Bed 13 + Child of the light

Bed 13

 Photo Courtesy of Anwar Sabri

Photo Courtesy of Anwar Sabri

I am sitting on an armless steel-frame chair with a buckled backrest. I am propped (my weight, my woes, the great mass of frustration and fury that fills my head and every spare inch of my chest) on my two thin forearms. I plant them, unfeeling, into my thighs, and on the hard mattress of the bed, where I have spread a floral sheet to make it fit for human use, my daughter lies stretched out like a corpse. In her little nose there is a plastic tube which supplies her with a thin stream of life. Another tube feeds her more and more of the fluids, which are depleting much faster than the doctor said they would. Across the ward other beds are lined in rows, most of them empty. Two beds down a man in fifties is sprawled alone. Having failed to attract the attention of the nurses he is staring up at the ceiling. I can’t worry about him now. Now, my daughter is all I see. I watch her eyes, sunk in their dark sockets, and am furious that my hopes have fallen so low that all I want is for her lids to flutter.

I drag my gaze away. The flies partying around a stain beside the small plastic bin. The ceiling fan making moan, its rusty blades ripping through my guts. I am possessed by powerlessness. How am I going to kill him? How to beat him, if only this one time? I beg. “I swear I’ll never ask for another thing”. I lean back in the chair. The back buckles further. A despairing attempt to cast out the jelly of defeat from my lungs and my joints, and I weep into my trembling hands. Nothing works.

Azraeel, if you come I swear you won’t be taking her alone.                  

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Child of the light

It was always by solitude that he was described, whenever his mother was asked how he was. He would go into himself, would gather to him everything that was important to him as though embracing it, keeping it safe, and then would retire to his room like someone afraid of the light, of the sight of people’s faces, each time the sound of voices were heard through the house.

 Photo Courtesy of Anwar Sabri

Photo Courtesy of Anwar Sabri

Gazing at his features, at his body, sprawled out on his stomach deep in sleep, his mother’s thoughts are full of questions. “There’s nothing about him to make him different, so why does it feel that way? Why the fear filling my heart for this gentle creature?” There is nothing she can do but take his head in her hands and print a kiss on his warm brow. Warm to the point of feverish. The days made no change in him, as though time had forgotten to pass through him, to stretch out his cells so he might grow as others did. Even his hair holds the same wave which she had shaped a year before: the white hair like a wheatsheaf in the middle of his wavy black crop still falling to one side, and pointing down to his left eye. And as though he is receiving revelation or being possessed by a djinn—as his right hand curls round his book, his favourite pen pushed between the pages—his face trembles. Something enters into its strange formations. His cheeks mottle, turn blue, and as though they’re stained by skylines, criss-cross veins stand out. Something is pulsing irregularly across these cheeks. It spreads to his sunken eyes, and overruns their whiteness. Dark blood gushes from his delicate nostril. It is enough to make his mother rush over to take a closer look. She hammers the door, screaming soundlessly: like you are seeing her through thick glass. Nothing has any sound any more.

 Photo Courtesy of Anwar Sabri

Photo Courtesy of Anwar Sabri

But now, in the room, there is a sound. It fills the space. A heavy sound, like an echo. Like a continuous buzz. It fills every nook and cranny of the house and its rooms; it spreads like a pool of water. The door opens. Things rise. Swim. They float along the corridors and through the rooms. The mother tries to get to him, to grab onto him. He is walking out of the room with regular, uniform strides, as though striding with a heavy bucket of water.

Outside everything is flying about, but purposelessly, powerlessly. The electronics are off. The electricity is off. Cars and bikes, anything that is man-made, is floating about like empty plastic bags. The boy screams, as though summoning more power. An explosion of light, the pale blue of a pilot light, widens in a vast circle as far as the eye can see, and the strange heavy sound echoes everywhere, but heavier, and sharper. Now heavier things float up: tanks, troop transporters, minesweepers, helicopters. In the distance the defence forces are approaching, but inside the circle of light nothing can operate. First small scout planes, then fully loaded F-15s, then the giant bombers: all of them mere objects swimming about in the sky. Missiles far from distant launchers are like feathers in a storm.

He drags his steps to the other room, where the ceiling prevents it contents from escaping. But in the far corner is a small child, lying on a little cotton blanket. The child is playing, waving its hands and gurgling loudly. He goes over. Drags himself towards the child. Pushes himself into its arms. Kisses it. He becomes normal again. The objects fall to the floor.

 

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The two stories were translated to English by Robin Moger.