Jasmine Soukieh is a Canberra-born and raised Lebanese-Australian, currently spending her days between New Zealand, Lebanon and Australia while she pursues a doctorate in nutritional sciences. She is one of the Founding Co-editors of be:longing.
Image: © Dunja Kaczmarek, 2018
In a small room, warm and bright, Yahya awoke to sunlight bending into his room. He was groggy. The sleep had not been good. He rolled himself off the bed and flopped onto the floor. From that spot, he would sometimes start a slow self-dig into a shallow pit of distress. He let his body lie in such places from time to time. They were inhospitable, but he could bear their rejection of his continued habitation of them well. Mostly because he couldn’t get out of them easily. The edges of the pit were not high and he should have been able to climb out with a little effort, but his spirit was atrophying. Maybe his muscles were going along with it.
There was a low buzzing sound in the room. His graceless movement had disturbed a fat blowfly making its way along the panelling of the near wall. It sat in one place for a long time, trying to regain its composure after the shock. It had come in the day before. He had seen it become entangled in a long, sheer inner-curtain in the late afternoon, but thought it had left before he’d slid the final window shut at night. The barrier must have proved too difficult to overcome on the way out.
Yahya lay on his stomach with his face flat against the carpet. It had a burned smell that he associated with newness. A blotch of red dye caught his eye; a rogue thread mistakenly incorporated into the curled, synthetic grey-blues. He looked for more red. He didn’t move his head to facilitate an easier scan, and his eyes hurt under the strain. There was no more that he could see. He would look again another time.
The fly, reassured of his renewed stillness, abandoned the panelling and plopped itself heavily somewhere near the top of his line of sight. He followed its curious trotting with his eyes only. It was a slow mover. He smiled. The fly took a road parallel to his body; it was headed in the direction of his feet. He would see it until it passed the line of his elbow, but probably not any further.
It crossed to the beyond. He felt a tension in his brows and the bridge of his nose. It was an old sensation.
He got up to ready himself for work.
* * *
Yahya sat at his desk. His office was sunny, and his coffee was hot. He looked out of his window to see office buildings and apartments of variable heights set against that pale blue rectangle. Clouds were just smeared across it today – a scrape of white – like someone had run out of paint part-way through the job. He was in early and the place was mostly empty; just sleeping computer screens and papers resting on desks here and there, like the aftermath of something. Emma was there too, tapping away at her keyboard a few cubicles away, getting ahead of it all.
He was gazing out over a quiet city with hot drink in hand, steam rising from it like a dance.
Loneliness was getting to him, and his heart ached. His heart was always aching these days. His thoughts were the problem. He would start down a painless enough one, then slip dramatically and find himself right in the middle of a great heartache. Today, it was his coffee that had started the trouble.
Waiting for it to cool to a safe enough temperature for sipping, thoughts of his dad swirled up through him. The distance between what he thought must be their respective everydays was enormous. He imagined a hazy orange, humid late-morning. He saw his father pulling up to a moajanaat place – cigarette propped between his middle and forefingers; sweet, black coffee in a tiny plastic cup in the same hand; scrolling through his phone, philosophising through the passenger window to Abu Deeb preparing his breakfast.
Yahya blinked several times very quickly, dispersing the wetness that had gathered at the base of his eyes to prevent the puddle from spilling over. He’d better not cry sitting where he was, he thought. He parcelled up the emotional swell and put it out of sight.
Emma was soon up for her own coffee. She clocked him, as always, and called something out to him happily. He half-stood up, tipping his head with a smile and putting a hand to his chest with not-a-small-amount of good nature. He guessed it had been a greeting, like he always did. He wasn’t familiar with her accent and he caught only fragments of meaning each time she spoke. He only hoped she was never asking him a question.
The day passed as it usually did. Another one to add to all the others.
* * *
Yahya found himself again at home. The transition to night seemed sudden, like his morning had been tacked right onto his night. Mornings and nights were the portions of the 24-hour cycle that he noticed. Somehow, he missed the afternoons.
A collection of unwashed dishes stared at him, unimpressed, from various surfaces as he stepped through his place. They were everywhere – on the benchtop, on the plastic table he had his meals at; he knew there were at least a couple of items to collect from his bedroom, too. He felt quite separate from the person that had produced them. Next to them he felt a bit ashamed; he in his suit and dress shoes and they in their stains. He got changed and went about collecting crockery from his two rooms apologetically.
He stood at the sink, hands moving slowly over each other under the running water. Time passed more slowly now. It was quiet. The water felt warmer on his skin at night. This room was the only one illuminated in his tiny flat.
The night was when he thought freely – recklessly. He considered busting open that parcel from earlier; really rummaging around in it. The fork he was rinsing slipped from his hands and scraped the side of the metal basin. It made him start. He stiffened. He thought he was about to hear something else.
He had begun to hear muted carnival music some nights when he was washing up. He wondered if something wasn’t happening to his brain. The music would seem to be coming from his bedroom one moment, and from the walls of the sink another. It was unnerving. When he would turn off the tap, it would stop; and when he would run it again, there it would be. He got so frightened sometimes that he couldn’t move and, rooted to the spot, he would long for the oblivion of sleep.
He used as little running water as possible now, just to avoid it.
He had heard carnival music for the first time in American TV shows. Eerie things were always happening at carnivals in American TV shows. He would have thought a carnival would be a happy place – rides, snacks and games – but the carnivals in American TV shows were cavernous and badly lit. In them rides broke down and people were chased. And no-one could get eyes on their assailants. The shadows were vast and inescapable, and the music played and played in the same way – it didn’t matter what gruesome thing was happening.
He slotted a final plate into the steel drying rack. It scraped against a ceramic tray in front and settled against it. He held his hand over it – hovered a few millimetres away, ready to catch if the placement proved precarious. It did not. He smiled and dragged his hands and forearms down the front of his T-shirt to get them dry. The material was thin and old and it stretched nearly to ripping as he did this.
He turned out the light. “To bed,” he said. The damp material tapped against his abdomen as he walked. It was cold.
* * *
Yahya tipped his slippers off his feet at the entrance to his bedroom and wandered over to the window. Orange light from the street lamp blinked on the road and his earlier imaginings were conjured up once more. The parcel shuddered where he’d forgotten it. Not tonight, he thought. He nudged it again, this time into more decided obscurity.
He pulled his heavy, red curtains three-quarters shut. Then he turned, remembering the blowfly.
He panicked for a moment, worried he’d trodden on it carelessly. He turned on the light and scoured the room for it. He checked the window sills, and all the wall panels. Nothing. He was disappointed.
He knew it wasn’t for him to keep anything confined there with him, but he couldn’t help feeling grateful for its company. His place was insulated and quiet – couldn’t a blowfly be happy in such a setting? He sat on the edge of his bed. He hadn’t made it that morning, and half of his sheet was dragging on the floor. He whipped it up onto the bed.
A buzzing noise sounded out. His companion tumbled out from under the bed; it had been bundled up in the hanging sheet. He had disturbed it again. “I’m so sorry,” he said, horrified that he had interfered with its peace so indecorously a second time.
He got onto the floor and crouched beside it. It was very still. “Please move,” he implored. It tumbled heavily into its characteristic trot. His face broke with relief. He was overjoyed – to see it and to see it move. He considered returning it out through the window. It was late, and outside was windy.
He stepped by it carefully and turned out the light. He hoped that what it preferred too was a cosy night in. “I will keep this window open for you tomorrow,” he told it. “Stay here tonight. Stay warm.”
The orange from outside lit his path back to his bed. He was grateful for it now. He slipped under his blankets. And he slept well.
© Jasmine Soukieh, 2021