London, United Kingdom
London, United Kingdom
The Sand Child, Tahar Ben Jelloun
Dijete od pijeska, kazališna adaptacija
S hrvatskog prevela Paula Jurišić
“Before the advent of Islam, Arab fathers would dump newborn girls into a pit and threw dirt over them till they’d die. They were right to do so. That’s how you get rid of bad luck. It was wise, short pain, merciless logic. I am fascinated by their courage; the courage I never had. All daughters your mother brought into this world deserved that. I did not bury them because, for me, they don’t exist. But you, you are something else…”
The birth of our hero, one Thursday morning.
He was born a couple of days late. His mother was ready since Monday, but she managed to keep him inside till Thursday because she knew that male children are all born on Thursdays. Let’s call him Ahmed. A very common name. So, let’s continue: Ahmed was born on a sunny day. His father says that the sky was cloudy that morning and that Ahmed brought the sunshine. So to speak! He arrived home after a long wait. He had such a bad luck: out of seven births, he got seven daughters. His home was made of ten women: seven daughters, their mother, aunt Aisha and Malika, an old maid. He did everything not to think about his daughters, not to see them. He used to say that his face is covered with shame, that his semen is damned and that he thinks of himself as of a barren husband, or an unmarried man. He never caressed the face of any of his daughters. He has seen every doctor, quack, charlatan, pseudodoctor in the country. He even took his wife to Marabout’s mosque where she spent for seven days and seven nights on bread and water. She spilled camel’s urine and threw ashes of seven frankincenses into the sea. She suffered a fever, unbareable nausea, headaches. Her body was worn out. Her face got wrinkled. She kept loosing weight and often fainted. Her life was a living hell, and her husband, always unhappy, of a hurt pride, dishonoured, kept insulting her, blaming her for the misfortune that befell them. She was ready to sacrifice everything and hoped in vain throughout each pregnancy. However, after each birth, joy would leave her abruptly. She started neglecting her daughters. She held their existence against them, she hated herself and would punch her own stomach to punish herself. Her husband would take her on the nights picked out by a fortune teller. Then, he spent months preparing the tiniest detail for the arrival of his eighth child. The moment the door behind him closed, he decided to end his bad luck. His idea was a simple one, it would be hard to make it work and keep it alive: the baby that’s about to be born is going to be a boy, even if it’s a girl.
(God is merciful, he has illuminated the life and home of your servant and devoted potter Hajji Ahmed Suleyman. A boy has been born on Thursday at 10 A.M. – may the Lord protect him and bring him long life. We have named him Mohammed Ahmed. This birth shall bring fertility to the land, peace and prosperity to the country. Long live Ahmed!)
I am going to Hammam with my mother. I know we’ll spend the whole afternoon there. I will be bored, but there is nothing I can do. For my mother, it’s an opportunity to go out, meet other women and to have a chat while bathing. I am bored to death. My mother keeps forgetting about me. Women talk all at the same time. It doesn’t matter what they are talking about, they just keep talking. I can see those words climbing up and hitting a damp ceiling. Like a handful of clouds, they melt when they reach the stone and fall down on my face like drops. I’ve always thought that words had the savor and smell of life. And the lives of these women were limited: cooking, cleaning, waiting, and once a week, a break in hammam. Deep down, I am happy not to be a part of this limited world. In the evening, I hide away to take a look at my tiny belly in a pocket mirror; there’s nothing unusual; white, translucent skin, soft, no wrinkles, no marks. My mother checks it very often. She never discovers anything either. On the other hand, she does take care of my breasts, wraps white linen cloth around them, tightens it up so hard I can barely breathe. I keep quiet, I let myself go. The good thing about my destiny is that it is original and quite risky. I like it. As a matter of fact, I prefer going to hammam with my father. He’s quick and spares me the whole ceremony. Men don’t talk much. A businesslike atmosphere reigns there. They wash themselves in a hurry. No space for daydreaming! I follow my father to his workshop. He explains his business to me, introduces me to his customers. He tells them I am the future. I don’t talk much. Linen cloth around my breasts is still tight. I am going to the mosque. I like to go to that huge place where only men are allowed. I find me a spot on the chandelier and observe the lines of Arabic letters in plaster and in wood. And then, then I set off on the back of a beautiful prayer: “If God gives you victory, noone can defeat you.” We leave the mosque in the crowd. People like to be pressed against each other. The strongest ones leave first. I squeeze my way out, I do what I can. My father walks in front f me. He likes to watch me wriggle. I was once attacked by the hooligans who stole my bread basket. I couldn’t fight them. There were three of them. I ran home crying. My father gave me a blow I still remember and said: “Stop being a little girl. Men don’t cry!” He was right, only little girls cry! I wiped away my tears and went out looking for those hooligans to fight. My father followed me down the street and said: “It’s too late now…”
( Continuation of the second etude? Transition from infancy to puberty and then to adult age…. text about it)
I am equable. Cruelly disciplined. I am the builder and the built; me and someone else; me and her. Nothing should ever come about, not from the outside, not from the bottom of the pit and disturb the order. Not even blood. But, one morning, there was a blood stain on my sheets. It was just blood; the resistance of the body to the name; the splash from a belated circumcision. It was a warning, a grimace of buried memory, remembrance of a life I never had, a life that could have been mine. My arm tried to stop the flow. I watched my fingers spread over it, linked by a blob of the blood that almost became white. My heart kept beating faster than usual. Is it the excitement, fear or shame? However, I knew it was bound to happen someday. I’ve seen my mother or a sister placing or removing pieces of a white cloth between their legs more than once. I observed it waiting for a day when to secretly open that closet and place two or three pieces between my legs. I will be stealing. My chest was still prevented from swelling. I imagined breasts growing inward, making it hard to breathe. However, my breasts did not grow… That was one problem less. After my first period I kept on being myself and continued along the the palm lines destiny had drawn for me.
– Father, what do you think of my voice?
– It’s fine, not too deep, not to high-pitched.
– Good. How about my skin?
-Your skin? Nothing unusual about it.
– Have you noticed that I don’t shave every day?
– Yes. Why?
– Father, how about my muscles?
– Which muscles?
– My chest muscles maybe?
– Well, I don’t know.
– Did you see how hard they are? Here, where my breasts are? Father, I am going to grow a mustache.
– If it makes you happy!
– From now on I will wear a suit and a tie…
– As you wish Ahmed…
– Father! I wish to be married…
– What? You are way too young…
– Didn’t you marry young too?
– Things were different then…
– And what are things like now?
– I don’t know. You are confusing me…
– Aren’t things false, mistaken? Am I a human being or an image, a body or a person? Go on, tell me, who am I?
Father, you have turned me into a man, and I have to remain one. And, as our beloved Prophet says: “a perfect muslim is a married muslim.” Therefore, I wish to be married!
ETUDE OF ANXIETY
They call it anxiety. I’ve spent years getting used to it in my solitude. I have chosen to be alone, it was my decision and I like it. I no longer question people. I drink coffee and live my life. It is neither good nor bad. I question nobody, for my questions have no answers. I know it because I live on the both sides of the mirror.
Today, I am glad to be thinking about the one who is to become me wife. It’s not yet lust, but slavery. She is about to come, dragging her feet, with a grimace on her face, fear in her eyes, shaken by my proposal. I will kiss her hand, tell her she is pretty; I will make her cry and let her shake in her misery; I will kiss her forehead, she will calm down and return to her chambers without looking back.
I don’t feel down, I feel bitter. I am not sad. I am desperate. My night has given me nothing. It passed, unnoticed. Quiet, empty, black.
Ahmed’s father died slowly. Death was hesitant and took him one morning in his sleep. Ahmed took over. He invited his seven sisters and said something like this: “From now on, I am no longer your brother; I am not your father either, but your tutor. I shall take care of you, and you owe me obedience and respect. It goes without saying that I love order and if a woman is a man’s inferior, it is not because Ggod wanted so or because the Prophet says so, it is because she accepts her condition. You are, therefore, to live and suffer in silence!”
Having said that, Ahmed invited the notaries and his uncles to settle the inheritance matters. The order was now restored.
Was she pretty? I still ask myself the same thing. Her bright eyes, when they weren’t blurred with tears, would gently light up her face. Her nose was tiny. She slept next to me. The day she arrived she whispered something to my ear, a secret: “Thank you for getting me out of that house. We’ll be like brother and sister now! You have my soul and my heart, but my body belongs to the Earth and to the devil that laid it waste!” Did she know? She never undressed in front of me, nor did I in front of her. Modesty and chastity reigned in our large room. One day, while she was asleep, I gave it a try, just to make sure she wasn’t circumcised or that her vagina hadn’t been sewed up. I slowly lifted her blanked and noticed she had on some sort of girdle around her pelvis, something like a chastity belt that silences her desire or provokes it just to destroy it, all the more. I was much aroused by her presence. This wounded being next to me, this intruder I myself let into my inner world, this brave, desperate woman who was no longer a woman, who has come from a long way and let herself fall into the abyss and ruin her inner self by masking it, amputating it, this woman who did not even wish to be human, preferred being a perfect nothing, an empty pot, an absence, pain that spread all over her body and her memories, this woman who rarely spoke, who would occasionally murmurred a sentence or two, confinining herself to long walks and to the books of mysticism, this woman…, this woman would not let me sleep. I locked her inside a room far away from mine and the hatred slowly creeped in. I’ve suffered a defeat in the process I myself staged and led.
And then one night, she told me, gazing into the door of darkness, her expression bright but rather pale, her tiny body crammed on one side of the bed, her hands cold, but more gentle than usual, she said to me, smiling: “I’ve always known who you are, my sister, my cousin, I came to die here next to you. Both of us were born on a rock at the bottom of a dry well, on the barren land, under loveless eyes. We are not disabled, we are women, or are we disabled because we are women…, I know your pain because we share it, I am your woman and you are my wife… You shall be a widower, and I, let’s say I was a mistake, not too big one, a small distraction… oh, I talk too much, I am loosing my mind. Good night! We’ll meet again one day!”
After Fatima’s death our hero lost control over his property, he shut down and he rarely went out.There was a rumor he sped up his wife’s death and the two families became arch enemies. Bit by bit, things fell apart; the walls of a large house were torn, the trees in the front yard withered, and his mother took it as Heaven’s vengeance because they played with God’s will; he fell silent, devoted himself to faith; despite everything, as invisible as he was, he stil ruled.
To be a female – a natural body flaw one gets accustomed to. To be a male – illusion. And the violence that justifies and favors everything. To exist is simply a challenge. I am both a tired man and a tired woman.
I am learning to see myself in the mirror. I am learning to see my body, first with clothes on, then naked. I am a bit skinny. My breasts are so small… My bottom is the only femminine thing about me.
My voice… My voice has suffered such a metamorphosis I am still trying to discover its true sound. That’s tough. I am learning to see myself in the mirror. I remain quiet and scared of loosing my voice along the way. I refuse to speak loudly when I am alone. However, I hear myself screaming inside. Every scream is always a return to myself. A return. Not a fall. To be able to scream and to hear yourself.
I am learning to see myself in the mirror. I haven’t seen male or female body since my visits to hammam, as a child. Bodies inhabit some of my dreams: they touch me, caress me, then they leave. It all takes place in the secrecy of a dream. I wake up with a feeling as if something passed through me and left scars on its way, as if my skin was scratched, painlessly, nonviolently. I am learning to see myself in the mirror. When I had a social life, when I went out and travelled, I used to notice the hunger for sex in people. Men look at women turning their bodies into stone; each look tears their jellabiyas or dresses a bit more. They set eyes on their breasts and their bottom dangling their penises underneath their gandouras. I am learning to see myself in the mirror. I got to see my father, with his pants down, giving my mother the white semen!
I got to see my father, with his pants down, giving my mother the white semen! Bent over her, silent; she groaned. I was little and the image lingered, I saw it again in animals on our land. I was little, but not naive. I knew about the white semen and found it disgusting. I caught a glimpse of that funny, or should I say grotesque scene and I was inconsolable. My sorrow never left me, not for a moment. I am learning to see myself in the mirror! My father looked so funny, he gestured rocking his flabby bottom, my mother screamed with her lithe legs wrapped around him, he kept beating her to make her stop screaming, she screamed even harder, he laughed, their entangled bodies were grotesque, and I, I was so little, sitting on the edge of the bed, so little they couldn’t even see me, little but receptive, glued to the bed with a firm glue the same colour as the semen that my father spread all over my mother’s stomach, I was little, sitting on the edge of the bed that shook and creaked; my eyes bigger than my face; taking in the odours through my nose, I was soffocating; I coughed, but nobody heard me. I am learning to see myself in the mirror! I’ve tried to unglue myself, to stand up, run away and throw up and hide… I tried, but I couldn’t move at all… I kept trying and failing, leaving the skin from my bottom on the wood… I ran with a bloody bottom, I ran into the woods on the outskirts of the city, I was little and I could feel my father’s huge limb chasing me, bringing me down and taking me home… I am learning to see myself in the mirror.
Ahmed found out that his sisters had left. One followed the other: his mother shut herself in a room atoning her sins; she wanted it that way, a lifetime of silence and seclusion. The house is huge. It is really worn out: it’s falling apart. Ahmed holds one corner and his mother the other. She knows where he is. He doesn’t know where she is. Malika serves them and helps them, each of them in his own hardship.
My solitude lasted for a long time. Who am I now? I don’t dare to look at myself in the mirror. Isolation and silence have really worn me down. It’s time for me to born again.
I no longer remember the city. I recall the sea, very old walls, rusty, weeathered fishing boats, an island with strange birds, a forbidden island, a sanctuary at the back of the town frequented by barren women, white streets, shaggy walls, an old Jew napping on the terrace of a spacious coffe place, one of the last Jews from Medina, poorly dressed tourists, very cunning children, a sea graveyard and set tables in the harbour, a place to eat fried sardines. Two men repairing fishing net, their legs crossed on the ground, talking.
There was a Circus fair at the back of the town, right next to to the main square.
I’ve heard about those shows with men dancing dressed as women, without trying to resemble women, where everything is a joke, there’s nothing ambiguous about it. Abbas was the circus master and the ringleader. His Rs sounded awkward when he spoke to me:
– We ave nomads, ouv lives are filled with excitement, and uncevtainties as well. Evevything about us is fake, but the thing is we don’t hide it, it’s why people come. Childven acvobats ave all ovphans, and I am their fathev and theiv bvothev; when they piss me off, I beat them, that’s how it wovks… Then, I beat them and vule them. That’s how it wovks. Take it ov leave it.
You’ll dvess up as a man in the fivst pavt of the show; you’ll disappeav fov five minutes and then show up again as femme fatale… It will be exciting… A veal show, a show that’s conceptualised, tense, with a bit of nudity, not a lot, just a leg, a thigh… too bad youv tits ave so small!… You ave way to thin… Anyway, it doesn’t mattev!… We’ll work on youv moves and allusions! You stavt tomovvow.
I was fascinated. I merged slowly, twitching, with the being that I was supposed to become.
I was not afraid. Just the opposite, I enjoyed it, felt light, radiant.
Our hero, I have no idea what to call him, became the main attraction of the circus. He attracts both men and women and makes his master tons of money. Sometimes a boy, sometimes a girl, our hero is once again conquering his own self. He no longer sleeps witht he acrobats, but with the other girls; he eats and sleeps with them. They call her…
Lalla Zahra (Lala Zohra), Amirat Lhob, Princess of Love. I like that name. I am writing this in secrecy while the others are sleeping. I manage to distance myself from the past, but not erase it too. Images linger in my memories, painful and strong images: a strict father, crazy mother; an epileptic wife.
I can feel them here, their presence, following me with their sarcastic smiles and throwing stones at me. At first, it’s just a still image, a magnified, disgusting image of a face disfigured by disease, my mother’s face. Her eyes as white as if Heaven itself turned them upside down. The sound of her husband’s voice, she no longer hears it. She filled her ears with hot wax, it was painful, but she preferred the eternal silence over that soulless voce, without mercy, without compassion.
I think of Fatima and her remains. Death changed her. She is now sailing across the lagune that spread itself over the white, empty space. She doesn’t speak.
I can feel them here, their presence, following me with their sarcastic smiles, throwing stones at me. I can see my father, young and strong, approaching me with a knife in his hand, to slaughter me, tie me and bury me alive. The moment I hear his voice, he is no longer there. The sound of his voice becomes louder; it makes the glass on the table shake; the wind carries it and enslaves it. I cannot help my self; I stay there and listen:
“All of the daughters your mother brought into this world deserved what they got. I did not bury them because, for me, they never existed. But you, you weresomething else. You were a challenge. And you betrayed me. I will pursue you till you die. You will never live in peace. Damp dirt will sooner or later cover your face, enter your open mouth, your nostrils, your lungs. You will return to dust as if you never existed. I will return to throw dirt all over your body with my bare hands…”
Since I’ve escaped, still and silent, I take part in the change of the country; people and history, valleys and mountains, meadows, even the skies. Women and children remain. Children…., a lot of children are dying, too many… That’s why they make them, again and again. To be born a man is a lesser evil. To be born a girl is a tragedy; it’s a misfortune we carelessly leave behind on the path that Death walks by the end of the day… Oh, I told you nothing new. My story is an old one… older than Islam… My words are not important… I am just a woman. And a very tired one. It is not common to live two lives. In the end, I don’t even know who I am.
Gradacac, Bosnia and Erzegovina
Belgrade, Bosnia and Erzegovina