Ode to Shawarma

Majd Kayyal
Author text

A short story by the Palestinian writer Majd Kayyal from his collection Al-Mawt fi Haifa (« Mort à Haïfa »), published this year in Arabic and here translated by Feras Abo Dabosseh (Lagrange Points). Majd Kayyal will be our guest on Wednesday 27 November 2019.

I did not expect this to be the very reason that made Iman cry, while she was asking me not to meet again, and that we may need to look for other paths in our lives. She spent the most beautiful days of her life with me, but now she feels that she has lost something we can no longer revive.

My mother, for a long time, had tried to keep me from becoming one of the street children, and had kept me at her side at home for most of the day. The less she talked to my father, the more she talked to me, therefore, I used to talk a lot, and talking conveys feelings. So, that is how I knew exactly what Iman wanted to tell me, from behind the clouds of extended talks, about severe, and mutual, boredom.

As for me, I am now very sad, and I do not find one person to whom I can talk about what is going on in my mind. That's why I write. Writing is my only way to imagine, to fix the past, to be wishful, and to regret.

I wish I could be a boy from the streets. I would have learned a thousand malicious tricks that would impress Iman and make her laugh. I would play all day long and be exhausted at the end of the night. Then I would fall asleep right away without feeling my father's daily kiss on my head or the saltiness of tears. If I could have gotten used to sleeping exhausted without bathing, with the smell of sweat, with messy hair and dirt under my nails, I also could have fallen asleep warmly and peacefully on Iman's lap, after making love. To fall asleep in her arms like an odorous fish thrown by the waves on the shore. To fall asleep in her arms without leaving her naked body alone in bed, thinking of this deep space left next to her when I go to shower before sleeping.

If my mother had allowed me to be with them, I would at least have had friends to tell about my deep sadness. Instead of writing about it. In fact, I write to imagine what this life would have looked like if Iman had been there in the shawarma shop, when I was in first grade. If she only saw with how much love I would close my eyes, open my mouth, and forget about all the children of our building around me, as they disappear and their voices fade in my imagination as far away as the shadows of birds, if they saw how I was tearing into the bread and meat, with sadistic love, the oil and tahini, and the sauce flowing over my lips, smudging the tip of my nose and my cheeks, my pants, and the table, how my cheeks are full, and how I breathe the hot smell before I drown in another journey of desire. I almost cry from lust.

Iman, I am absolutely sure that if you had been there with me, before my mother disciplined me, you would have known that the man in me can, without a doubt, make you feel overjoyed.

Translated from the Arabic by Feras Abo Dabosseh

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Majd Kayyal