from hospital on the first day of protests, for a few weeks I returned to the hotspots of the revolution, but tear gas, shooting and all kinds of attacks often forced me (along with everyone else) to run for my life. This fucked it all up again, in time. Protest hotspots became indistinguishable from vast, crowded spaces too far from home. And, succumbing to my terror of both, I confined myself to Heliopolis.

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