The Panel

The Panel

 

It had been a long road for her, though the journey is meant to be short. She tried to be up at five, setting the alarm for four thirty, allowing herself thirty minutes to snooze, giving her exactly three hours to sleep. A little bit less if she counted the minutes it would take for her to disappear into the mind. Her mind was always at work, even when her body was at rest. The body needs its rest but the mind is tireless. She didn’t sleep entirely well. She often had trouble evading the dreams that she knew she would face the night before. She drank a bottle of red wine the night before to know she would fall asleep. A Cuvo, ’98. It sparkled on her tongue. She wanted to invite over Dadalle, since they were old friends, and to get the briefing over with. She didn’t want him dragged out by the guards, simply for not complying. If he showed up drunk, or high, she was going to kick him out. It was important for her to meet him. She didn’t want to have to say it in person. But somehow that could not be dealt. Sarah(her assistant) couldn’t make it happen. It disappointed her but she accepted that it would benefit them both, however fate they liked. Sarah wanted her to believe it was for the best. She even tried to convince her to stay away from the talk, to introduce the lecture and step out. However dark it got. She didn’t have to be so brave. She thought maybe it could be postponed, if it seemed unlikely. To save face, even. In case one of the two went dark, before hand. Right before they went on. Or to leave it to the weekend, sometime they could all be off, and nobody would excuse them for running over the allotted time. She didn’t want disaster to strike without them being ready for it. Still, she had trouble evading the dreams she hated having, knowing they would come. She tested the water before washing her face, waiting for it to become lukewarm. She knew the cold would only last a few seconds, and then it would be thick and warm. She searched for her phone. It was on the desk, beside the bed, the smaller desk from the one beside the door. She checked her phone. Fourteen emails, three messages. Thirty seven updates on BubuCum chat. Calls from Sophie Tabbal, and Richard Rolf. And a call from Jean-Pus Dadalle. The battery was out. She had forgotten to plug the phone in the wall. She read what she had written the night before. It wasn’t that good but it was working. Seeming to work. That would be enough. It wasn’t her job to take charge of the ceremony. She was going to do alright if she only passed. Passing was important to pass the role. And to fit into the role she had to do good, good enough was enough. She was happy to see Dadalle and Al Mussawi into the ring. They had wanted to meet for so long but weren’t able to agree on a place or time. The two halves of a single whole. They were so different, yet so alike. It was as though they were meeting at a single point, each of them deflecting from a simple set of centers, from where they could both contrive. Identity, image, causal relations that determined self worth and simple such adjective behavior. She pulled the sandpaper curtains from the window to wash the room alight. It was still dark outside. The fog had slowed and settled over the building, blanketing the view in a sea of mist. Crows were dashing through the fog, disappearing in flight, returning like howards over the deadly calm. The challenge was important for her. It was important for her to adjust her place in their eyes. She couldn’t know exactly how effective she had been, so far, in portraying her deepest and truest intentions, but that was her right, to keep it to herself, and to know, this life was a fiction. These would not be the lives of friends, or of victims. The life of wolves. The idea of challenging her perception, and theirs, invoked her. She had always felt like an outsider. Never walking, agreeably, and invited, into the temple of norms, accepted as one of them, wanting what they wanted, living as they lived. The speech of characters, each of them living their lives. Linda Harrar had written that she was culpable of their defense. She had trouble delegating to some of her friends, helping out, and some of the workers. The assistants were difficult, that was that. It couldn’t be helped. The pictures were difficult for her to explain, the pictures developing in her mind, of cisterns and bridges, cowards and rubber wire cords. She turned on the radio on the entertainment box, above the beside desk. It cut into something smooth, something nice, a singer songwriter that felt perfect for the moment. She turned on the hot water, letting it run in the bath, leaving the faucet to run. When the water fell silent, the bath fill to the rim, she could hear the radio static, followed by a voice reading out traffic warnings, and market singles, followed by reports of subversives in the territories. There was the brief operatic sound of a telenovella scene playing itself out, and one of the more structured commercials, in and of relationships, the women always asking what the men really want, while the men respond that they could never know, how could they be sure, the scene playing on in another district in a similar house, of identical charm and faces. She knew the commercial from the television. She regretted leaving the radio on, as it turned to the beginning of a news program. She recognized one of the voices in the background. She imagined the reporter, walking through the open fields with one of the farmers, or taking a nap under a jewel palm with a nomadic shepherd from Dar Imam. The shepherd is tall and handsome, dressed elegantly in a long white dress, and a handwoven scarf wrapped around his neck, and another wrapped around his head. The reporter is also handsome, but in a different way. He wears classic Occidental bowler shoes, and an open tied navy blue pin striped suit, with a woolen sweater vest underneath the jacket. The mud collects on the rim of his shoes over a shot of him helping the shepherd wash the feet of his herd, walking barefoot on a shallow sandy marsh. But the voice changes as the news weaves its way through. Word that the PLS were angered, over the severing of diplomatic ties. But they were afraid and acting out of fear. Curfew was called again, in the nearby district of the lower ward. Notably, Dar Imam and Ras Shahid. Anyone seen on the streets would be apprehended, considered an insurrectionist. Members of the FLN planned to besiege the quarters of Dar Imam. They flew their flags raised, and the incantations of the cleric Suud rose above the labored awnings of other clerics, weak like flaccid worms. It was unfortunate, to be reminded of the situation. People were restless. The crowd, restless. She remembered her father. Will they conspire against you, she thought. Have they already? The flags at de Republique were lowered, and at Ras Shahid as well. What would that mean? She hoped more and more for an apology, for future generations, innocent of their choices. She hoped somehow not to succumb to fear. That was why she had come to the festival. To give some pleasure to the shit. She entered a small cabinet filled room. There was a worker wiping a table with a cloth, gathering dust. Behind the worker, a shelf of books, floor to ceiling, the only shelf in the room, the remaining walls stacked with filing cabinets, all of them made of steel. To her surprise, there was no television in the room, playing a live feed, or even speakers relaying the news. She sat in one of three wooden chairs pressed up against the doorside wall. The cleaner was wiping a computer and keyboard with the cloth, puncturing the keys with the fabric to collect the dust. She finally introduced herself, sitting down and pulling out her notes. She had long brunette hair that curled at the end, streaming down her shoulders and down her back, almost to the strap of her bra. She looked like she had just come out of the hairdresser’s. She must be from a good family, Tatiana thought. Even though she is working, she told herself, she is doing what she loves. She wore a shawl over her shoulders, and a large white shirt that fell over her waist. She handed Tatiana a set of papers, asking her to fill out the application and to leave it on her desk, that she would send the details back to her in the afternoon, or the following morning, at the latest. In the meantime, she could collect her badge. She already knew who she was the moment she arrived. She was helpful. Tatiana was pleased with the way she worked. She reminded her of herself at her age, gentle but a tad neurotic. She paid, year after, for second placement badges, giving her viewing to all of the cinematic episodes and access to all public and private functions as well, including the design section of the festival. It would allow her access to all of her friend’s shows, as well as introducing her to new products and designs, and enjoying the best food and wine the festival had to offer. She liked that they combined the design section of the festival with the cinematic arts into one arena, as the original, the way it was, was too tiring, trekking from one side of the city to another to catch something here and then something there. Even though the town was small and charming, and made for something like that, it could have done with better planning, as there was always traffic and always too large a crowd. She hated the public transportation but sometimes it was worth it, simply to get away from all the noise. She particularly liked the work of Rem Steel, the architect, and of course the work of Orderly Myers, who specialized in cutlery, whose work with synthetic fibers in the last exhibition was a change of direction for the industry. So daring and so unique, the reception he had originally enjoyed from the establishment was laughable. She was happy to see that in the halls of certain boutique hotels in the district, such as the Hotel Bey, where she was staying, his work was so elegantly adorned, spread in the halls in its various guises, from diamond chandeliers in the lounge upstairs to a gallery of spoons on the reception floor. It was easy for her to procure the second placement badge, as she knew most of the organizers, and for the simple fact they were aware she would not be involved in harassing the artists and professionals showcasing their work or involved in production. The disadvantage for journalists and fans alike who did not have the connections Tatiana enjoyed was really down to proximity to the stars. Furthermore, for her own protection, her name did not appear on her badge or on her electronic ticket, the digital accompaniment that could be read off of a watch or phone, so she did not have the pressure of shielding herself from prying or envious eyes, wanting to know who she was, who had gotten by. She was always inconspicuous, the way she liked. She didn’t know if she would see Ramiz but she had the invitation to his premiere. They had not spoken for some time. She didn’t know what to make of it. Ultimately, she knew, regardless of what happened she would not care either way. She could not allow herself to care if it meant nothing to him. She tried to book her ticket online but the connection was cutting. She called the appropriate channel instead and waited while she was put on hold. For her, it was best to travel in the morning. That way the line was short, especially at Terminal 2, where she was passing. She had always hated traveling in the morning, hating the feeling of waking up so fast and in such a rush, her stomach was always bloated and yet she felt hungry. She liked to have breakfast when she woke up, as a sort of ritual, something like two pieces of olive bread with cured yogurt, tomatoes and olives and dried seasoned thymes, with mint as a garnish, and lots of olive oil, at the perfect temperature of toasted bread, along with fresh juice and some coffee, from an organic roast, of course. Regardless of how she was doing in life, she needed that breakfast, it got her through the morning and with better hopes for the day. But traveling so early made it impossible to enjoy the ritual, so she was forced to drink from a carton of juice and having something quicker, like wild berries on a bed of vegan cream, with chia seeds or wholegrain oats, to keep things going. Still, it never felt enough while waiting in line, especially if the line wasn’t moving. She ordered a taxi from her phone, asking it to arrive fifteen minutes later. That way she would have time to eat something short. When the taxi arrived she watched the driver from the window. A man, middle aged, with a large oversized jersey and baggy jeans, tennis shoes, like old white sneakers, with blue and yellow streaks on the soles of his shoes, and a blue and white cap, for the same team of the jersey. She hated sport, though she didn’t mind watching tennis, she was always glad when they went to go see it, it was quiet, and the fans were calm, almost silent. He rang at the door, though she had told him not to, in the end she didn’t mind. The drive was fast. She paid for the taxi in perfect change. They didn’t have a conversation and in many ways she was grateful, for having the time to herself to think. It was one of the perks of ordering a taxi by phone. The drivers often had less to say and kept quiet, even though she missed the interaction from time to time, human interaction. They passed the eastern entrance of Durahan, where a vacant field surrounded Highway 3, streetlights shadowed by turbines rising like lightning daggers into the sky, cold earthen spires roving in an open wind. The scene, at that hour, was harrowing, shrouded in a surgical mist. She wants to tip.

“Umm,” she said, wrestling with her purse, throwing things to the side, a used tissue clapping over, a ball of mittens, a pack of smokes, keys she held with her hand, a pair of pliers, scissors and another pair of gloves, though these were leather and black, while the others were more woolen and brown. She held up a notebook, another set of keys, another book and then two combs, one brush she ushered gently to her thigh, the other, tossing it to the side, almost as though she were angry with it, as though there had been some incident long ago, on both sides, where the brush had gotten in the way of something, costing her precious moments of her life.

“It’s okay. I can do without the tip, that’s fine.”

“Are you sure,” she asked? She had stopped whatever she was doing with the bag, her shoulders hunched, her mouth closed, her cheeks somewhat droopy, her nose red and cold, her eyes teary, her shoulders hunched, her back somewhat limping.

“I’m sure.”

“Here, have some change,” she said, handing him a few cents from her little purse, clutched between two fingers. He had the urge at that moment to admit to her it was a mistake, him taking her to the airport, as she wished, and for the most part, he had said it, imagining her saying, “Why?”

“Because you are leaving us,” he would say, though he didn’t say it.

“Is everything alright,” she said?

“Everything is fine.”

“Good. Can you help me with my bags?”

“Of course,” he said, though it was not his shame to admit at that moment he felt oppressed, by her beauty, her orders, her indifference to his shame. How could she order him to do so, so easily, having just offered, more or less, three cent coins as a tip, for his picking her up at sunrise, four fifteen, driving her one hour in the cold? That takes balls, he thought. Someone serious. Stepping out of the car, he thought, shit, it’s cold, let me bring my jacket. He circled the car from the rear, passing beside her window, opening with two hands the two doors on that side, stepping to the side to let her pass, streaming easily out of the car, like a natural.

“You’ve done this before,” he said.

She didn’t understand him.

“Aren’t you cold,” he asked?

She must not have heard him, walking away from the closing doors, in a perfect reflex, pulling out of her bag the packs of smokes, lighting it, somewhat seriously, in a matter of breaths. She wasn’t sure if the flight was full, but she had to take it. She didn’t know if she would see Ramiz but she had the invitation. They had not spoken since. She had stopped thinking of it. Thinking of it then. Ultimately, she knew, whatever happened, she could not allow herself to care if it meant nothing to him. She stood outside the main terminal, with the large TI in Unic Bold, overbearing, glowing in the morning cold. She wanted to smoke a cigarette. The rain had been harsh, but the wind, when it came, was worse. It hurt, like an itch against the skin, simultaneously. It was cold that morning though the sun was high. The chill compounded by strong winds. The rays of scattered sun were comforting. She asked a gentleman beside her for a light, even though she had one in her purse, she wanted to keep from digging for it, ruining one of her nails, as was so often done, but it would cause to her to spend the whole flight thinking about it, and she’d already had to rummage once, besides, she wanted to hear his voice, to know how soft he was. He pulled one from his briefcase and lit her cigarette, holding his gaze to her eyes. He smiled behind the green of his eyes, hidden behind two light colored spectacles. Later, his friends showed up, and they all disappeared, four of them in suits and one of them a stranger in overalls and boots. Every few minutes, docking ships sounded their horns, cooling the religious hums from towering minarets, surging a multitude of clattering storms, engines and exhausts of poorly built trucks and cars festooning the gulping streets with clouds of toxins. The port’s navel, where every few days the port closed, citing breaches in security, yet the place seemed to ruffle under nobody’s nose. She paid the driver a hundred thousand koura, roughly seven dollars. She entered the station, flashing her identification at the door to the guards standing watch, whose only job was to guess who was a threat and who was not, citing their training at the academy as their only resource. She felt like smoking a cigarette but she didn’t have time, refusing the elegiac scene of wistful moments lost gazing into the expanse of cars and weaving highways through a cloud of smoke. Inside, it was more trick, but outside the guard was soft, allowing her to flash her indiscreet badged as she passed him. Before entering the main platform area, she placed her bag on a conveyor belt, that filtered the bags into two supposedly randomly chosen lines, one to be checked by security and another to be set free, waiting for her to pick it up in just a few moments. She passed under the scanner, the female guard pressing her hands against her navy blue blazer, touching the gold buttons and collar seam as well, running her hands through the fabric, pressing on it with force. She was permitted to pass, her bag waiting for her as she grabbed for it. One of the benefits of early travel is that the likelihood that a checked baggage is lost is much lower. The staff hired for early week hours are properly trained and the work is less strenuous than the later more prominent hours of rush. Maybe the staff is unhappy but I find sometimes that an unhappy staff is able to work more productively together than a jovial staff who is always making jokes and taking things lightly, such as the wrong delivery of a bag, which can be a very grave thing for certain people. However the staff is more present and so is less likely to show lenience on an overweight bag, or invite busy passengers to the business class line when in fct the line is empty, simply to follow protocol because the hours demands to be serious. Because people consider the hour to be more free, less passengers passing, it is in some way self fulfilling, as many do not like to be seen in such an empty crowd, for fear of being noticed for whatever reason they have to fear, which can be any number of things nowadays. Often I find people travel together, rather than alone, and later, when it is more full, people like to be alone to study their surroundings and possibly to find someone interesting to consider. The problem again is the number of trains coming and going, making it less likely to find another train if the schedule is missed, or if I am stuck in traffic, which is quite often. I don’t like the business ethics of the Administration Authority, as it is  commonly known that there is a monetary reward for members of the staff who find suitable cause for penalizing passengers, on overweight luggage or carrying narcotics or firearms, or traveling with a dog where it is not permitted. It is annoying but these are the rules. When overlooked, punishment is custom. She walked through the platform halls and toward the gate. She had the ticket on her phone so did not have to go to check in, only to leave her baggage at the express train doors. If that was what she wanted, of course, as she was able to keep it on her if she liked, but she knew there would not be much space and it would be better to give it away. It had been an alright journey. She sat in Cabin 4 where the pairs run parallel down a steady stream, unlike the other economy classes where the seats were separated into fours, facing each other. She preferred it if she was going to do work on the ride, or to read, knowing she would doze off at some point. The cabin was quite messy, a collection of wet and used newspapers collecting on the matted carpet floor, and the smell of carbine fluid and changing diapers. A worker for Victory Air passed through the cabin, a bashful smile strewn upon her pickled face, the corners of her lips dimpling like robin’s feet. She asked for her papers, though it was not her job. She didn’t seem to know where her credentials suffered. She must be new, she thought to herself. She handed her the papers, obliging. The train was slowly filling. Festival would draw the crowds. Even though it was early still, in the day, for the peak hour travelers. Across from her, on the other side of the aisle, a tired looking man, glazed by the sun’s slanted break in the window, his red face disheveled, made a scene as he couldn’t find his papers on the spot, claiming he had already been checked at a prior station some hours before. The sound of a radio transmitter interrupted the outrage. Because of people’s stubbornness to speak at volume, and other’s stubbornness to sit in silence, in waiting, there were portions of the train sanctioned for gathering and socializing during waiting hours. She didn’t see the point. People should be free to do as they please. To agonize over the acts of others was as much a right as one’s right to act as they pleased. There was some confusion as to where she should sit, several seats beside her unaccounted for so far but the sign above the chairs indicated they were reserved. She did not foresee those problems so she wasn’t ready to sacrifice her seat. She knew it wasn’t reserved for someone else, even though it hadn’t been reserved for her, which was of course her fault alone. A crowd developing at the two entrances to the cabins, caused by some severe mishandling of a very small portion of travelers, caused the working staff to unionize in lashing out at passengers, directing them to either door if they were not to be seated there. She found it laughable, the treatment they were given even when they were paying for the right to travel on that line, and in that class. The situation unfolding was embarrassing. The workers neglecting a passenger, a young woman with two children at her side, whose feet landed awkwardly on each other, stumbling a little centrally so that the whole of her body fell and stood in the same place, like the wiggle toggle of a marionette when the strings were dropped from full stretch. She had her reading material in front of her when she noticed some passengers she recognized take their seats. The journalist Linda Harrar, whose Monday morning column was a staple of the establishment’s sense of self. She didn’t know the two others with her, one of them dressed in a checkered shirt and corduroy pants, and the other an elegant lady in a trench coat, with beige Suro gloves and Dimanchi sunglasses. The lawyer Walid Haddad sat next to the artist and curator Judith Hakim, sipping from a bottle that looked more like champagne than the juice it probably was, something from the health stores. The journey wasn’t so tiresome as it seemed. In a few hours, regardless of how foul was the smell and air in the cabin, they would arrive in District 21. She would make her way, as always, to the Office of the Secretariat, where her papers were being processed. The scenery unfolded surrounding the trialing cabin in a foggy haze. Washed ranger hills recently showered with autumn rain. Miniature log chapels that clung to the edges of hillside forests. Widow walks and open roofs climbing from houses buoyed by stone, artifacts of an archaic past. That was why they took the train, all of them searching for the semblance of past things forgotten. The scenery, however sparse, was beautiful. The open fields of the lower ward, the horizon blanketed by a towering range in the distance, reminded her of a time when she was young, spending summers discovering bands of wild horses in the forest, stroking their enormous hides, compelled by an eternal sameness and silence. It turned quiet in the cabin as well, though the windows didn’t open, it was possible to hear the ritual ringing of cowbell chords. The occasional flight of a buzzard lit up the early evening sky. There was an advertisement playing on the screen in the train cabin, for people who were depressed to seek treatment, knowing that was where I wanted to go, having specified it like that, unknowingly, paying for paid subscription but not the best deck of cards, reading like a platinum observer on a paper deck. Above the advertisement, another one for people who had lost all their hair, and the person in the photograph for the hair studio looked like she was also depressed, which didn’t surprise her. She considered how terrible it would be to lose all her hair. How awful. It made her question the benefit of having beautiful hair, which she knew she had. Thick, voluminous. When she tied it back, it weighed. Is that helpful, she wondered, in dealing with city officials. They didn’t like to see people of her kind happy and composed, outgoing, proud. They preferred them to sink in their seats, to speak without confidence. Apologetically. Removed. Like they were living an alien body, knowingly, were guilty for it. Accepting the treatment of their superiors with a smile. I wanted to see her then and notice her in her most becoming figure, but the images of the day were just coming to pass. The man in the dress, at Albert’s Room, sixty four years of age and still going, whose heels were two sizes too big for his toes. He was watching her from the corridor of the train, watching and observing her, wanting to take her into his care, waiting for her, wanting for her, wanting what I want to pursue, like searching for flies in our rooms after dusk, embracing in a naked sleep. My years with Sit Shahad were of a similar stature, years of everlasting nights and her perfume. They needed me at the pages and the weekly spread, needing me for my taste, but my lack of experience was still without, and my needing to experiment even blatant. I wanted to know hat she was doing there, and why we she had decided to go so far, choosing over stasis a sort of movement that her family could have done without. They put me on her early April, in Ras Amin, when the first hot rains foretold of summer, nights becoming long again. I was sitting on the porch at her small interior, in the back of the house. A piano lamp and a parotte beside it, stationed in a cage, watching the proceedings with a keen eye. I wasn’t always comfortable, but I knew in a sense I had to be there, watching her choosing her perfume, how to illuminate herself when her guests came upon her in the room. That afternoon I sat beside her and watched the afternoon news and the rolling ticker onscreen. He couldn’t read as fast as her so she had to translate the image as fast as possible, while still maintaining necessary focus on the main appendage speaking onscreen, the news anchor, John Carp, her all time favorite, an American from Dusty Nails. He wondered if she thought of him, at some time, in that spirit, her spirit of total

She had stood by him, when he was expelled in school, not for bad grades but for bad behavior, something she admired in his otherwise behaviorally character, doing what was required of him most of the time, deviating stronger than most would like, at times. Though she was, like the rest of them, open in her admiration of him, conspiring to let him know. For that much, he owed it to her, in her tulip blazer, a gleam on her face, the work of foundation, possessing some extreme talent. She had always thought of him in that way, and in that moment, would have agreed. She expected more of him, more for him. When he was expelled, he was sent to her, to live with her for one year, tutoring him at home. At least, she was supposed to, spending most of their time on the balcony, watching their neighbors go by, smoking her cigarettes, and when guests came around, from her water pipe. She instructed to Nancy to buy her her own nabrish, to use at her own discretion, not having to share, weary of the germs of others. Germs, we should say, have a life of their own, striking a certain selfish balance, consuming even their own, deserving of some displacement, in the effects of lies. She could not be dismayed from the idea. The myth he had built over years under her watch of his possessing some genus could not be dispelled. Though she knew him to be of lousy work ethic, knowing him to play the lazier cards. He enjoyed from time to time watching her play. The public park, there was only one at the time, was situated at the foot of the oldest amphitheater on the island. The people took their games and their pillows and reading smocks, sitting outside drinking tea from mosaic glasses they acquired in the parking lot, artisans selling shoes, tableware and other design. He didn’t last the entire year and was forced to make it up upon his return, in itself an embarrassment, as all of his classmates, people he had known since he was four, some of them, through family, had known them before, entering their final year of school, all of them planning their applications, begging for recommendations from teachers at the school. Even then, she stood by him, wading the embarrassment like a child wades through school. Between naps, she watched from the window the world pass them by, wondering what it would be like to have grown up outside the city, surrounded by people she would know all her life, who would come to do more or less as they were expected. A zealous people, full of pride, with a patience for things sacred, families who had remained preciously still for generations, refusing the great migration into the urban sprawl. In such equitable silence, she thought, it would be easy to accept one’s fate. It had been difficult enough, at school, and it wasn’t going to get easier. She had to admit what would be worse to neglect, what would ultimately make them pay for their insubordination, training their children to be wolves, apart from the pack, hoping for them what couldn’t be told, nor admitted to a strong companion and conspirator. It was her mother’s mark and her mother before her, to act bold in the face of virtue, to prefer dishonesty of the heart.

“What’s your main concern?”

“He’s started bullying.”

“Peter, no.”

“I don’t know what else to do. It’s difficult to contain him. To keep him from going too far. He’s a great student in some ways. He has a lot of energy, a strong character, as you say. But you give him too much space. I think he needs more discipline. What do you think, Mr. Chen? He’s one of your favorite students. You two really get along.”

“He’s an exemplary student of mine. But then again, I’m his choir teacher. I love him to death. I love how much energy this boy has. I want what’s best for him in his life. I don’t know how we’re going to achieve that, how we’re going to contain him. I mean, I know he can be difficult, but I’ve never seen him act out. He comes to my class on time. He does what he ahs to do and more. He Leaves happy, he returns to class excited, sometimes even jubilant. He’s always getting involved. Last semester, he decided to join the acapella group, Route 36. There’s six of them now, since he’s joined. He’s getting better at things in some classes. But I don’t know! I just don’t know what’s going on. I don’t understand it. I don’t see him like that. It hurts to see one of your favorites suffer.”

“Our students are usually an indication of what’s going on. If we can’t gage, then we wonder if something’s going on. If something else is happening, at home, or, on the football field, for example, in class tutorials, more or less. We ask some of their friends. We ask some of the parents.”

“You can’t do that,” she said. “Parents are so unforgiving of other people’s children. They only want to protect their own.”

“That’s not entirely true, Mrs. Abbas. People have been more than willing to tell something kind,” the headmaster said.

“It’s your son we’re worried about,” the language instructor said to her.

“What do you expect me to do? I can’t sit around at home every night, waiting for them to come home, to help them with their lessons. You keep them here almost twelve hours a day! With classes starting so early, and all the activities ending so late. Tell me, do you think it’s normal for a thirteen year old boy to spend so much of his time at school? He’s even coming in to do theater and play in extra football tournaments, on the weekend. And so what do you expect? He gets a little bored. I think your teaching is soft. You don’t know how to deal with children.

Huda Mansour, Stepping onto the tarmac of the parking, she found Miss Suthida Abbas at her car. She was packing in some of their things. She had both Ali and Ghazal among her, seated in the back. Their windows were drawn. They were pouring their heads out of the car, watching the car reverse from the lot.

She rolled down the windows, they came to a stop.

“Ahlan, Sit Mansour.”

“Ahlan, Sit Abbas.”

“Going home?”

“Trying. Ever, as always. What have else have we to do?”

“How did the elections go?”

“They’re still deciding whether to go with him or not. It was a big, big surprise. I’m surprised it’s happened.”

“Will they be safe?”

“Ever, as always.”

“I heard about your meeting, with the headmaster and the queen.”

“She’s a special administrator. But I respect her. Don’t tell her I said that, will you?”

Sit Abbas looked agitated. She turned to look at her kids, who were staring back at her, and at her friend, who they recognized but didn’t know, having spoken so little often.

“Wait a moment,” Sit Abbas said, “I’m going to reverse the car.”

She promptly set out to return the vehicle to its prior location, drawing forward several inches before reversing back, tugging at the stick, somewhat haphazardly, jolting the car back and forth at Least once. She realized they were not wearing their seatbelts, looking back to see if they were alright, even if it was just a bump. Where’s my head, she thought, where have I been all this time? She stepped out of the car, Leaving the key in the ignition, turning it off, removing the key to keep it safe from her children, who she then thought about, and in thinking grew concerned that they be left in the car, having heard so much of those rumors, of children napping in cars, suffocating.

“Yalla, ya wlad,” she said. “Yalla, ya helween,” pulling the children out of the car. “Wait here by the car while I talk to Sit Huda. Do you recognize her? She is a friend. Wave and say hello.”

They waved, she walked over to her, standing in the middle of the road.

“How did the parent teacher conference go for you, Sit Mansour?”

“It went alright,” she said. “Nothing unusual. Why? And you? Was something wrong?”

“I’m worried about you, Sit Mansour. This is not the first time I have had to say that to you. Do you consider me a friend?”

“The way you are speaking is surprising me. I’m a little concerned. What is it, Sit Abbas? If you speak to me this way, it means you are serious. You would not dare take such a tone if you did not know what you were doing. Say what you want to say.”

“Do you need me to come out and say it? Does it always have to be this way? Can’t you, for once, take it upon yourself to do something about it? Can’t you for once just take control? Don’t you understand what you are doing? You think you are smart, you are wrong. You empower your son’s freedom, and his ideas will grow, and soon he will be unstoppable, unapproachable, all because of you. Do you want that, as a mother? Huh? I know you are a mother of four, but still, take some pleasure in raising them. What else is a mother for?”

“A mother is there to stand by her child while the rest of the world has forgotten him,” she said, turning her head in an abrupt manner, so as to suggest her annoyance at Sit Abbas, walking away, before turning to speak to her again, saying, “Suthida, take one look at your kids. Are they always perfect? Little Sabrina, who doesn’t understand a thing of math. Little Massoud, who has no friends at all.”

“They are almost never perfect,” she said, “and of course things happen that way, but they do not take out their troubles on others. They deal with their issues alone, or they talk it over with friends. Your son is becoming aggressive. He is growing out of control. You’re going to have to do something,” she said, “otherwise, they’re going to ask him to Leave.”

“He’s an obnoxious kid, but it cant be so bad. He’s obnoxious, yes. But what can you do? What can a mother do? He likes to be bad sometimes, but it’s never that bad. He would never hurt a fly. But he likes to swallow his gum. He likes to think he’s in trouble. Like some of the other kids, he’s not at all bad. You’re being harsh. You’re being very, very harsh. Think of when you were children. Not just of you, but of your friends. Think of the boys you liked. Were they better than him? Were they maybe even more crazed? We live in depressing times. At Least he’s happy to show himself for who he is. That’s more than I can say for many of us.”

“Say God forbid,” he said, “say it!”

“Why? What is that? What happens if I say that?”

“Then what you said is forgotten, it won’t happen anymore.”

“You have to release tension in your jaw,” she said, “you have to do muscle training, you have to train it.”

“I have a lot of repressed tension, wanting to get out. It’s because I was a caesarian. That’s what my mother says.”

“It’s just, I get into this head space.”

“They would never,” she said to her.

“They would, and fast,” was her reply.

She must have fallen asleep. Opening her eyes, she couldn’t place the location. It wasn’t the stop she intended to make. It was obvious, after a moment of panic that rose from between her colon and chest, a striking shriek that emerged out of her mouth in the form of a dreadful open mouthed yawn, noticing the absence of other passengers, the dimness of the light, the mild sloping of the car, where she felt her body tilting sideways to some degree, she rose from her seat anxious, searching awkwardly for a plan. She would miss the lecture, for sure. Why had she fallen asleep? It was so unlike her. Why had no one woken her up? Did they think she intended to ride until the end of the line, until the train were transferred to its rest stop in the middle of…She realized, she couldn’t know exactly where she had come, unless she somehow exited the train. She turned her attention immediately to the doors of the car, and in another moment of panic raced over to unhinge the door from its place. She clapped her hand against the button. Nothing. She was stuck. Hadn’t they checked? Hadn’t they made sure someone was not stupid enough to fall asleep on the train? She arrived home that night tired, unusually tired from the day. Her husband wasn’t home yet. He wouldn’t be home for a while. He had left her a message, an email, tried to call a few times. And afterwards, left it to fate. In the morning she would be giving a lecture on Garcia Lorca, on his infatuation with causes of the animal spirit in poets, what he deemed duende. But she didn’t feel like preparing more for it. She had already prepared. Besides, the lecture she presented that morning had gone well. She read to apathetic undergraduates on the prevalence of ecstatic literature in nihilistic societies, a paradox she enjoyed mentioning in her work. They didn’t seem to care, but then, they didn’t seem to especially not care. She remembered how as an undergraduate, she used to hide her headphones through her blouse and under her long, curly hair, ignoring the lectures she was forced to attend, dreaming instead of the ecstasy of a real life experience. She stands in the bathroom, her feet drying warmly with the aid of a blow dryer, positioned to warm her feet. She jerks her body up and down, changing his weight from her toes to her heels. She pads her cheeks with a cottonpad. She puckers her lips, pouts, grins. She washes the makeup from her eyes, dipping her head in the icy water collected in her palms. She looks into the mirror. The years have changed her, no doubt. Her complexion ahs always been impeccable. Probably the quality of her appearance, when meeting people for the first time, that they immediately notice, gravitating towards her olive skin, her sensuous pores, the freckles on her neck and between her lips and eyes. That, and her bushy eyebrows, dirty blonde, thick like an overgrown man’s. But the changes, otherwise, are obvious. Even her nose, which she’s always had a slight problem with, the way it dips in the bone and seems to erode rather than protrude, seems to be getting bigger and growing in all different directions. She’s tried to adapt her hair to accommodate the changes, straightening her hair and leaving a fringe in the middle, or cutting it short, right to the ears, in wild curls. She even tried an undercut, and was going to go all the way to shaving her head, until a scare one day, noticing a stretch of her skull, no more than a half centimeter, where the hair seemed to be growing with a bit more hesitation. Worried, she let her hair out, forbidding the use of clips and hair ties, and reverted to using only organic products when washing, which she now did only twice, maybe three times, in a week. But beyond the superficial changes, the alteration of her eyes, her declining vision, and the little scar on the edge of her upper lip from a kinky adventure gone wrong, she could feel undeniably the changes in her heart. As a student, knowing the world would always fail to please her, she made it her mission, somewhat dogmatically, to please herself. Never to find herself in a state of boredom. Always on the run, always after the next big adventure. She learned Spanish for a year, sleeping in cabs on the coast of Spain and into Grenada in an exchange year she deliberately extended, leaving school for six months to travel to South America on foot, making it barely a few cities before getting stuck in the heat of the adventure, in the same worn, raggedy clothes, a few books of mystical poetry, Andalusian and Siberian monks, men of piety, who forgo terrestrial desire for spiritual illumination. Caught in the rapture of transcendence, she schedule her months and traveled based on the festivals playing, the drugs on the scene and the season to best take them. Mushrooms in the Alps, gazing under the stars with nothing but the echoes of cowbells in an immense forest of peak. She smoked hash in the deserts of North Africa until the days turned into one another and the faces of the crowd into one large face and she felt herself clinging to shaved crumbs of a ball of forest moss, holding on for dear life, transforming into the characters if her own past. She burned through republics with a herd of unconventional friends. Her most transcendental experience would come one week during her great South America voyage. She had finally escaped the urban sprawl and found her way to a coastal mess of cheap housing communities and stations for the terminally ill. The real estate is so cheap most of the place is littered with students taking a year off from school to learn surfing from some retired pros, who could never get a real job after retiring. The type of guys who wrote shitty poems on sleepless camp watchmen, on cadavers drawing up in the sand. After a few days she met a group of young radical surfers. Not the average gringo type, who wear sandals on dates, but refined intellectuals who preferred studying on the coasts, meditating on the waves, preferring the tranquil surroundings and natural bathhouses to the urban jungle. She traveled with them to one of their favored campsites on the end of a long peninsula, that swerved and curled like a dancing snake. At the site, resting on a wide cave that sits in the direction of the sun, shaded overhead by a wooded mountain, claimed by cypresses and dancing pines, surprising to the area, and below, swathes of olive trees that reach right into the water, so that one of the more agile boys used to climb one of the trees branches and piss into the sea. It was a monumental experience. She hadn’t fallen for any of the boys but they all fell for her. The intensity cooled as their women reunited at camp. One night, as she remembers, the longest night of the year, one of the boys mentioned he had been living with a tribe for the six months, learning from the cultivation of an ayahuasca ceremony. Two months later, she was spread out on the mattress of a tent somewhere in the jungle, the ayahuasca taking effect, her ego dispersing into a million little stars, feeling like she was standing tiptoed on the border of life and death, like she had a choice, to relieve herself o this life’s inherent suffering and ascend into consciousness, or return, bleary eyed and stained in vomit, to her life. She can’t remember if she ever made a choice, but at some point she returned to her muddled existence, feeling weakened and regenerated, restless and at calm. She kept in touch with some of the others form the ceremony. One of the older women, a psychologist from the United States, had suffered in an earlier ayahuasca ceremony, losing his sense of balance permanently thereafter. On his return home, he was instated in a mental asylum, as no one would believe his distress. The ceremony they enjoyed together must have lifted the curse, curing him thereafter, but he told her about the scenes he encountered before and after their trip. Years passed. She would move from house to house, never quite finding her home. She would enlist as an aid worker in the south of Turkey at the outbreak of the Syrian war. She would learn Arabic, fall in love, accept an engagement and leave the man in Ibiza, after two weeks of MDMA lead her into the arms of another man, who delivers her to Berlin. She would move from job to job, having nothing to spend her money on but cheap rent and entrance fees to dingy clubs, where she spent the rest of her money on speed MDMA, and coke. She would sleep until at least one, never brush her hair or do her nails or buy new clothes, and drink nothing but alcohol and water from a tap. Tuesdays were her day off, and she spent them reading the same romance novel over and over again, a cheap rendition of Orientalist love that blossoms after an Empress’ boat is stranded in the Gulf of Aden. The rest of the week, she would slowly prepare her body for the three night binge that inevitably claimed her conscience come weekend. Some good came of her endless forays into the Berlin club scene, introducing her to a group of dedicated Hindu Germans who made it their objective to spread ideas of the mission. She joined their company, realizing they had access to excellent LSD, and soon enough was leaving Berlin for weeks, spreading herself into the surrounding forests, waking up with the sun for Kundalini yoga sessions, ingesting magic mushrooms in the afternoons. Some great change came to her life quite suddenly, when she encountered the man who had told her a story years before, the man who lost his balance during an ayahuasca ceremony, and was declared mentally unstable upon his return home. After years of securing the next best high, she settled finally into a strict apprenticeship under a Qigong master, opening a flower arrangement school under his wing. She maintained the discipline with extraordinary skill, a feat she attributes to crossing over the threshold of thirty, staring down a different barrel paradigm of life. A husband, the closing chapters of a doctorate, finding herself to be an accomplished writer and even smarter teacher, still having the time to watch over the school. Probably, in the future, a child, maybe two. But now, not yet. Preferring routine to chaos, no longer ripping through books that drive a hundred miles an hour or more. She could finally accomplish that unaccomplishable task and read through Proust’s oeuvre. Oh Albertine!, she thinks, that miserable bitch. She turned to the radio out of tune, the speakers off, the channels somewhere between the classifieds and a visiting dj’s incoming set. She turned the radio on, playing with the knocks until the frequency settled on a storytelling hour of the public culture radio channel. An old, gruff voice read from a text she could not immediately place. She lit a candle with a match she drew from the cabinet atop the sink, grabbing a cigarette from her husband’s tobacco pouch. She dropped surreptitiously to the floor, slowly, arching her back, protected by a felt robe, leaning against the hot water heater extending from the wall. Smoking, dozing off, listening to the unfamiliar voice usher her into dreams she could not escape, staring into the void of another, cohabitating porcelain canvas. She knew when she woke up that day that the dreams she was having were real. Her first instinct was to look outside, through the dreamcatcher whistling over the windowsill, the white silk drapes hanging form the wall, o the point in the sky she always turned to, for guidance, for reflection. Full moon, she thought. She understood. She had been dreaming of him for some time, waiting on his call, expecting him to visit. Like she had been warned, she thought. Like I have been told. She follows her eyes to the bedside table. Stacks of books, poets- Reverdy, Hoffman, William Pitt Root. A collection of Silvina Ocampo’s short stories. Books on the cosmos and the human psyche, The Myth of the Eternal Return, The Myth of Meaning. Beside the books, a stack of freshly sharpened pencils, and beneath the pencils, a large yellow notepad. Free bookmarks sat next to the books, and in each of the books, a different bookmark from a different bookstore. Not, as she would prefer, the bookstores she bought the books from, not always, not specifically. But more or less, for every book in her collection, she had at least one and a half bookmarks. One day she hoped to carry a bookmark from the same bookstore for every book, but for now, it wasn’t possible. These items had always been there, as long she remembered. Not the same books, and not the same pencils, but more or less the same amount. The only difference in the collection on her bedside table, apart from the different lightbulb she would use to view the contents, is the appearance of a thin, paperback book she writes in from time to time, more recently, every night, waking between dreams to note everything down. She noted everything down, exactly as it came. She was careful to paint as honest a portrait of the images, her memory, the symbolic presence in every scene, the possible relation to her own psyche, to the possible relation to her life. Once she had achieved the capacity to note down to perfection the contents of her basic dreams, she then took it upon herself to note down the different elements of others in her life who may have made it into her dream, as an order to escape their own, or maybe, to ask for help. This change in direction, from a subjective experience of her dreams, to an objective experience of another’s, made her feel very special. It inspired her to dig deeper into the symbols. Different spaces gave her a different feeling, every time. Recurring spaces, spaces that she could name, spaces she knew she would never see. Cityscapes beyond the architecture of man. Towering urban systems conniving so they intertwined. She would walk between the buildings, stretching into the sky, beyond her visibility, waiting to be directed, guided to the next light. She noticed patterns, and from the patterns she noticed airwaves and soundwaves she could employ, to empower her decisions, in where she might go. Dreams being the content of her psychic self, meshing with the random introduction of collective unconscious material, she discovered certain elements to herself she had not been aware. After the rapid introduction of cockroaches, for example, into the dreams, she remembered entire chapters of her childhood she had completely forgotten. The months between spring and autumn, where the moisture in the air and the heat on the ground made it perfect weather for the reemergence of the cockroach onto every day life. She remembered her home, the third or fourth her family lived in, where she would wake up for school and between her walk from her bedroom to the bathroom, would find one, two, sometimes three cockroaches dead on their backs, the remaining sight of their oppressive battle. She remembered finding mothers lying on their backs with two, three of their young lying next to them, and the entire house would rise with a wail, and the feeling she had of being home, of being in her place of safety, was gone, discovering a new place she had entered, the feeling that is there when a child finds themselves in the face of danger, and the eyes of her mother, the voice erupting from her giant mouth, tell her she should be afraid. It became so the very sight of a cockroach made her scream a terrible scream, and if the proximity between her and the disgusting insect was too close for her to believe she was not in danger, she wouldn’t scream but freeze, her face would pale, ghost white, her hands would stretch to their most extension, her knees would tremble, her toes would kneel. Even this, she had forgotten. Over the course of several months the images became more steady, still, the pace of her dreams was disorderly, like everything was moving in slow motion, but the introduction of different space, foreign elements, disjointed, she stepped from one world to another. The mountainous she spent summers with her best friend, hiding their prettier underwear and their makeup from her parents, their evolving interest in the village boys, young immigrants from poor households, who had no papers, no names, just arms and legs and a set of eyes they could use to put in the work, and their mouths were kept closed, and they never spoke a word, for fear, she never realized at the time, but on thinking on it now, of being reprimanded, fired, deported. Executed, if they were ugly and couldn’t put in much work. As long as they had no family. Executed, she thought. She noted it down. In the beginning, she doubted that the dreams held any meaning, any purpose, but being a student of literature, a scholar of esoteric and ecstatic works, a believer in the persona of a cosmic order, she decided to investigate her interest, and treat the dreams as a sort of subject, a patient, and a place where she was free to experiment with things she had learned, techniques, like a hypnosis method, or a method of meditating, to see how she might alter the sequences, the spaces. She was surprised to find that in the first several months there were no real faces. When she focused on a face, it disappeared. When she focused on a feeling, faces appeared out of nowhere, in great amount. More and more, she tried to study the faces, but they disappeared. She tried to trick her unconscious, turning her eyes away to the faces, but searching somehow, from the corner of her eye, or, if she was lucky enough to notice she was standing in the bathroom of her high school, or, say, the bathroom at her best friend’s, she could find one of the faces staring back at her in the mirror. In the mirror, the faces appeared. Many of them seemed as though she were waiting for her to see them, standing there with their arms crossed, or their backs against the wall, like they were studying her as she studied them, noting down her movements, regularities and irregularities, patterns and symbols. The color of her nails, the scratches on her back. The dirt under her eyes. The scars on both her knees. Music. The element that was missing from the start. She heard humming, light humming, rising from the shadows of every image, and she followed the shadows, following the sound of a deep bass chorus, humming in perfect fifths the same four chords. There were also lighter dreams, of fast, wormhole pacing, like she was running through the tunnel of a vacuum, the longer she ran, the deeper, the more it would expand. It took her some time to make the connection. To believe in the messages. The connections she later made weren’t visible at first. The parallel faces in her dreams and the subjects in her life. Voices came to her in the dark. She always had trouble sleeping, and those hours she spent waiting in bed for the sudden ignition of sleep, she grew accustomed to a spur of images, moments in her life she never connected, moments that were insignificant at the time and together seemed even more irrelevant. The corridor of her kindergarten, for example. She would even swear that she could smell  the corridor, like she was there. Months passed before she recognized the face haunting her in the dreams. She knew that face. She had known him. What was he doing there? The night she recognized his face, she saw him everywhere. In the corner of every frame, in the center of every picture, the depictions seemed to rotate around his figure, like he possessed a magnetic field and her images, her pictures, were drawn into his orbit. Then she heard his voice. He was whispering to someone else, an extra in her scene, someone who comes into the dream to take up space, and leave you with the memory of their shoes, or their patterns of walking, or their eyelids. A tiny detail, expressing itself more for the whole. She wrote down all of his words. Gibberish, of course, the content of dreams is fleeting, intangible, repressive. What she came to realize is the messages. What is my name? She didn’t know. Will we ever go back? Could they? She was sleeping alone, had been alone for a long time. She accepted she could have done more for a relationship, for something meaningful, more than the occasional fuck, but if she gave it too much thought it just depressed her, so she left the idea as it came, always, on the brink of every silence. In some way, his voice comforted her, keeping her company while she managed her day. That was why she decided to write down what she remembered, everything he said that she could recall. But she still didn’t know his name, and she never knew where to look for his face, it appeared out of nowhere and she moved fast enough to notice, like the sudden interruption of a cockroach. She wondered if she were possessed. If, in his visitations to her, she had become the subject of a demonic possession. He didn’t seem demonic. He spoke kindly, vividly, always with attention to her nerves, calming her in the absence of cognitive awareness, ushering her further and further into the dreams. Did she want to be possessed? Possessed by him? What did she have to remember? What did he want? It all happened almost by accident. She grabs her bag in a rush, bursting out the apartment door. She runs down the stairs of her flat, several floors with doors adorned with evil eyes or rugs designed with consistent greetings. Reaching the front door of her building, an old free mason lodge nearly two hundred years old, she stands momentarily in the wide passage, the ceiling carrying masonic emblems, the parallel walls fitted with stained glass mirrors. She watches herself in the mirror. The duende rises from the desert, she tells herself, the duende rises from the soul. Footsteps can be heard in encroaching from several positions. At so early in the morning, it is unusual to find other life in Berlin that isn’t still awake from the night before. She takes no notice of the footsteps, a pair descending down the stairs, another set of heels coming in through the hinterhaus backdoor, steering a bicycle through the steel enclosure. Another set of feet stop at the entrance to the building outside, and after managing with the keyhole, unfasten the door from its grip. The three passengers in her fury pass right by her, the four strangers in the hall moving past one another without noticing. The strangers disappear in their alternate directions, the woman descending the stairs meeting the man pushing his bicycle through the hinterhaus, both of exiting at once. The woman just entering disappearing into the hinterhaus passageway. All the while she remains, transfixed in her position opposite the mirror, peering in for some otherworldly news. Arriving outside, the fury of the cold overwhelms her. She hides within her jacket and collection of scarves wrapped around her face like a Touareg’s turban. She realized she did not fit the profile of a professor, least of all a professor delivering a lecture on another scholar. Perhaps, had she bee teaching at the school of design or fashion, it would make more sense. But she wouldn’t apologize for her confused sense of style. She liked to wear what fell into her arms, dressing according to her morning mood. She waits for the tram at Grunbergerstrasse, the M10 that takes her two stations to the U1 metro line, where she will ride all the way from Warshauerstrasse to Nohlendorfplatz, and from there switch onto the U3, where she will ride until Thielplatz, or Dahlem, arriving at Freie University on time to buy a double espresso from the Kurdish bio-market, and a whole grain cheese sandwich. Rarely does she have time to make breakfast at home, and if she had the time she would probably spend it thinking, staring at an obtuse corner of the room, wondering why she’s woken up that morning with a different set of eyes. Finally, the tram arrives, and after several seconds she finds herself comfortable in a single seat, staring into the face of a sleeping cow. After a few minutes the tram arrives at the U-bahn station, and after running over the red light, a flurry of cars whizzing by her, honking their horns to the six or seven desperate pedestrians trying to save as much time, she arrives onto the U1 train just in time for the doors to close behind her, an old Turkish man, she thinks, kind enough to hold the door open while she jumps in, leading with her head, taking a seat on the long winding train, the snakelike trains that are usually reserved for the U8 or the U5, never used on the U1, pleasing her in the process. The train ride is a generous time for reading, glancing over notes, disappearing into a blend of thoughts. She refuses her notes, staring at them bulging out of her bag. She pulls a book from the front jacket pocket. A collection of poems by Latin American writers, all of them imprisoned at some time, the poems written either during or after the poets served their terms. The poets are dead, she realizes, something she always realizes when she lifts the book to her sight. That is the life of poets. The train is relatively empty, quiet, and for the remainder of the ride she glances over the lines of a Dominican poet, whose life ended as tragically as hers, she realizes, will not. She thinks of her husband, who didn’t come home the night before, of her lecture, which she will deliver with impeccable poise, and of her parents, who she hasn’t called in over three weeks. And later, after having exhausted her thoughts on various recurring subjects and themes that pervade her mind, she thought of her dreams, the dreams she’s been having and the dreams from the night before, the visions still acute in her mind, the sight of his waving handkerchief stretched before her eyes, the flight of white storks migrating above, the infant song of a carousel parading into the quiet night.

When I arrive at the home, the opening is vacant, as always, a small uniform shed, presumably where the guard tilts his head, from where the house could be watched while he snored. It looked vacant and closed. The house is there because we are, and in a similar way we have been there already, together, forging odds. She waited beside the long steel gate, adorned with the insignia of believers. Trees shedding their excess weight, the floor flooded with leaves. She grazed the gate with her fingers, running her palm down the length of the spire. The entrance was wide, stretching along the panorama. There were lemon trees visible, and in the front of the house, a tangerine grove. The trees looked sharp, like they had been cared for. But the ground looked untended, as piles and rows of leaves lay scattered on the floor. The fruit had been planted well, but it had not been picked. She entered the station at Platform 5. It wasn’t an unusual train ride, taking the S1 from Port La Chaise, into what’s called The Dog’s Head for settlers and Martyr’s Head for natives. The woman who had first invited her had warned her about the entrance. Conceptually it wasn’t impossible. But it was impossible to study, because there weren’t any rules, simple theories on how to get in, how to manage past the guards. The bouncers wear collar chains and leather suits. Sometimes the line is three, four thousand people long. She told her to wear black, only black, to steer clear of colors or patterns, black and bold. She told her not to wear any make up, to come as is, but to do something with her hair that made it seem noticeable but didn’t suggest trying. Her room, as per her reservation, included a stocked kitchen, adequate but not gluttonous supply of holistic health foods and superfoods for the stay of her intention, which she had reserved for three days but was planning on staying four, upon seeing the gravity of the room., the luxury. Luxury she deserved, paying for it, so she didn’t feel guilty wanting to get more out of the deal, if possible. But if not, she wouldn’t fight it. She had already chosen, upon seeing the place only a few minutes, that she would do whatever necessary to extend her stay. The only books in the room were written by the speakers themselves, speakers that had come to embody a form of difference to themselves. Something like an allegory, in similar states of otherness, telling a story and yet essentially being told. A shelf holding the Literature of Peace catalogue she had requested, a subsidized accessory to the deal, stood upright leaning over a small, Posh desk, painted in a hoarse brown oak. It had been fitted with wheels, and underneath each wheel, to prevent it from sliding away disrupting order in the room, causing tremendous panic that could disturb an entire meditation, small knitted pillows had been placed like deserts to water the sand. She had been told her speaker would be dressed in the color of her choice, but she had not yet chosen, so the effect of surprise excited her. Considering it, she realized that the agent coming in her direction could actually embody any sort of form, she had not been specifically described a description of it, the speaker’s voice, the anticipated. The room included a long stone bath that opened onto a sun roofed room, a cove where usually is slept.

They offered morning therapy for those who were struggling to begin their days. The therapy took place in an empty and dark room, save for a spotlight in the center of the room, where every so often someone entered and spoke from under the light, explaining their motives in the program, why they wanted to cross. The leader of the day’s group rotated among members, and one of them was a healer. At first they were intimidated by her, seated beneath her like subjects. But then breakfast would be served outside and the mood inside would change, to the constant clinging of spoons against tea cups and the sound a slice of lemon made into a sprite of foam. When it was her turn to speak, she chose not to say anything. They were advised to listen to their heart’s intention and speak only if they felt the need to say something specific, and not to speak only for the sake of hearing themselves speak, which was often the case outdoors. She ate breakfast, a freshly baked slice of bread, cut on four slices and mixed with marmalade and peel butter, a cutlet of ginger sauce, a basket of leaves with olive oil and vinegar. She sat beside a permanent stakc of children’s books gone to complete waste, fulfilling an elementary pattern for the house aesthetic. There was a wedding in the temple of Sod, and the families were handing out sweets to strangers in the streets. She came upon them on the corner of Gymnasium, where she stopped to buy something to drink. She didn’t know how she felt toward him, if she really loved, if she ever would, but she was interested in the prospect of meeting him. As her mother had said, they were both eccentric, both of them strange, and he wasn’t doing half as well as she, who wasn’t doing well at all. She believed in love, and believed, as her mother, that it could be groomed over time like a child. Ultimately it wouldn’t matter. What would end up working in the end would work and what inevitably soured would do just that, sour. Her sponsor had told her that she had been to passive her entire life, too evasive, according to what she had expressed. She encouraged her to show courage, to ask for what she wanted and to pursue it. It takes courage to love, she thought to herself. To accept that there is something so important it would destroy you if it were taken. In her idea of it, love was selfish, but only when it was worth it. Her mother hoped they would meet and enjoy each other’s company. She hoped they would fall in love. It would be the kindest gift for her daughter, she reasoned. A blessing to see them succeed. If anything, her reservation to invite him to the wedding only served to heighten the need for such an inclusion. She was, actually, delaying the inevitable, serving as witness to her own cheap persuasions. She couldn’t be persuaded to please herself, for fear of upsetting others, nor pleasing others, for fear of upsetting herself. Oftentimes, between the two of them, she would carry the same effect into their daily lives. She couldn’t enjoy his quiet company, out on the lake or working in the living room, without having to occupy herself with some other task, however important. If she were not able to fulfill a task, she could not endure the thought of being wasteful with her time, and so it was difficult for her to enjoy herself. And when she had made the decision to prioritize her working life, she would dread the decision, and think longingly of those afternoons she had without obligation, where all they did was fuck and read each other’s cards. She relaxed in the chair. At that hour, the sun would have passed beyond a stream of towers, protecting the room from harsh, dusk light. The counselor had called. He told the secretary he would be late. She overheard him. What’s wrong with her, he had asked over the phone. It took her a while to answer. She felt alright, she felt decent. The important thing, she felt, was that she was writing, and if all went well or all went wrong she would write about it either way. So long as they didn’t confuse her with the crazies she would be fine. If they reduced her illness to something less expository and needing treatment she could return to her normal life and pursue the first stage of recontrol. Even if she were alone, with nothing but the field of ash to look upon and the swarm of cockroaches coloring the night, she would be writing, she told herself, sitting in the arms of the emptiness and things would be okay. She entered, albeit reluctantly, the wide spotless laboratory room where the incision would take place, where she would become the heterotopic model of herself, becoming cognitively lucid while dissolving into splinter wholes and other selves, the extracts of her mind in some fathomless pool at once achieved and disregarded, for the purpose of sobering up. Dr. Majid ensured her mother he would do his best to retain the best advantage possible for her restitution, gathering what little evidence was left to be ascertained by tests and incisions, though admitting that in her ageless chasm there was no real point to any sort of therapeutic remedy without the personal will to change. Rahime, the nurse, was kind to her. She told her she was exceptional to have such a strong imagination but that it had gone all wrong somehow. She had taken it too far and was losing control and had to give in to the ideas that were surrounding her. Otherwise she could not participate in the real world, where the social life was paramount. Dr. Majid sat in his grand leather chair, always barefoot, surrounded by certificates she repeatedly ran his eyes across. He had a Charitable Honor Award from the National Institute of Health. She had been born there. She felt comfortable in his presence. He could tell she did and she excelled at that, making women comfortable. Her swollen bare feet clung to the edge of the rotating chair she sat in. She knew she had obligations and was already sobering up, quieting from the night’s activities. She wanted to be safe from harm at all times and was happy and lucky to have done so. She couldn’t relate the images in her mind but somehow it seemed she had gotten there all by herself, but she knew it wasn’t true, she must have been driven there somehow, by someone, possibly her mother, possibly an aunt. It was always going to be embarrassing for their parents, that their children met in therapy, because he had done too many drugs and she was depressed. He felt like he owed him because of their shared past. When his brother was jumped, when they were kids, he was the only one who stood up for him. He checked himself in to the clinic. If it’d been someone else’s call he wouldn’t have survived the night. He wanted to take care of himself. To get better. The therapy was about acceptance. There was a new boy among them, a lanky, spirited boy, new to the group. He was lively, and it surprised her that he should be treated for some sort of condition. He seemed totally fine. Introducing himself, he performed a short ballet. It was always like that for people his age. That generation. They hadn’t seen what she had seen. They hadn’t lost what she had lost. They were convinced somehow of their invincibility. Like anything were possible. It came with its effects and its troubles. It came with its pains. She had her own set of pains. Mostly she had fears, collected over years of ignoring them. Of course she wanted to return to her normal life, but what could be considered normal. She wanted, again, to pass as beautiful. To exceed expectations. The frustration I feel is the same. I feel it for myself. There are those who would rather see you suffer in this life than to see you stand up for yourself, stand up fro what you have, what you want and what you are owed by this extra judicial system of malignant laws. The speaker says I am being too harsh, but he is the one who has given himself to desire, more than once, and revels in the feeling, and I am only the punishable by stone not death, a few bites and a wounding. He has chosen his own liberation over the collective cause, and that is why he is outside of the collective, speaking from a cove, and will never return back to the home of his parents, even though that is quite impossible for us all, in the short term, that is the main difference, there are those who are returning, to the immaculate womb, who find strength in the journey, in the ends and possibly the means as well, while there are those who are forever suffering the cause of no return, losing out on the attachments that govern the eternal pass, namely, family, country, the love of a woman, the love of a man. Fraternity is last in the state of all things, because it is so precious. Zahreddine says, in the heavenly kingdom there are no patterns, and only the song of love, and so where we aspire we are given fair faith at least in the undying friend, who accepts that there are causes to which one is devoted, and these are the tenets by which we imagine forgiveness, in order to save the self. She told him about her dreams. That she found herself on a roof, the apex of some monstrous structure, and the stairs were waving in midair, thousands of meters above ground, and her having to tilt her legs in the right way to descend the flaky ladder, harnessing herself onto the wooden arms in a state of subdued desperation. her feet moved faster than the rest of her body, but somehow there was always a way, a way to call for help, even though nobody was listening, people looked her way but nobody listened to her desperate calls, until the fact was too late, and the sky opened like a cosmic cunt receiving a bacterial cell.

Have you ever had that dream, she asked, shaking her head, clearly shaken.

I haven’t, he said.

She told him of how the journey went on and on, night after night, until it was impossible to quit, and she cascaded the entire canopy of a decimated urban sprawl, that looked much like home, ending up at some sort of passing station, with lots of checkpoints and large lumbering soldiers in star studded badges and m-16s, and pilgrims dressed in white or black, angrier youths in khakis and black and white vests, sunglasses and violet robes, waving their ID’s and solo papers in the air, like it was a matter of survival.

I meet a few people, she said, they know where they’re looking. They look ready, and smart. There’s a child with them, she said, and she tilted her head back to close her eyes and let the nasal spray race back into her nose. A child no older than five, she said, was almost crushed by a train, and the crowd grew violent, forcing us to disperse, she said. They asked if she was headed up the river, and in that moment she remembered the snake from another dream, knowing that the onus was on her to make an impression, she searched in her pockets for something, finding a small book, a collection of papers, something to sort, to occupy the wasted hours, and suddenly all of it was lost, the entire scene changed, starting anew from a blank white canvas, the characters drifted away, and so did she, without knowing where to go, following in their naked strides, following the figure guided on a leash like a dog. News came to pass that there was an accident on the Eastern Express line, and one of the loads coming their way was the victim. The peaks had been empty, but the trails were used to supply the access ports. Attempts to summit the peak were scarce. From that view, the lush circle of towns underneath glowed like volcanic clusters, overwrought by towering mountain dunes. He found the same crowd as before, moving through the terraces like a roving swarm of heels. How long has it been, one of them asked. Several hours, came the response. They begrudged their shadows to move and they did, passing through the field like crabs caught within rapture. There was a woman twice his age whose chief concern was the loss of her luggage, having to trade it to be given an initial pass. Beside her, a woman of her age, kneeling as though in prayer, fetching something from her bag. Behind her, a younger boy, missing an arm, a stump replacing the forearm and hand. He was leaning with the other arm on a concrete ledge, a slab that formed a bar jutting out of the wall, for people to write on their papers if they were given something to sign, or as it was also used, for an elderly to place her luggage on the bar to keep it in her sight as she loathes away the time, all the while counting her misfortunes.

Will you spend the night here, he was asked.

They won’t process papers soon.

Are they still feeing in the cafeteria?

The man picked violently at his teeth with the remains of a twig.

We’ve been asked to leave for the night.

He was touched on the shoulder, and on the elbow by a hand much smaller than his. It was an elderly woman, whose face he could smell, smelling of damp afternoon sheets after a sweaty sleep. Dr. Majid studied the bite. He wasn’t concerned at all but he had to play it smart. He couldn’t appeal to her optimism only, he had to appeal to her heart, to improve her mindset, her trailing condition. If she felt she wasn’t being taken seriously he would have bigger problems on his hands than a woman with a few bites under her arms. She hadn’t made her mind up yet on whether to invite him or not. She wanted to know what the situation was, with the bites, first, to know what she was getting herself into. If she invited him, and it turned out she had something serious to worry about, word would get around, making him sought for at the dinner, more than he deserved. Were it nothing serious yet something embarrassing, such as bed bugs or a development of herpes, or something worse, like what happened to Salwa Khoury, which she must have incurred from her husband, she was in no place to invite him, having to devise a strategy to subdue the inevitable announcements.

It’s nothing serious, he said, sitting back in his chair.

He removed his glasses, setting them on the table. She was upset, but she wouldn’t show it. It was below her class, and she knew it. He wanted her to see other men, and she would. But she knew, before he realized it of himself, he was worried he didn’t please her. Wouldn’t he wasn’t able to. Would he ever admit it, she thought. He knew the pleasure was hers to enjoy. Even if he owned her, as he claimed. She knew she was the one who won.

Can I tell you a secret, she said.

What is it, she answered, hiding her excitement as best she could.

Sometimes I look at the women on Avenue Rose, and I want to be one of them. I want to be touched like them. To feel what they feel. Our men are so ridiculous. Look at them. They don’t know anything about life, yet they go on living. They don’t know anything about touching. About the body. The skin is real. Touching is the language of the heart. The heart is pure. It can be dark and beautiful but it is ours. It is secret.

So you want to be a whore, she said.

Is that all you heard, she answered.

Fine, you want to be touched like a whore.

I want to be touched, she said. I want to feel it.

“I want to purify you,” she said.

He wanted her to be pure, and she wasn’t. He wanted her to be pure and to remain pure until it was his time for deciding. But she had never been that sort of woman. The sort of woman who makes a life securing her name in the village. There was a beastly rage in her house, raging inside of her, and finally she had felt it. He had given her the feeling she had sought all along. That of honoring manipulation. He honored her, honoring her beauty, her body, fawning over her at a loss for words. I thought Hutharis could never be such sluts, he said. Like other boys from the capital, she liked dishonoring her reputation, knowing it was only half her charm, and the other half was hers to bargain. It was different with Rahman than it was with Herr Stöhl. With Rahman, she was connected, to her roots, her sustenance. He touched her body differently. Like he understood her, knowing her needs and knowing when to aggrieve them. But with Herr she was unpredictable. That was what she liked most about herself, she discovered shortly thereafter, being with another man and enjoying it, even if the pleasure were only cathartic, failing to exceed relief. She felt capable of anything, but it was a different time. There’s never a returning of the clock, she thought. She had been afraid, deeply afraid, of what she had learned. She feared the unpredictable inside of her. If the fear is there it grows. He touched her body like he was a saint and she was his verdict. But he was no saint. He had never told her how many settlers he had killed, but many of them, whose faces she saw wound up with holes in their heads on the news roundups, even when she was with Herr, came back to haunt her, if only to ask, in a corner of some dream, for a light.

How was last night, he asked.

It was good, he said.

You were out with the boys, right?

Yes, he said, some of the guys came over.

And how was it?

I drank too much wine.

That’s not so bad.

Then I had too many gin and tonics.

She greeted her warmly, but in her heart she had other thoughts. She hadn’t even called her to invite her, leaving it up to her to decide whether or not to show. It was her choice, her bargaining pride. She hadn’t meant to make a mistake, but Asir had told her, last time they spoke, that Misha had gotten pregnant, and the first thing she said to her, bumping into her downtown, at the cute Gros Popo for lunch, where she was on a date with her ex husband and one of his lawyer friends, was to congratulate her on the pregnancy in front of both of them. She knew it was a mistake from the off, but Misha could have hidden her disappointment. It was unfair of her to react the way she did. She completely evaded the topic, but not before she scolded Audrey, right there in front of the two gentlemen, for mentioning it. Not even for mentioning it outright, but for knowing and for sharing her knowledge of it with her.

“I thought it was a secret,” she said. “I’ve been trying to keep it under wraps.”

But she decided then and there to make her pay for her wrongdoing, for standing up to her in such a grotesque and violent way. She swore to make her pay, to gather her at her beck and call to sit at her feet and worship the polished marble floor she gloatingly floated upon. He was happy to see her at her own will, whenever she implied he would do her service. He enjoyed being called upon by Audrey, as many men did. He enjoyed being in fact needed, as most men were not. The fact she had an illness or concern to inquire was all the more reason for him to enjoy his being summoned, otherwise he would have been more than happy to have been called for no other reason than to chat. He liked her, he enjoyed her company, and it saddened him that, to his mind, he had never been given the chance to show her his approval of her, he had never been given the opportunity to show off himself, to sound smart and funny, amicable and polite, yet principled and noble, the sort of qualities he thought fit for a man and thought fit for Audrey. Whenever he was with her, there was always his wife, and she seemed, somehow, to stunt him. He wasn’t able to joke in the same way, he thought. He wasn’t able to make the right moves and say the right things that often led to a sort of amicable relation. He was always having to be too formal for his own good, for his intentions, to be more than that, more than the sinister secret he held in his heart, that he, above all, loved Audrey. All men loved Audrey. That wasn’t saying much. But he felt he understood her, he knew her. He could recite her body weight, her height, how body mass index, all off the top of his head, and repeat the scale of numbers for the last forty seven years, since he had first known her, when she was only just born and he was eighteen, freshly shaved for the first time and off to university to study medicine and become a doctor like his father, to inherit the clinic, but not before putting in his shift at the General Hospital and the University Hospital, just like his father, and his father before him, all of whom had known Audrey’s parents and her parent’s parents, and so it was almost like a perfect match, he said to himself. He said it to himself often, but it was never to be the case and he knew it. He knew it because Dr. Akram Majid was, above all, a very intelligent man. He had no great knowledge of the arts or of literature or the finer tastes of gourmet cheeses and wines. He had no great understanding of economics, of political systems, of social networks and social trends. He didn’t understand a thing about fashion, about music, about roads. But he had long ago learned something valuable, a valuable inheritance he acquired from his mother, who had taught him fair and well how to survive in the world, were he to lose the security of being his father’s son. That was the feeling he had wanted her to have, to respond with confidence to the medicine. To be in control of her feelings, to become aware. To recognize that they were only just that, feelings, susceptible to the very wavering spread of norms she was capable of becoming herself. But she had been driven too deep, and he wondered if he could really save her from the abyss of her own mind. It was becoming more difficult for her to perceive of a world where she had not become the very cockroach she so feared. Consuming herself in a body foreign to her own. It had given her such a shock. She had already lost what she had spent so long safeguarding, what everyone spends their life searching to support, earning what can be earned in order to propel her favors. To stand defiant, it was impossible. She was requested to report her findings, reporting how she felt at all times, to the nurses or her doctor. There were days she felt happy, overjoyed, experiencing some sort of eye opening revelation, though she begged forgiveness for uttering the words, knowing it was futile to seek revelation in the sort of depressing medicine she was taking. Other days it was dark. It was different. She could not eat or drink with the same feeling of joy that had been so present in her life. She felt sorry for her, for having to endure what was impossible to survive. She no longer felt she deserved happiness, and that, she reasoned, was impossible to cure. She could never express what was occurring inside of her, the real change, responding to the Pionol 3 she was given, even though it was reported daily in her charts, and her monitoring system was one of the most advanced, beaming several reports a minute on performance, sustainability. There was always the possibility she would transform into something she could not expect, advancing into another type, a stranger to herself and to others. But she knew, registering that first night, that she would no longer be the person she was when she arrived. She entered a small cabinet filled room. There was a worker wiping a table with a cloth, gathering dust. Behind the worker, a shelf of books, floor to ceiling, the only shelf in the room, the remaining walls stacked with filing cabinets, all of them made of steel. To her surprise, there was no television in the room, playing a live feed, or even speakers relaying the news. She sat in one of three wooden chairs pressed up against the doorside wall. The cleaner was wiping a computer and keyboard with the cloth, puncturing the keys with the fabric to collect the dust. She finally introduced herself, sitting down and pulling out her notes. She had long brunette hair that curled at the end, streaming down her shoulders and down her back, almost to the strap of her bra. She looked like she had just come out of the hairdresser’s. She must be from a good family, Audrey thought. Even though she is working, she told herself, she is doing what she loves. She wore a shawl over her shoulders, and a large white shirt that fell over her waist. She handed Audrey a set of papers, asking her to fill out the application and to leave it on her desk, that she would send the details back to her in the afternoon, or the following morning, at the latest. In the meantime, she could collect her badge. She already knew who she was the moment she arrived. She was helpful. Audrey was pleased with the way she worked. She reminded her of herself at her age, gentle but a tad neurotic. She paid, year after, for second placement badges, giving her viewing to all of the cinematic episodes and access to all public and private functions as well, including the design section of the festival. It would allow her access to all of her friend’s shows, as well as introducing her to new products and designs, and enjoying the best food and wine the festival had to offer. She liked that they combined the design section of the festival with the cinematic arts into one arena, as the original, the way it was, was too tiring, trekking from one side of the city to another to catch something here and then something there. Even though the town was small and charming, and made for something like that, it could have done with better planning, as there was always traffic and always too large a crowd. She hated the public transportation but sometimes it was worth it, simply to get away from all the noise. She particularly liked the work of Rem Steel, the architect, and of course the work of Orderly Myers, who specialized in cutlery, whose work with synthetic fibers in the last exhibition was a change of direction for the industry. So daring and so unique, the reception he had originally enjoyed from the establishment was laughable. She was happy to see that in the halls of certain boutique hotels in the district, such as the Hotel Bey, where she was staying, his work was so elegantly adorned, spread in the halls in its various guises, from diamond chandeliers in the lounge upstairs to a gallery of spoons on the reception floor. It was easy for her to procure the second placement badge, as she knew most of the organizers, and for the simple fact they were aware she would not be involved in harassing the artists and professionals showcasing their work or involved in production. The disadvantage for journalists and fans alike who did not have the connections Audrey enjoyed was really down to proximity to the stars. Furthermore, for her own protection, her name did not appear on her badge or on her electronic ticket, the digital accompaniment that could be read off of a watch or phone, so she did not have the pressure of shielding herself from prying or envious eyes, wanting to know who she was, who had gotten by. She was always inconspicuous, the way she liked. She didn’t know if she would see Ramiz but she had the invitation to his premiere. They had not spoken for some time. She didn’t know what to make of it. Ultimately, she knew, regardless of what happened she would not care either way. She could not allow herself to care if it meant nothing to him. She stepped outside of the main building to smoke a cigarette. It was quite cold that morning though the sun was high, the chill compounded by strong winds. The rays of the bristling sun were comforting. She asked a gentleman beside her for a light, even though she had one in her purse, she wanted to hear his voice, to know how soft he was. He pulled one from his briefcase and lit her cigarette, holding his gaze to her eyes. He smiled behind the green of his eyes, hidden behind two light colored spectacles. Later his friends came and they all disappeared. She was the first visitor that morning, though there had been a few camping out from the night before. Some of the guards had abandoned their posts, searching for breakfast. The receptionist’s beard covered his face, with big bushy eyebrows that hid the impression of his eyes, receding into his skull. When he spoke, he arched himself forward, commanding himself. The waiting room was small, the first of three, each of relative size, bordering one another by a single door leading into the next and into the final compartment, the Office of Special Requests. There were three operating systems on a floorboard desk, and a sister with a set of phones to be used on request. The first of something to become significant, the change occurring quite recently, the sister behind a bulletproof wall, according to official convention. She filled out one of the forms, asking where she was from, what she intended to be done, if it was the first time she had come or had she been waiting to be registered for some time. Did she have a counselor or practitioner to refer in the event she was given access to another round of consultations, to exchange details on her health? The mission statement of the Office of People’s Affairs glittered in its laminate case on the wall, painted in a creamy white, the ridge of a panel frame soaked in Boar wood, emptying onto the floor. She claimed a number once she entered the questionnaire. She logged onto her file on the operating system Narcis. The sister at the front logged on as well, tracking her colleague’s moves on the operating system, so as to keep a close eye, as was within her rights. She mimicked her movements, following them on the screen before her, rewarding them into a database of time sheets, collected ad infinitum. There were three messages in the account, all of them spam from official sources citing the importance of their work and offering paid consulting services. An email from the Head of the Ministry of Health, that had obviously been written by a junior assistant, mentioned their willingness to assist in the process of welcoming her, and to inform her of the consulting services offered by the grassroots movement Legality of Basic Rights, that had taken it upon themselves to cut into the official protocol’s market share of clerical services. She paced back and forth along the free deck, waiting to be granted permission to enter the building by one of the uniformed guards, vetting her portfolio before opening the doors. The conversation in the room was limited, but for the sporadic sound of lighters being lit, cold thumbs running over the wheels, oscillating in random corners of the room. Otherwise, the afternoon passed in tolerant silence. He knew he had a long wait ahead of him. When tranquility broke it did so for phones, ringing on indistinct channels of communication, the language inaudible, the voices heard above a spilling chain of announcements over the central radio. Regular taut faces circled through and out of the vacuum, their footsteps reemerging in the romantic distance. The waiting room was long, the ceilings very low, and every so often a group would get into a fight, arguing over their turns, though they were each given a number, and even though it was only the transit room to deliver them to another room, where they were separated into classes or groups, depending on the papers they already had in their possession. There were only so many chairs, and most of them were forced to sit on the ground, between the legs of others. She couldn’t decide what to do with her coat, the suede brown writer’s coat she found at a fair price on the stair market at Grimsy. There no way to keep from being kicked but to be stepped on was worse, and besides, removing the stains from her coat would be time consuming and costly. She recognized the couple beside, knowing she had seen them before, waiting for a table at a restaurant or something or other. The man was speaking to a total stranger in as loud a voice as he could muster. He sounded like the annoying cat from Catching Kangaroo, a buzzing shrill monotone that sounded like he was about to sneeze, or snarl like a bottled cat. She thought of calling up one of her friends, to join her for lunch, maybe at Tutu’s for Lunch, or Go Happy. It was decided somewhere to halve the crowd otherwise the situation would spiral out of control. She thought she saw Linda across the station, handing out little cards to people she knew. The room inside was larger, with air conditioning and small grey plastic bins at the foot of every column. Three cleaners paced around the room in yellow jumpers, thick white socks and long white trousers, collecting little bits of garbage from the sober ground, the people separated in rows like students in an exam, each of them awaiting their turn with a proctor watching from above, or so she was starting to feel. She led herself to the front to check in with the registering officer, flanked by two White Coats with three stars on their shoulders. The banner of the MQP was draped against the wall, flanked on either side by the Tricolore and the Union States, the former’s radiant red white and blue torching the vapid room alight, and the seven stars of the harsh black flag ringing emblematic on the peace white flag. She signed in with her finger, inscribing her thumb onto the open dial, instructed to do so by the inquisitor’s eyes, who was already a sense to behold. She was turned away. The buzzer feeding her signature thumb into the feed rejected it flatly, maintaining that there would not be enough time. There was no argument, the verdict final. A notice on the dashboard outside read that the security zones were tighetening, and restrictions would be made less possible. A notice on the dashboard outside says the security zones are tightening, and restrictions will be made less possible. Those of us without Identification will be arrested and caught, and hoarded into internment centers to despair, or so the conspiracy grows, because I totally understand why we should refuse such treatment, but if I am given a number, or a name, I can make better use of my time, even inside a camp, I can at least refer to myself in the third person, something I have never been able to do, but always wanted. Anyways I don’t think it is true, or that it will happen, it is just another threat. The officials are too many and they are too lazy, to do any of the work or to find each other out, we are all surrounded by each other it is impossible to hide, even without a name or a number. The counselor took her card and offered her a seat. She made a pledge with her fingerprints and sat in one of the seats.It was decided that a film festival be hosted in District 21. The films outlined the positions, and future inductions, productions, of various culture courts, of the various “district tribes”, as they were called. Even within some districts, however, there was dissent. But ultimately, power ruled. The festival took place. Daniel Thymes presented his first feature film under the Moscow Model. The story was straightforward, as he outlined in a pamphlet disseminated throughout the festival. It tells the story of an unnamed protagonist, who, as most of Thymes’ protagonists, is a writer, and the film takes the form of two faces, metafictive. In one part, the writer returns to his hometown, having lived abroad for some decades. We discover the writer, we meet him actually, in his migrated home, and he is depressed. A typical nihilist, at the bottom of his patience. In his return he seeks to redeem himself, by acquiring some sort of status in his hometown. He decides to produce a play, lying to everyone that he had been working as a director from where he had come. But the play itself is produced, as a metafictive reality, constituting its own atmospheric space, amounting to at least half the film. Whether or not it constituted a metafictive reality in itself, thus constituting the film metafictive and therefore a play within a play, was discussed at lengths at and during the festival, and it was generally agreed by most parties, even among some radical liberal circles, that the film was entirely metafictive, that in fact it constituted two parts, two parallel faces, and not one unitary part. In the play, the story speaks openly of a curse, that has caused a port city to decline, and to lose most of its youthful inhabitants after years and years of emptying its populous through semi forced migration. The story goes on to speak of the port’s fortunes, of what has been controlled by coercion and what has been obtained through force. The reality is of a town completely abandoned by cultural output and production. There are no more playwrights, and theatre last seen in the province some generations ago. A port town where it is impossible to differentiate between real living beings and phantom ghosts. Where those that are living do not know it themselves. *Daniel Thymes toyed with the idea of a third metafictive piece, that would tell the same story but through the eyes of a football coach, who moves back to the city of his youth to teach the high school football team where he studied. But the idea ran out of steam. The story of the play told of a pilgrim, returning to himself, through a parallel journey to his hometown. It is taken as fact that Thymes modeled his idea of the pilgrim hero from a parallel duo of archetypal figures of apocalyptic prophecy and the humble hermit who vanishes, disperses into the fabric of society in an uneventful, yet cataclysmic, way. The story did not move with as much aggression as it might have necessitated, to truly sell. The port was poorly disguised. It was obviously his port, the port of his upbringing, and yet he couldn’t extract a single detail that revealed as such. The imaginary port did not sustain itself for most of the film. The narrative, in essence, was weak, though the imagery was well maintained. Even seductive, at times, though that also was best assumed by those who thought highly of Daniel Thymes and the Moscow Model. The film ends with the writer realizing he has no business whatsoever subjecting the people of his port town, who had never left and did not expect him to return, nor did they care much for it, to ideals of his own creation, manifested in a state of privilege and high self esteem, benefits of which they knew little. That Thymes chose to shoot off location was probably the greatest factor in the film’s eventual collapse. It had seduced critics during initial shows but upon further review it emerged as weightless and crass. The port was senseless, and even the violence, which was much revered in most festival authorities, was baseless. In other words, Thymes’ characters were subjected to violence for the mere sake of afterthought. Instant gratification ruled over the film like a button on a clam. The film failed to win over audiences, even the staunchest of Thymes’ supporters. However, it still managed to nab a few steals, mainly in the art department, winning the Spirit Award for Self Relevant Make up and Design and the Ostentatious Award for Sound Design- a tribute to the elusive use of pre produced sound, the film-for festival purposes, refiltered sounds in the audience into itself, as background ambient material. Thymes’ total failure at the festival was overshadowed by the work of other artists and the general success of the festival itself. However he did manage to inflict a sense of emergency among the public viewers, who noticed the protagonist in his film come to terms with the realities of his hometown, and ultimately accept a fatalistic yet pleasurable view of man’s place in the world, and his subsequent place in their mutual lives. He comes to terms with the necessary balance of ideals that construct society. He no longer sees himself as either a victim or a prophetic hero. He is no longer enslaved. It was a far cry from the earlier films of Thymes, where the hero was always, in some narrative way, a deeply flawed and deeply oppressed slave figure, who is the ultimate hero, in such tautology, for the sole purpose of attending to the needs of an actual hero archetype. Thus the figure of the slave hero commits the noblest act, sacrificing his reputation, in this life and the next, in order to instigate the hero’s, and society’s, victory. But the festival was not without incident, of course. Three premieres were shut down due to increased pressure in the vertebrae of a majority of audience members in a screening, above industry standard allowance. Crowds protested outside the administration headquarters, a temporary site in the downtown area of District 21. The situation was not helped by allegations of discriminatory curatorial oversight in the handpicking of festival feature films. allegations expressly denied, but still. They hurt from a commonplace of goodness that all festival attendees and producers alike aspired. It was what made the festival great, in the end. A huge success. Ramiz premiered his Les Trois Semaines, a road movie through the industrial wasteland of the East Northern Port Society. It told the story of a guy and a girl who take a road trip together with all of their film and camera equipment in a small, rental car. The film cycles through experiences of pure pleasure, aesthetic wonder but ultimately is the story of their demise. One of the characters, the guy, is in love with the girl. He plots impossible ways to get her into bed, to no avail, until finally one night, after finding a condom beside her bed when asked to fetch something from her room, realizing she had been sleeping with others on the trip all along, decides his only real chance at seduction is if the victim of his love is asleep. Thus begins the second sequence of the road movie, where the character of man chases the character of woman across the industrial wasteland in pursuit of her. The film’s aesthetic plane was said to inject pride in the audience, especially of those territories, as one critic suggested, “…recalling their great pride in ownership of these lands…” The reception to Ramiz’s film was even worse than Thymes, but the audience understood the concepts and so stuck by its creator. Still, to have both failed spoke very dangerously of the Moscow Model’s hopes of passing as living truth in the minds of attendees and distant relatives alike. A highlight of the festival was the awarding of an honorary award to the National Institute of District 19 of Port F. The institute had been ravaged by an outbreak of cholera, sandwiched between two terrible hurricanes, that only worsened the situation. Most of Port F was destroyed. Students of District 19, along with students of Districts 7, 8, 13, 16 and 18, of the most able students in Port F, had to resume their studies in other ports of the Port Society.  But the output of District 19 of Port F was quite dismal. The works centered mainly on surface issues of death and devastation, and did not permeate the core of human experience. Stories were told in obvious and often clichéd terms. The result was a low turnout to any of the films later on in the festival, prompting the sudden exclusion and cancellation of several showings. This, of course, prompted some protest, but it was muted, compared to others, as demonstrators understood the low quality of their favored work. But the grand prize for the premiering festival was given to Audrey Habib, the daughter of Peter Habib, for her film No Chance, a journey into the troubled quagmire that is the Port Society’s past. The film tells the story of a generation of farmers that have been uprooted from their ancestral lands by new and urgent commissions and decrees set forth by a constitutional and binding unitary government in a central capital thousands of miles away, far removed from the every day reality of the people. In order to quell the unrest, Charter Forces are dispatched to “delicate” corners of the vast and sprawling empire. The result is occupation. As the film unwinds its scroll, the audience enters the homes of several families, who over several decades launch a consistent war of liberation, in order to secure freedom for their lands, removing themselves from the outstretched branches of the empire’s oppressive vines. The film ends without any real triumph or victory, but also without defeat. The question is put to the audience, then, as to what will happen next. In that way of mirroring the audience’s personal self, Habib was cited as showing “great commandment of both craft and poetry,” showing “signs of embellishing power and grace”. Having previously risen to acclaim with the trilogy of films, The Maker’s Suitcase, The Deep, and Open to Casualties, Habib had finally presented herself to a burgeoning fan base of hardcore, obsessive fans. She would become an industry of her own in the coming years, commanding the industry unrivaled. The festival was a huge success. There was a film in the horror section, Welcome Newbodies, a section dedicated exclusively to films of alternative horror nature, directed by first time directors only, called The One Boy, that played to screaming audiences. The film went on to win the Norv Emmanuel Horror Prize, for Best Disregarding Film, disregarding traditional narrative film structures and portraying a story in an innovative and unusual way, while also being a film of horror. In the story of The One Boy. Also in the Welcome Newbodies section, of notable praise at the time, was the Image; a story in three acts, by Ruba Layali. A film that engulfed itself in forms of genital mutilation and castration. In one of the films, the main character’s partner goes missing on a typical morning run. He finds her at the end of the film in a messianic cult, living with a Doubleheaded princess, as the figure is called. A eunuch figure keeps the women as bait. As cruel fascination, simply for kicks, the eunuch has strung the women with particulate rope, through orifices of the joints, drilled into ofcourse. He has cut delicate strides of horsehair strings on the outer layer of the vagina, and plays the violin off the incisions. The scene itself is too gruesome and was subsequently removed from programming after the premiere, by mutual accord. Layali admitted that after seeing the film screening to a public audience, she understood for the first time that it was not ready for publication. This being the woman who directed Juice, the narrative non fiction film on ritual sacrifice in minority tribes of the Port Society. The film was split into three parts, as many of her films are. The first part dealt with the ritual of double burial and sacrifice. The second part, the longest and the most absurd, was about a story that happened at one time in the history of Port A, whereby during a long and length civil dispute, whereby the street was overrun in competing occupations, a tactic was introduced that changed the game altogether. It wasn’t the first time suicide bombings had been committed in the port, but it was the first time the bombs were strapped to live animals. But once the idea of strapping the bombs onto a dog and sending him in for the kill took off, it couldn’t be stopped. Soon entire harvesting centers were established the channel the dogs into district zones, where vulnerable rival parties were embedded. In the first place a dog would not consider its own life in matters of duty. In the second, after it emerged that dogs, and sometimes domesticated wolves, foxes, and hares, were being used to transport asymmetrical weapons and launch attacks, people took notice to the animals, all animals, and no longer treated them with address and respect. A situation developed whereby animals were being targeted in great number, as a preemptive measure, whole hordes of living, chewing dogs hoarded into mass incinerators that burned the life out of them. They turned to ash, so their souls would be trapped forever. There was even a scene where the Commissioner of Retroactive Action for the Joint Army Address involving the protection and security of Port A District 3 and 4, one Michael Hastings takes a crack at the “fanatical and religiously blind fools of the left” for what he deemed excessive coddling of the national spirit, for citing allegations of torture and mistreatment of dogs in their respective media reports. The documents also cited the “unfortunate trend” of “selective bigotry” whereby people had been fooled into believing a certain breed of animal were more commonly a courier of arms. In one of the more dramatic operations, a dog was kidnapped from their owner’s backyard, a beautiful specimen. Subsequently trained for nine months, abused in the hopes of militarizing, he was cut in the side, below the withers, where an explosive was implanted beside the abdomen. It was a failed operation. The explosive did not blow. The dog was subsequently captured and burned alive. And part three of the film told the story of a carnivorous tribe, who ate the flesh of their kin, who were living alongside a herbivorous tribe, who refused the meat of their relatives but as a form of sacrifice, ate the flesh of their newborns, after they were raised to a mantel on a specific day of the year- the Day of the Diaspora, as it is called. (Insert section on Festival) The sacrifice hadn’t been done in years. It was by now only a shadow sacrifice, whereby a large predatory bird, a lamb or goat, or even a bull or large cat, would be raised to a mantel and their throats sliced to the recordings of a famed priest. The animal would then be withdrawn and gutted, its intestines and abdomens pulled, and the remaining organs withdrawn, the blood sulking into a carpeted floor, which would be used to wipe the floors of the temples nearby. In the fetish section of the festival, Third Matrix, aptly named, the overwhelming praise went to Mario Fisher’s film The Room, starring the enigmatic Wendell Hahms. The film is unusually withdrawn and interiorized for a film in its section, but it proved to fit the demand. Among notable sections was the emergence of the Cine-Essay section as one of the strengths of the tournament. Films dedicated essentially to poets was a features in this section. Films dedicated to the likes of Pierre Reverdy, directed by Alan Mischelberg, out of District 1, and None the Likes of You, an homage to poets John Hoffman and Philip Lamantia, directed by Rashid de Blaise. Mischelberg’s film centered on the canvas of Reverdy’s afternoon poems, as he described them. From La Guitare Endormie, he infused the poem “Quelque part” with two poems from Etoiles Peintes, “Afternoon”- which he cited as the temporal definitive of the piece- citing its canvas like exterior of, with, “In the morning that comes up behind the roof, in the shelter of the bridge, in the corner of the cypresses that rise above the wall, a rooster has crowed,” and, “against the trembling background of the woods, the motionless man- and “Inner Motion”- for its portraiture. The narrator admits to the audience at the closing of the film, “I do not know who I am, but I have known him.” A film by the overtly religious Michel Ahbeh, Stinky Tuesday: Rituals of Dance in the Native Wayaki. The film went on to win several Spirit Awards for its “courageous acts of resistance to dominant ideology and hegemony” and its “unparalleled structural resonance”, the latter statement made by Al Mussawi, the leading columnist of Silvermace and the kingmaker of films at the festival. Stinky Tuesday: Rituals of Dance in the Native Wayaki, or Stinky Tuesday for short, brought breadth and wind to the heroic figures prominent in the festival. It gave rise to the oppressed hero, who rises out of a state of enslavement, as opposed to the more mainstream heroics of a hero whose victory was to be expected. The poets Jimmy Santiago Bacca and Amiru Baraka featured extensively, as did musicians Ali Farka Toure, Fela Kuti and the improbably yet authentic number one Yamine Barya. These were the classics who were appreciated and whose work was touched upon or deeply explored. Still, there was ofcourse the modern set of poets whose self reflecting essays, especially in the shorts section, Single Digits, of films under ten minutes long, caught the audience by surprised. An audience, mind you, on the brink of war. What was the turnaround? Maya Badri’s abstraction The Lucky. An adaptation of Riwa Fakhri’s Sodomy Hill; the outrageous abduction and captivity of the Bayan Sisters. The most prominent theme among the films was one of patronage and pilgrimage, of returning to the motherland, to the original port, the place of origins. One film in particular by Mirella Haradi, touched upon mystical and cognitive theories of psychology, somnambulisms and semisomnambulism in particular. Her debut feature film, Automatic, opens with the Fetish was widely studied in the festival, exceptionally so in the alternative sections. The LGBT community submitted a proposal on a quota for certain alternative minorities to be represented, irregardless of cinematic value. It did not go down well between the various bureaucratic members at the upper echelons. At one film, Ladybug, the powerful and endearing Sasha Peru exhibited her latest work of art. Having grown up with her own conflicted identity regarding her sexuality, Peru had made a life of portraying herself in her work, and her struggles. In Ladybug, the seventh installment of a series of self portraits taken over seven years, each comprising a nine month year- exactly the year of a prison sentence in the country. The remaining three months of every year she dedicated to editing and paying her bills. The Heritage section produced gems for a debuting festival, albeit with great resources. One of those films, by Jihad Muller, a native boy of Port A, District 21. His family had been forcibly removed from their land. His father is enlisted in a resistance brigade and is ultimately killed. The film infuses the story of Jihad’s father, and his own, with a light adaptation of Calvino’s novel, The Path to the Spider’s Nest, a bildungsroman unlike any other work by the maestro. A financial burden on his mother during his father’s absence, Jihad is sent to the city, along with his four older brothers, leaving behind three sisters at home, to fend for themselves. The brothers are soon separated, either by chance, annoyance or a violent breaking of the bond. After living in various shelters for several months, learning how to peddle on the streets and get away with menial work, Jihad learns that his eldest sister, Amira, has moved to the city, to study on a scholarship. During the Q & A session with the director, Jihad emphasized his neutrality to the issue of interfamilial marital relations, when asked whether or not he believed the character of Jihad in the film unconsciously wanted to marry his sister. Either away, the film opened to roaring reviews. The final scene was the icing on the cake for ultranationalist Prometheans of the Promethean Heritage Society. It depicted the iconic Cedar Resistance, generations before. Amid a storm of mortars embellishing the horizon, the commander of the resistance forces, holed up in a tunnel underground for the duration of the war, addressing an audience by live broadcast, addressing his loyal people, presenting himself as their humble servant, ends his fiery and adamant speech by instructing the brave citizens to go to their windows and watch the calamity to befall the enemy at sea in only a few moments. It was indeed a moment that propelled the party and its leader to great acclaim. Within moments, exactly as instructed, a missile emerged from the callouses of the industrial shoreline. It struck straight into a naval vessel, disemboweling it instantly. As the weighty vessel sank, it was watched by millions of astonished citizens, who were beginning to realize how far they had come since removing the occupation. One of the metafictive films in the shorts section Bodies that caught the crowd’s attention- also in some ways a heritage film- was the story of Lama Hajjar, who basically told her own story but filmed, produced and edited everything while the festival was taking place, and the festival itself was the story. The story centers on Lama, at the exact point of her life that she was at in real life, working as a hostess at fairs similar to the festival, but in fact she is working at the festival itself. The film opens with an unnamed character, who acts as herald for the story. He is standing outside smoking a cigarette, beside three large red stools and a platform table hosting pamphlets and programs to do with the festival. In front of him, a building is being demolished. The columns of the outer wall collapse as he is standing there. He has arrived early to the screening. He’s wearing a tie, along with a suit that doesn’t look new. He turns to a man beside him and says, in eloquent tongue, “They have been trying for weeks to bring it down.” The man ignores him, either because he doesn’t care or because he doesn’t understand him, it is not immediately known. He watches the large crane and the bulldozers doing their work. The vacuum sits like an open wound. He checks the time. He makes a fuss, an annoyed gesture, because he has to busy himself for a while. To occupy himself. He realizes it is cold, so he decides to go inside. A hawk soars into his sight, dipping between the buildings before leaping to the skies. Students file in and out of the main hall entrance, where he has now arrived. He files into the barriers, the velvet rope slack that curls like a snake. The character is slightly uncomfortable, but he doesn’t know quite why. This is evidenced by his being passed in line by even the eldest in the crowd. A fuss is made when an immense creature on a wheelchair, a woman three times his size, pulls him down to her level by the hand, tugging him downwards before he’s noticed her, and yells at him to lift her over the stairs, to take her the three flights of ten long stairs each, as there isn’t an entrance for the disabled. He doesn’t know what to do, and he panics. The crowd realizes what is going on and intervenes, but the scene becomes too chaotic to control. The odd person is trying to help but really they just want to be inside, so they help just by looking at each other in a confused state, in order to somehow justify to each other their refusal for manual labor. But the handicapped woman is adamant. The machine itself must weigh five hundred pounds. The entire situation deteriorates as people who try to help run away when they notice others skipping them in line. All the while the man is left there to take charge of the situation, but he doesn’t. As the film was unscripted, this entire incident was entirely impulsive. Stepping into the lavish entrance finally, abandoning the woman in the wheelchair with two teenagers who promised they would help- who promised by nodding their heads, frightened, probably stoned out of their minds. He passes an aisle of concession stands, selling peanuts, cashews, popcorn, and drinks. A woman, who looks oddly uncomfortable in her dress, intercepts him. She sprays him with perfume she is advertising. Realizing his confusion, she withdraws the tray she has placed under his chin. He does, however, make a surprise decision to reach out for the tray, managing to knock it over. The tray’s items shatter to pieces, and a horrified host runs over from his desk, abandoning his booth momentarily. The woman whose trays had dropped is actually Lama. She is crestfallen, apologetic. The host, for his part, demands the apologies. It is unclear whether he is involved in the film or not. He portrays his anger quite well, albeit politely, with an headmaster’s touch. She is helpless, picking up shards of glass like they are peppers, picking them from the line with a drooping hand. All the while the audience to several screenings are rushing past her. We see that she fights an initial bout of tears well up inside her. A friend of hers, a colleague, walks over to help her. They aren’t actually friends, just having started working together. She tells her how badly she hates the job. How simple it is, how she learned to do it all by herself, and how she doesn’t understand why she can’t just quit. That morning, she says, she had sat on the windowsill of her apartment, the better half of last night’s joint in her hand, considering ditching work. She thought of calling in sick. She had woken up early and drafted the email to her boss, explaining that she had been awake all night with food poisoning, and that it would probably need until tomorrow pass. Without a fever, she wouldn’t need long. But she didn’t do it. Instead, she looked back at her belongings, the strewn about discord of her home, and thought it would be more annoying to clean up her apartment than to work. But she hates dealing with tourists, and the festival crowd, and the parties. She can’t stand the formalities. Making nice. Forced smile. The wardrobe. She’s always dreamt of leaving town, she admits. But she can’t right now, she says, she’s just moved out of her mother’s new home, even though it had been temporary, she had stayed too long. Her friend is nice. She understands her. She doesn’t say much. She just wants to be there for her colleague, to support her. She would expect the same. Another feature of the documentary section, nominated for most of the big prizes, was a film by seasoned documentary filmmaker Ughos Krauft.

 

This is not a personal story. This is a love story for a band that has taken over my life. I know some bands     are eternal. They will figure in our national myth. Myth, I know, is eternal.

Every problem is a human problem. Like humanist hands, we suffer the losses.

Tomorrow if I am my life, I want to know the story.

 

This is how Ughos Krauft’s documentary feature begins. It tells the story of The Ghosts, one of the most famous rock bands to come out of the Port Society since its inception. Where The Ghosts are known The Ghosts are king. The usual story. The singer was in love with his best friend, the tambourine girl, who in turn fell for the lead guitarist, who she had introduced to the singer, and who after meeting said it would be vital for them to meet with the bassist. They never had a stable drummer. That was another problem. The bassist was living with the lead guitarist in his brother’s warehouse. He was eventually kicked out. The band never made it, but their music did. It caused a whole series of repercussions across the Port Society. One band, The Holy Dumplings, caught their first break doing back up for The Ghosts, and opening for them on their only tour. The Holy Dumplings went on to innovate Binge music, and open Binge records, the record label that first recorded Anita Haggar in the open amphitheater of District 12. The bassist’s living situation was the most difficult, though he was the only real man among them. It was known that the singer and the lead guitarist were basically well to do. It wasn’t like that for the bassist. He worked while the others got fucked up and came to rehearse when they decided it was time to put in work. But he was the only guy out of all of them who could compose. He arranged tracks in a day like a chef makes omelets. Four minutes, six minutes, thirteen minutes. Hip Hop beats, open remedies, shoe gaze metal riffs. Whatever came to mind, he recorded all of it. Basically making him the lead producer on all the tracks. But it could never work like that for them. That caused them suffering where it mattered most. When they played, the lead guitarist couldn’t follow what the bassist was doing. If the bassist wanted anything to go right, he had to let the lead guitarist lead, simply because he knew how to follow. But that urged the lead guitarist to empower his ego. He took that as a sign of leadership in the artistic discipline of the group. Or he used it as a front. Either way, whenever they tried to discuss what they were doing it didn’t work. The egos clashed. The only way it was magic was if somebody decided to fold, and the others let go. And it was magic. They struck a chord, the kind nobody had heard since the days of Abraham Miles- the man who revolutionized music five times. It wasn’t classy. It was made for the basements. In “Kiss me mama garden”, the leading track of most of their shows, lead singer improvises the first few minutes of spoken word for each performance. The guitar follows by pushing melody over melody. Each guitar playing within its basic twelve bar, jumper chords along the scales. It’s said that the singer had too ambitious a philosophy. He wanted to achieve too much with the words. He took it to heart when audiences paid attention. When he caught people in focus, trailing his eyes with their indecent stare. He thought music could save the world. The bassist was living in a basement on the periphery of the city square, the square of many names. They eventually recorded two studio albums, one of them in the basement of that apartment, and another in the studio of the lead guitarist’s brother, where the lead guitarist and the bassist had been kicked out. The Singer came from Port A, from District (). He was the anomaly of the group. The outcast but also the thing that made them so special. For a singer, he had unbelievable range. Not just in tones, and pitches, and notes, but in dynamics, in sustenance, in atmosphere. Biographers and obsessives alike like to claim the Singer had synesthesia when it came to language, sounds, and his thoughts. He saw blinking stars when his eyes dazzled around the room trailing his thoughts out loud. He followed the painted trail of sensation and from it ascertained his language, his voice. He weaved through the scope of his language like a spider silks her web, returning to pivotal marker points for strength. But he had a lot on his mind when he moved to District 12. The city itself was undergoing incredible changes. It was reclaiming a militaristic path. Reclaiming a lost heritage of self seductive awareness. A spike in nationalist movements, emerging social parties. Largely, a world hostile to outsiders. But they took the Singer as one of them, since he pretty much looked like them. But the bassist and the lead guitarist didn’t belong either. They were totally withdrawn, even though they had a deeper connection to their own roots than the singer had to his. He tried working as a photographer for several months when he first moved to the city but nothing panned out. I have 8 rolls of 35 mm, at least 50 rolls of 35 mm photography, 72 rolls of super 8, 8 rolls of 16mm. I have two typewriters. I have a full, highly intricate, home set up recording studio. All caged in two coolers I trolley down the street. I stay a couple nights at Layla’s. The first night is calm, sweet, wondering what’s next. The next day, while she’s at work, I meet Manny for tea at the coffee shop where he works. He promises he’ll help me find a place. We agree to meet later. I go for a walk, by myself, searching for some food, some inspiration. The next day, I go with Manny to an apartment on Faik Pasa. I pay the guy in cash, tell him I’m planning to stay the month. The place has two bedrooms, one of which is the size of a bed, the other perfectly sized, with black mold smoldering the walls, and the first signs of a leech infestation in the kitchen, that separates the bedrooms from the two opposing bathrooms, an independent shower and independent toilet, where later I learn the shower floods into the kitchen tiles when you use the water, and the toilet has a smell that cannot be defined, or ridden. The arch that separates the two bathrooms leads you into the living room, where I remove all the dusty furniture, probably leaking with bedbugs, a fear I’ve developed in New York, and cage them in the bedroom, a door I refuse to open until the day I leave, not one month later, but three months, leaving without my dignity, without my freedom. In truth, he had moved to District 12 in the summer of his dreams as a means of staying alive. He had lost all conditions of hope and belief in himself, and in his “delicate little port town, a flower amongst redwoods.” He would draw inspiration from this feeling of exile for The Ghosts and also for his own work, after the band dismembered. He would not find what he was looking for in District 12 but it would eventually give him the gifts with which to live his life. The keys. In his separation from the town he never looks back. It’s rumored that, the first time he was handed an electric guitar, his exact words were, “An electric guitar. It’s nice. You don’t have to hit so hard.”

She began the opening speech the way she thought a host speaker might. She wanted to sound credited, presidential. She wanted them to like her and to trust her work, to see her as an insider into their obsession, which she was, though she was, by all means, the only one of them who had not conformed. They’re sitting on the stage, beside each other. The moderator, —- —–, is wearing a purple suit jacket, with brown corduroy pants. It sounds cheap but it’s not, it’s flashy, and under the jacket he’s wearing a new Tuscan robe shirt, tucked into his pants. Brown Leather Korker’s and green Belhem socks, that he bought once a year, twenty two of them at a time, giving the old ones to charity. The writer is wearing a Zaman pair of short crop jeans, fitted to his butt. He had shaved his legs, and was showing them, wearing black Pointer’s heels, and no socks. He had a tight fitted shirt, and breasts on his chest, and the words Go Getter written in orange. The first two readings were by graduate students, Samir Rizek, studying ethical principles of physical geographical scholarship, at the nearby National Museum of Cognitive Principles, followed by Esther Rose, the decorated poet of the Excommunicant School, a gallery of ethical apologists scavenging hope in a world stripped of moral fiber. In the end, reading the text was always going to be depressing for her, realizing that a collection of words, and a collection of works forming some part and parcel of an oeuvre, remains an artifact of loss, an embodiment of all that languidly remains, from the cutting and wasting, the culling and burning of subsequent tomes, so horror can ignite where rectifying mends, blaspheming what love remains. What struck her most of Zahreddine was not the figure of the formless face itself, but the atmosphere that surrounded her becoming. When Zahreddine writes, This book is for her, and for her I am running. She realized more than before that the importance of the character remained in the ideals, which the writer personifies as he goes along, in one and the same version and in many others, written between stints in different cities, all of them ports, remembering his fateful words, that all ports are quietly the same, but those two cities, pulled from a reckless past, deviating, emerging. Tones can encompass character. So the formless face suffers the wrath of a writer’s causal indifference, and really, the author’s causal farce. The writing introduces an unchecked impressionism, pervading the senses of the reader. The literature seemed more distant to her, the narrative ever more obtuse and obscure. All hints to previous editions or manifestations of the novel had seamlessly disappeared. The ill fated character, so crucial to the entire framing of the novel, transcends the boundaries of human wholeness and through modes of personality and aura transference, etches herself in the formation of some other entity, or, the entire reworking order of Bara, and the namesake blessed, beaming in the arms of ro. Such must have been the weight of her contribution to the original piece, that the only dedication to be found in her copy read as follows, This book is for her, the world is ours. But in the version she carried she was no longer there. A formless face in a shapeless past. Still, it was conceivable that she could be found within the construct of the work, and in the very name there could be said an alluding sculpture signifying some inwardly form. A formless prism. A formless face. Considering that characters of such importance, when discarded, can, in their own subjective weight, come to embody a deity, that no matter how far the struggle to destroy the artifact itself, could by transference emerge in metaphysical norms in prospective editions of the very same text, enrapturing the audience, enchanting the wageless warmth, passing from one concrete being to one or many entities, in much the same way ideas and objects can transmutate in poetry. Sarah was disappointed not to be reading from Zahreddine that night, but the other organizers felt it would be too inciteful, or worse, hurtful to those he meant most. Nobody had heard from the elusive writer in weeks, but they had tried all avenues to find him. There were rumors circulating that he had been abducted by members of the Civil Guard, for having explicitly voiced favor of the Yacoubians. Um Najjar, his longtime neighbor, had spread word that she had seen masked men surround his home at night, entering through the steel enclosure. So the legend had grown that he had been abducted by clandestine officers, and was languishing in some room, where they made good on their threats of torture. The ministry wanted to paint him as crazed, so they too circulated their own rumors through official media reports, that he had always been strangely occupied with matters of clairvoyance, and had gotten himself into trouble with the spiritual underworld, who didn’t favor his indulgence in the occult. They painted him as mad stricken, driven by the alluring hand of a trickster figure. She loved Zahreddine, as most of them did. He had come from the root and made a name for himself, having put into words the context of their lives. In more ways than one. And his influence on others could not be mistaken. An emerging writer, Salman Jarrar, brother to Linda Jarrar, presented his debut novel. He had been a journalist and sought his escape. The boys were fawning over his blushes. He tried with uncertainty to sound severe. His mentor, Alameddine, read from his latest work, My Last Orgasm, an elegy to the sex of his former years. Really, an elegy to sexuality in total. She wanted to approve of Salman’s work. They had so few idols and so few friends who had made a positive difference in the world. So few of them had done something that could be given to the next generation, and those after them. She knew, that most of them would not outlive their death. They would lose, like their memories, to the staging of time. Yet she couldn’t think past the fact of his disengagement. Wanting a work to succeed and channeling it in that way. Becoming the voice of a generation. Was he worth it? Why was it always these men? Men who could not afford to look inward and step outside themselves. Who could not stand past the guarded gates of inner reason.

“What is remarkable of the writer’s work,” she said, “is the ease with which he transcends, within the same text, a style or an art. There’s something that cannot be defined in him. Find the indefinite, the invisible. Take, for example, the simplicity of ‘Untitled 47,’ where he says, The other night, I watched two humming birds stare at the crest of an impressionist dream/Did you know, I fainted the night you let me kiss you, the mood turned October red, I still have hope in our dream. Couple that with the seriousness of ‘Untitled 53,’ where he says, I swim, in a vacuum of possibility/ I shower, in a pantheon of love. The simplicity of “Untitled 47,”  for example, but also the seriousness of “Untitled 53”. Dadalle agreed. “I think the work is good. In his later years, Zahreddine served some purpose, even occupying, in my opinion, for a short time, a higher moral ground than most of all his peers. The sort of writing that emerges from a solitary corner on the ice blanket face of the earth, written under candlelight in the poet’s evening trench, smoking by the fire. It’s an honest and respectable vision I have of Zahreddine.” Al Mussawi, his colleague at the ministry, and for many years his superior, did not agree. “That assessment does not contain the mythos, the essence, that comprises much of his work,” he argued. “Charmed, yes. Was he capable of tenderness, of simplicity, maybe. But where are the mind and soul entrenched,” he asked them? Zahreddine was one of those enigmas, Bilal said, enigmas of literature, of the arts, that cannot be contained in their time, to their ethos. Wendell Hahms, the actor, Mario Fisher, producer of the films Nurwa and The Room, both agreed. They had worked with Zahreddine while adapting the story for Nurwa, an action-adventure film that plotted the make believe life of Yunus Kum, the poet, in the early days of occupation. Zahreddine helped with the script. Wendell said he was most concerned, visibly concerned, with the immediate politics at the time. He wasn’t an introvert, and he did not believe strictly in the soul. Al Mussawi’s piece was entitled, “The artist’s inner possession; meetings with Lorca’s duende.” He presented the lecture to a panel of four and an audience numbering in the hundreds. They had all agreed to be civil and to read from their texts only when asked, not to run over the given time. Al Mussawi, known for losing his temper, acted cordially. The audience, at the time of his reading, had not yt been bored by the relentless back and forth between journalists and the critics onstage, that ultimately had no real worth nor added to the discussion. Journalists like Linda Harrar, writing for The Times, and Robert Truro, writing for the weekly newsletter of conservative thinktank Panorama Worldview, who simply needed to impress their superiors by proving access to the much sought after panel discussion and their acquiring exclusive quotes for publication. Al Mussawi approached Zahreddine’s work, and those of most of the Impulsivists, the way a theologian approaches a work of pious art. He was convinced Zahreddine sought, above all else, spiritual fulfillment, believing his work to assume a state of mystical incarnation. Al Mussawi had written similarly on poets like Arthur Rimbaud and the late Pierre Reverdy, who was not always acquainted with the more obvious mystics of continental poetry. His contemporary, the poet Betty Rheem, or Rahime for short, coming off her being awarded the Silver Banner NPA award for her prose poetry collection, Starfish, thought otherwise. She wasn’t as fulfilled, as renowned, a cultural critic as Al Mussawi, but her opposing view dealt a significant blow to Al Mussawi’s aspirations of dominating the cultural discourse on Zahreddine’s work, what would ultimately become his legacy, so soon after his disappearance. According to Al Mussawi, little by little, Zahreddine sculpted out of his own self image a habitual obsession with divine connection, connecting to frequencies he believed encompassed the divine, or some material unity with a likeliness of metaphysical truth, a higher power. It was not the weight of the work that concerned Al Mussawi, but the virtue of Zahreddine’s intentions, the process by which he assumed his poetics. What is most true of ecstasy, of that divine intervention that captures the imagination of a poet, paralyzing him to its force, writes Al Mussawi, is that it rises pregnant with superstition. But where, Al Mussawi asks, does it come from? Zahreddine’s having delivered a lecture at the National University three years before his death on the topic of mystical incarnation and his famed disappearance, as evidence of Zahreddine’s interest in the relationship between poetry and metaphysics. This unity is important for Al Mussawi, as he reads a consistent method to appreciate nature’s gifts while remaining potent to her wishes. Zahreddine, according to Al Mussawi, drops his characters into the void of nature’s merciless arms and watches them take heed responsibly. Second on the podium was the ever eccentric Jean-Pus Dadalle, known also as Dadalle the Adorable. Dadalle took Al Mussawi’s view one step further, relating Zahreddine’s mystical intentions not solely as a want for incarnation, for divine manifestation, but for the building of a new political order. He fluctuated between wanting to represent the inner spirit, that stands outside of Time and Time’s earthly provinces, where sick human conventions like politics and oppression do not persist, and wanting to represent a new political order, to join hands with Revivalists, with Impressivists, and in so doing to sap power, or to rise, at least, to a breathing capacious self, free from the authority of various oppressive regimes, spiritual, political or otherwise. Taking his lessons from mentors like Clark, who wrote The Division of Labor, to Barthez, who coined the term that would later define the movement repulsionist, and Duro, whose essay on Zahreddine, “The Manifest of Intellect and the Able Poet Body”, garnered him the Berlin Prize in Contemporary Criticism, where he argued that Zahreddine’s poetic inclination stemmed not from his being so outright mystical but from his being so overtly political, citing verses from his Autumn Rest collection, where the speaker calls out to the decaying monarchy, You have sold for luxury the land of your gods/The restless carve loathing to your tombs/The mute stand listless by a fountain/The vanguard bathe in impunity. Duro was known to prefer the work of Joseph Hassad, the late populist poet, who had three times won the Berlin Prize, four times crowned the National Book Award for Poetry. He felt Zahreddine was feeding of Hassad’s scraps, but that he was wise to do it. Dadalle posed the problem differently. He focused on Zahreddine’s initiation, of his failing to include himself in the forming fervor of his contemporaries. Citing the fact that Zahreddine did not appear in a single collective anthology from his graduation from the National University and the time of his disappearance. He asks the question if Zahreddine did not struggle, internally, if not within the confines of his work, with the very question of labor itself, if he was better suited to enter the establishment of the intellectual class and pose his revolution locally, or if, as he often grappled with, he was to do so as an outsider.  It was no secret that the most influential thinkers of that time were those who had risen through the ranks of the university system, causing in form and function a new established order, however small or finitely comprised, even one that pales in comparison to the far reaches of the global military industrial complex and Preciado’s dystopic pharmacopornographico biopower regime. As when Kafka wanted to escape from the paternal sphere, but as an exile, so too did Zahreddine envision his great life’s work as an escape from the maternal and paternal bonds, not just of his upbringing, of his home, but of his roots, his attachments to the homeland, for his growing into a symbolic monument of his own life’s greatest fears. In his thinking of himself as cursed, as derelict, his legacy derives from that feeling of injury, of shame, whereby his greatest defeat is in his doubting that initial want, wanting to escape the paternal nightmare, for his wanting to be exiled, and for his indictment upon himself of being possessed, led by the unmistakable touch of a trickster spirit, making the madness of him. Do we ever meet Zahreddine’s duende spirit that, Dadalle asked, is a power, not a work…a struggle, not a thought? While Dadalle accepts Al Mussawi’s definitive claims that Zahreddine’s detention in the fruitless meanderings of politics and poetry in Zahreddine’s native land that drives his body of work, Dadalle accepts that there is growing evidence to the contrary. Not that it is not invariably true, because it is. Much of Zahreddine’s work remains flaccid in the tortured reflections of a home destroyed. Quoting Barthes, who said, An object’s use can only help dissipate its essential form and emphasize instead its attributes, Dadalle suggests there is something deeper, perhaps darker, that grips the reader, and so must have gripped Zahreddine himself, clenching him at the throat, powers that appear to strangle him, leaving him lifeless, desperate, clinging for the gifts of hope, and when he rises to the occasion, meeting this stranger force head on, we find in his work the ecstatic emergence that Lorca speaks of, a duende that climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet. Dadalle continued Al Mussawi’s assertion that the poet writing with urgency performs within rapture, in a fugue state, characterized by chaos and imbalance until finally attaining some sort of spiritual ascension, considering that Zahreddine had the tendency to bind his work into a finished before, in a single night, splitting the piece into a hundred pieces. Knowing this, he often wrote with a desperate sense of urgency, urging himself on to finish a work before the process started all over again and he would have to face the reality of its reincarnation. But while Al Mussawi found closure in Zahreddine’s oeuvre of works, having accustomed himself to the legend of Rimbaud, whose escape into the jungle was also the subject of iconic speculation for centuries, reading into Zahreddine’s ambitions his wanting to emulate the prophetic poet, to disappear in some way, Dadalle drew his assertion that however far he may have physically traveled, as Al Mussawi put it, to escape from the paternal sphere into the immaculate womb of possibility, his physical mobility is but one aspect in a totem of elements that comprise the extent of his journey, meaning, there is evidence to suggest the writer’s interiority comprised a significant portion of his travels. That, according to Dadalle, was where Zahreddine’s staunch romanticism could be found, his unwavering belief in the collection of objects and things possessing inherent value, and his inherent desire to apply to their being immaculate meaning. Zahreddine’s attempts to establish an order of meaning, relying heavily on the metaphysical attributes attributable to inconsequential wholes, what the Buddha considers the sermon of the inanimate, refers his romanticism to its root core. Dadalle read directly from —– work, something that drew the ire of half the crowd, who hated when critics wasted their time quoting the work of someone who had studied someone else’s work, as if by third generation experience truth could not be fulfilled. He agreed with Al Mussawi, who claim, that by measuring up to his deepening immersion in the pantheon of Romantic art, his absorption in interiority, subjectivity, we can say Zahreddine was swiftly occupying himself with the Somolian puzzle, the I as an Other, and we can find several incidences of Rimbaud’s palpable presence in the writings of Zahreddine’s oeuvre. Dadalle took the idea one step further. For if we can conclude that Zahreddine’s oeuvre was articulated and written by one hand, we can conclude the transformation from one epoch of literature to the next within the text to be the result of a single, metaphysical evolution that binds, as Eliot says, on traditions of the past, and we find within this subtext of growth, change, destruction, death and rebirth, subtle signs of an ideology in the making, a belief system yet to be constricted into dogma, appearing illusory at first, with its manipulation of historical artifacts into the channeling textured voice of one single act, emerging with more vitality than the poetics of its ancestor. In essence, the whole of Zahreddine’s work stands in a sense voyeuristically and characteristically on a watchtower, gazing over the decrepit ruins of its own civilization, discontent with itself, buoyed by, as the writer claims, the passing of another martyr, the turmoil of another day.

The panel host, Audrey Habib, thanked the two critics for their relevant and sometimes opposing views. She thanked them warmly and they returned to their seats. She was happy to hear from two distinguished scholars, she said, noting that the two critics shared a similar assertion in their text, reading into the sacred importance that dualities and trinities play in Zahreddine’s work. While Al Mussawi liked to speak in twos, citing the hawk in the forest pasture, the lion in the troubled dream, the mouse in the Manhattan apartment, the three instances being one of subject and spatial denominator, whereby the hawk, the lion, the mouse all appear in a specific physical space in order to illuminate the message, Dadalle spoke in threes, such as the park in the harbor near the bridge, the acrobat, the jester and the mime, and the port, where the muse drives the myth, or the flood, the plague and the spiritual curse, all of them randomly deduced details of three that occur with or without meaning. Hanna Al Nassib came to life. (introduced him earlier- a renowned theologian, suddenly came to life). He had been asleep in the second row most of the time, his face smacked against his open palm as spit drooled from between his hand and onto his white suit pants, known for wearing all white to functions and religious ceremonies alike. The man remembered for wearing a white trenchoat and Harmony boots, with steel studs and rosary chaps clipped to his ankles. He stood up, coughing, gargling in his mouth what sounded like a ball of spit lodged at the back of his throat. He cleared his throat and wiped his hairy fist against the back of his pants. The microphone was given to him and without introducing himself he said, in all sincerity, I disagree with what you’ve just said, if it were up to me, I would say Zahreddine’s work is really about the buoyed body, episodic bodily thirst, that arrives in rapture, in ekstasis, when the body perceives its own illumination. Al Nassib cited the closing line in one of Zahreddine’s poems, where he writes, I am- in blessing- in everything, as evidence of Zahreddine’s unified inner and outer bodily ekstasis, proof that Zahreddine had, in Al Nassib’s opinion, perpetuated the memory of Carmel, meeting the three colluding paradises. The very idea was baffling to most of the others in attendance. But Al-Nassib’s outburst had stirred a debate. By the time he had sat down, a second microphone was in the hands of Rashid de Blaise, known for his cine-essays composed in homage to American poets John Hoffman and Phillip Lamantia. His tall, domineering figure looked even more imposing when the bright yellow spotlight shone on his face, shrouding only his eyes in darkness. He said that, beyond mere details, he agreed with everything they’d all said, including Al-Nassib, who he quipped was more often on the wrong side of reason than was healthy, prompting laughter from the crowd, but that Zahreddine’s work was really, beyond all the details of interiority versus exteriority, politics and not, a literature of tones, Zahreddine’s attempts to break from bodily convention, to see with his voice what could not be ascertained with words. Poems that speak of the heart, he said, a wisdom of the inanimate soul. Everybody clapped. They were serious. They were happy, for once, to agree. The idea that they enjoyed the discussion was begging to settle. It was upon them like the truth is upon the crowd at a funeral, when the body is finally lifted into the ground, the mourners line up in the ritual of tosses, tossing scoops of soil into the ground, if that is in their culture, and if not, something more or less the same, less cynical, more profound. Known for his poem, “Little Wake.”  He drew his infamy among the parlors at the Red House Bar for the lines, We trample/Plymouth’s progeny. Supposedly, it’s the most oft cited couplet in contemporary letters. The moderator for the event, Audrey Habib, was sitting on stage, preparing for the interview with the main headlining act, the interview with the writer, Sissy Myers.

“When I first had the feeling we were near publishing, I mean, I can’t even explain to you guys how sincere the terror was at the time. It still is, somehow. It’s not easy. We didn’t know if we were going to make it through the first week, let alone the first year, to know if we could publish the second of them. The press was small, and we liked it that way, but hope, I can just say, was a little on the scarcer side of things. But you put your name on something, and in the end you, you just have to do it. They told me to do two minutes of this thing, introducing. I just want to say, I first read Bara in the bathroom of my friend’s trailer, on set. He was shooting that film, you know, the one you all saw, of The Ghosts in their prime. He was doing alright as a director, just me and him, hanging out. Writing poems at night. Selling weed at the time. I had my first meditation and I saw everything. The numbers will tell you. It was all clear. Then I heard the story. That he kept surfacing in these cities. The book was given out like a hundred times. To different people. Each with a different copy. A different city, a different name.

“In the morning that rises in the calm,” she read aloud. “Thank you for coming out tonight. We’re so pleased to have you with us.”

“So today when I start to speak, I guess, I listen, I try to hear your voice and I pray. The weather is soft, and the people are loud. Twice, as I was walking, I was almost provoked.[1] And today, we have our two favorite talking heads back on the show, Professor Jean-Trus Dadalle, from the Pelican Academy, and Margaret Duro, from the Alliance. We will be joined, for the first time, by Iskandar Habib, the writer, out of Ras Shahid. His writings have appeared in the journals Day and Night and Exclusive Jihad. And, last but not least, joining us from the Pilgrimage Authority, His Spiritual Majesty, from the Roam of Odds, Al Mussawi, and his deputy, Al Hakim.”

“Let’s start with you, Al Hakim. How is it to be on our show?”

“It’s been great, so far. People are very kind.”

“I love, in your latest book, when you write, All things come to a pass, but not this. What did you mean by that? What is this, exactly?”

“Yes,” he said, grooming his beard with his hand. “You know, I am among the Yacoubians who believe in the sacrifice at Martyr’s Gate. I have outlined, in my recent lectures, entitled The Pronouncements, and you can find them on our archive online, just go to www.al-amin.com, you’ll find us, it’s there. I have it all published in full, no payments nothing, it’s all there for you to see. Umm, I’ve outlined, in it, this idea of breath, of breathing, as being one with the odds. The odds of what? Of forest, of nature. Forests of what? Of control. What we are searching for is control, whether we like it or not, we are that much less evading ourselves, in every moment, searching for what is right. But what do we need, in fact, not much. Breathing, for one. Eating, every now and again. Drinking, before the body encounters thirst. And how many of us have felt thirst, or have been asked to scorn its memory? Not much. So you see, when you put things into perspective, you start to realize how far we have actually come, to maintain a certain standard. Not for all of us, but for some. For now, we have this idea, this is enough. It’s not, and it won’t be, it’s only a matter of time. I discuss the very roots of this violence, but I don’t want to go far, in that sense, go far into that portion of the mind, where we discuss these heteronormative truths, such as right and wrong, goodness and justice. Virtues of the spirit and the heart. But we live among the quarrels, these are natural, see, we have to fight them, to do them in like they do us. The cancer, that eats away at the mind. Thought, and forgiveness is its opposite. Forgiveness for what? For, wanting control. Forgiveness to the spirit, that demands so much. This is how we can be just, and in living, experience the very metaphors that accentuate life, each and every one of us, free, everlasting, each and every breath, spoken with an only voice, and an only chart of tasking, masking the spirit in autonomy and wit.”

“Where do you find this message? You’re saying, you find this message in a sort of breath, an experience?”

“Yes, in the breathing, in the silence of the calm. The message is clear. It is essential. The thoughts, they run amuck. This is the violence.”

“But your very work, by essence, I mean, when we respond to it, we, how do I say it, we analyze what? We want to experience it, but we discuss it as well, so how can we experience what we are discussing, and how can it be truthful, and right, and we do it, without harming anyone but ourselves if harming is necessary, and I’m from the camp that thinks it might.”

“Exactly, there is a difference, right, see, when the spirit opens to the source, the source is speaking, and when the spirit closes her lungs, the source is gone. The sprits comes in three kisses, and the kisses come in three blows. Meanwhile, we have to be serious about what we intend to bring to the table, while we live. What is this, intensity, this nonsense, if not for something great? Otherwise, what are we doing? Eating, fucking, playing, shit? Have you ever been to a music festival, you know, one of those in the woods, in the forest? The scenery is nice, two or three days before the truckloads show. But imagine, three or four days after opening the gates to a human quantity exemplifying their most basic ways. In a sense, it is like marching inside the quandaries of a mall. Staying put, in that parallelogram of consumption. Exemplifying this constant need to make waste, to feel that we are exciting, exemplifying. Life can be more than that, and it must, to more than just ourselves, or within the confines of a tribe. Isn’t there something to be said for the very fact that we are entering and exiting the womb the very same way, filled with the very same stuff that happens on us all? Not that it matters, so much, in life, resting on our laurels hurts us all. But can we do more than just wait, waiting for something strong, something sincere, later in life, forgetting it is in front of us to grasp. The problem is inside of us, it is a fear, a great and ugly fear, a fear of death, but not so much death in that way, that Orbian way where death is just a path to the experience of what Haslett calls the exception to the race, the outsider’s experience of coming apart, coming apart from the race, experienced by those outside racism, outside of fate. Death in the sense that the voice speaking over your shoulder is in a nutshell just a friend, a sort of fraud makeshift interior that extends from the thinking, speaking self to the self of arrogance and chatter, the self of stuff, of having and wanting made warm and tender, life lived experience, for the sake of knowing all that is, knowing what is exciting, what is mysterious, pulling apart the ills. Death, in a sense, death that contradicts this want for excitement, and really justifies a sort of stupid, pulled back, nursing interior that is totally absolved in itself, forgetting the ills, say, of humanity, the environment, whatever really counts in the lexicon of it all, when it is pulled and examined and mastered, for later generations to comprehend. The stuff of raw magic, of coming apart. Fearing this very nature, this drive, we make monkeys of ourselves, speaking, and thinking, like scouring headless hens trapped in a mood, searching hysterically for their final portion of food, before going to rest, waking again and doing it all over, just as we did, only a little different in that we chase what we were lacking exactly the day before, chasing what we were lacking some days before that. They call it experience, I call it chatter. As you find in my book, I call it in the organizational waste of our cluster system of maintaining rule, keeping everything to ourselves, in order that it may appear, somehow, egregious of our nature, different, disordered, changed from what we sought it to posses in the first place.”

“How do you feel now, now that you are, I would say, older, a little wiser? How does it feel, now, in your place?”

“I feel different, yes. I was different in those days. I was louder, I was more sincere in a way. I think I had more to say, and I wasn’t afraid to say it, I just didn’t know how. I wish, knowing that now, I could capture that beast in a way, capture it from that time, to hear those calls, whatever they were, they were wanting to be wild, you know? They wanted more. Now, I think, it’s about mystery, to be mysterious. Who knows what the story means, until it ends? What about the journey? There’s some of that, still. I feel it. I felt it, very strong. The change is unorthodox, it’s real. It can be felt in so many different ways.”

“I love, when you say, the heart is the eyelid of experience.”

“Hmm,” he said, “that’s very nice.”

“The meditation I give, it’s sort of an elixir, of the heart, for the heart.”

She’d first read about the meditation while riding the bus. Someone had left their copy of City Pages on one of the seats and for no reason but that she had forgotten to bring reading material with her she flipped errantly through the paper. The advertisement had arrived with the latest City Pages booklet, distributed for free once a week on all the mailboxes in town, tossed aside usually by all the tenants, thrown into the trash at the immediacy of the boxes, or used as children’s paper to make paper balls, or as a urinal for untrained dogs, who especially enjoyed the glossy weight of the paper, a mere ten centimeter increase making all the difference, compared to the usual dailies, distributed on pale, recycled paper. On the inside jacket of the brochure, proud beaming faces of past participants surrendered their experiences in a declaration of gratitude and thanks. Sissy Myers, of no relation to the designer Orderly Myers, cited the speaker’s work as a factor in saving her life from the contaminating darkness. And Ibrahim Haj Khalil, accepting that the speaker’s words healed not only himself, but his entire family, suffering from post traumatic stress disorders of various kinds. The strains were all different, Ibrahim admitted, but the result was the same, and the speaker’s work lifted the entire family from the doldrums of captive depression. The meditation they were going to perform that afternoon was meant to discover the animal spirit, or one’s totem animal. The evening before, she had watched through the meditation, finding herself in a prism of spirits, choosing her own. It complemented that the speaker promised a meeting of the animal spirit, the power animal. It was a pleasant surprise. In the course of the evening, she found first one, later three, and finally twelve ladybugs, all of them surrounding her body as she rose from the treatment.

“Some say, it’s an occultist practice, it’s an experience of the occult.”

“That may be, who knows, honestly, I can’t say. I don’t believe in magic, in the traditional sense, but I believe in the spirit and the heart, and the largely undeveloped understanding of the human mind, the parallels we have to an univerlic structure, the universe at large, the understanding, that one can commit, say, some stages of their experience as psychosocial building blocks for further generations, it’s mad, I don’t see that happening, but when I talk about jazz, let’s say, or when I talk about running, I’m talking about the spirit, about the spirit that binds and holds, the creative, underlying force, present in all currents that move and flow.”

“What are these, undercurrents, you call them undercurrents.”

“It’s a system like jazz, really. It’s the energy block, the case, if you will, like a suitcase, think of it like a giant suitcase.”

“Like a suitcase a spy would carry or something.”

“Exactly. Inside, anything is possible, we don’t know. There could be anything inside. We have the suitcase, and this we must carry. Everything else, you say, Ro, Taro. Can you say it with me,” he says to the crowd, half of whom ignore his call. “The basic premise of the Yacoubian myth goes, the color of the heart is in the soil. People say it’s feminine, it’s too feminine. OS what?”

“There’s said to be a sort of feminine mystique associated with a lot of your work, is that correct?”

“That is correct.”

“The story of Zahreddine is one of departure, one of strength, one of passing, of exile and union with the spirit Ob. The truth is that Zahreddine lived most of his life in abasement. He was abused, most of his life. He refused to carry weapons, and when they came for his parents, they crushed his home and forced him into conscription. The idea was that he would grow old with them, learn their language. But the spirit of Zahreddine is twofold. The spirit only answers what the spirit knows. Like cherry’s in mid blossom, the spirit grows. When there is a constant pressure against the spirit, the spirit of the heart knows only one answer. The tradition is one of solitude, of expansive meditation, and such, but really it can be lived in everyday life, as we have seen. More and more people in our society are joining. The call to the spirit cannot be stopped. Spirit passing, spirit going, spirit old. The cross of the expanding structure is a situational hell. We cannot afford things as they are. So there is a general movement, to see things otherwise. I believe your correspondent, she had it right actually, even though I largely disagree with what she’s said, that, the spirit of Zahreddine, it is one of

“What is it for you?”

“For me? For me, for me it is everything.”

“Everything?”

“Everything. The spirit, the smell of chestnuts, the woods. A story of sunsets, hot blooded, really, really hot blooded, the shape of the statue mouths at Ras Shahid. The voice of my mentor. The meetings we held. The face of Um Rashid as she was lifted from the throne, cast in oil and set on fire.”

“Did you see it?”

“I did, of course. It was online.”

“For me, it is beyond the maternal. That’s why. I saw it with my own eyes. Stories of apotheosis, of second and third still births. Maternal, beyond the maternal.”

“You speak a lot of the maternal instinct, the sort of, the thread of femininity that rises in the spirit? Tell us about that. As a figure in the movement yourself, what is this about? What are you pondering?”

“There is nothing beyond the maternal. The world is embodied in the womb. But the womb, see, it is also a prison, an incarceration. Ultimately, the incarceration of forms. Of expectation, of union, of splitting the spirits into two opposing, generating halves. This is a gender of healing. There was a poet, in your country, he came to me once, after I was giving a reading, and he said, Jean, what is the meaning when you say, the spirit is the first and last injunction, and in the middle, in the middle is the mirror, culminating the two, I said, first of all, I’m terrified that you’ve singled that out, because honestly, I know nothing about that, even if it’s cited in my work, but let me give you an example from my own life. My father coerced me to existence. I plead innocence in that respect. Don’t I? And he laughed. See, there was another poet, John Rabid, from Toronto. He spoke a lot with his heart, even when he wasn’t scripted, he always had something elegant to say. He wrote the poem “Friday Prayer in Carnegie Suit”. For the ascetics, it is like a present, the people who study Zahreddine. They study him, in a sense, searching, and for your audience, I think you can find parallel in what John Rabid says, when he goes, The waiting is now overgone, are the chancesat least, I was old. Becoming, in the present tense free is enlightening, but it is also a grave defeat. Zahreddine knows this. This is why he lingers in the spirit and does not go on. Why he wrote, After all this, it will happen again. Did he mean it? I don’t know. It’s a shame we may never discuss these things with him again, but who knows? Prophets have a way of inviting themselves, to speak again. He was a poet of a certain class, that’s all. More often than not, they disappear in the maddening thread, my friend. Once they’re over the hilltop, they’re gone. They’re gone.”

“How will he be missed, Thomas?”

“He was a person who spoke kindly to the poor, and the weak, who let them sleep in his home, who was there at the grave of Illan when he was assassinated, thanking him for his grief. He spoke of winters spent in silence, contemplating on the four basic oaths, of compassion, and goodness, of becoming aware, and of passing into the other life with hope. We can see it in the works that he has inspired, characters, resigned to the landscape, and more, resigned to their fates, a form of aural captivity, the symbol of mist on a bridge, coming of age in a series of episodic dawns, all of it a constitution of life patterns, telling of coming of age, of ritual, migration patterns, immigration, exile from the heart, from the soul. Characters that act as pillars and lessons of a life somehow lived. Contact with the faces of another generation. The awareness of a common self, a suffering that is mutual when suffering is. You know, the ascetics, they have the right picture. The critics, a lot of them, as I’ve said, they read into the works as something of a kind of labor, something that is done in the virtue of getting paid, of making a life out of nothing, but this is really not that, they’re missing the point entirely, striving to make sense of Zahreddine’s calls, his use of presence and almsgiving, his speaking of wastefulness, destitution, human waste, speaking of plunder like the raping of a soul, the raping of what is really a sort of charisma of the spirit. He says, language is the instrument of engineering. The naming of a spirit, of a human, of a place. A donation, to the audience, to call something as it is, as it is experienced, in the otherwise common form. The twos and threes, of mystical mythology, the issue of unity, of tripartite states of being, this is speaking on another sort of thread. The thread that exists outside of biology, but is also organic. Evolutionary, transformative, change. To portray the being Ra as an interface, a derivative, of a three souled engineer. These are the followers of Yunus Kum, who studied the Doctrine of Ali Bey, and who was arrested, beaten and tortured to death, and whose body is missing to this day, the photographs of his mangled and disfigured body only sent to his family’s home years later, under the threat of spite, and who wrote, Soon the willows will commence in weeping, You have sold for luxury the land of your gods. He, too, spoke of wastefulness, and of anarchy of the spirit and the soul.”

“And correct me if I’m wrong, Thomas, but, when they discovered the body of Yunus Kum, they discovered what exactly, that he had been mutilated, tortured, deformed?”

“Well, he had been castrated, actually, which was their original intention. There were a lot of poets, thinkers, speakers, believers at the time, and there still is this threat, of course, just look at what we’re seeing today, and the authorities see them as a blanket sort of threat, so one way to combat them is firstly to make them infertile, so whoever is seen as belonging to this sect, or this cult, this tribe, whatever you want to call it, the authorities use their own names and everyone has their official title for them, well, to make them infertile and then to castrate the men and mutilate the women, to make them unseemly. Paradoxically, the tradition is very strong on the feminine side of things so in a way, they’re playing into the hand of their prisoners.”

“Yunus Kum was castrated?”

“Yes, I believe, as the report from Humanistic Social suggests, he was tied up by chains, metal chains, and he was fastened to this holding device, and form there they tortured him they did all kinds of things. It’s, it’s brutal if you see it.”

“Tell us a little about Yunus Kum. What did he do?”

“He wrote the Doctrine of Ali Bey, as I’ve said, he also wrote about his experience with bakar, a drug they seem to favor. He’s written about all kinds of things dealing with their culture, their tribe. One of the first to be prosecuted for deviant acts, as Article 424 claims.”

“Will we see the end of it?”

“No, I don’t think so, John. And people, as much as they’re said to be optimistic, they’re keeping a close watch on people they love.”

“I don’t know if I agree with that impression, John, I have to say, I’ve been here, we’re meeting with a lot of people, and I have to say people, they’re weary, they’re tired, they’re weak and they feel scorned but there’s no sign for me at least that there isn’t a steady amount of optimism that resonates in just about everything they do, if you consider the culture that has survived. You look at certain towns, right, tourist attractions, maybe twenty thousand visitors a night. This is a place of history. And these people, they enjoy living up to the name. Put them in a class, they learn it if they don’t already know. They imagine a world of color and striking resemblances to the things they’ve been told, for centuries, about their history, their past. They have nowhere else to go, John, nowhere else to go. I’ve been in homes, one story houses, just bricks forming walls, nothing elaborate, housing as many as twenty four people a piece. People who sleep in their tents and send their children to tent housing schools. Some put it to fate, others accept the dwelling as their place of death. Nobody really knows what will happen, when it will all pass.”

“So, how did you manage to come to this point, actually? I mean, I’ve been meaning to ask you. You know, since you published the book, it’s gotten some rave reviews, but also, like, also some not so rave reviews,” perching up in his seat as he spoke those last words, so that it looked and sounded more like, “a-l-so-some-not–so-good—reviews,” bobbing his head up and forward.

“Well, yeah. Naturally, not all of the reception was great. I’ve been called a whore and a teenager delayed temper tantrum. But that’s fine. I mean, I don’t listen to all that noise. It’s just noise, for me. You know ‘cause like, I try really hard, you know? Like I do my best, and I’m not, like, scared of anything, not at all.”

“And it’s, like, almost, like, you’re doing it, like, like you kinda want to get-that–kind-of-reviews,” tilting his head ever more sideways as he spoke. “How did you get to that point, like, how did you access that point, if like, like how did you get there?”

“I wanted to be like, oh, I was basically, like, so like I do this thing where I’m like, putting-on-a lot- of- clo-th-es, doing my own makeup, making sure I stay fit, and like I feel great, right, so like when I do that I’m feeling good and I have really good, like, self esteem, and so, I don’t know, what was your question again?”

“How did you access that point? Like, how did you get to that point?”

“Like, I was basically wearing an anal plug the entire time that I wrote,” he said, to applause from the crowd.

“Wow, that’s great!”

“I love being in the public eye, and I love who I am. I’m not ashamed of that!”

“And you were almost arrested, right, I mean, am I right?”

“Of course, yeah.”

“How was that?”

“It was painful. I was abused. I came out of it suicidal. I was depressed.”

“And you’re better now?”

“It was serious, yeah. I was really low. But, you know, this book happened, and, in the end I guess I just, changed a little with my cards. I don’t know. I always wonder about these things, you know, like if chance matters? Because it mattered growing up, didn’t it? I mean, like, when we played our games, we had rules. We made rules, we invented them. We wanted to put some onus on control, on navigation, changing the way people live. We did that, as children.”

“What was it like for you? Because you say a lot, in the book, you paint the picture that it was not a comfortable life, growing up? That you were scared, and afraid, that there was always this terror, there to provoke you at every corner.”

“It’s how I was raised. In this chamber of fear, and of shame.”

“And how did you step out of that?”

He slammed his hand on the table, to resuscitate their alarm.

“I discovered my anus, and introduced it to the world.”

“Simple as that.”

“Simple as that. No, no, yeah. I was basically…”

“That was your first painting, your first act. You painted your anus.”

“As it would look, after getting fucked in the ass by someone.”

“Someone, as men?”

“Well, I mean, what difference does it make? I could get fucked by anyone, who cares? It would still be as resentful and revolting to those centers of the population who would find it demeaning if it were with a man, or with a woman instead, using some sort of external penile conjunction device, something that really sticks and goes fast.”

“What influenced you to come out, at the time?”

“Well, I went to a seminar in the Grands. It was a root decolonization therapy, you know, led by the Archaeological Authority of Repose, who were, I think, APA, at the time, Archaeological Personage of Repose, because they weren’t yet drafted into that new law, remember, right, am I right?”

“I don’t know. Can we have that checked,” the moderator asked. “Anything you like, sissy.”

“Thanks, Stav. Do you mind me calling you Stav? Should I call you Sven?”

“Sven Stav, that’s my name.”

“It’s appropriate. Are we having that checked now?”

“No, we can go on. Someone will check it on their phones. Anywho, go on.”

“What was I saying?”

“You painted the anus, and joined the performance onstage, did you not?”

“I did! Yeah. So, I was enrolled at school, at the Dublin Academy, in the creative arts program. It’s a really good school, and I encourage anyone interested in applying to a field of study like that, that doesn’t exactly confine you, the way it usually works is you choose a major and you go on to study and perfect that major, but the way they do it at the creative arts program, at my school, is they take the major as being the topic of your thesis, in some, however elemental, or philosophical way, sort of gearing your attention to that topic, but not having to study all these base and formulaic, general knowledge seminars that they expect you to know already.”

“And that’s the catch, right, I mean, how did you get in? Was it difficult?”

“It’s super selective but they’re super smart, right, and diverse, so like, they want to have you in the program, they just want to meet you, specifically, in the application, they don’t want your cards, your recommendations, your votes. They want recs, of course, but it’s different. That’s why they don’t have an acceptance cap, so they can pretty much take however many students they like, and they end up requiring themselves to hire more teachers, which they do, at an excellent and fair sort of price, as in, like, a price to the institution. Sorry, am I getting lost? Where was I?”

“No, no, you’re fine. Go on, keep going. It’s just about to get interesting, I can feel it.”

“So, umm, where was I? Right, I keep going in circles, um, so, I was enrolled at school. Oh right, so I met someone, woops. And, he was really brave. He basically took me into his arms, and he said, you’re coming with me. It was sort of like that moment in Ginsberg’s life, where someone came up to him and said, listen, I know you’re gay, and you’re coming with me, and you’re going to suck this cock and write just after it, and I’m going to tell you it’s good. I don’t know. Is that difficult to imagine? I basically sucked my first cock, and after that, it was gold. I had never sucked cock before. I was nervous, I was scared. I grew up without any flamboyant attitude of man on man action. I was surrounded by wolves, but they didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t know it either. From time to time I felt this urge inside of me that was different, I couldn’t tell what it was. Even now, I don’t know. If it’s the spirit of someone else, this treasure. But I realized, later in life, she has demands, and she wants to live, just as well as I. So, wherever I go, the spirit goes. And that was that. Until ten years later, when I was nineteen, standing in the middle row of the Gallery 3 exhibition afterparty, at the Red House Theater, and the young Ramiz, still in his skin, came onstage, and, with a corner flag from some football pitch, punctured his asshole until it bled. It was the most disgusting and terrifying moment in my life, and the saddest, strangest and most terrifying thing I have ever seen. Everyone in the crowd was absolutely horrified. It was the spectacle he would have wanted. But he died, you know. Yeah, he fucking died. He had to kill himself, for it. To get that far. But then I think he came back to life, or something. I’m not sure, it happens in another edition. But he comes back to haunt us, in some way. We’re supposed to all be scared, or something. He had such a strong plutonic field, across the board, totally, abnormally strong. It was terrifying to be around him. And I saw that exhibition, and I saw that show, and I froze, and I thought, fuck, I need me some of that. Some of that pain, some of that bludgeoned ass stuff, you know? That shit works!”

“And it did, right? I mean, after that, things were different after that for you?”

“Yeah, I basically was no longer afraid of my own intuition, which was telling me to get stuffed and to write about it. I forgot to say, about the Dublin Academy program. Right, so, I basically, I was at the program, and after that exhibition, I spent the summer in Drague. Now, I don’t know if anyone’s ever been there, but it’s basically the most liberal place on earth, and like, when I say liberal, I mean, everybody just does whatever they want, so long as nobody else is bothered, it’s okay, and being emotionally bothered, while not in a situation of distress, doesn’t actually count, so people are pretty much told to be safe, but to do what they want, and so for the first time in my life, I changed my deck of cards. I went to see a healer, and like I said, I went to a seminar in the Grands. It was a root decolonization therapy, as I said, so, basically, they want to track and destroy all remnants of trauma that are captured in and around the groin, and more specifically, everything in and around the rectal column, the area around the testicular glands of the man or the ovaries of the woman, and the rectum, and the cavity in between, the scrotum. There’s this idea, it’s popular in the local culture there, it’s called Will’s Theory, after Solomer Will, the astrologer, who discovered that, all of our efforts, all of our expense, of our willpower, of our emerging and deconstructing breaths that are necessary for our survival, are expending upon a ratio that is equal to the force upon which we withhold traumatic information, the actual numerical amount of Traumatic Weight that we store, subtracted from the Idealization of the Self that we employ, that’s like our weapon, our ego stuff, that can’t be depleted, it’s stored, so artificially programmed away from death that it interlinks in this void, where we call the Speedometer of Need, that’s crucial, they say, for the accessing of any sort of information to work as is considered normal and necessary at the time, to deplete the restoration of Traumatic Facts as they are being stored, in the moments they are forgotten, so for example, like, when there’s a moment, something happens, that is really bad, for you, yes, and you feel like you have never felt before, you feel scared, and weak, and vulnerable, and totally and wishfully out of control, like you are being used as someone else’s weapon, and you are afraid, and at this point there is this number, this artifact, of your experience, that says, that everything you have ever experienced is a fraud, that’s it, it’s a fraud, it means nothing, and it never will. Not even once, not ever, will you experience that it has meant anything at all. It is the idea of hope, yes, and this comes to you very naturally, and this is your depleting force. It is your courage, it is what you use to destroy that weakening Self Image which is being depleted by Traumatic Facts, used against you to bring you to your basest self, where you question, more than anything else in the world, first, your will, your intuition, and second, the meaning, not of life, but of your life, and if you are not scared in that moment, when these two, these two beings, this force, what Kohl Divorce says is the Announcement, the introduction, if you will, of the life giving, life affirming force and the life depleting force, then you have already decided, somewhere, stored in your informational code, your brain, that fucking construction of a mind, that you are going to take your life, at some point, be it now or later, when the time is right, you are ready to end your life, and you are not scared, or worried, or at all detracted from thinking this is alright, you know what? Because you have been defeated. We have all been there. I wasn’t scared. It was alright for me. And that’s when I hit my lowest depression, really, when I entered this void, and I started going, this was before the APA really took off, I was introduced to it, at first, but didn’t start taking it seriously for two years, and in those two years I was not afraid, I was scared at some points for the present but never the future or the past, I was aware of my own control because I was going to use my body as a weapon of force, to destroy my own life with it, to take it, just like that, out of thin air, I was going to, I decided, it wasn’t every hard, I saw someone do it and I said, the only way to go, is to go by the train, with that fucking intention, that fucking force, so the rails can take my body back, I am that weapon, that weapon of force, and my bones will not my soul alter because I was not afraid of going back, to the, the junction, the junction of my wholes, my interest, my sense of degradation no longer felt, rising, rising like they were going to call me the Phoenix of Ishvan, I was not afraid.

“And so, like I was saying, in that time, I became obsessed with myself. It was a way I never had before, a way of looking inward, at my own expense, really, because I was never able to be there, then, in the present tense, seeking and searching, like I was before. I was thinking a lot about my body as a weapon, and what for? What could I use my body for, before throwing it away. I still hadn’t seen Ramiz’s impression of Buccolt’s The Anus, and I still hadn’t seen any of Buccolt’s work.”

“And guys,” the moderator turned toward his students, “this stuff he’s talking about wasn’t moving around much at the time, this was way before the internet and all that, so the stuff that was really abstract just wasn’t given coverage by the local press, and the international wire couldn’t pick it up, am I right?”

“Yes, ofcourse, so like, yeah, exactly, um, I was going to these therapies, but at the same time, I was taking this class, and it was telling me all sorts of things, like really intense, violent things, about my being, my character. Did you ever hear of the Sissification Training happening downtown, in the late 80s, when things were just getting spent, and the rent was rising in the Lower Ward, and the people were starting these gangs, basically, to host riots and ruin the peace. Well like, this gang, under their slavemaster at the time, Master Ro, wrote all these songs about gangbangs and sisterly riots and feminine energy and all that stuff, and they threw a bassline on the lyrics and put in some drums, I think the drummers from some local bands like Lenny and Traverse and Sissy Riot were all playing drums, depending on who was there at the time. I was seeing this guy, Rabah. He was super cute, super nice all the time, but he had this violent streak, and when he fucked, he almost always slapped my ass until it would bleed, and so the people at the center, it coopted a certain idea of like, providing shelters while also hosting talks, so like, we met in this apartment building on Elm Street, and the fences were all patched with brass, and just for shits and giggles one of the regulars had put this lioness sculpture, he fracked it onto the door of the front of the building, like the door of the fence, so there was this huge lion head bulging out onto the street, whenever people walked they had to duck under this big huge lioness head, sticking out of the wall, very phallic, like a branch. So I was one of them, and I met this teacher there, she was giving lessons, at the time they were really conceptual, like, a Braving Fire seminar would basically target your moments of weakness, so like, walking on fire, braving shame, so like, the people in the class sat in rows and we basically had to pretend we were in a classroom environment, and take on all these roles, throughout the entire session, but the session would last literally three days, in the first installment, and then, if you’re good enough, and you know where to go, you get into the second adjustment, it’s called the Introduction to Hormonal Science, and it’s basically like, it’s where you decide if you’re getting seriously into this, because you spend, you spend like, I thirteen days on the first assignment in this training, and then, in the second training, ‘cause you have to do three trainings in total every time, to like rise from the level and onto something else, and there are ten levels in total, not counting that first installment, the one I just spoke about, and so, yeah, you’re in there for thirty days, at one point, acting upon the role assigned to you in the class. It’s really, it can be daunting, at first, and, a lot of people get what’s called the Suddarrtho effect, named after this guy, Suddarrtho, who joined our school when they were first giving lessons, and basically, he like, he totally flipped in one of these seminars, he was given a card, basically you draw cards to see what role you get, and he was given the Jealous Geese, who’s like, the archetype of the geese, always there, always chilling, always thinking of herself, narcissistic, in a way, but not necessarily beautiful, and not necessarily that well off, or wanted in any way, just kind of, always there, part of the pretty picture, no real substance at heart, and he became such a sissy bitch. He became such a stupid bimbo, he lost it. He lost all of his ability to think, and talk. I mean, it wasn’t totally his fault. His master was really, she was totally unapproachable, she was aggressive. You know, she made him do this thing, where she would link up his arms, like he were imprisoned, and she would, she would put this pipe, and chain his linked arms to the pipe, so he would hang, and she would hang him forward, by like, twisting the pipe, and, he would kind of tilt there, for hours, it was this new industrial bondage they were doing, out in Hakoi, changing from the old roped tradition, using a lot more steel, being really, really aggressive with the joints, and with certain muscles, like the calves, especially, and, she would basically make him wear a face suit, wear a mask, and she would call him all these names like, butt toy or mouth whore and things like that, she had all these guests just come in to the room and put their cock there so he could suck, or she titled him downwards so he got fucked in the ass, either for real or for joke, with a dildo or something else, she even once used a silicone tube, and it must have really hurt because he had punctured some vein inside his hole, crying and shitting blood for days, and the hemorrhoids, they were just terrible, he had these like thick hemorrhoids bulging out of his ass, they were like the size of golf balls. And he hat to sit beside her bed all night, while she pet him, watching her get fucked in the ass by a Skull, what they called the Elect teachers, at the time. Now they call them Lilies. The term is very vague. It doesn’t say anything about their appearance. At some point, you just know what you become, based on the way you were born. It’s really a lot fairer than that sort of patriarchal, heteronormative world, where there are two simple roles, and none of it is meant to be pleasurable. Budaro talks about this urge, he calls it the Seedless Urge, that is the urge to pleasure the anus. He says, it’s the biggest rob, of the male sex, that our pleasure is dominated by this idea of domination, and this idea of control, this urge to control our external efforts, to control the pussy, to control the hole, never to receive pleasure, to be pleasured by the anus, but by pleasuring the phallus, the phallus is whole. Budaro says there is the Pleasuring Urge that acknowledges this deficiency, and imparts certain messages in one’s life, as they come of age and Learn about their penis, that they start to link the pleasure of their prostrate with the pleasure of the anus, that they come to know the anus, not as it was, but as it will become, for the listener, who he says becomes, like, a certain prototype of difference that anoints them higher powers. It’s all sort of esoteric, mystical stuff. And that’s kind of what drew me away from it, in the beginning, was this sense of a higher purpose, this sense of a higher exchange, through the anus, that I was becoming this plutonic sword, what Zahreddine calls the sword of treasure, the treasure of birth, the anointed healer, the healer Ob. It’s the orgasm that carries a flat after the note, the healing pleasure of silence and wisdom that is accompanied by its controlling, it’s harnessing of that factor, right, that strength, like, seeing an advantage in masturbating and ejaculating and recognizing then that power, and holding it in. The thing about Zahreddine, and most writers, is that they were ashamed to be what is considered now a third sex, like a third common gender, but what is really a third of extremes, so like, actually over a hundred genders, and counting. Whatever one asserts for themselves. The poets saw it differently, they saw it as a pleasure urge but as something, in a sense, ultimately rotten, that they had to endure, right, that they had to delve deep inside of and become and accept in order to access that inner height, the verse of true annunciation, of true spiritual girth, and furthermore, into that same construct, came the painters, as I was saying, the painters at the Gallery 3 exhibition, but also the painters before, the mad Buccolt, with his first Anus and the fact that he followed it up with Anus 2 and Anus 3. They say that he frothed his asshole with butter before striking the pose, because he was white, but in the original version, by the way, this is an interesting fact, they didn’t have butter at the time, it was during the war, they only had powdered butter and powdered milk, so actually they used olive oil, but what he did was he seeped the oil in it’s own fat, it was like this translucent sort of milky texture, and he created like a kind of plaster out of it, like this wax, and he basically melted the wax over a fire, and cooled it using ice, which diluted it, and then he rubbed it all over his ass, and he created this silky, sort of slimy texture, you know, the one that he gets, and the portrait is just, it’s pure genius, I mean, it literally set the tone for the next ten years, I believe, of painting, and how painting and photography have become a sort of like a mixed texture, like they both kind of signed off on their ego heads and sold their souls to the devil, or to Buccolt, and sought, for treasure and fame, to become one again, to create the new canvas, where all of that is muddled, and the story, the story is in the texture of the frame, the canvas that’s printed in the end, whatever they get out of it. Really, really cool and sexy stuff.”

“Talk to us a little bit about your training. How did that work in the end? What kind of stuff did you do?”

“Well, I met my teacher, her name was Ja. She always wore the same set of robes, four of them in total. She was huge, like really, really fat, it was kind of gross for me, I’m really judgmental, but then, see you get in this zone, right, and it’s like, everything I’m doing, I’m doing for that, right, I’m doing to get at this thing, this thing about character, about my character, of who I am, and to do that I felt, like, I can’t be judgmental, not to this level that I am, like, refusing to wash her feet four times a day because she’s fat and never wears shoes and her nails are gross and I have to clean them and it’s like one of my worst ever fears, it’s just gross, but I’ll do it, you know, because, I have this goal, right, and it’s, it’s like, it’s like, it’s like, have you ever had this thing, this feeling, lodged at the back of your throat, in the canal, where you’re terrified, you’re just, you’re fucking desperate, and it just doesn’t go away?”

“Of course. We all have, I’m sure.”

“Right, and so like, after a few hours, even, so forget about days, but like, even after a few hours, of living under that kind of pressure, I don’t know if you smoke weed at all, but like, basically, the thing you Learn right away about Sissification, and before you even know how fun it all is, that it’s just a game, is that, it’s like, like scientists have proved it’s like the biggest fun you’re gonna have in your laugh, it’s basically a high, like even hormonally, like your Estrogen levels actually rise and your testosterone is transformed into something more mediocre when you start doing these chores, and these chants and taking on these lessons. Your like, you’re transforming the body, right, it’s like a total body transformation, and they call it the Rising, the rising of your serpent spirit, the rising of your snake. The patron of most of us, most of us practitioners, is this code, this snake living being that we coded onto the earth, it’s in a temple, at the foot of Ras Amin, and basically you go to pray there and your feeling, your desperation, it’s all lost, the prayer helps that, it takes it from you. And so like, the Sissification process, it brings you to this high, this level, kind of like when you’re really fucking stoned and then two hours later you’re not sober but you’re like below sober, like you’re almost depressed, and everything sucks, like spending the most beautiful weekend in the mountains, in a tranquil sort of cove, and then driving in to the city on rush hour traffic, being stuck in the car, on a muggy, humid night, where everything is so hot you’re actually cold.”

“So, what was all that like? Talk to me about that. You know Tamdil, you know Ramiz.”

“I knew them. They don’t talk to me anymore.”

“Why not?”

“They say I’m a fraud. I sold them out, I think. That’s what I wanted to say. See, painters don’t believe in writers. They think of them as frauds. They laugh at them, behind their backs. They find them stupid and not strange enough. Like they’re afraid to distinguish a new code for themselves, through colors, and to speak through it, instead of resorting to language, which is what writers, inherently, use. Tamdil, Ramiz, they hated my stuff, they hated my writing. I once visited Ramiz, he was on the set of a film, that road movie of theirs, Les Trois Semaines. I visited him there. He was wearing a silver tunic with the mystery cross emblazoned on it, and the emblem of the FNL cusped to his belt, made of fake gold, blue Harbor jeans and slack Devin’s, the sneakers that almost everyone around then had in white. He looked hot, but he was faking. I could tell he was going to be an asshole. He walked up to me, I totally remember. I had visited him and his sister, the weekend before. The moment I got there, he had been sick, or had just gotten sick, and so was sick the entire time, and spent all of his time in his room, vomiting. I left, but not before going on a small trip with his sister, and her man, who were super like super dark and super morose and were constantly fighting and bickering, and there was this weird darkness in the air at the time, like the two of them were fighting over something, that I didn’t know, I think there was another guy in the picture at the time, but it didn’t exactly show, anyway, so I left and saw him that week, at the film set. I had promised the director I would join. I knew him well, he was a good friend to me, and we started dating the weekend before. I loved going over to his house, it was river side and totally empty, like that sort of minimalism that I just love, seeing a man cross the hallway in his short boxer shorts, nothing but wood and fabric and some plain tinted steel in the picture. He wasn’t exactly showing me off, but he thought I was pretty, and so we were on the set together that day, and Ramiz showed, and I was like, oh my god, you’re better, kind of as a joke, and he pulled my book, it was my first book of poems, he pulled it out of his bag, and he said, here, I was trying to figure out how to tell you this, but your poems suck, and so does your voice, and as a reader I would advise you never to speak again in verse or in code, to stay away from expletives, and to keep your thoughts to yourself, and he left, and that was basically that, and, I mean, I know it wasn’t like at all just him saying it or something, like, if you knew Ramiz, you would know he doesn’t just come out and say something like that, out of nowhere, you know? Like he really means it when he says it, kind of thing.”

“Let’s open it up for some questions now, shall we?”

“Sure.”

“Maybe over there, in the back,” Audrey said, pointing with her right hand, elongating her fingers so as to graze the eyes of God. The helper walking around with a microphone located the individual with her hand quietly raised, waiting on an invitation to speak.

Accepting the microphone in her hand, she said, “I love reading your work.”

Having nothing else to say, she sat down.

“Thank you,” came word from the stage.

The microphone was handed over to someone else. The auditorium was quit. There were a few people queuing to leave their seats at the usher’s standing post.

“Missus, I have a question. If it is alright I speak?”

“It is always alright, my dearest.”

“Can I ask you, in truth, a question about love.”

“What is it you want to know?”

“I have wondered for some time. My father used to say, before we went on trips, or when we ate outside of the house for dinner, to be thankful, for everything we have, for the life we are living, for the experience. He was not a rich man, most of his life. It made him very sad, but also, more than anything, it made him boring. I used to stay awake at night, I couldn’t sleep, because I heard him in the other room, talking about sports, only sports, all night, with some of his friends, and they used to sit and count money before and after dinner. He tried so hard to be rich, it failed him. But he was always thankful, he said, and so he never lost. Somehow, he was stuck in the middle. Does it make sense? I want to know, why do we lose control of the power, if the power is inside us?”

“I sense your question and I understand. Sit down, let me answer your question. First, there are two problems here. I want to talk about love, and about the treasure. The power is the same, it comes from both. You have to remember, the story of the jaguar is in the heart, not the head. We are told, from The Enchantments, foretelling the history of Ra, the seven great deed enchantments, being, one of them, as is commonly said, in the name of characters, and the jurist Ra, the serpent that bites in the neck is raw, and able for her tasting to please, and to become someone else. So is the figure of pleasure, sitting on the nape of your neck, calling for her spirit to bite. Do you understand? You are a force of weapons, but you do not understand. Only your force is pure, but you misuse it. You do what you want and your heart is impure. But if you take my lessons, then the spirit can heal, and only the spirit that heals forgives, and forgiving is genius, sharing the pact that will transform us all. Do you want to be better? You must ask yourself. Only you are the one to know. There is nothing waiting for you. The gates have opened and the guards have moved. The father is inside the heart. You can see him. When you visit him, be sure to be pure. Wash yourself, clean your tidings. Be honest about your will. Baba Rahman says we are to keep the treasure inside us, at all times. What is the treasure? To speak of something without knowing its name, is to disregard her nature. It is the first sign of evil, or evil to come. So we must know, where we stand, at all times, even if we are in doubt of our surroundings. Do you know where I am? I am in the room of cards, where the being of pleasure can grow, and there, I see everything, I see even a house, and small children, permitted to grow. In that sense, I am living a life, and we are all, like that, preparing. Baba Rahman agrees with her sisters, who are given license to preach. He says the pleasure comes from the heart, and for this, he is insulted. From the very first of his life, did he nod to the above or did he cower? He nodded. He does not cower in fear to that thing he adores. Why do we love? I am asking, but you do not have an answer. For the being to set her assault on pleasure. For the being to grow. Now, is this enough for you to know?”

“Yes,” she said, taking her seat, “I am very grateful.”

“The hour is just, and the time of your life is not stopping, but you must make your amends, mend your fences, building the walls of your desired home. The body is a temple, and the temple is yours. You must only do what is honest and right. Why do you think the Three Sons are sent from the abyss? To bring upon your senses that your doing is just. Now, answer my question. For what did you seek pleasure?

“For the being of must,” the audience rang out.

“For that, you sought pleasure?”

“For being alone.”

He found her after class. She was wrapping up some of the mats, putting them in their cooling cases, in a cupboard next door.

“It’s just, I get into this head space. I start keeping to myself, I don’t want to ever go out. I don’t like it but sometimes its too hard to fight, too hard to change. I have a lot on my mind right now, trying to finish. Seeing people becomes a thing in itself. So, I was wondering if you give private lessons? You know, I could come to your house, or to your studio, if you have one, or if you don’t you can come to mine, if you’d rather not meet at your apartment, I don’t know what your living situation is.”

“Part of me wants to say yes, of course. Because I understand, really, totally. But the part of me that is expected to give lessons has to say I’m sorry, I just can’t, and I won’t allow myself to do it. If you want private lessons, because you feel its what you need to do, because you have a haunting hesitation when you think of doing it, then succumbing to that is exactly what you can’t do, and group sessions is exactly what you need. I’m sorry, but that’s the practice.”

“Wow, okay. That’s a little rough.”

“I’m kidding. Of course. I’ve busy most during the day so I can do early morning or late nights. I never sleep, don’t worry. I can work all night, I have a lot going on. I can even do Sundays if you want, if it’s not too outrageous to meet so fast right away.” Am I doing the right thing, she thought, in meeting him. I don’t know. She found him after class.

“Yo!”

Industry fumes. Steam rises from the manhole. Welding tools scattered on concrete. You carry this image with you, bursting from a screen after the great war. A woman’s voice catches him. He turns around. My thoughts are with you. Two steps away from me. How she dances! Are you the poet, she asked him, sifting his movements for a sign. His eyes glazed with the waning of an insurgent youth. I bow, accepting her departing gift. Is the story subject to change? He takes a moment. I have nowhere else to go. Savoring her voice, the image continues down the road. She could not have turned to him again. Disappearing beyond the waterfront. He passed two colonial buildings, resting against the courtyard stump. Do you recognize where I am? An ocean tremor aligns his senses. Take a walk. I have. He walks out of the room. Head down, coat buttoned. He rests a trilby on his head. This is a moment you will encounter, feeding you, in the twilight of your life. Deserted alley. Weaving pines. Soon, the willows will commence in weeping. He pulls on his gloves, lit by the prevailing smoke. He walked. The refuge gathering house. Two lovers tend the gates. You should know by now. Be charitable with your memory.

“Isn’t she so weird?”

“She’s awful.”

“Why didn’t you just ask me? I can find someone to give you private.”

“I don’t know. For some reason it was like one of those things I was too embarrassed to ask.”

“I know what you mean. Are you doing her summer workshop by the way?”

“I don’t know. You?”

“I heard she’s one of the best. Like these sessions are just her way of loosening up. If she wants to deep she can go deep, if she wants to go hard she goes hard. I was thinking about it. I wanted to go to Numerol, there’s a festival there every summer. I don’t know. They’re both a bit expensive. If I have to choose, I might do Numerol. Most of my friends are going, then I won’t be alone.”

“Do you hate it so much? Being alone.”

“I hate it. I don’t see the point.”

“I went to Numerol last year, it was alright. It wasn’t the best. The food isn’t great. It’s included in the ticket price, right?”

“Yeah. I was thinking if I should go. I don’t know.”

“So, are you liking it here?”

“I am. It’s cold, but it’s nice. I like it. And you? How is it going so far?”

“It’s going well, actually. I’m doing alright. I have visitors, all the time. It’s hard to keep it together, stay at the right pace. There’s a lot of weird shit happening lately. I don’t know how to explain it. I feel like when I first came to the city I was a little scared. Of letting go of something. And then I thought I had to experience something specific, to Learn to let go, but being here, it’s so peaceful, and quiet, compared to anything I’ve ever had, it’s like I let go without knowing, without having to try. This is the first summer I feel it. Do you?”

“I feel almost the same. I broke up with my girlfriend, when I came back. It was really, really hard, like, the hardest thing I’ve had to do for a while. How’s your brother, by the way?”

“He’s good. He’s fine. He’s coming to the game tomorrow, he said.”

“Cool. You’re going to that?”

“Yeah, my old friends are going. You should come. You know Jad, right? Jad Saboun?”

“Yeah, yeah. I know his brother.”

“Exactly. I was talking to Jad. He’s pretty upset he didn’t get picked I think, but he didn’t say it. But he was talking shit about the coach and the game, and how everything is about this game for them. It’s so different for us by the way. Like I remember when we were playing, it was never that intense.”

“You guys don’t even play with offsides.”

“Fuck you, man, that’s not fair.”

“I’m kidding.”

“I know.”

“So your brother’s coming to the game? What for? I didn’t know he was in town.”

“Why, are you interested?”

“Fuck off.”

“No, honestly though, yeah, he’s here for some work, he said. I don’t know. My parents don’t know what to believe anymore. And they think he’s really trying but he’s actually just out there stoned. I guess it’s better when he’s here. He has a girlfriend now. He doesn’t talk about her. He should. I think it would help my parents. They’re dying for him to get a job. He says he’s making a film right now, that it will help him to get a job. It doesn’t make sense to me. I hate when they’re upset with him, and then they totally forget about me.”

“That can be nice.”

“It can be, but not for long. But he takes up so much of their time. But yeah, anyways. He’s coming to school, to ask if he can make a film or something. He wants to shoot it in summer, when the students are out of class, so it won’t be such a bother and they’ll have no reason to say no, as long as nothing bad happens in it, and he says that it won’t, that it’s mostly just pictures and everything’s grey. That’s what he said, like literally. That’s how he described it.”

“What do you think? What’s it about?”

“I don’t know. I never know what he’s doing. He doesn’t ever share. When I ask, he gets annoyed. Or he gets upset and Leaves the house. When he’s away, we don’t talk. So whatever, it’s quiet. I looked him up, on Narcis, and I put Tanzim Shamseddine, filmmaker, into the wire.”

“And? That’s clever. I wouldn’t have thought of that.”

“Are you kidding? You don’t realize that all girls do that, like all the time.”

“Like how often?”

“Like literally always. Like whenever a girl thinks you’re hot, or thinks you’re stupid, or thinks you have something to show, or she has something to show you, she looks you up on Narcis, and on BlockPro, and on BubuCum, to see if you have a picture.”

“That much I know.”

“And then she digs through everything on Narcis. Like literally everything. Or she has a friend who does that who’s fucking insane. Like I have Sabrina, and Sabrina has Tamara Rizk, who also lends her all of her clothes. Sabrina does everything for me. Like, she digs up every picture that’s ever been put online, every picture that you’re tagged in, every letter or document that you wrote, read or signed, everything you’ve ever posted, like a picture or a video, anything you’ve said in forums or chat groups. She can dig it all up. It’s so easy. And like, literally see everything. Like literally, no joke.”

[1] And today, we have our two favorite talking heads back on the show, Professor Jean-Trus Dadalle, from the Pelican Academy, and Margaret Duro, from the Alliance. We will be joined, for the first time, by Iskandar Habib, the writer, out of Ras Shahid. His writings have appeared in the journals Day and Night and Exclusive Jihad. And, last but not least, joining us from the Pilgrimage Authority, His Spiritual Majesty, from the Roam of Odds, Al Mussawi, and his deputy, Al Hakim.”

“Let’s start with you, Al Hakim. How is it to be on our show?”

“It’s been great, so far. People are very kind.”