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14th Anniversary Edition, Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume Seven Nov-Dec 2023.
My Crazy Beloved, story by Mohamed Baraka.
The cool, refreshing breeze is a gift from heaven, when she watches with curious eyes a small caravan moving along a narrow strip of dirt alongside a silver-colored lake whose fascination has no bounds. The pedestrians do not know where the march ends, but their quick, earnest steps and their sneakers that happily pop the eyes of young grass suggest that they are soldiers. They are committed to the instructions of their field commander.
A former general who did not want to give up the dictatorship of the military leader during his long years of retirement. He has a face that resembles Mussolini and a loving dog named Patricia, whom everyone calls Pia. Our destination is a nature reserve that contains 150 types of rare flowers and receives hundreds of migratory birds during this season every year that take the place as a stop and rest stop on their journey from South Africa to Northern Europe. I know that the sun is shining brightly today, but we must conserve drinking water. Do not consume it quickly, as we will not be able to supply another water for at least five hours.
In a circle with him as its center, he stood and recited the final instructions before setting off. She was leaning over my ear to translate the summary of what he was saying. I whispered in her ear:
-Should we now shout the military salute: Perfect, Your Honor?
My sarcasm was a mistake that heaven did not forgive. She suddenly laughed, as was her eternal habit, without care or responsibility. The blonde who was sculpted by the Creator of the Heavens from the clay of seduction and sprayed with the perfume of indifference, so her height became slender like a pine branch, soft like the morning breath. Her interest is to break all the rules like a gazelle in a china shop. I was destined to collect the scattered fragments behind her. The more she tried to control herself, the more she drifted until she almost fell to the ground. Looks of disapproval and curiosity gradually turned into sympathy and then smiles on the faces of most of the group members.
I intervened, trying to apologize in the easiest and most common Italian words…
However, Bernardino said in his brassy, condescending voice:
– Isn’t it enough that you and your Arab friend violated the instructions sent to you via your email and did not bring a cap or hat?
– Firstly, he is not an Arab, he is an Egyptian who belongs to the civilization of Cleopatra, before whom the leaders of Rome knelt, and then he is…..
He interrupted her irritably:
– Isn’t Arabic his language? Hell, he is an Arab. Moreover, I did not say that he is a terrorist or a misogynist, even though some may see that as a Muslim from the Middle East, he may have been like that.
The intervention of the group’s elders prevented the situation from escalating further, and my grateful intervention prevented it from baring more teeth like a tigress protecting her den. I was the one accused as soon as his name was spoken, the condemned as soon as he took off his sunglasses and showed his features, the exiled behind the walls of language, geography, skin differences, and timing. I imprint my kiss on the forehead of her anger. I kiss the lips of her little monster screaming in the wilderness. I press my fingertips on the crater of the volcano until it softens and calms down due to that accursed chemistry that causes a thousand fiery flowers to bloom on the maps of our bodies.
The march was organized. There were about twenty of us. We are scattered in duos and trios. The sun sends its harsh greetings in the form of increasing drops of sweat on European foreheads that are accustomed to clouds and rain and are not yet accustomed to the surprises of climate change creeping in its heat from the south of the Mediterranean to its north.
The majority are retired. As soon as they reached sixty, they said. Now the real fun begins and we move in our relationship with life from the stage of feeling the pulse to taking off the last piece of clothing.
While I left behind their counterparts in my country who, as soon as they reach that age, close the doors and windows and say: Come, O Angel of death, we are waiting for your blessed steps, so hurry and do not delay..
It was not difficult for me to notice that she was deliberately slowing down our steps until we gradually became the last of the group walking. And my heart did not think well. We slowed down more and more until there was a significant distance separating us from the others, and without warning, she pulled me by the hand to the forest on the right of the road, which was furnished with a huge carpet of wet shadows interspersed with luminous balls of sunshine. She took down the new shorts that she had bought for me from the “Gypsy Market.” Immediately, she unleashed her weapons, the likes of which the heart had never known: a loud noise in my ears from her tongue digging deep, and successive “love bites” embroidering a blue bruise on my neck. The letters came out with difficulty:
– They will look for us, and Bernardino will go crazy.
– He really went crazy, but from my ass, which he did not take his eyes off of, you fool, do you not yet know the real reason for his problem with us?
Her hoarse, breathy voice was crushing the last remnants of my nerves, and her little rose stabbed my dagger, which was always ready for her. Our screams rang out together, and the sky woke up, and the last sleeping branch in the desolate fairy forest woke up.
I never knew exactly what God had in mind as He put the finishing touches on that creature who would later be known as Carla. I swim with the sleeping fish for a little while after we spent last night waiting for the sun to rise in ancient Ostia, and their fingertips made of crystal shake me:
– How do you sleep when it is raining?
Under the rain that falls violently, as if something has angered it, we run like the chariots of Lady Zeinab and the saints of our Master Hussein, without an umbrella, in the narrow, black-tiled alleys and ancient, adjacent buildings of a capital that once ruled three-quarters of the globe.
We return home, and as soon as we hang the rain jacket on the wooden stand engraved with flowers and deer in the entrance to the apartment, she chants:
– It is not usual for it to rain at this time, but it seems to welcome my beloved coming from young Brussels to my old city.
This occasion had to be celebrated. And like every time, the celebration has only one meaning: pouring a glass of wine
“Brunello di Montacino” on my naked body, then sipped fine red wine to the last drop, with the slowness and patience befitting a ninety-year-old Buddhist monk on the highlands of Tibet.
I ignore the disturbance of the garbage collection truck that invades my sleep through the wooden window directly overlooking the street, and I return to sleep again. Her lips cutting a new stream through my neck awaken me. I open my eyes, and they are standing erect like a police officer on his first day of service in
The traffic of Cairo :
-Are you ready for your morning drink?
She points to a huge drink in her hand that contains a yellow liquid that looks like lentil soup, but its bitterness, like castor oil, is unbearable:
You should finish your entire cup and stop complaining about its taste like a child.
And she does not tire of repeating its benefits to me. It seems like just a cup of warm water, but with this amazing amount of turmeric and ginger with a little milk, you get a secret mixture that protects you from all diseases, from the common cold to cancer.
– Leave this talk to someone else who does not smoke two full packs of cigarettes in one day!
– He was… be precise, please… he was smoking… and thanks to my beloved…
She knelt at my feet and hugged my cheek:
– I started smoking a quarter of the amount and paying only a tenth of the cost since you introduced me to the world of loose tobacco and parchment paper.
She felt grateful for the simplest things that came from me, and she would not stop talking about them proudly to her friends:
– Mickey bought me English White Drum tobacco with parchment paper and an OCB filter. Yes, that is what it is called OCB. It is more natural and therefore less harmful, and of course your consumption of it is much less compared to a regular cigarette that does not require preparation.
– I do not go to the gym much anymore since Mickey convinced me of the benefits of natural running in the streets and public parks.
– It is a 100% handmade papyrus handbag that Mickey bought me from Egypt.
She always insisted on pointing out to me, that I was tired of commitment and no longer knew the meaning of belonging, as an essential component of her existence. I repeatedly tried to convince her that I was just another wave that would soon crash on the shore and that she could not relate to a passing ghost, but I stopped my attempts when I noticed that it only increased her stubbornness and determination to prove the opposite.
She took care of me like a practical mother who does not forgive her child for any mistake. Not only do you show me once how to clean teeth with bicarbonate powder using those thin blue sticks, but you do it daily with the rigor of a German nurse who does not tolerate excuses from patients in the convalescent stage.
– Soon you will get a Hollywood smile!
Tried my nails. She devotes herself to sculpting them with a file. She watches the growth of my hair strands to remove any longer than necessary as soon as possible. She surprises me while I am in the shower, drowning me in a barrage of creams, shampoos, and liquids that I do not know first from last.
In the evening, colored with violet clouds resembling Picasso’s madness, she opens the trunk of her red Motorino motorcycle and puts on the helmet designated for the passenger accompanying the driver with her hands, before putting on her own helmet. The time has come for what she used to call “fun,” and I see it as nothing more than a rehearsal for suicide. She takes off on narrow, paved roads that suddenly descend sharply. I scream in terror while she screams in excitement, imitating her black cat with frightening yellow eyes:
I ask her to slow down a little while she is flying like an angry eagle between the cars that do not stop cursing their drivers, so she says that I should not worry and that it is enough for me to cling to her more so that we can maintain our balance. She enters into spontaneous races with any young man who owns a larger motorino and thinks he can overtake her, and she does not rest until she outperforms him by a clear distance.
Now he can cry at his mother’s breast.
Among her friends, photographers, plastic artists, and musicians, she chooses the company that guarantees the minimum level of English speaking “so that you do not feel alienated.” Because this was not available all the time, she constantly turned to me to translate the content of what was said and to make sure that I was not bored. I tried to convince her that this would spoil our meetings with others and turn them into a press conference similar to the summits of leaders of the Arab world. She never understood that I was good at following the language of the eyes, reading features, and enjoying the dancing music on the banks of Italian words, especially since I was, in the end, a guest who would not stay for more than another week. She did not realize that I did not want to be a burden and that true alienation lies in the constant translation that reminds others that there is a stranger in their midst who needs, like an infant, something to feed him all the time.
In order not to give a false impression that everything was fine otherwise, I admit that the areas of agreement between us were shrinking a lot for other reasons. It is enough for my call to my daughter’s mother in Cairo to be a little long, or to glimpse an emotional icon with which a virtual friend reacted to a post I published, or the laughing caress with which I ended my inquiry with a saleswoman in an old furniture store.
It explodes like the crater of the “Stropoli” volcano, which we plan to visit next summer in the south of the country. She destroys everything that falls under her hand, and from her small mouth carved with crystal delicacy shoots out like Chinese daggers in the movie “Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon.” The wildest words were baked in the furnace of authentic Roman anger: Katsu, Astronsu, Fan Colo.
– Your ex-wife uses your daughter as an excuse to communicate with you with the aim of returning to you in the end. Was not she the one who prepared a romantic dinner in honor of your visit to them at home?
My old, renewed sin: forgetting that when you speak frankly and without caution with one woman about another woman, you are digging your own grave. She stops calling me with the pampering name “Mickey” so that I become just “Makawi.” Therefore, I know that her anger has reached its peak this time. I quickly intervene to extinguish what can be extinguished from the burning fire before it destroys the remaining dishes piled up in the kitchen sink from yesterday’s dinner. I hug her tightly without uttering a single word, and she immediately calms down like a wet, trembling bird:
– Do you promise to never leave me?
© Mohamed Baraka
Mohamed Baraka (1972) is an Egyptian novelist, storyteller and journalist. Critics classify him as one of the voices of renewal and modernity in modern Arabic literature. His works raise controversy on the literary and social levels, and his writings receive remarkable attention. His novels include “The Lady’s Tavern,” “Ghosts of Brussels,” and “Ice Heart in the Other World.” His short story collections include “My Grandfather’s Mistress” and “Sadness is a Sleeping Child.”