"What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love." ~ Dostoyevsky

I keep returning to the day when you travelled a long way to share a patch of quiet with me.

We footsied under the table and tucked our heads under a smile. We fueled the warmth with music and pictures and things we loved. No words were sold in return for comfort. At that time, I knew things that you didn't, and you knew things that I didn't and that was fine. At that time, we didn't need to exchange accounts. We couldn’t believe in details.

We just wanted to grasp the ephemeral. We just needed to exchange the markings on our souls.

“You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts.” ~ Gibran

People who are going to heaven don’t talk much.

Breaking the quiet is a sin. It’s like breaking a delicious siesta to answer a question about the time. The happiest people are always interested in something beside themselves. They would not look away from what's interesting unless something urgent have broken their attention.

And it should never, ever be “thirty-two past four, goddammit.”

I have never experienced a brilliant flash of inspiration by talking. We are already overloaded with information. Everything had been said. Nature showed all the facts we need to survive, if we cared enough to shut up and think through them. And if we didn't care enough to think, then we don't really care. And if we didn't care, why should anyone?

Yes, talk releases some pressure and offers validation - “Yes, I heard you the first time.”  - but that's all that it does. I've had moments when, under the “Thou shall not kill” commandment, I had to talk. And that kind of talk tastes like an oral hangover. They either come out too hard or too brain-fart-y.

(On behalf of everyone who has heard me, I apologize for finding out too late: My mouth should never be released within anyone’s hearing range.)

Hence, whenever I can get away with it, I smile/frown/┌П┐(◣_◢)┌П┐and hope that my telepathic abilities have improved since the last time I rode a unicorn.

But if they couldn't hear it through the silence, then what words could have conveyed our thoughts better? If they couldn't hear it through the silence, why suffer them through the hell of a rambling conversation?

Writer's Tip: 

(And watch how your fingers try to keep pace with the musician’s.)

 

This piece does not stop to take a breather once it gets going. This creates a perpetual motion effect that is both fun to listen to and brutal on the performer.

Also,

“Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

It’s very lonely to be old.

His older children too grown up to look back, his younger ones too many years away to look ahead. There was very little of life to connect with, but there was still too much of it to die from. Having gone back and forth between the worlds, he lost his roots and sense of belonging. His words empty and nobody listened anyway.

Who cares?” is dangerous to ask without a clear conscience, lest it be followed with irreparable despair.

It was Haul day. Farmers, laymen and their poor wives filled the Master's tiny mosque until it bloated. They gathered to honor the memory of a man long gone, none forgotten. There was a simple prayer, then food and laughter touched hundreds of lips with merriment. For the present, there was enough for all.

Yet it grated on the old man with bitter litost. If only we ceased to compare our achievements with others, how happy we would be. For him, though, who was much impressed by flashy things and fanatic crowds, jealousy had gone beyond sour. He knew that none of those who have gathered would do the same for him when he is gone. Little has he done and shall be remembered for. Short and forgettable his legacy was compared to the magnificent ghost hovering above the crowd.

A woman, wrinkled and wrapped in layers of poverty, approached him. Shyly at first then bolder with clearing memory. She was bewildered and ceased to recognize her codes of propriety. She patted her hands all over him with blessings and gentility.

"Is it you? Is it really you? The Hajji from afar? Have you returned home?"

Beaming from her bright gladness, the old man grew young with certainty. He nodded and knew where he would want his bones to rest finally.

“I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.” ~ Stephen Hawking

After throwing her father in the carriage, the Beast found the girl kneeling on the floor.

It was a long way from the country to the Beast's door. Though she was brave while her father was there, seeing him leave broke her core. She wept, as farewells were always sore.

The Beast stood by her and pulled her upright, clumsy with his force. ""I am impatient with nonsense," he swore. His terrible voice silenced her cold. When his gripped loosened, away from him she tore.

Softening at the sight of her trembling fright, he rumbled low, "Are you afraid of me now?"

"Only of displeasing you, my Lord."

"You'll fail if you took that chore," said the Beast. He shook his head and scowled. "Destinies are beyond our hold. If you fail, you shan't be alone in blame and fall. Neither if you succeed, truth be told. All you need is to reign thy horns and dare to explore. Until you are familiar with fear, and fear no more."

"But I'm tired..." she began.

"Do it tomorrow."

"...and hungry."

"Well, then that," said the Beast kindly, "I take pleasure to resolve."

“In all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other.” ~ Carl Sagan

If you have been to the city of J., you might have heard of it. A Crossroad nicknamed after the only building found there. A Crossroad surrounded on all directions by nothingness.

From the East of the Crossroad, begins the yellow-and-black highway that separates the city of J. from a crowded holy city. Northwards is a less deserted road, but it can still turn into a pedestrian suicide site on certain days of Summer.

From the West, the road leads to where everyone else lives, if you can cross the old airport’s vast expanse of grounded dreams.

From the South of the Crossroad, the road leads to the city of J. University, where questions go there to die unanswered. The good news is, before you go into that territory of ambiguous hell, a part of the Wall stretches along its entire side. The Wall gives passerbies enough time to think before giving up their questions to the locks of despair.

On the Southwestern block of the Crossroad, there is a massive fence called the Pregnant Fence. Or, simply, the Wall. In a country where people drink motor-oil more than water, the Wall is famous for its pedestrian-friendly sidewalks. If you went there at the right time, the sidewalk almost flows with a two-way human stream.

The Wall circumvents an unused block of campus land, one side of which is at least two-kilometers long. That block is a patch of desert flirting with the old airport, but we shall not wander in that forgotten direction.

If you have the Wall on your right side, then you are going away. If you have it on your wrong side, then you might be coming home. Whichever side you keep it, the Wall will keep you and your secrets with the same discretion. It does not matter what you decide, as long as you can bear the emptiness beyond the Wall.

In contrast to the solidity of the Wall's silence, the emptiness brings forth questions. As soon as you lose sight of the Wall and go beyond the Crossroad, you must bear the consequences of the direction that you have taken. And the loss of wonder is always lonesome even in the thickest crowds.

Whatever comfort found in the brief endlessness of the Wall, the Crossroad is your last point of return. Whether you take the distance, return home or stay there, that Crossroad marks a finality. The finality of you. The end of you and the beginning of everything else. Everything that expects you to perform or fail. Everything that does not care. Everything that you will have to answer to in the emptiness that follows the Crossroad.

I wonder if the length of the Wall was designed to build momentums for decisions to be made. Or if the Crossroad was placed there on purpose, in case one walk was not enough and a second thought was needed. I wonder how many times the Wall stretched itself for rambling thoughts to bounce upon.

I wonder how many people have reversed their decisions there. I wonder if you walked by the Wall long and far enough, you might retake every decision you have wronged. And have the chance make them right again.

“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” – Dagobert D. RunesChevy loved to travel. He visited many towns, villages and countries. None satisfied his wanderlust. There was peculiar joy in arriving at a foreign place, in starting his days with newness and surprise.

“I am a traveler,” said he, “the road is my abode.”

One day, traversing a dark forest, Chevy met an old man by the road. The man was hurt, and the cart beside him broken. Chevy pitied the old man and offered his open hands.

At first, Chevy thought that he was going to help only as far as getting the cart rolling again in the dusty road. But he saw that the old man’s injury did not allow that independence. So Chevy pulled the cart until they reached the old man's house.

There, Chevy was taken aback. 

“You live alone, old man?”

“It's home.”

“And your family?”

“War.”

There was nothing else to ask. Chevy could not leave the old man to his devices that night. Besides, dusk had fallen and Chevy did not mind having shelter for the night. He could restart his journey in the morning.

Before dawn, loud clangs interrupted Chevy's sleep. He thought that the unfamiliar bed was crumbling beneath him.

In the squinting darkness, Chevy saw the old man crouched by the stove, holding his arm with fumes of coffee and wretchedness splattered around him.

Chevy rose and cleaned the mess. Then he made breakfast, opened the windows, swept the floor, loaded the cart, pulled it to the market, sold the goods, and pulled it back with the tiny old man in its tub.

There were not a lot of words exchanged between them. Their silence gleamed with the gladness of a day well-spent. The sore in their bodies laid their minds with deep, satisfied hush. A hush that lulled their uninterrupted sleep.

In the next morning, Chevy rose when he heard the water poured into the kettle. Immediately, he took over the tasks as he did in the day before. Breakfast, airing, sweeping, loading, going, selling, returning, and sleep again. Better than the day before, with familiarity growing on his muscles. Every day thus. Every day thus for a while.

Sometimes it took him by surprise, his longing for travel. It usually visited in the hours of doubt, between rest and movement. And he soothed it with the thought that he could ask for leave tomorrow morning. Or he could as soon as he was sure that the old man’s arm was well again.

Besides, said Chevy to himself every morning, it is not the worst feeling in the world to know where you’re going to meet dusk and rest. Albeit ordinary, he was surprised to find pleasure in the fluency of everydayness.

One morning, Chevy rose to see the old man standing strong and upright. The kettle steady in his wrinkly hand as he poured coffee into their cups. The grace of old age filled his eyes  with friendly question.

To which Chevy replied with his usual smile. By airing the hut and loading the cart. By starting their day like the day before, and many days after. Breakfast, market and bed.

Breakfast, market and bed.

Breakfast, market and bed.

And that was well.

They broke up to protect her craft. Whatever you hear elsewhere, that was their untold truth.

Marriage disregards whatever was important and overrides lives. An absolute tyrant, it came with overbearing relatives and in-laws. It demanded meticulous attention and immediate results. Haplessly, the craft also gave no fuck. When the rituals began to slip, it began destroying itself. It began destroying her.

Since marriage did not care about the craft and the craft shared the same sentiment about marriage, one had to take the boot.

And they lingered on it. It was not an easy choice to make. But then it was no longer a choice. He saw her crumbling in hysterics without her work, her identity. He loved her, please understand that. Everyone saw and believed how much he loved her. He still does. He would not have released her if he didn't. She was his everything. You feel it in his silence.

There is that kind of love on earth, after all. Whatever they tell you elsewhere, please remember that. Remember how much he loved her.

...

They chattered for quite a while.

Chatter is the dust that covers separation, isn't it? We knew from the length of their chatter how they’ve missed each other. The excited dust marked an important arrival. They chattered and none of it mattered and it was okay. The universe has cared enough to rearrange itself to bring them together. And the universe cares nothing about chatter.

Time was short. We could hear the clock ticking from their overlapping words. They hadn't met in a while. They weren't going to meet again in while longer. And it was okay. Dust had to be dust. And chatter needed its time to settle.

We saw them becoming wiser and ordered food. Food added weight to flighty minds. They smoothed it with water and soda. Then lit it with coffee and smoke.

That's when we saw brightness in their smiles. We saw how clarity pierced between them. That things have gone well and chatter has settled.

When words fall, gestures rise.

She wiped her mouth and applied her lips with colorless balm. His head tilted, watching her. Of whom did she remind him? Did she know that the universal feminine is embodied in that gesture? What is not feminine about a woman retouching her make-up?

Reawakening, from the contrast, the universal masculine.

He brought his fingers to one side of her face. Pressed and dragged his thumb from one corner of her lip to the other. Still watching her, he rubbed that thumb on his mouth. And he saw a layer of pink spread evenly across her face and stutters.

The most remarkable meetings are the most spontaneous. You don't plan on what you're going to say or do. Meetings like that can get dusty and clattery, but give it a minute. You might understand why, when her gaze dropped and his smile widened, floated between them a lovely puff of pleasure.

“There's no such thing as perfect writing, just like there's no such thing as perfect despair.”  ~ Haruki Murakami

I'm surprised that it turned out to be nice day. I would not have expected it to go so well from the way it started.

I had overslept and started late. In slight panic, I took the chair in the backyard. (That's when the Timekeeper's guests came and looked at me curiously. I looked distracted.) I wrote; trying to remember how to answer the Questions. The Questions that had one general answer: Do not ask, do what you must.

How? Which task?

Like the ants. You know how they work with diligent unquestioning. That  seems to work well for them. They weren't spared from the bad things in life, of course, but nature gave them just enough IQ to do what they must. Over and over again. Even when shit came flying their way, they didn't quit working. In a way, their practice kept them sane and strong. I can't imagine building an anthill if I were at an ant's size. I can't imagine how I would have felt if I were an ant and lost all my food.

Yes, I kept writing. The guests came and went. The headphones in my ears guarded my attention within my mind's gates. I fiddled with strings of ink on a bed of paper.

I explored just one question (out of the dozens that haunt me daily) from a safe place. A place that offered all the assurance to sustain a whole day. Whatever I was going to find there would harm nobody.

It wasn't art. It wasn't creativity. It was just flow; in and out and about a place that I didn't recognize, but it was safe. I was sure I was going to know my way back. And I did.

Tracing my steps back, I deemed everything I found there worthy. It might have rebuilt the relationship with the voice within. It might have saved the rest of the morning. It might have jump-started self-awareness, after all. (Because I have been procrastinating from living at all. I have been paralyzed with reluctance.)

And that almost made my day.

What made my day was that the writing in the morning protected me from the grief at sunset. It saved me from spiraling into despair. It soothed my worst tweets. It guarded me from Anger. And it will send me to bed on time tonight.

These little things. I don't know how they start themselves. I don't know how they came to surround me with their little protective tasks. The little tasks that kept me afloat. The little floaters that kept the sun at its perfect height when I held your hand as I wrote. (Remember that golden afternoon? When I wrote about the things that are worth protecting and fighting for?) The little-little lines that came floating into this page. The little page in the sea of words and blogs and endlessness.

They all started from the little dot at the beginning of every sentence, strung together with forgiving forgetfulness.

Can’t hear enough of this.

Nawwâr - Le Trio Joubran by worldvillage

“Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered.” ― W.H. Auden

Everything turns up when I have to die, eh? Everything wonderful! Everything annoying! Did I have to wait until the last moment to finish this book?

I didn't plan this. I didn't plan on dying on an airplane crash. Who would? The girl beside me has fallen deathly quiet. She wasn't a few moment ago, though. She was all tongue and teeth and theories about a country that did not exist. I was losing an argument with her because we remembered differently.

It offended me that she had her comforts brought to her easily, kindly. While I had to test and fight and rebel for mine. It offended me that she looked at me as if I was the fool for doubting. For going through the trouble of seeking answers.

And now? Not a single word out of her. Wait, I think she is reciting verses from the Holy Book. Oh, well. That's peace for both of us, ain't it?

It would have killed me if I spent the last moments of my life arguing with a mere child. Who cares about my generation’s bruises when the next one has easily and kindly forgotten? An argument like that would make a loud newspaper article. But here? Now? At 30000 feet and an explosive jet engine firing bad news at 300 uncomfortable passengers?

Nothing kills a man's ability to live fully like too much comfort. And I'm glad she has finally gotten a taste of real life here.

The inconvenient part about being dead, though, is the inability to talk. (Much less argue.) I took it for granted that I could just tweet or text from the other world. (Damn comforts again!) I can imagine my mother yelling: "You should never have left your comforts in the first place. But did you listen? Nooooo. You have nobody else to blame for your own death but yourself, missy."

Dearest mama. She had a funny way of trying to save me. She wanted to save me from everything by pushing me into everything else. Since I'm dead – or dying – would the only fear I have is failing to explain to her why I died?

Not exactly the kind of thought I'd like to die wearing. Not really.

What's left? Whoops, that's another plunge. Here comes the oxygen masks, popping out of nowhere like cartoonish hydro-plants. I helped the girl put on hers. She was cold. Her eyes huge and staring. Her mouth pressed together into a slit. Barely breathing. I wonder if she remembers. I had forgiven her forgetfulness; pity does that. Pity Forgives.

It wasn't her fault that she was comfortable. Neither was it my mama's fault that she wasn’t. I would have held their hands to comfort them. Just to tell them that, hey, dying isn't a big deal. A lot of people have died and you don't hear them complaining about it. Dying in a plane crash beats dying from long illness or -- Godforbid -- public mutilation of bodily parts.

I would have held them all, truly I would. But I needed my hands to unplug the damn oxygen mask. It kept swinging in front of my face, distracting me.

And I need to stop worrying about things I cannot do. I switched on the reading light above me. Thumbed the pages and found my paragraph.

My whole life, all the failures and achievements, all the people and arguments, it boiled down to these few final moments. For the love of everything good and honest, it would have been my only regret. Not finishing my book.

My last story.

"A well-spent day brings happy sleep, so life well-used brings happy death." ~ Da Vinci 

It was time to go. Abdullah son of Amr had spent all the hospitality due to him with that curiosity gnawing at him worse than it had three days before.

Three days in vigil. Three days of paying the snottiest attention that politeness allowed him to stretch. All for what? To be impressed by his own obtuseness?

***

It started last week, when the Prophet and his companions were at the mosque, and the Prophet said, “A future resident of Heaven shall be amongst us.” And this man, Abdullah's soon-to-be subject of obsession, walked in. He was an Ansari dressed in common garment, his face shone with remnants of ablution, and he offered the most ordinary prayer under the gaze of the least ordinary figures of al-Islam EVER.

If that was not curious, imagine hearing it repeated for three days straight. “That man is going to Heaven,” insisted the Prophet.

For wearing common garments? Abdullah had thought. What, Heaven is as easy as a stroll in the mosque, now?

***

On another day, the Prophet mentioned that a man's destiny, whether he was going to Heaven or Hell, was apparent in his daily conduct. If a man were going to Heaven, you would feel the centered calm surrounding their movements. Likewise, if he were going to Hell, you would smell the sulfuric singe. And neither just for a little bit.

Based on that, Abdullah started his close surveillance on Ansari by asking for shelter in his house, using an imagined terrible disagreement with his father, the Islamic Army Commander Amr son of al-‘As, as cause for homelessness.

So far, none of this was extraordinary. In those days, it was trendy for the natives of al-Medina to lend refuge for the Muhajireen from Mecca, the Ansari welcomed Abdullah in his residence.

***

That was how Abdullah became the guest who snooped on his host.

Oblivious to snoopiness, the Ansari offered ordinary prayers, held an ordinary job, ate and slept on regular schedules. Save for mumbling the Lord's name when he turned in his sleep, the Ansari seemed to spend exactly the amount of nothing to present him with the airs of someone who would make it as market’s gossip. Much less psychic ecstasies.

Hence, shredding whatever was left of his dignity, Abdullah spread his cards: He told his host of the real reason why he spent three days in his house. How the Prophet Prophesized thrice where the Ansari was going next. Moreover, that Abdullah had missed all the signs that made his host so special to receive tidings of Heaven.

(Or Hell, by the way.)

***

On the record, there is no mention on how the Ansari reacted. Probably because he reacted the way people of his kind do: As explosively merry as a brick wall.

Funny isn’t it? People who are going to Heaven do not really care about tidings. Wherever they might end up in this life or the next, they would stick to their habits anyway. They would faithfully carry out their work quietly, with nothing more, nothing less or besides.

***

The Ansari might have shrugged at Abdullah's confessions; or even reddened at the thought that he was the trending topic among the folks of Medina. Then explained himself eloquently in biblical silence.

Giving up, Abdullah said his thanks and asked for leave. The good Ansari, with the reluctance of a good host failing to satisfy his guest, almost gave his leave when it crossed his mind to say the biggest secret kept amongst Heaven’s Residents To-Be.

"I sleep well."

"Sorry?"

"I sleep well. When I go to bed, I take no jealousy, grudge, or ill will towards God or His creation with me. That's all."

Indeed that was everything. To sleep well was to give up the world in return for respite. To build enough faith to plunge to the abyss of mindlessness. To have enough faith that there shall be a worthwhile tomorrow to wake up to.

(And, in case there wasn’t any tomorrows left, to have the courage to go to bed anyway and know that even that was alright too.)

It seemed so little! Banally unheralded heroism! Yet name an uneasy, undone and unimpressed soul who is capable of such a feat. To sleep well in a world of constant chaos and it was offered to all, but who would care? To surrender in the perfect calm of a small-death was possible for all, but who would dare?

And Abdullah smiled; his defeat was fair. "Aye, it’s what none of us would bear."

 
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