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Evgeny Baratynsky
Pierre Chappuis
Pedro Xavier Solís Cuadra
Osama Esber
Peter France
Haidar Haidar
Siobhan Harvey
Allen Hibbard
Neil Langdon Inglis
Suzanne Jill Levine
Kona Macphee
Antonio Diaz Oliva
Daniel Shapiro
John Taylor
Alan Wall

Issue 20 Guest Artist:
Olga Sinclair

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Vice-President: Sari Nusseibeh
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Theodore Zeldin

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Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. Winter by Haidar Haidar
Translated from the Arabic by Osama Esber and Allen Hibbard
 

 



Winter: Introduction
By Allen Hibbard

The central issues and conflicts in A Banquet for Seaweed (first published in Arabic as Walîma li a’shâb al-bahr in Cyprus in 1983) resonate throughout the Arab World today. Set in the 1960s and 1970s, the novel portrays characters who must forge paths midst the horrors of authoritarian regimes, modern political and social values, rising religious fundamentalism, residues of colonialism, powerful foreign influences (cultural, economic, and military), sectarian and geographic divisions within the Arab world, and narrowly defined roles for women. In a bold and often lyrical style, the novel exposes passionate and frank debates about controversial issues, often treating taboo topics in ways that have offended readers’ beliefs and tastes. When in 2000 the Egyptian Ministry of Culture’s revealed plans to republish the novel, protesters rioted near Al-Azhar University in Cairo, spurred by press reports of its heretical content.

The novel’s narrative follows the lives of two Iraqi protagonists who have been driven out of their country because of their activities in the Communist party in the 1960s and sought refuge in an Algeria still writhing after a long period of colonization and a bloody war of liberation. One of the Iraqis, Mahdi Jawad strikes up a relationship with Asya Al-Akhdar, a young Algerian woman whom he is providing private instruction in Arabic. The girl’s father died fighting against the French in the country’s war for Independence. The other Iraqi, Mahyar al-Bahili, takes up residence with Fullah bu Annab, a single, middle-aged woman who fought alongside male counterparts in the war then, after independence is gained, seems to have resorted to prostitution to make a living.

In this chapter, “Winter,” the second of the novel, we see the development of the relationship between Asya and Mahdi as the two negotiate various pressures and constraints, notably the disapproval of Asya’s strict, religious step-father, Walad al-Haj. The narrative often shifts in time and place. Some sections provide historical material on communist activities in Iraq, before the protagonists’ exile, leading up to bloody massacres of communist renegades in the marshes of southern Iraq, vividly and beautifully described in later chapters of the novel. Memories of unsettling, traumatic experiences in Iraq are apt to intrude on the present, in the form of disturbing flashbacks. Ultimately, the novel displays the tragic fate of love midst a prevailing atmosphere of defeat, disillusionment, and violence.


Winter

1

     The family scene seemed unclear during the first months. The foreigner from the far reaches of the East came and went like the wind. He was quiet and asked few questions, wrapped in shyness and indifference.
      "Things become clear over time,” he said to himself as he cut across the space between his apartment and Colonel Lutfi Street in the Al-Luranjri neighborhood.
      He heard for the first time the voice that shook the house like a cyclone: the voice of a man giving orders, imposing prohibitions, and becoming angry. Something was going on in the home that didn’t meet with his approval. The lesson stopped momentarily. Asya pulled back, got up from her chair, and left the room.
     An oil painting of a seaside quay hung on the wall. At the bend of the quay was a portrayal of a palm tree. It was an amateurish work. The painting was blue and the sea was calm, with no whitecaps. Mahdi Jawad smoked and contemplated the painting coldly.
     There were two sofas in the salon, covered with clean carpets. Throws and pillows of colored silk that Lala Fadilah had embroidered with gold thread lay on the sofas, enhancing a sense of taste and tidiness. The floor was covered by a carpet on which sat a low, flowery sofa, against the wall. White silk curtains, skillfully sewn by a woman who prized domestic tranquility, draped the windows.
     The house was vibrant, luminous, simple and pure--pure as the soul of Lala Fadilah who went to and fro about the home like music or a summer breeze.
     A man’s voice boomed from the parlor. The mother responded calmly and confidently.
     The girl returned frowning. She sat with her head between her palms. Mahdi Jawad, a stranger in the home, didn’t understand anything. He was confused. In an attempt to overcome his befuddlement, he asked the girl what was the matter.
     "Nothing."
     Silence. The feeling of estrangement drifted, like a sail lost in the ocean. He felt an urge to go out into the streets, and confided this wish to the girl. “No,” she said. “Stay. They’re just small, meaningless things.”
     Suddenly a tall, dark, glowering man with sharp eyes and a face like the edge of an abyss entered the salon. He greeted them curtly, and remained standing.
     LaLa Fadilah came in behind him. "Mahdi is Asya's teacher." Then, gesturing toward the glowering man: "Yazeed Walad Al-Haj. My husband."
     A rectangular dining table on which books and notebooks were scattered stood between Yazeed Walad Al-Haj and the foreigner. LaLa Fadilah stood facing her husband and struggled to maintain an agreeable smile. She bid him to sit down but he declined: "I have a lot to do in the store and café."
     After his standoffish greeting, he asked quick questions about the teacher’s health and Asya's lessons to which Mahdi replied concisely. The man posed his questions haughtily and indifferently, unable to hide the signs of loathing etched on his face.
     When Asya and her mother insisted that Yazeed sit down, he shook hands with Mahdi and left abruptly.
     This was their first meeting—scarcely a friendly one.
     Mahdi felt dejected, astonished by this inexplicable animosity. He saw clearly the distress on the faces of the two women.
     Later, the foreigner would ask what offense he had committed. Was something wrong? Why was the man so hostile?
     The man's departure brought relief. After LaLa Fadila said good-bye to him, she returned, more at ease. "Yazeed is a difficult and hard man, but his heart is white as milk. All his problems with his business and domestic problems with his other wife leave him no time for rest. You see him laugh and joke, and you say: how amusing. Then suddenly, and for the slightest reason, his mood changes. He creates endless conflicts and disputes. He’s worn out and wears us out as well." Thus flowed her apologies.
     The mother looked toward her daughter as if appealing for confirmation. Asya remained silent. Behind her silence lay a clear disdain for Yazeed Walad Al Haj.
     "He wasn't like this in the past,” LaLa Fadilah continued. “He was like a child laughing and playing. I don't know what changed him.
     "Danger knocks at the door. He’s afraid of nationalization.”
     Asya implied a critique with these two sentences. She took her mother’s pulse.
     "You’re right, my daughter.” LaLa Fadilah’s voice rose with emotion. “He’s scared about his business that’s worn him out. He struggled in difficult circumstances in order to get what he has. And now the state is nationalizing everything. 'This is what I acquired by the sweat of my brow and now the state wants to take it away,’ he says. The workers in the café and store no longer do what he asks. They do whatever they please. They used to work from dawn til dusk. Now they say: ‘The government has set working hours and we won't work more than what the law specifies.’ He told me that the government is inciting them to take control of the café and the store and the dairy farm in Bin Muhedi. What kind of times are these where the masters become servants and the servants become masters? Isn't it Doomsday? Say the truth, my son!”
     Asya was silent, amazed by these bits of information, yet she was annoyed with her mother.
     "Where’s religion?” Again the mother’s voice rose. “Is this what our Prophet Mohammed and our Lord ordained? Isn’t it counter to God's law and the law of His Prophet?” (LaLa Fadilah seemed to be parroting the words of Yazeed Walad Al-Haj and his righteous philosophy.) “All of us participated in expelling the colonists. The country is for all of us.” (Asya once told Mahdi that Yazeed Walad Al-Haj had started up his business from the black market during the war and didn't give one dinar to the revolutionaries.) “And this socialism is atheism, a new form of colonialism. It robs us of our wealth and lands. We stood against Bin Bullah because he wanted to make Algeria a communist state. Communism is the enemy of religion.” (Kareem Bel Kasem and Ayat Ahmed had shouted in the face of Bin Bullah: “No Arabism and no Communism. This is Muslim Algeria, Arabs and Berbers.”) “How can everyone be equal when God said in his Holy Book: ‘We have created you different in degrees’?” (LaLa echoed Yazeed’s ideas and anxieties.)
     Lala Fadilah had been captivated by Yazeed Walad Al-Haj’s ideas and philosophies, philosophies that he fed to her in bed late at night. With the passage of time and seasons, she had forgotten Si Al-Arabi, the martyr of the Ahras forests who left without taking anything to his grave.
     In the pale evening light, Asya seemed solitary, cast up on a desolate shore, white as marble. She seemed calm, the calm before a storm approaching behind the crest of waves on the horizon. Distressed, she heard echoes of her mother’s voice. She remained silent, filled with passion. Deep within her cold silence was buried a vein of iron embedded in the wall of a mine. Her deceased father was alive, still dwelling deep within the mine: Tall, light-skinned, with a wide brow and broad chest, solid as a mountain. He was simple, yet brimmed with the vitality of a man who works both in the countryside and the city. Indeed he worked tirelessly night and day to provide the family with bread and happiness. “When the revolution broke out,” Asya continued late one morning, “Rizy Omar, the regional leader, called upon him to join the revolution and he didn't hesitate: ‘The country needs you, Si Lakhdar. What do you think?’”
     “And, like thousands, then millions deprived of work, land and dignity, Si Al-Akhdar rallied to the cause so he wouldn’t continue to be a tool in the invaders’ institutions and on colonialists’ farms. He proceeded along with them, putting himself, his family and his small truck at the disposal of the revolutionaries. And one autumn evening he gave his blood and body, befitting for a revolutionary who sacrifices for sake of the country’s freedom and bread, yet to come.
     Her face flushed with momentary happiness as she related portions of fleeting childhood memories: "I was young and spoiled. He’d take me with him in the evenings to the city square. His love for me was special. We’d sit in the Café Orient, right where you’re sitting now, under the elm trees. He knew that I liked ice cream and chocolate. He ordered coffee for himself while I set off across the square licking the ice cream indulgently. I’d wander off with other children while he talked to the workers. After a while he would call for me and I would pretend not to hear. His voice still echoes in my mind: ‘Come on, Asya. Let's go home.’ I would ignore him, so he would run after me: ‘Come on, you devil, let's go. I have to get up at five tomorrow.’ He laughed at my silliness and I was happy trying to evade him. The world was beautiful and stable with my father there in it. Did you lose your father when you were young? Here in the breast something is missing. A rib or a warmth or a steady, unassailable wall that has collapsed. In the absence of his father the child is left to the wind and wolves. He’s exposed on a snow-covered peak or in a desert. The greatest joy a person can experience is to be sheltered beneath the warmth of a father's wing, to be with a father who’s a friend. After he caught me, he’d grab me in his arms and dangle my feet over his shoulders like this. I’d hit his chest and face: ‘No, no. Let’s stay here. I don't want to go home. Baba. Baba!’ And he’d laugh heartily, smother me with warm kisses, and give me a hug. ‘Tomorrow, my dear, tomorrow. Look. The sun has set and night has fallen. I have things to do and Mother is waiting. We’re late.’ On the way home he’d buy me bars of chocolate to calm me down. Then he’d begin to tell me a story about a rabbit that was late getting home and attacked by a wolf in the forest. The story of Laila and the wolf.
     “How old were you then?”
     “Five.”
     “And your father?”
     She raised her face toward Mahdi, remained silent for a moment, then closed her eyes. The ghost of the past flickered and faded. Present and past were intertwined in a single ray.
     Lightening flashed from memory and from the depths of the forest, advancing from Bunah’s eastern horizon, now ablaze.
     When the sun rose on an autumn morning, a ray of light shone through the blue window and caressed Asya’s eyelids as she dreamed of the return of her father the martyr.
     As she opened her eyes, she was startled by the image of a strange face, lit up by the sun's rays. She saw it clearly, as if for the first time.
     "He was the same age you are now!"

-2-

     They were now surrounded, under siege. Combatants, fugitives, those killed, prisoners, and escapees.
     The military horse that the rightist leadership had bet on collapsed. And the party had no weapons. Before he was executed, the leader halted the party’s training of the popular resistance because he was afraid of losing control of the party. He shut down offices and put weapons at the disposal of the police and intelligence services.
     The leader was toppled and another general came to power, placing the party under the knife.
     There were significant drawbacks associated with relying on the peasants for support. There were no armed groups of comrades trained and prepared for armed struggle, to incite the peasants and pull them in. The rightist leadership hadn’t encouraged the peasants to destroy their class enemies; neither had they learned how to keep and defend their gains through the use of weapons.
      The foolhardy dictator was toppled by another military coup.
     The defensive plan was based on winning or losing the capital, Baghdad. Whoever controlled the capital held the seat of power. Civil and military organizations of the party were based in Baghdad so the countryside was at some remove from the theater of resistance. And it became clear that withdrawing to the abandoned countryside, far from the battle-zone, was impracticable.
     The party now seemed to be in the jaws of death, reaping the harvest of the clash between a right that had been double-crossed by a democratic national republic led by a military moron in pursuit of personal glory, and a left depleted from intense theoretical and tactical disputes over plans for armed struggle and whether it was the only way to achieve a revolutionary democratic rule.
     Zafer's branch and Najm's branch were absorbed in the passive resistance campaign. The attack planned by the new leadership against As-Sabba' Square and Hollywood Square and Um Al-Jawzah, then advancing towards Al-Washash Camp and Rasheed, was thwarted. The plans weren't carried out because the enemy forces stationed at those positions had pulled back.
     Renegade officers from the airforce, tank corps, and the fifth division in Washash, Kirkuk, Salamaniyah, and Mosul were arrested. Some of them were shot by firing squads; the rest were detained for trial and torture.
     The disarrayed elements of the party, thus, took up its armed struggle, separately, with inadequate weapons, in harsh conditions, through streets and neighborhoods.
     Fighting was directed against the national guard, the police and the security services. Battles of passive resistance. Suicidal passive resistance.
     Bad news spread about the Diwaniyah division. Najm's unit apparently was facing the prospect of being wiped out.
     At that point those backing a coup d'etat were engaged in their war of insurgency. They were avenging what they called the communist massacres carried out against them during the reign of the autocratic leader: massacres in which their corpses were hung in the squares and streets and from streetlights til the air reeked from the stench of the murdered.
     History now seemed to have had been turned upside down, teetering at this instant, with the corpses of communists paying the price.
     Divisions of the national guard, the intelligence services of the army, and security forces were formed and began to raid hideouts, homes, and neighborhoods in which the party's cells were based.
     It was now lawful to take their blood. Those who surrendered were saved by imprisonment. Those who resisted were killed. And these words were amplified and broadcast in print and over the airwaves: "Iraq is part of the Arab Nation, not an agent of Moscow. So be warned, all who provide refuge to any red terrorist.”
     Then began the cleansing.
     Rotting corpses lay at the entrances of streets of communist neighborhoods and along the banks of the Tigris. Bodies with bullet holes in their backs or their heads, or their throats slit from ear to ear, were tossed from cars used by security officers, in Al-Rasheed, Al-Sa’doon and Abu Nuwas Streets. They wouldn’t surrender. They resisted desperately and bravely.
     They attacked national guard positions. They raided police and intelligence service headquarters. They killed and were killed and captured weapons. Any small victory raised their morale and provided them compelling evidence of the necessity of resistance in this mortal battle.
     The proclamations of the new leadership pressed for the continuation of armed struggle and seizing power: “It is the historical test for the party, the party of Fahd and the working class.” They invoked Lenin's statements about the need to gain power through revolutionary force, warning against division, wavering, and weakness, asserting that the opportunistic leadership and bands of cowards and traitors would be relegated to the garbage heaps of history.

*

     Midst this flood of events Mahdi Jawad and his cell acquired three pistols and a Browning machine gun. A comrade from Ash-Shakiriyah neighborhood delivered them along with a letter from Latif Al-Haj, who was in charge of the military wing: "The comrades' armaments are limited. Use these weapons to capture some of the enemy's weapons. Don't give up. The party is fighting bravely and heroically. You will soon receive good news. We will open a new front in the countryside. Victory to our party and death to the agents of America."
      He was overcome by a sense of exhilaration mixed with foreboding. “War of the desperate,” he whispered softly.
     "You must be worthy of the party at this critical moment," he said to himself, suppressing the birds of defeat.
     He had unbounded faith in the party back then. He had been expelled from the university for being a communist, a troublemaker, and leading demonstrations. More than once he had been removed from his teaching job. For years he was subject to surveillance, interrogation, and imprisonment. Then he was fired from his position for spreading atheistic and socialist ideas---incompatible with the sacred Arab character.
     Half his life he suffered from threats, rejection, neglect, wandering homeless, and running from the law. Now the other half was being tested in this desperate war.
     “Why couldn’t we take the initiative? Why?”
     The state of siege squeezed him like a vice. It struck like wild waves pummeling a solitary sailboat in the open sea.
     More than any time before, he felt alone and suffocated. He and his comrades were now like tigers trapped in a jungle.
     It wasn't a question of his being caught. The party had taught him how to transcend his individuality. It would have been an act of mercy to kill him now.
     “A fatal error must have been made sometime in the past!“
      “Those who manage to survive must search for the basic causes of that error,” Mahdi said as he emerged from his hideout. “As for us, we must fight to the death.”

*

     Now far from the festival of blood, in his room in the city of Bunah, he wrote in his journal: “The past bears down like waves of ghosts. And this exile is a place of repose where the vanquished fighter recalculates time’s equations. In order to remain alive now you must launch your own internal war in the face of waves of collapse. Victory over the old self is a purgation leading toward the future, and time crushes one generation so that another might rise. And just as history didn’t begin with you, neither will it end with you. Perhaps the capacity to change is the internal strength to cross over the bridge of trauma, showing that the error was accidental.
     Perhaps this is proof of life’s persistence and triumph over death.
     The living spirit that grows within us is like grass that grows perpetually in all seasons beneath the coming rains.”

-3-

     The war.
     This bolt out of the blue that melted down a people with its fires, reshaping them into a new form. It burned cities, villages, forests, rocks and people, leaving the earth a wasteland.
     But they were rising from its ashes.
     It savagely burst open springs of love, sacrifice, and generosity beyond any measure. It dispersed ownership and re-arranged things, so they were held in common, fusing together parts that had been divided. Everything luminous and human shone among them, through rivers of blood and blazing of whips of torture.
     When they were in the straits of peril and death, they rose up and scattered like in a storm. Now, what had happened since their victory over colonialism?
     “The negative elements in them coalesced in response to the threatening scene,” Mahyar Al-Bahili said. “They were faced with the prospect of annihilation. The positive elements: Their drive for life [eros] rose to confront the death drive [thanatos]. The two forces were equal in the face of peril.
     "It was a collective war,” Mahdi Jawad replied. “There were no distinctions or hierarchies. Only popular class warfare could eliminate the flaws. Evils resumed with the coming of private ownership after victory. That’s what appears to have happened.”
      "They seem to be divided internally by an old, inherited hatred,” Mahyar said. “This hatred returned to tear them apart again. They fought and died to be free in their cities, villages, streets, squares, cafés, schools, and homes. Look how they go after each other as they used to go after their oppressors. Why have things gone so blindly off course?”
     Fullah Bu Annab said that Algerians were simple and good. They love and hate in the same degree. The simple, the poor, and the freedom fighters gained nothing from the war except neglect and hunger. That's why they’re so vengeful now.
     "The war didn't raze all the castles of the old, irrational world. They reverted to their old ways. There was an about face turn. A return to the inscribed circle. Look how they reverted to circling their original places of worship, the temples of their dead forefathers. In light of this anthropological cycle, we understand the particularity of Marxism!” said Mahyar, who was an enthusiast of anthropology.
      That spring they were walking along the corniche at sunset. It had been Fullah Bu Annab’s suggestion. She had a deep wish to display her freedom with two foreigners right out in the open in this puritanical city. She asked Mahyar to light her cigarette, and he asked her, with some annoyance, if this was necessary. She then asked, surprised, what was wrong with it, and he responded that women don't usually smoke in public.
     "But I don't want to behave like a woman, Si Mahyar ."
     “Strange!”
     He lit her cigarette reluctantly.
     Passers-by looked at them disapprovingly, and Fullah deliberately blew smoke toward them. When they turned their backs, she stuck out her tongue in a vulgar manner then spit. "They can do anything, but women can only open their thighs. Ya halaleef! Pigs! Go fuck your mothers!" Tfuh (She spit.)
     "Bravo, Fullah. I like you. This outburst near the sea will annoy pious Mahyar.”
     He glanced at Mahdi out of corner of his eye: "Of course you like her, because she’s your type, you lech!"
     "Shit. To hell with your universal morals! I'm not a moralist!"
     Fullah burst out laughing into the wide open sea. "Ah! Ah. What Bahilian morals that will transform the world!"
     The sea was calm, and fishermen stood on the rocks like statues at the edge of the sea, casting out their lines.
     "We’re tired of walking,” Fullah said. “Let's sit down in a cafe.
     They ordered coffee, juice, and beer.
     For an hour and a half they chatted freely, without any particular focus: Scattered fragments triggered thoughts and those who sat around a table seemed to prefer the noise to rest and quiet. Mahyar Al-Bahili monopolized the conversation, speculating about the blow to the dream for a revolutionary utopia that the democratic revolution had not yet achieved when the military severed it from its popular growth and took it--a ready bite-sized morsel--for themselves and for business, bureaucracy, and imperialist plundering. When Fullah, while sipping juice, referred for the first time optimistically to economic progress, the colonial farms that had been nationalized along with the banks and petrol, the agricultural revolution and Arabization, Si Mahyar’s voice rose to assert the importance of the human being. “Nationalization isn’t socialism: what’s happening is no more than a false graft that does nothing to alter the basic condition of man’s alienation. What’s needed is socialism with its scientific, not religious spirit. All this economic development is built on sand because modern man is absent from it and the country still revolves around the dominant hegemonic colonial market.”
      He concluded his lecture with a flourish: "Ideological principles are higher than economic principles. When foundations are flawed, that which issues from them will be flawed. A deep historical consciousness is absent and those in power are marginalizing history, turning it back a million years. In a nuclear age, a space age, an age of expanding knowledge, they rule us by the laws of Bedouin Gods and the teachings of the Koran. Shit!"
     Mahdi Jawad was looking at the sea through the window in the dusky light, watching the carefree circling of seagulls that approached the fishermen whose shadows grew dim on the rocks. In order to detach his mind from the bombastic, inflated rhetoric spewing from Mr. Bahili’s crazy mind, he loosened the reins of his imagination, donning the feathers of a sea-bird and exploring with Asya Al-Akhdar all the oceans and islands of the world, far away and remote, until they were beyond the reach of all the cursed Arab planets contaminated by foul odors, blood baths, and syphilitic politics. In the growing shadows of dusk Fullah Bu Annab’s eyes glistened as she smoked and lay listening, amazed by the mysterious power of Mahyar’s words, the tragic cadence that resonated deeply within the walls of her consciousness, bringing back to her echoes of the glory of the first revolution in the mountains where she listened to the exhortations of Si Al-Zubeiri who painted her a picture of the Algeria of the future, shining like radium, diamonds, uranium, baby’s milk, and the springs of Jarjarah, the Atlas, and the lofty Uras.
      When, in an interval of silence, Mahdi asked Fullah if Mahyar always lectured to her like that, the course of conversation suddenly broke from its scattered orbiting and time bore down like a bullets, leaden and dull. "Oh! Oh! Always, brother,” Fullah burst out in laughter, from the depths of her diaphragm and her head. “I wish he were as proficient in other matters as he is at speaking.”
     “Shit!” Mahyar responded. “You seem to be conspiring against me. My eye. Listen to me. I’m a married man and faithful to my wife. I’m not like that lech who changes women like shoes,” he said, referring to Mahdi.
     "Did you hear, Mahdi? Did you hear?” Fullah followed up, beneath an unmitigated current of derision. “A man faithful to his wife who is five thousand miles away. And where? In Bunah, the country of goodness, blessings and holy prostitutes! Ha! Ha! Ha!"
     The evening grew dim, so they went out into the humid night to get away from Fullah’s scandalmongering.
     Bunah twinkled and fishermen’s lamps shone far off in the sea. "They talk about you in our country," Fullah asserted as she scratched Mahdi’s belly like a cat’s.
     "How so? What do you mean?"
     "That you love a light-skinned lass," she whispered in his ear.
     "But I’m not faithful like our friend."
     "My eye! My eye! You admit it!" she said, with a peal of laughter, as she pinched his arm. "Oh, brother. What do you think about trading places with him?” she shouted into the expanse of the corniche, so Mahyar would hear.
     "I wouldn’t mind," Mahyar said.
     "We don't steal neighbors' grapes," Mahdi said.
     Al-Bahili smiled. "Communists are against private property.”

*

      Something started up between them. The growth of grass seeking to break through the earth’s crust. A secret like a wave’s whisper to the shore on a summer day.
     That secret took shape in their times alone, in the apartment and along the sea.
     During the first months, Asya Al-Akhdar’s conversation consisted of asking questions. Mahdi Jawad answered briefly and vaguely, sometimes with silence.
     "Why are you quiet so much of the time? We Algerians view those who are silent as fools. Why don't you loosen up. You’re tight and reserved. A strange and tender sadness is written on your face. Do you still feel like a stranger? You once mentioned Camus and his love of nature. Camus loved our sea, our sun and our forests, but he insulated himself from the hardships we endured. What does it mean to be an Arab? Does it mean hating the French?”
     The rush of questions interrupted the course of the lesson.
     It was a sign of something else, deeper and more distant than the small secret that grew between a student and a teacher closed together in a room.
     Why did this girl want to open up the shutters of locked doors, doors bolted by hatred, torture, deceit, selfishness, and death?
     Day by day, it became clear that this girl was like a field of grass and wanted to learn how to grow strong, to stand firm in the face of coming storms, storms she sensed just as horses sense the coming of rain.
      "A state of siege." Mahdi Jawad wrote the phrase across the page of the open notebook as he leaned on the table listening to the questions without responding. He would often privately jot down phrases when he was nervous or distracted. He reread the words, recoiled, and erased them. He then took out a cigarette, and lit it.
     The old nightmare struck him. The cursed ghosts attacked, emerging from their black space. The distant homeland appeared, painted red like dusk.
     The painting danced, the colors transmuting. It finally became a rainbow that quickly dissolved. A glaring sun came from dark rooms and corridors.
     He heard birds shriek and whimper as bullets picked them off. Hunger and being hunted down, wandering homeless and fleeing from one hide-out to another under the fear of death. Assassinations in Baghdad, Mosul, Basrah, Hillah, then the Al-Ahwar catastrophe.
     "Your name. Your cell. Meeting places. Hideouts. Kinds of weapons and their sources. Your leadership has betrayed you. They’re in our custody. You want names. Listen: Amer Abdullah. Abdul Kadir Ismael. Zaki Khairi. Al-Abelli, Salah Ahmed, Jumiran, Abdul Amer Abbas, Salah Ahmed. Al-Sabahi. All of them have confessed. They wrote their statements that were published in newspapers and seen on T.V. They fell like mice and revealed everything about the party.”
     Beating. Beating. Beating.
     Blood. Blood. Blood.
     “If you don't provide information about the new leadership, you'll be slaughtered like a dog. Son-of-a bitch. From now on there will be no communism in Iraq. What’s become of communism? It’s taken refuge in drains and sewers. What are you? A handful of spies. Moscow's agents. Your mistress sold you out. We’ve come to an agreement with them. Didn’t you know that the Soviets are traders! Son-of-a-bitch, what about this new provisional leadership? It’s like an octopus. Every time you cut off an arm, another appears. Now, write everything you know about Hasan Al-Ubaidi, Elias Demetri, Al-‘Alawi, Al-Ahmadi, and Khalil Karam. Give him paper. Listen. If you lie, you know the fate of those who refuse to cooperate, in the Palace of the End.”
     Silence reverberated. The head throbbed and became dizzy. The world was dark, illuminated by glaring light. Sounds of torture, bullets, screams.
     Oh! What bloody madness. The sound of a towering, solid mountain. It collapsed. It crumbled and collapsed.
     He suddenly woke up to reality. No. No. This is not Iraq. It’s an old state of delirium of men singing and laughing. They liked to open fire; they liked playing with life and death.
     And now everything ended like it does in an absurd play.
     One worn out morning faded away and another dawned.
     "Are you sure you’re here?” Asya asked.
     "Yes. Yes. And I want to stay here a long time.”
     “Coffee!” Lala Fadilah's voice rang out from the hallway.
     The daughter took the copper tray from her mother.
     Mahdi Jawad smoked, visibly troubled.
     “It’s a relief to share your pain with others,” Asya said.
     Cautious, he smiled feebly. “Perhaps. If one has something to say.”
     "Have you ever suffered any distress in your life?”
     "Just an ordinary life without any excitement.”
     “But how can anybody's life be ordinary?”
     “When one is indifferent and doesn’t care about things.”
     “Are you like that?”
     “Is there anything about me that suggests otherwise?”
     “Your distractedness.”
     “It’s just that I don’t interact so well with people.”
     She poured coffee. Her forearms were bare. Light blond hair slept along the course of her yellowish forearm. She wore a colorful long gandoura.
     “But what does that mean—don’t interact well?”
     “Asocial. I feel unable to interact with others.”
     “Have you asked yourself why?”
     “Yes. I always ask myself that.”
     “Have you tried to interact socially?”
     “My whole life I’ve tried.”
     “And what’s been the result?”
     “Failure.”
     “Who withdraws?”
     “I don't know. Sometimes I think perhaps I’ve had harmful ideas, ones that were extreme, rigid, and difficult to actualize. They say: ‘You should be realistic. Why don't you go with the flow?’ And I ask myself if I really swim against the current. But if I went with the flow, where would I end up? They say: ‘If you stay like that, you’ll end up isolated. Alone, no one with you. In order to live with others, you have to give in.’ My mother said: ‘Son, the level land drinks its own water as well as water from high lands.’ I responded, when I was a child: ‘But I hate level lands because everyone tramples on them, Mother, and I want to drink only my own water.’ And my mother said in despair: ‘You'll die alone. There will be no one to wrap the death shroud around you and walk in your funeral.’ And I responded rashly: ‘To hell! I don't want a shroud or mourners. I want to die naked beneath the sun in a forest or a desert, my corpse left for vultures and wild beasts. That’s better and more pleasing for me than prayers of hypocrites and dark graves of Muslims.’”
     The girl gazed at him, her chin nestled like a bird on her fingers, leaning on her elbow, astonished by these riddles. He wasn't looking at her. His attention oscillated between the space outside and the painting of the sea on the adjacent wall. It was clear that he wished to shield her from what he didn’t want to say outright. She asked him if his family was strict and conservative. “More than your family,” he said.
     “So where did this rebellious streak come from?”
     “Ever since I was little I’ve felt strong and fearless. I watched over sheep, hunted birds, and got into bloody fights in the neighborhood. Children were divided into gangs. We fought with sticks, hands, and knives—sharp kitchen knives. Crowded neighborhoods are tough. Filfthy, barefoot urchins were everywhere in our neighborhood, like flies. Hunger, wandering homeless, and beast-like fathers taught us to be tough. A childhood in alleys of mud, disease, and hunger breeds malice and hatred. The world was spoiled somehow. I lived part of my childhood in nature, herding and hunting. Nature taught me freedom and gave me strength. For long stretches of time, I would spend time in tall trees and rocks. From the heights of trees I observed vermin and beasts, fighting one another—insects, animals, all kinds of things triumphing over the harshness of storms, thunder, and downpours. I would stand for a long time in the rain, facing into storms to test my strength. The first adventure devastated me and nearly took my life. Later on I got used to the ordeal. I began to seek refuge in caves and hollows between rocks. Children in our neighborhood called me the wild tom-cat. My father died when I was twelve. My mother married a merciless man who worked as a porter in the city market. My father didn't leave us anything when he died. Life was harsh in my stepfather’s house. He’d return home late at night, drunk, with empty pockets, not even a red cent. When my mother would ask him about his earnings and household needs, he’d shout, curse, and beat her savagely with his fist and a stick. My mother wailed and hugged me tight to protect me from him. Sometimes he’d tear me from her arms and throw me out of the house. My mother would pick me up from the mud of the alley, wrap me up, and smuggle me away to neighbors’ homes for protection. As I got older, that stepfather continued to beat me like a dog. I endured his cruel beatings, then escaped to the wilds to sleep for days in caves until the ache of cold and hunger drove me back home. Then after some time my mother fell ill with tuberculosis and died.”
     Where did these outbursts come from? This flood of childhood stories? What foolish occasion prompted this?
     A wave of regret swept over him.
     “Forgive me. I rattled on more than I should have. These are personal matters. I shouldn’t . . . “
     “No. No. There’s no need to apologize.”
     Waves of inner light crested on her face, bright as the sun-lit sea.
      “Things were flowing from the depths of your heart. Now I know your sadness. . . . I understand you better.”
     A girl entered the salon as they were drinking coffee. Her amazing natural beauty filled the space. She greeted them in French and shook hands shyly. "My sister Manar," Asya said. "A straightforward introduction," she continued. "Manar likes dancing and music, Charles Aznavour, Johny Halliday, tennis and chocolate, but she despises Arabic. She knew you before she saw you. I've talked to her a lot about you.
     Manar's convulsive laughter shook the salon. A lively, headstrong child sang in her eyes and on her crimson lips. She poured herself a mixture of coffee and milk into a glass and took the largest piece of cake. She ate and drank ravenously in silence, showing no concern.
     Mahdi Jawad seemed flustered and taken aback as the two sisters launched into a rapid conversation in French, smiling with childlike radiance. For a moment he felt excluded and uncomfortable. Asya and Manar don't look like sisters, he thought. A brown African face juxtaposed beside a fair Roman face.
     Asya took notice, as though she had read his mind. "We’re not alike. What are you thinking?” She continued sarcastically: "I always say to this dark-eyed girl, ‘Are you my sister?’
     Mahdi asked if anyone in their family had married a foreigner, and she said that her grandfather had been married to a French woman who was still living. “She likes this dark-eyed one more than me. She gives her money from her savings. ‘You’re a French form that contains an Arab soul,’ she tells me. My sister Dalilah isn't like us. Anyone who sees us doesn't believe we’re sisters. I look a lot like my dad. He was light-skinned and handsome.
     “You have a third sister?
     “She's married to an Algerian who works in Nice.
     The blue villa in the Luranji neighborhood, scarved in repose, was anchored in the dusk. Through the window and white curtains she saw the top of the elm tree, on Colonel Lutfi Street, standing guard over the flowering orange trees.
     The pleasant sunset spread out across Bunah in dusky rays, over walls, the earth, and leaves of trees. Gentle breezes drifted in, rippling the curtain, and the scent of lemon blossoms wafted into the salon. Peace, happiness, and domestic bliss prevailed in this pleasant atmosphere, penetrating the heart.
     “Let’s smoke,” Manar suddenly proposed, excitedly and boldly.
     "You’re going to smoke?” Asya laughed. “How unusual!"
     “I know that you smoke,” Manar sang out. "Why is it all right for you to do it and not me?" She lit a cigarette she had taken from Mahdi's pack.
     "What if Mama comes in?"
     "I'll swallow the cigarette like this," Manar said, coughing from the smoke. She turned the cigarette around, stuck the lit end in her mouth, and began to blow out smoke through the filter and her nostrils.
     “Ya haloof! My God! You pig! You're a professional and I didn't know?
     Their laughter merged with Manar's coughing.
     "Do you really hate Arabic, Manar?" Mahdi asked.
     She explained that she found it difficult to understand and that since it's of secondary importance in the Department of Business and Accounting, she didn't pay attention to it.
     With difficulty and awkwardness, she set out to explain her position, mixing phrases from French and the local dialect. He asked her if she understood his conversation with her. “Somewhat," she said.
     Through Asya he asked Manar about how she felt about this deficiency.
     She smiled naturally as a child, and moved her hand nervously across the surface of the table, drawing surreal, meaningless figures. "I don't know. I don't feel that Arabic is necessary." And for some reason Asya (half joking and half seriously) interjected: "We’re Arabs and we want to learn our native language—the language that the colonists stole from us. It may be difficult, but it’s the language of our ancestors who came from the Sahara."
     She explained herself in French and Arabic. Mahdi asked her about the word “sahara,” meaning desert, and she said: "We’re from the province called “As-sahara,” From Batenah. An Arab province from the time of the Hilali.
     As Lala Fadilah entered, they put out cigarettes with their fingertips beneath the table, then dropped and covered them beneath their feet in dramatic, flustered movements.
     Coffee was served to their mother, respectfully and humbly. Lala Fadilah asked Mahdi about her daughter's progress with her lessons.
     “Asya is smart and she's improving remarkably quickly," the language teacher responded.
     The mother turned toward Manar. "Yet Manar doesn't know one letter of Arabic.”
     Manar laughed wantonly and stood up without showing any concern. "Um Traki is beginning on T.V.”
     Lala smiled. “Watching "Um Traki is Good Folk is certainly better than studying Arabic and French, ya alkhala, dark-eyed one."
     The mother quickly finished her coffee and left.
     Once they were alone, Asya asked Mahdi if her Arabic really was improving.
     "Of course it is. But you ought to curtail idle conversation."
     "Will I pass?"
     "Why not?”
     "And will I be able to read books in Arabic?"
     “Oh! Sure. Enough questions, chatterbox!”
     "And will I be able to understand you when you use difficult words?” she pestered him.
     She was dancing with her whole body as she asked, delighted to discover the childlike rhythm of the language.
     The child-woman who was crossing the threshold of adulthood into galaxies of strange and obscure worlds, imagining them galaxies of happiness and bliss.
     In the course of these months and meetings he was surprised to find this treasure: A chyrsanthemum growing in the wilds of Bunah between rocks and thorns and the howling of fierce winds.

* * *

     Mahdi wrote in his journal: “It is important for man to struggle against the expelled demon and the savagery of the venomous world, to pound tirelessly at the doors of the cave in order to get out into the sunlight. Life can be beautiful and pleasant despite miseries. The longing to be whole, the longing for an authentic life that can be realized between a man and a woman who unite to face the world’s harshness. Spread your wings and stand firm like a pelican in the stormy expanse of snow.
     Oh! Why in the flood of pain and dejection do we forget the sound of the music of the sea, the lilting patter of raindrops, and the rising of sap beneath the hard bark of trees? Warmth shines from a woman's eyes. This what is about to be shouted out: Why don't we nestle together like birds in the frozen night then rise with the rays of dawn, singing?”

-4-

      African mornings are refreshing though often bitterly cold. A dawn sad and obscure like the secret of forests, bearing scents redolent of wilderness and the sea’s translucence in wisps of wind.
     The mystery embroidering the city’s mantle enfolded it within a gauzy veil of sorrow and silence. This music, undulating with secrets, dissolved in the damp dawn, live and longing.
     Bunah’s sun rouses workers, peasants, students and birds screeching through forests and over the sea, bursting forth with all the dynamism of virgin Africa.
     The mornings of this green and radiant continent say something paradoxical, reaching towards the springs of wonder. What a fresh continent and what a brief stay here! That is what foreigners felt after a while.
     The sense of exile coincided with the outburst of love. Sex was manifest in a divine African God symbolizing the power of the body and the primordial force in this hot continent, and the newcomer felt like he was a migrating stork from the poles who had landed here by mistake or because he was weary.
     To really know Africa, to blend with its blood—Africa: blazing, strange, mysterious, throbbing, radiant, with its untouchable fiery furnace—requires a long time and a heart ready to break open.
     “Savagery,” the colonial monster called this pent-up, radiant energy in the depths of people, the sea and jungles. This glow now shone in from the balcony of Mahdi Jawad's new apartment.
     After a month he had found a room in the western part of the city.
     "You are teachers, sheikh,” Haj Mohammed said as he evicted him. “Sheikhs come here to teach the Koran, not to chase women."
     He wanted to taunt Haj Mohammed since he knew for sure he was going to be evicted. "You have it wrong, Haj,” he told him. “The Koran is recited by pilgrims in the house of God, and teachers don't force women to come to them. They come on their own accord." He continued, in exasperation: "In the East we have a popular proverb: ‘The foreigner’s organ is sweet, and everything new gives pleasure.’ And as you know, Uncle Haj, proverbs are derived from people's experiences.
     "By the prayer of Mohammed on your head, Uncle Haj, have you ever been in love?" Mahdi’s sarcasm caught him by surprise.
     “Once,” the Haj replied. “Once, on the sunna of God and his prophet.”
     "You married her of course.”
     "Most certainly."
     "But God said: ‘Marry as you like.’ And our glorious prophet was an example for all of us and we follow his sunna. He married more than twenty women, including lawful ones, mistresses, and those he took for pleasure. The Prophet (God’s prayers and peace be upon him) said: ‘Propogate. Propogate. And I’ll be proud of you before all other nations.’”
     The Haj was seized by anger. "The Prophet married according to the Sharia', but all of you, you want communism. And the mighty God said in his cherished book: "If you are afflicted with sins, hide yourselves."
     “Uncle Haj,” Mahdi shouted, with laughter. “We wanted to hide, but my Lord’s intelligence service knocks at our closed doors.
     The Haj’s chest tightened with this bold declaration. "Get out, brother,” he shouted. “Get out. Mercy on your parents. The French fellow who wants to rent the place is coming in an hour. Enough of this insolence.
     "I'll soon be going, Uncle Haj,” Mahdi said. “I’m sure the French fellow will cover the walls of the room with suras from God's verses and the prophet's hadiths.”

*

     Just before sundown there was a knock at the door. It was Lala Fadilah, Asya, and Manar. "We came to visit you at your place,” the mother said, removing her white head headscarf and black abayah. “Congratulations on your new home. How are you doing? Is everything fine?
     “Welcome. Everything is fine.”
     They sat down, Asya on the bed, Manar and her mother on two wooden chairs.
     “The apartment is modest. I’m sorry. You know about the life of foreigners here.”
     A look of indignation came over Asya's face. The word "foreigner"—how it wounded her.
     "It seems like you enjoy repeating this word,” she had said one day. “It hurts me when you say it." This she said in response to a phrase he wrote in French in her notebook: "L'etranger reste etranger." (The foreigner/stranger remains a foreigner/stranger.)
     When she read it, she picked up the pen and vehemently crossed it out. "Don't ever do this again. You’re no longer a stranger. You’re one of us. Do you understand?"
     "That's what you want, but that’s not the reality.”
     "Oh! How upset you get sometimes. Why are you so touchy?”
     "Some day I'll explain to you the meaning of internal estrangement. The feeling of regret over man’s mistaken entry into the world.”
     Lala Fadilah complimented him on the room. She asked him how he moved and got rid of Haj Mohammed, whom she called al-haloof, the swine.
     "The Haj rented my old room to a French engineer who offered twice as much as I was paying,” Mahdi said. “If I was out late one night, he would have thrown my things into the street."
     “Oh, Algerians are so rude!” Manar exclaimed.
     “But this Haj doesn't represent Algerians,” Mahdi responded.
     "Money is their religion,” Lala Fadilah said. “I swear to God that Jews get along better with one another than we do."
     She turned to Asya. "Imagine a Muslim Haj who prefers a Westerner to an Arab just because of the money. Look into the background of this haloof and you'll find he was an informer for the French during the revolution."
     "Mother, let's forget about him,” Asya said as she adjusted the radio dial. “Real men are dead and swine are devouring the homeland. This is our country."
     "Manar, alkhala, dark-eyed girl, what Arabic songs do you like?" she asked her sister, changing the topic.
     Manar shook with laughter. "Does Tom Jones sing in Arabic?"
     Tender and warm, Fairuz warbled.
     "Manar, what do you think about Fairuz?” asked Mahdi.
     "Asya is crazy about her. I like her "Tik, ti, tik! Ya em sleiman."
     A brief conversation about European culture and civilization ensued, set in motion by Mahdi’s question to Manar. She responded in French. Asya translated the difficult parts, condensing her view that “Europeans are spontaneous, more true to life than we are, and less dogmatic. They express their feelings plainly and freely, while Arabs are zealots governed by the provisions of inherited traditions. They’re not free within themselves.”
     Mahdi took pains to explain the difference between traditional and modern Arabs: How the new generation was trying to find ways to live openly, authentically, and freely. The old generation was still more powerful in our times, however the conflict between the two generations would produce new progressive generations in the future.
     "This means I belong to the old generation and there is a war between us?" Lala Fadilah asked.
     They laughed. "No, mom,” Asya said. “You’re modern. As long as you’re with us, you're a part of the new generation. The important thing is not to have anything to do with my step-father Yazeed's faction."
     "Every generation has its own time and ways of doing things,” the mother said. “God’s book says: ‘We came upon our fathers following a sunna and we are called upon to follow them.’” She misquoted the verse.
     The mood was radiant, full of bliss. "Tea or coffee?" Mahdi asked. "Tea. Iraqi tea,” Asya clapped gleefully. I die for Iraqi tea. I'll make it for you." She got up and went to the kitchen.
     "Asya. You Iraqi!” Manar chirped like a bird. “I don't like tea. Make me coffee or I'll say what’s in my heart."
     "There's no milk," Mahdi said.
     Lala Fadila resolved the matter. "Tea. Iraqi tea. We’re in Si Mahdi's home so we’ll drink what he wants and drink what we want in our home. It is a duty to respect customs and traditions."
     Manar became upset. "Oh! Ufff! We come back to traditions. Even when it comes to coffee and tea Arabs have no freedom!" She scowled defiantly.
     “All right,” Mahdi said. “Asya will make tea and I'll make coffee.”

*

     Yazeed Walad Al-Haj’s phonograph revolved around and around. Lala Fadila played it, while Manar and Asya played tapes on the tape recorder. She told about the beginning of his migration from the Berber Kabyla region during the war of liberation. “Then it became clear how destitute he was, forcing him to work in the black market until he became well off through his efforts and the sweat of his brow. He then married a mentally unstable woman who ruined his life and deprived him of his wealth. Now Yazeed is an active man. He’s influential and his word is highly respected by government leaders, the police commissioner, and party officials.“
      She felt pride and pleasure as she spoke about her husband’s connections to various government ministers, top officers, and French businessmen. “Despite this, he’s afraid of nationalization. Bu Madian's threats to socialize things embolden the workers. They’ve begun to steal from him, demand higher wages, and threaten to take over his possessions.”
      She paused briefly. "Tell me, Si Mahdi, do you have socialism in Iraq?"
     "In Iraq, Syria, Egypt and all the Arab countries there is nothing but plundering, killing, and lies,” he scoffed. “Arab rulers, Aunt Lala, are halaleef--swine, tyrants and enemies of their own people. They talk about socialism like Haj Mohamed talks about religion. But our rulers are as affected by socialism as Haj by of religion.”
     "But are religion and socialism compatible?" LaLa Fadilah asked, voicing popular sentiment.
      Asya took notice. "Mother, does religion allow for injustice?” she shouted from the kitchen.
      “God forbid!” the mother said.
      "The haves will always be unjust to the have nots,” Asya quickly interjected. “That's human nature.”
     "But you know what a good heart Yazeed has, and how he deals with the workers and everyone else," the mother said, surprised.
     "I'm not talking about my stepfather. I'm talking about rich people who loathe the poor. The rich always get rich from the sweat of the poor. This has gone on since the beginning of time. Bin Bullah steered Algeria toward socialism. Why did they overthrow him?”
     Lala Fadilah shook her head and adjusted the gold belt Yazeed had given her on their wedding night, making vague comments about how the new generation didn’t appreciate anything. Her strong love for her daughter flooded over her.
     "I don't know, my daughter. I don't know. You’re educated and understand more. We’re old-fashioned and uneducated. Damn injustice and oppressors. I swear to God—and you know it--that I forgo bread and give it to the poor."
     When Mahdi, Asya and Manar were together privately, Asya called Yazeed Walad Al-Haj "a ghoul." Manar dubbed him "Hitler of the House” and mimicked his authoritative voice, a military voice. "’No, no. Where have you been today? What’s for dinner tonight? No, no. Your daughters use the telephone. Yes, sir. Listen to me: After seven no one leaves the house. No, no, no, no!’ He issues commands like God.” Asya continued with the impersonation. "’Manar, prepare dinner. Asya, light the water heater in the bathroom. Turn off the T.V. It's a dangerous movie. Bu Madian turned Algeria into a bordello. Religion and Islamic law have been destroyed. Lala, bring me . . . Lala, come here. Lala go.’ Yazeed Walad Al-Haj, the God-tyrant, the one who makes proclamations to forbid things. The most hateful word for him is when someone says no to his face.”
     His despotic qualities were rooted in capital. With money he imagined that he moved the wheel of the world, and could stop the earth from turning whenever he wished. The arms of his business extended from Wahran in the West to Constantine and Bunah in the East.
     The reach of his business, his connections with officials and businessmen, and his trips to Tunisia, Morocco and France once had made him think that he was better qualified to govern Algeria democratically than Bu Madian's military rule and Bin Bullah's red communist rule. He had confided this to Lala Fadilah one night when he was drunk.
     Asya Al-Akhdar caught bits of his raving that summer night and laughed til she fell asleep.

-5-

     The surf subsides and settles once the storm passes. A dull, melodious rhythm of water gently and amiably lapping the shores. Violent gales vanish after scattering things about, leaving ruins and echoes in their wake.
     Things sink fluidly, soundlessly settling to the bottom. In such times, like at the end of a war, those seeking refuge from the aftershocks withdraw to stand before mirrors and account for what went right and wrong.
     Perhaps they had fewer headaches now and were calmer, but they clearly saw what lay behind the wall.
     Still, the fighter’s respite in this relaxing evening seemed in some prism more comfortable than it ought to have been.
     Migratory birds need this kind of rest after traveling across oceans.
     As we revisit things in the private chamber of self-criticism, we ask: "Oh! Why has this happened?”
     The most disturbing question for Mahdi Jawad in his exile to which he sought a definitive answer was: Where was the flaw?
     But the bulwark rising like a mountain of granite refused to budge: How to rebuild without being destroyed?
     These unanswered questions proliferated in his mind like the fission of particles falling from a distant sky in the form of snowy butterflies.
     Asya's voice broke through the churning of these hot and cold cascades like a forecast one day around noon: "Every time the land becomes drunk with rain, the grass rises stronger and fresher." She was speaking in veiled figural terms about the nature of their relationship that was about to be revealed.
     And Mahdi Jawad was collapsing, contrary to the wishes of his ship’s winds, between the archipelago of the past and the immediate present, between the ground that lay beneath his feet and firm lands visible at the doors of the sea.
      "How deep the abyss. How thick the ruins!"
     In those tumultuous times, it was bitter to foresee that the God of this earth crept away, slinking away from the ages of sand and sun, slow as a turtle.

*

     Conversations flared up, in orbits sometimes touching the central topic, sometimes moving away from it.
     In cities, in the countryside, in streets, squares, cafés, universities, and secret hideouts.
     Like a ship engulfed by a storm, everyone reeled about from the blow that crippled the party's activities and began to split it right and left, up and down.
     Mind-numbing bewilderment and confusion appeared on Mahdi Jawad's screen as a result of the intensity and suddenness of the blow.
     Those legions that rushed out like a torrent the moment the party's cry rose in the open air—where have they gone!
     Thus the world shattered into pieces.
     The central committee was on the side of deceit, and the side of peaceful democratic struggle and the national bourgeois.
     And on the other side were the growing bases inspired by armed revolutions in Vietnam, Cuba, Uruguay, and the Palestinian resistance.
     An earthquake shook the ground of Iraq; midst staggering and the shock of death, Mahdi Jawad saw the sky, trees, and riverbanks enshrouding the dead and wounded.
     In prison camps, facing rifles' muzzles and bayonets’ blades, deserters fell like birds into traps. Salam Adel and Jamal Al-Haidari, members of the revolutionary leadership, were executed. And in Al-Washash and Al-Rashid camps, bullets bore through bodies of soldiers and officers, while national death-squads conducted their hunting expeditions throughout the streets and neighborhoods of Baghdad, Mosel, Hillah, and Diwaniyah.
     Midst this distress, midst the burst of blood, martyrdom and bravery, some of the right's leadership fled to Moscow, while others sought refuge in the bases of the Kurdish revolution in Suleimaniah. From Al-Barazani's positions, the leadership of the right waged a fierce offensive against what it called the separatists, those who followed the Chinese and Cuban adventurous branch, and it called the party's cadres and bases to rally around the legitimate leadership that was faithful to the history of the party's struggle.
     The cells of the bases, from the revolutionary cadre and Baghdad leadership, were waiting for an opportunity, a remission and let up in the pursuits and the patrols that raided houses and secret hideouts so they could initiate intensive propaganda campaigns against the lies of the central committee that had sold out the party and disclosed its documents during its cooperation with the military dictatorship.
     Midst this distress, the Leninist cadre under the leadership of Al-‘Alawi and the Baghdad group under the leadership of Aziz Al-Haj and the leftist union led by Ameen Khayuun, were calling for a unification of their factions under the cry for pursuing a long-term armed struggle.
     But the rift was deep and the blow had pierced the heart. The situation was like the intense awareness before the rattle of death. Those in authority were resolute this time, proving themselves worthy of the morals of the Caliphs who crushed the Blacks and the Karamitah, determined to be faithful to their inheritance.      Thus began the business of pursuing and exterminating the party, according to a very precise, focused, harsh, and efficient method.
     Deep within Mahdi Jawad, a prisoner in Hillah, the scene was colored with blood and shattered meteors: The scene of the first secret cell established in the home of Hamdan Al-Kurmuti and Babek Al-Khurrami and Ali bin Mohammad and Spartacus, for the purpose of destroying the old despotic world.
     On the other side, within palaces, castles, homes with harems, and barracks of imperial guards, maps and secret lines of movements of armies, caliphs, and generals were drawn up to preserve the structure of that sacred world, the structure of the monster of the Sahara riding on seas of petrol and legendary incantations of Islam, the True Religion, ad-din al-hanif.
     These maps, lines, and old documents seemed now to have been brought out again, re-arranged, and reread in light of modern times.
     In torture chambers and detention camps, and within military strongholds and ministries of defense, interior, and national security, sadistic interrogators began to shatter the symbols of the cipher of Marxism deliberately and skillfully: The necessity to destroy the nucleus of the Marxist embryo growing in the womb of the Arab land once and for all.