Every time she came the moon eclipsed



Lubna Yaseen
Translated from Arabic by: Al Salim


She’s got a face of a moon …
I got her strait hair...
And her beautiful stature...
She’s got the smile of a moon...
And I got my tears
And a lantern of vigilance…
Cautiously, I grabbed the yellowed drawing and put it inside the transparent plastic folio I had bought specially for this purpose. That drawing was the only thing left to remind me of her, to bring back to me the smell of her breath, the warmth of her eyes and that enormous sadness she used to hide behind her shawl. When I have insisted that this drawing must be used as a cover for my first poetry collection, the book cover designer objected and almost exploded in my face in protest, but after being pressurized by the owner of the publishing house he had to accept reluctantly. My collection got the first prize in the poetry contest and the publishing house wanted me to have it printed exactly the way I liked. When I wrote it I wanted it to be kneaded with her soul, to embody the remains of her breaths and the fragrance of her scent that had been deeply engraved on the memory of her absence. I wanted to dedicate the collection to her alone as she was the only one who made the heat of the collection blazing words to flare up in my chest. Any reader could easily see her dwelling inside the words of the poems and perceive her movements among the punctuation marks; anybody could see her face there, embraced by my tears. Readers who have read my collection could say the poems were rich with sensations and warmth, but none have noticed that the feelings I have poured out on paper made the lines inflamed with hot emotions, that the tears I have shed have turned into words and letters, that the pent up pain had to come out and bleed on the face of the whiteness. There is a heartbreaking sense of loss that haunts me whenever her voice begins to surround me, pushing me to leave everything behind and take refuge in the realm of paper. She used to be a part of me, and I of her... an inseparable part. I close the door of my room in their faces and open wide my window to see her face drawn on the silvery page of the moon, young and smiling. But because I could not find hair for her yet, I had to paste locks of my own hair on her head. She must retain her lovely hair and remain so, a love legend, a poem of pain, a promise that had never been kept, leaving a deeply rooted ache in the remote depths of my soul, an agony that cannot be cured or eased, maybe because I cannot stand being healed from it. I was the youngest participant in the poetry contest – racing with my sixteen birthday candles that I no longer was able to light, put out or even care to count after she had left- facing those who were dressed up in the clothing of their twenties and thirties. I knew I would win despite everything. She had whispered in my ears just before dawn, telling me that my words were shining like stars at night and on daytime they were like a raining cloud pregnant with expectations. I began writing to her every day. I had to win, otherwise how I could bear looking at her face that was drawn on the shiny surface of the moon. Her face is now looking at me through the window I have opened wide for her to come through together with the moon to illuminate the gloominess of my soul. Whenever her sweet features start looming over the topography of the moon, the moon shuts its eyes and hides its light behind the details of her smile, leaving a tremendous space for her to spread her lavish light over its details. Who has a light like that? It was her, the one who were nothing but an angel disguised in the luminous features of human pain. She used to come and shine every day and the moon would eclipse every time she did.
She used to talk to me, hold me tight to her bosom and I would catch the smell of jasmine. She would tell me how much she loved me and longing to her would make me bow down to her. I tell her how much I love her and birds of Paradise sing in my chest, I tell her I miss her so much that I no longer need to see anyone else but her and she looks at me with a reproachful eyes, saying: "Only the night is for us, but the day is theirs, so be there among them, " but I never kept that pledge as she unknowingly accompanied me in daytime, too. As nobody felt her presence but me, I should have created spaces for her to fly where nobody dares to do so but her.
I remember the day when I have made that drawing. It was the only time in which I angered her. She had fallen under the heavy weight of illness and I heard them talking in low voices similar to hissing of snakes” " incurable disease " and " she will be gone in a few days”, and because time was a mystery for a child like me, I could not understand that “few days” meant I was not supposed to finish lighting the candle of my ninth birthday. It meant she would only stay with me for just a short while, hardly enough to engrave her smile in my chest. She had a weak liver, and a bleeding heart. Ravaged by pain, her blood boiling and eating up itself, she used to spend hours on end unable to utter a single word, tossing up between life and death.
I was glued to her bed, not daring to be away from her loving presence. I was trying to convince her not to go away and leave me alone. I wanted to tell her she was the only person on earth who would really make a difference to me and without her; the world may go into perdition and annihilation as I would have no energy to live in it if I was left alone. When they had to pull me away from her bedside, I felt I was uprooted. They already began treating me as an orphan, though she was still breathing on her sick bed. “Don’t upset her!” They shouted at me. Who said I would dare to do so? I saw her getting paler and weaker every day but I was allowed few minutes only to be with her, hardly enough to let her know about the agonies of my soul, hardly enough to give her some of my life and take away from her some of her death. They used to carry her to the hospital every few days, only to bring her back home paler and weaker. She began hiding her hair under a shawl that she never took off her head afterwards, paying much attention to hide from me her beautiful tresses under that silk shawl, those tresses that I never slept without having them interlaced with my fingers. I was trying to keep her near to me and only me, as long as I could. However, she had to wait for me to fall asleep so that she could free her locks from my tight grip.
Being paler than ever that day, she tried to paint a ghost of a smile on her face, a smile that was unlike the smile I saw playing on her lips whenever our eyes met. She was on her way to the hospital. I looked at her and tried to smile back, but I started crying instead. Her body collapsed to the ground as she heard me crying. When she collapsed the shawl was removed from her head, disclosing a secret she had been very careful to hide from me. There was not a single hair on her scalp. Her head was bald and glistening like the head of my grandfather in that picture hanging on the wall of my room. I was appalled by this discovery ... it tore my heart into two halves. I ran to my room, thinking that I have understood the secret of her tears and her weakness. She was crying for the loss of hair she knew it was the swing of my heart. I could not find any compelling reason why they had to cut her hair, which I have loved beyond any reasonable way.
That day, my maternal uncles and my father took it upon themselves to carry my mother to the hospital, where pain was dealt with by installments of treatment that no longer was useful. I did not know how much time I had spent weeping in my room before I grabbed a pen and drew her face - the face of a moon. I drew her pale smile and shining look and captioned the drawing with tearful childish letters – distributing the details of beauty between her and me in a dialogue I have exchanged with her before I lost her presence next to me - those were the sentences I have rephrased in my poems after my childhood became a distant dream. I used them to be on the first page of my collection, sealed with a lavish tear kept imprisoned inside a soul still breathing the air of her loss:
She’s got the face of a moon...
I got her strait hair...
And the beauty of her stature...
Her smile is that of a moon...
I got my tears
And a lantern of vigilance...
After she left I looked at the drawing. There was something scary in its details that made me shudder, something I did not want to see, did not want to know. I had a bad feeling looking at her face that now was not encircled by the halo of her silky shawl. It looked like a moon. They shouldn’t have cropped the soft locks of her hair. I grabbed a chair; put it next to the wardrobe, climbed it and opened the drawer, which I was always prevented from opening it. I took out the scissors and bringing my braid forward, I cut it off from the highest point my little hand could reach, then I clipped few tufts of hair from the braid I no longer needed and stuck them up on the drawing I made for her face. I kept the rest of the tresses to be pasted on her head top. But when they brought her back from the hospital she saw my cropped hair and became angry. She did not know I had done it for her. She got paler and did not even try to reproach me. Since that day she stopped talking or going up to her room.
My cropped tresses were the last thing my mother saw before she departed. Her tears were the last thing I saw in her eyes as she was looking at my cropped hair. Since then I decided not to cut my hair anymore until it began to fold up under the bones of my legs whenever I sat down. She kept coming every night to my room to be reassured about my tresses that have become very long now and to look at her picture hanging next to my bed, and every time she came the moon eclipsed.