Fawwaz Haddad
Fawwaz Haddad
An excerpt from the novel

An excerpt from the novel Passing Scene by Fawwaz Haddad

Translated by Paul Starkey

Chapter 1

INVITATION TO THE THEATRE


A pleasant morning, or so it seemed from the window. He looked out over the public park close by. The soft light, the branches turning green, and the gently swaying plants told him it was going to be a nice day. As he was leaving the house a little later, the postman looked at him and stopped him by the door. “A letter for you,” he said. He hadn’t received a single letter for so many years he had begun to believe that the postmen’s job had disappeared, that corresponding by means of letters with white envelopes had had its day, and that buying stamps was now confined to stamp collectors. He looked curiously at the white stamped envelope and opened it carefully. His attention was caught by an invitation card inside, accompanied by a small piece of blue paper on which had been penned some simple words in a neat, ornamental script. The writer requested the addressee to do him the favour of attending a local play, The Return of the Time of Madness, which had opened the previous day at the Qabbani theatre. He was surprised that the man had forgotten to append his name to the bottom of the invitation, although he was clearly intent on addressing him with some formality – a formality mingled with an ingratiating familiarity and a friendliness not devoid of flattery.

“My dear friend, Ahmad Rabi’, it would give me great pleasure if you would honour us with . . . etc.” He must know him well, otherwise he wouldn’t have sent it to his home address, and he ended by saying: “I am keen to hear your opinion in the very near future.” He must know him as a writer who had made a living from the theatre and been keen on it for several years. Indeed, for several seasons he had followed it and written about it boldly and faithfully, angering those meaner critics who praised failing plays in order to please budding actresses, and flattered directors on the up at a time when the theatre itself was on the wane.

His love of the theatre had not continued. It had caused him a lot of trouble. He had lost short friendships and gained long enmities. He had been exposed to insults and injury from an alliance of thugs and outcasts who had been convinced by those despicable critics that he was biased against them.

He folded the invitation up and put it on one side. He felt proud of having left something behind him. They had not forgotten him. The invitation represented an acknowledgement of his efforts, even if they had been useless. He smiled to cheer himself up.

Usually, a thought would surface to disturb his happiness. It did not take long. In his delicate human condition it would come to him like this: “Don’t kid yourself, confess it, they’ve forgotten you! And they had the right to forget you, you didn’t resist, you withdrew of your own volition from the false world of the theatre, the shining, glitzy world of the theatre!”

He stopped making conjectures. Whoever had sent the invitation, he didn’t know him. He must have made a mistake and sent him the card in error or unintentionally, one or the other. If he had really known him, he wouldn’t have thought of inviting him. The fact was that he hadn’t made friends with a single person during that period. If he had addressed him in the letter as “my dear friend”, it was just to maintain the niceties of correspondence.

“I shan’t be too optimistic, there’s no reason to be proud,” he said frankly. He thought it most likely that it was a routine invitation, a random invitation that relied on an old list, so that he just happened to be one among the people invited.

This was what dented his resolve, so he didn’t go.

* * *

A few days later someone telephoned him and politely informed him: “We have reserved a seat for you; we hope you will be there.” He didn’t ask him who they were or who they might be. He behaved with unparalleled stupidity and absentmindedness. He listened without engaging his intelligence or asking for clarification. This was something he was always blaming himself for. He thanked the person without adding a single extra word, even when he said: “You’ll like the play, it’s the sort you love, it cleanses the soul!” Then the person put down the phone, after insisting again that he should come.

As usual, his misgivings began to make him anxious about what was expected of him. How did the person issuing the invitation know what plays he liked? What sort of age were we living in? Cleansing the soul? Did he still believe there was a play capable of making us feel afraid for ourselves and pity for others, of cleansing us through tears and elevating our spirits? Even if the intrepid hero had slain his father and married his mother before punishing himself by putting out his eyes, then wandering about through deserts and wastelands, what had he got to do with the victims of Israeli oppression, or the criminal American bombings in Afghanistan, or the spread of civil wars, with their legacy of thousands of dead, and hundreds of thousands maimed, disfigured and raped? These things are brought to us every day by the television screen in such quantities that we think the tragedies are just an exaggerated form of play acting, and that the victims are just shadows heaped onto the pages of the film. One couldn’t compare the fantasies of the theatre with real massacres and famines. If we couldn’t be cleansed by real tears, we wouldn’t be purged by make-believe tears either.

He abandoned his wandering thoughts and resumed his musings and his anger. The person who had issued the invitation must be asking him indirectly to commend the play in the press. He would certainly disappoint him. He had been a long time away from tragedy and comedy, and his theatrical past was years behind him. In the meantime, he had abandoned writing about drama, performance, lighting and décor, preferring to be without a steady job and confining himself to scribbling on paper. This assured him of a monthly income that had put an end to his material worries, and a standard of living he had long dreamed of that had relieved him of the need for a regular position, and enabled him to be his own master. He was beholden to no one, and to no authority. He had withdrawn from the monotony of daily work, with the early rising, rush to the office, the finish of work at a set time, and the slog with no satisfying reward. He had also left to fate the question of remarrying after his divorce. It seemed that fate had forgotten him. So far as writing was concerned, when the mood took him and he felt the urge for it, it was literary essays with no connexion to actors or actresses.

Nonetheless, he would go to the play. If he had decided to accept the invitation, it was to fulfil a perfectly clear need. The theatre still had a place in his life. He belonged to a generation that still believed theatre was a means to spread hope, to teach something, and indeed change the world. Those were the days of a remarkable, if foolish, optimism.

* * *

In the Qabbani theatre, he found himself sitting beside a woman, with an empty seat on her other side. He stole a glance at her. She was a middle-aged lady with a straightforward but serious appearance. Her hairstyle was conventional; she was wearing a blouse with a high collar and long sleeves, a modest skirt, and a turquoise-coloured filigreed shawl thrown carefully over her shoulders. A calm and composed lady in her forties, whose radiant face had kept its beauty. He stole a second glance at her, and found some incongruity between her languid gravity and her blazing beauty.

The lady turned round and looked back at the entrance. She was expecting a companion to arrive. The curtain went up and no one had come. He imagined that the latecomer would be a grey-haired husband, thin and nervous, the head of department in some ministry or other.

The plot of the play revolved around a subject that did not appeal to him: love and revenge. The same wretched, crude, annoying tragic melodrama that left nothing but scorn in his mind. He was always perplexed when this discarded theme intruded on the worlds of literature and the fine arts. What could it be that attracted them to it, apart from the stormy events and distressing endings? He had read it in the form of short stories and novels, and seen it treated on stage and screen. Love and hatred swapped roles like two inseparable but mutually hostile parties, one following the other, crudely taking the other’s place with no let-up.

This firm view of his was one of those errors in which he persisted – one of those errors that had piled up over time without being put to the test. Ahmad Rabi’ was not at ease with life: he regarded it as an imperfectly constructed melodrama, indeed as a bad melodrama. And although he had not experienced it deeply, his views were on the mark, not because they were correct but because life has room for different views. “We can excuse our erroneous views perfectly easily,” he used to say; “the real error lies in the essence of life itself.”

Caught as he was between the silence reigning in the hall and the hubbub on stage, he did not attempt to find an alternative to his immediate diagnosis, a diagnosis he had often considered precisely expressed one of the enduring diseases of literature and art. If love was not true, there was no justification in our calling it love at all, and if it was true, then it would reject vengeance. There was no middle way between the two. Vengeance was an ugly act that spoke of force, while love was a blazing, sacrificial emotion of extreme selfishness. Although the two shared the quality of intemperance, love did not permit headstrong or lengthy blind anger.

Ahmad Rabi’ went back to the plays he had seen and the stories he had read. He could not conceive, even begin to conceive, how either in life or in literature a woman who had borne her anger within her for years, like a grave and hallowed chronic illness, could only recover from it by planting with a steady hand a sharp-tipped dagger into the breast of her deceitful lover – or rather the man who used to be her lover.

* * *

During the interval, he had time both for a smoke in the foyer, and to form in the theatre itself a judgment on the first act. It was negative. The curtain had gone down on an elderly spinster with a black veil crying out in a voice trembling with malevolence: “Hatred lives on memories!” It couldn’t happen any other way. The frivolous dispenser of love and vengeance would do her deeds in a play with a run-down decor, in pretentious language that descended into shouting. He considered his acceptance of the invitation to be a mistake. He wanted to leave so got ready to stand up.

He turned and his eyes met the eyes of his neighbour. He smiled in embarrassment, to be met by a gentle smile in return. They were both in the same dilemma, although the lady was more discerning and tolerant than he was. As he smiled, he noticed that the other seat next to her was still unoccupied. Her companion had not come and it seemed that he would not be coming. He felt that out of courtesy he ought not to go out and leave her with an empty seat on either side of her. He soon realised that his smile was fatuous, a stupid piece of courtesy. He was afraid she would think that he was trying to flirt with her or trying to take advantage of the fact that she was alone. He sat straight upright in his seat, careful not to turn in her direction. If his arm or his leg rubbed against hers that would make her really suspicious. He turned his head, and his eyes and thoughts moved back to the play.

The heated dialogue in the play brought back to his mind a sentence he had read a few years ago in a novel written by a vigorous divorcee who was deeply involved in the struggles for Arab women’s rights. She was calling for complete equality with men and for the removal from women of social and historical injustice in all its forms. Her novel was published during the “false flowering” of women’s literature, when every woman had her own story of freedom and oppression, of a wronged adolescence, an oppressive family, a suppressed but extremely romantic emotional experience. In her story, some sexual misdemeanour was forced upon her heroine, followed by a first physical fling with a depraved, vulgar adolescent, a few stumbling experiences with worthless men, and a series of frustrating attachments. All this was crowned with a call to the other girls, to her own sex, urging them to escape from the narcissistic domineering male, who was sick on his own perfection. In her private conversations, this bold novelist would have wanted to kill off all males, and especially husbands, not even making an exception for fathers and brothers. The novel, however, was no more than an episode in the life of a divorcee who was between men, and she had soon got married again – to a surrealist poet who had put up with enough persecution from her to weigh down several ordinary men.

He had forgotten the title of the novel and forgotten the name of the writer, but he had not forgotten her appearance, which was an imitation of those long-haired young men in jeans, addicted to black coffee and cigarettes. Nor had he forgotten one particular sentence in the novel, which at the time had seemed to him to be a piece of traditional wisdom: “Memories bring us only unhappiness”. It was the last line in the story and was spoken by the widowed heroine, worn down by the scars of her painful experiences after trampling oppressive tradition under her feet – quite unlike the sophisticated author, who had thrown away several opportunities before the novel was published, and gained more afterwards. He like those words, they were the best in the whole book. They came at the end of a long, flimsy and tiresome narrative, rounding off a sequence that was rich in despair and the vileness of men. Despite his fondness for the maxim, however, he had no time for the idea contained within it, perhaps because he himself had only a few memories and they did not cause him to lose any sleep. What did they amount to, apart from a crush on a university student who later became his wife, and who taught him such hard lessons about faithfulness in married life that he longer dared to talk with old girlfriends and work colleagues? Until, that is, she rediscovered her first love, raised the banner of freedom and indeed gained it. Or was it that he only remembered happy things: his first steps in school that had taught him about literature and art? Or flavourless memories – experiences of love in which he had had little success? He had relied on sincerity, and on true and innocent emotions, with girls who had declared their love for him, then abandoned him after asking him to marry them and failing to get a response. He had not taken women seriously: he firmly believed that spinsters and widows were fonder of gossip than of love, manufacturing their unhappy memories, which they enjoyed expounding and regurgitating with both pride and pleasure, without learning anything from them.

* * *

During the next interval, he plucked up courage and looked at his neighbour. She seemed very sensitive. The cruelty of the play must surely have hurt her despite the patience that was evident on her face. Her uncertain age stirred his curiosity and encouraged him to speak to her. As he looked at her out of the corner of his eye, she seemed a little younger, not yet forty, perhaps about thirty-five. He wanted to shatter some illusions about the autumn of life. He said to her disparagingly that the play’s main characters had exaggerated their violent emotions. His annoyance didn’t escape her, and she agreed with him that the play was not convincing. Act two, scene two followed, even crueller than the first, with more shouting, disaster and betrayal.

In the interval, he commented that the escalating tempo of the play was not successful and that the performance of the actors had not improved. Her silence suggested that she did not dissent, and he, like her, fell silent. He bowed his head politely and unintentionally noticed that his neighbour’s fingers had no rings. She wasn’t married, then. She gave him the impression of being either an exceptionally stunning spinster or a typical widow. He imagined that she had attracted men to fall in love with her, had avoided passing affairs, and dashed the hopes of her lovers because of her love for a man who had betrayed her, and was perhaps still betraying her until this day. He had failed to turn up, and this date with her now was just one of his deceptions.

He wanted to get close to her without seeming to intrude. He wanted to find out the secret of why she was still single in spite of her beauty. “Memories bring us nothing except grief,” he said to her simply and sadly, borrowing the traditional proverb from the widowed heroine of the novel. He was expecting that his neighbour would draw away from him, or else give a curt reply full of disappointment and sorrow despite its brevity. But instead, as the curtain rose for the third act, she said quickly: “Memories are usually beautiful. We try to forget the ugly ones!”

In one moment she had confirmed his ideas. Spinsters and widows were not contrary specimens. Those that were beautiful also had sweet memories that matched their own loveliness. Their fates in plays and novels were simply made up to satisfy the need for shouting and vengeful monologues.

The third act confirmed the ideas he had begun to form. Malice and spite forced the action into its fated course. Memories and rumours gave the heroine an inexhaustible supply of hatred to stoke her determination for vengeance. Deadly anger took hold of the woman in the black veil and extinguished the mercy in her heart. She drew the poisoned dagger and plunged it into her lover’s breast.

* * *

After he had left the theatre, he did not notice whether it was he who caught her up, or the other way round. In the street he didn’t know whether she was walking with him or he with her. They didn’t head for 29 May Street, they continued along the narrow alley and plunged into the depths of ‘Ayn al-Kirsh. A few dimly lit shops were open, and a gentle chatter came from the bakery and the confectioner’s.

He was listening to her. “Time blunts the sharpness of pain,” she was saying “and gives bitter memories a veil that is more like an invigorating sorrow. It gives them a beauty that we like to draw on despite the hardship we have endured.” “Most of the pains we suffer are unreal,” he replied. “Man needs suffering. If he can’t find enough of it, he invents it.” “The tears we shed are tears cleansed of sorrow,” she said. “Time chooses the sweetest of memories and cleanses them of their blemishes. Our old fears disappear or assume their true proportions. Our sorrows become muted, and are no longer the end of life or the end of the world as we imagined.”

He didn’t think about what she had said. Her voice was deep and magical, in tune with the night and the air. If anything was uppermost in his mind, it was his amazement at having a conversation with a woman who didn’t know him and whom he didn’t know – an intimate conversation late in the evening in deserted alleyways where the shadows danced cheerfully as they stretched and grew longer on the walls and pavements, only to disappear in the narrow doorways.

“Life is a constant attempt at remembering,” he heard her say, “and forgetting is an attempt to escape which is always unsuccessful with the past.”

She had forestalled him with a contradictory idea!!

“We try to forget more than we try to remember,” he said.

“Are you complaining about memories?” she asked.

“When I remember something, I remember what I have to do tomorrow!” he said.

“Don’t throw the past behind your back before you have made your peace with it,” she replied.

She did not hide her personal experience; she was confident of what she was saying, and seemed to have settled her accounts with her past firmly and decisively.

“Don’t try to deal with the past on your own,” she continued. “Don’t forget that others share it with you!”

She made him realise that he had stopped looking at the past a long time ago. He had folded it away and sent it away out of sight, hiding a lot of related matters at the same time.

Forgetting was the sole remedy for carrying on, but it didn’t work with life. The lady had given him valuable advice. He turned to her, and at that moment she seemed to be his superior, but also hard and mocking, as if she was warning him of something that would happen shortly.

Pulling himself together, he asked ironically: “Do you think that someone from the past might confront me and want to take revenge on me?”

“Don’t mock revenge, it’s one of life’s deadliest games,” she replied.

They stopped at the dark entrance to a building.

“If I am not mistaken, didn’t you work with the theatre?” she asked.

“You’re not mistaken!” he said in surprise. He felt a lump in his throat as he corrected himself. “I wrote articles in the past, but I’m not interested in the theatre now. How did you know?”

“I saw a picture of you in a magazine,” she said. “Some faces stick in my memory.”

“My face is nothing special,” he said.

“It stuck,” she replied.

She stretched out her hand with a smile and shook hands with him to say goodbye.

“Won’t I see you again?” he asked her.

“No,” she replied.

He was surprised at her decisive tone. She had aroused his suspicions, as if she was intent on giving him a warning.

“Well, perhaps one day,” she said, correcting herself, as she disappeared into the entrance of the building shrouded in darkness.


Chapter 2

THE SHAMPOO GIRL


He was to recall the beautiful lady he had met at the al-Qabbani theatre two days later when Dunya returned from the world of past misdemeanours – returned from a past that he didn’t think of so much as a past, but as a living death he’d put up with several years before for a period of some two months. His wife had disappeared from home, in an attempt to teach him a lesson by leaving him. By chance, he had met Dunya and they had become friends, then parted. It was as if they had met at a station, then each gone their separate ways: he back to his wife, and she back – or just on – to some other man.

She arrived today, her timing just right for his single status, bearing with her his promise of marriage. He had whispered it in her ear, so she claimed, one spring evening, when they had lain in each other’s arms for a whole night counting the stars. According to his recollection, there were actually no stars that night, nor was there any sign of spring, they were simply drunk. If the promise had existed at all, he’d made it at her insistence during the winter; it was raining outside, and he had been cold and barely conscious, as he prattled away in her arms.

Dunya demanded he keep his promise but proposed some amendments. He interrupted her, he didn’t want to listen at all. “You’ve come too late,” he said; “what’s the point of listening to amendments?” “The amendments are more important than the promise,” she replied. But instead of listening, he refused. He should have listened and not refused; that way, at least he could have anticipated what would happen to him.

“Think about it, I’ll come again!” she said.

“I’m not going to think about it; things have happened that mean I can’t even see you any more!”

“Where have they happened?” she asked.

“Here in my head” he said.

“What’s happened?” she asked.

“Lots of things,” he replied.

He didn’t tell her that one thing was that the whole episode with her had been completely ridiculous.

“Don’t deny your promise!” she said, in the sort of dramatic way he hated. “Don’t believe promises whispered in bed!” he replied in the sort of brash filmspeak he usually derided.

“I’ll get my revenge!” she replied.

He took no notice of her threats. Threats were the sort of language common on the lips of divorcees who had abandoned marriage and only dared carry out their resolutions when spurred on by despair and practised in the use of weapons. But Dunya wasn’t one of these. She was a girl of twenty-five, still a long way from trial separations and experiences lived too late. Her weapons were limited to a woman’s traditional weapons, the language of looks and tears.

She hadn’t been tied to him by any romantic attachment, either affectionate or passionate. It had just been a passing fling – a fling that hadn’t lasted long enough to give it the flavour either of honey or poison. She was an actress who worked in supporting roles, and her stormy passion was just another role that she hadn’t performed very well. When she gave him up, she gave up the role as well. She had never let him down, nor he her, so any disappointment either of them might feel was simply equal to the other’s. They had had no enthusiasm for the spices of love such as jealousy or enmity, so he didn’t feel their loss, or miss them later. If he recalled her from time to time, it was as a result of seeing some interesting news about her, or because she had appeared in an advert, fashion show or music clip. He always seemed to be seeing her for the first time. He had completely forgotten about his relationship with her the moment they parted. He had only really realized it had finished completely when he saw her today. How distant he had become from her with the passage of time!

During the period when he was absorbed in journalism and drama criticism, she had asked him to write about her and to praise her acting – in fact, this was the sole purpose of her affair with him. He did not hesitate. He thought that, like other actresses, she showed promise of a talent that might blossom if she trained and refined it carefully. But she tried to cut corners by clever publicity, brazenly introducing herself to actors and directors. She chose only useful connections and, in a way, blossomed. Day by day, her meagre talent shrank still further, as her relations with TV bureaucrats grew stronger, and her links with sponsors, producers and publicity directors widened. Meanwhile, her private affairs concentrated on targeting men who could open horizons for her. She would use them as a bridge to more promising projects, and leave behind her hopes of occupying the position on the stage or screen that she had so long yearned for, dreaming about it in vain night after night.

The circumstances were more than once right for her to take on bigger parts. But her acting abilities were limited, and she failed in her first leading screen roles. She was a success, though, in small parts, and was brilliant in the area of commercial advertising. She appeared on the advertising hoardings of varying sizes that filled the streets, and became well known through advertisements for hair and skin care, and for “smooth leg” products. Teenagers, both boys and girls, nicknamed her the “shampoo girl”, as she always appeared in a bathroom, either in the shower, having a bath, or by a washbasin in a figure-hugging towel, with bare shoulders and swelling breasts, her head covered in a mass of foam from a unique local herbal shampoo, with different properties to suit every type of hair – “fights dandruff”, “strengthens and softens”, “gives the hair a magical sheen”, “stops it splitting”, etc, etc.

“Listen to me,” she said.

“I don’t want to listen,” he said, throwing away his second opportunity. He’d continued to hear about her, but he wasn’t interested in her. When he’d first got to know her, she’d been poor and ambitious. But then she’d seized her opportunity to escape from the curse of poverty and her oppressive ambitions.

* * *

She’d discovered within herself another talent greater than acting, a talent for seducing rich employees on the point of retirement and a lonely old age. She’d already succeeded in infiltrating a circle of senior employees occupying important positions, who passed her around among themselves and spent limitless sums of money on her. They were extremely clever at conducting their business affairs, but somehow blind to the wealth that rained effortlessly down on them at the mere stroke of a pen. So why shouldn’t they be generous with her?

They hadn’t acquired their wealth without effort or long years of employment. Their intelligence could find a solution to any problem, no matter how intractable, and their experience could overcome every kind of legal obstacle – wealth does not come without effort, of course. Their advice was: “Learn, you fools!” As for the fools – the massive armies of employees around them, that is – they lived on a diet of cupidity and bureaucracy, eking out their living from small bribes and consuming themselves in petty rivalries as they amassed expertise in spreading tittle-tattle about paltry sums of money and competed for trifling bonuses from special functions and overtime. One cannot blame the great for despising those inferior to them. And if they despise their deceitful attempts to ingratiate themselves, why shouldn’t they hate them? Don’t they have the right to such lofty sentiments?

The wealth that these idiots competed for was a problem for the clever ones. Where could they go with all this supply of wealth? Women provided ample scope for disposing of it pleasurably without any documentation or eyewitnesses. In the arms of women, they could recapture the pleasures of their youth in a more pleasurable and perhaps mature way, with even greater lust and abandonment. In return for a small outlay, they could feast without stint on fresh young bodies. Happiness and pride marked them out as having fulfilled their dreams: conservative middle-aged men, neat and tidy, with no signs of ageing, enjoying what less mature young men could not. And what was that? The love of attractive girls, even if they were fickle and unfaithful.

They were generous with Dunya and she with them. Money showered down on her regularly. She rented a house in the Mazra’a quarter, which they furnished for her in grand style, making her regular gifts.

* * *

“We’ll see,” she said.

“Who’s going to force me to marry you?” he thought, but he wouldn’t ask her the question.

It didn’t take longer than the following day for Dunya to reappear like a thunderbolt, in the company of some policemen. “That’s him!” she told them, pointing at him. They pounced on him and dragged him away by his collar. As he pulled their hands away from his shirt, they beat him and dragged him by his hair to the police station, only for him to meet a second thunderbolt of a woman standing with the head of the station. The young girl’s name was Dina, they said, and she was Dunya’s sister. She was pale and plump, almost white, a blue-eyed blonde, with fluttering eyelashes like a doll. They claimed she was no more than fifteen years old. She raised her hand, pointed at him with her finger, and said: “That’s him!” Then she burst into tears.

They took him down to the cells, kicking and shoving him all the time. They stripped him to his underpants, hung him by his feet from a chain dangling from the ceiling, and started to kick and beat him. They hit him as hard as they could with canes and sticks on his back, head and chest. He didn’t cry out from the pain, he cried out from confusion. Dunya wanted revenge, but what was the story of the young fat girl? He was absolutely terrified, eaten up by fear. They let him down so they could have a rest, and he took the opportunity to ask them what he had done. They didn’t reply but lifted him up again and resumed their beatings. The pain began to consume him again. They were enjoying themselves torturing him. It seemed they would go on beating him for ever when they stopped and asked him: “Will you confess?” “Yes,” he replied. But they still went on raining blows on him with sticks, to make sure he wouldn’t retract his promise. He wished they would hurry up with the confession so he could know what he had done. He swore to them again that he would confess to anything. He pleaded with them insistently and then he no longer knew where the kicks and blows were coming from. He had no idea what they wanted from him and he no longer knew why he was pleading with them. When they let him down and brought in the investigation file already prepared, he was also ready as well.

“Sign your statement,” they said. So he signed his statement.

What was the statement he had signed of his own free will?

* * *

“I, Ahmad Rabi’, being of sound mind, and without compulsion or coercion, confess to having committed the crimes attributed to me.

“In my capacity as a journalist, I used to visit the well-known artiste Dunya in her house in al-Nahr Street in the Mazra’a quarter, in order to keep up to date with her artistic life and to file reports to the press. I discovered the times when she worked away from home and the times when she was there. Last Wednesday I decided to go to her house, certain that I would find her younger sister Dina there alone, and it turned out as I had expected. Dina opened the door to me and apologised for the fact that Dunya was at the studio. I asked her if I could come in to wait for Dunya to come back. She said that she would be back late and that she couldn’t let me in while her sister was out. I insisted on going in and when she tried to stop me I forced my way in. I pushed her to the ground and closed the door behind me. I dragged her inside by her arms, and as she lay unconscious, bound her hands and gagged her mouth, then stripped her naked. The blood in my veins was on fire at the sight of her pale, naked body, and I was being driven mad by the size of her large, plump breasts that swelled like pomegranates. I started to suck and kiss her hands and feet, then her thighs and bottom. When she recovered consciousness and saw what I was doing to her, she started to shed floods of tears and beg me for mercy. But she did not find in me a sympathetic ear, because I was not listening. All I could see were her naked privates. My lust had not been sated and I was still thirsting for more. I leaped on her, took her virginity and made her bleed. After I had had my way I thought of running away before anyone could come and discover my crime, but her swelling body aroused me again, stirring my animal instincts, so I launched a second assault on her honour, making her bleed even more. Still I was not satisfied. The sight of so much blood was making me mad, so I returned to the attack and took her from behind, that is, in her a…. I wasn’t put off by her screams or dissuaded by her floods of tears, nor did I feel any sympathy for her, or any pity for her innocence or youth.

“After I had fulfilled my perverse desires I woke up to the hideous thing I had done and was appalled by the sight of the girl, who was hovering between life and death. I was afraid of the punishment that awaited me. I toyed with the idea of killing her to hide the evidence of my disgusting crime. The wretched girl could read in my eyes what I intended to do with her and began to kiss my feet, begging me to show pity and to spare her life. My heart mellowed towards her. I drew my knife and threatened to kill her if she revealed the secret to her sister Dunya. Then I left her in the pitiable state she was in. I couldn’t run away from my crime; my dead conscience had woken and wouldn’t let me enjoy the comfort of sleep. My fears were torturing me to the limit; I had taken a young girl’s honour from her, and I wanted to die a thousand times over. But God did not allow me to get away with my crime without punishing me. I was arrested and signed a confession of acknowledgement of my evil deeds.”

By virtue of his confession, Ahmad Rabi’ was charged with the following crimes: forcible entry to a property; physical assault; rape of a minor; unnatural intercourse; and threatening murder.

The moment he signed his confession, he was overcome by an overwhelming conviction that the arrest had nothing to do with him personally, but simply related to a man who had been pitched by bad luck into the harsh arms of the law. When someone pushed him into another room and shut the door behind him, the darkness all at once brought down its heavy curtains on the visible world, leaving him a prisoner of the walls and of his feeble fantasies, in which interrogation, torture and accusations were no more than fleeting scenes in a play whose first act was soon concluded.

Translated from
Mashhad Aaber [Passing Scene], Riyad El-Rayyes, Beirut, 2007.