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27 March, 2007

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Currently gone on sabbatical, but I shall leave you with a portion of something that was written quite a long while ago, only to be discovered and remembered recently as I was doing a little spring cleaning. Hopefully its continuation will come post-exams, when I have more time to sift through the rest…

Happy holidays everyone!

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By Sarah Badr

It was a week after Christmas, and the snow from the week before had started to melt in the unrelenting sun. Blades of yellow-green grass were peering out from beneath at random angles, shivering in the cold wind as the New Year ripened. There was no other time that I loved so much as this. I lived for the winter when I was small enough to sled down the little hill in our seemingly never-ending backyard bordering Route 24, with the tall concrete walls and the wire fences filling the gaps in between. It became a refuge I sought in after-school hours, often alone or with my younger brother, playing and completely free of anything else in this world.

The day after Boxing Day had begun almost as any other. I slept in a room separated in two by a wall fitted from planks of processed rose-coloured wood, sharing the other side with my brother. It was a set-up upon which we had eagerly agreed the year before, after outgrowing the bed we had previously shared: I got the walk-in closet on the far end, he the bathroom near the entrance, and each one of us was appeased and liberated. It had now been three years since moving into our small condominium in our almost equally small town in the suburbs, and it felt as though we had finally established a sense of home and stability again.

I crawled out of bed after waking up that morning and made my way to the living room outside. I sat down on the couch to stare out of the large bay window into Brandywyne’s make-shift tundra, trying to hold in the stark white light. I was tired and still unable to shake off the feeling that an unwelcome air had overtaken the house the night before, after my father had come home. A shroud of silence had taken everything hostage since, and not a single word was spoken as my parents mysteriously disappeared and left gaping shadows behind. My mother had followed my father into their bedroom downstairs in the damp, dark basement, and afterwards there was nothing to be heard save for a few hushed words and a muffled sound of whispered weeping. As I sat on the floor outside their bedroom waiting, trying to peer below the door between the corroding white hem of wood and the curly grey berber carpet,  I was uncomfortably locked out and entirely unable to do anything except wait and hope.

Everything became so awkward in the time that followed then. My father was solemn and aloof after coming out hours later, coming and going from work in the subsequent days that passed us by so effortlessly. It was an illusion of normality muted and in slow-motion, yet nevertheless normal—too normal for our own experience of normal. And at that age, I hated nothing more than for there to be a secret from which I was being prevented, and the strange situation that now presented itself with my mother absent without leave spelled a terrible secret had been born at every turn. It wasn’t until a week later that she finally emerged in the full daylight, red-nosed and teary-eyed, confirming my suspicions and making me even more eager to discover the forbidden. So it was on this morning that I caught my mother going into the kitchen, a nose the colour of pomegranate and tissue clenched in her hand, and I couldn’t help but give in to the urge to demand that I be told whatever it was that I didn’t know and wanted to know or else my imagination would spontaneously implode.

Completely at a loss in the face of my persistent prodding and sheepish attempts to guess what was wrong, she slowly relented and I found myself sitting on the ground at the foot of the chair in which she was seated. She asked me to swear forever on my soul that I was not to tell anyone what she was about to tell me—especially not my brother as she would never forgive me for it—and I would be a terrible person if I broke my oath of silence and live to regret it eternally. Sure, I understood, and nodded as the sunlight flooded in from the window overlooking our backyard behind her. I promised and swore and promised over and over again, and with each nod I felt overwhelmed because hearing myself surrender to such secrecy made me suddenly fear the massive mystery that was about to unfold before me.  Perhaps I really didn’t want to know anyways, or perhaps I didn’t need to know without my brother knowing because maybe I wouldn’t be able to hold it in all by myself—

And there it came. The words struck out before I could think another thought and press rewind and the minute they grazed and imprinted my conscience I wished I could take it back, go back and undo it, pleasegodifonlyIcangoback

▪ ▪ ▪

My grandfather had seen him die. They had eaten dinner together the night before, and that one fated meal was to be his last. Sure, it was a sudden and unexpected death, and sure, he was so young and had such a promising future ahead of him. But there was absolutely nothing that anyone could do, and I now shared my mother’s secret and finally felt what it was to lose someone because my chest hurt so much and nothing made any sense. All that remained was my feeble attempt to channel the memory of saying goodbye to him at the airport the summer before, because that was the last goodbye I would ever give him and would repeat over and over and over again in the middle of the night as I tried to understand and understand and understand when it all went wrong…

My mother’s family never did quite return to normal after he had gone, and no one ever dared to speak about it. Only tears were shed and doors were kept closed. The first time I visited my grandparents again a few summers later, I noticed a cassette player had been left on while covered with cloth in the master bedroom where I usually slept during my frequent summers there. A prayer was playing in loop very quietly around the clock, and behind the tape player stood a photograph of my uncle taken some years before. When my family moved back to Cairo six years after his death, I once found some photos of him stowed away in a closet. No album—just wrapped in paper and hidden in a dusty white plastic bag. The secret had somehow flattened itself out to paint all these images of things and people from another time past. A shroud had been thrown over them, keeping all the fragments of memory in isolated stillness, as if keeping the secret from spreading. As if keeping them there would mean that nothing had transpired since emerging from the darkroom in which they were developed. As if keeping them there would mean that somehow the tragic loss was never and could never have been suffered at all.

© 2005, 2007.  S.H.Badr, All Rights Reserved.

See also: A Silent Prison

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