PROSE: Everything is not by Walid Nabhan

Everything is not
Copyright Gilbert Calleja
Translated from Maltese by Albert Gatt

I woke up early this morning, something I don’t normally do unless I have lectures. Things are never straight. When I’ve got lectures, nothing short of a couple of hundred alarm clocks will get me to even stir and today, when I’ve got a free morning, I was up clawing at the dawn like a monkey.
Ever since I arrived in this city, I’ve been trying to figure out what it is that attracts me to this place. It’s a strange city that snuggles in the arms of a huge mountain, its breast pierced by one of the claws of the Atlantic Ocean. Every evening, when the tide rises, the city undresses and plunges into its arms, yielding all its beauty to it so that they become one. And in the morning, after a long embrace, they break apart again; the city goes off on its own and the ocean recedes to the other side of the world.

-- See this spot beneath your feet?
-- Yes.
-- Last night, the sea would’ve risen fifteen metres above your head, the second highest tide in the world.
-- And how often does that happen?
-- Every night.
-- Since when?
-- Since the beginning of time. Some would say: since the Atlantic met this city.

Though I had no compelling reason to, I woke up early this morning and looked out the window. The whole city was dressed in white... “Is this world going crazy? Why? What should a man do when he suddenly begins to feel that he’s cheaper than an empty cigarette packet? How I wish my heart was as white as this snow.”

The taxi driver said: “Yes, I do know of a Palestinian in this city. He’s got a grocery store. Oasis, I think it’s called.”

I couldn’t wait, I ran like a little boy who’s just spied his mother after having lost her in a crowd, found the number in the telephone directory and pressed the buttons eagerly. I was dying to talk to someone from Palestine – man, cat, anyone – as long as they could remind me of my language, the accent I’d all but forgotten.

-- Hello, Oasis! Yes ...?
-- By any chance, do you happen to be a Palestinian?
-- Uh huh.
-- Oh God, you are great!
-- What ... Who is this?
-- I’m Palestinian as well. I’m feeling a bit lonely and I’m looking for ...
-- Look mate, this is a shop, not a charity. We sell food here. At very good prices, mind you. If you’re interested and you’ve got money to spend, come over. If you’ve no money, you might as well not bother.
I found myself playing the sea game.
-- See this spot beneath my feet?
-- Yes.
-- In a few hours, the sea will rise fifteen metres above your head.

I’d been looking for Palestine. Not the Palestinian land – that was swallowed up a long time ago. Whereas he’d been looking for the few pounds I had in my pocket.

-- What do you mean, the Palestinian land was swallowed up?
-- That’s a long story. It all started with you.
-- Us? Who?
-- You. The English.
-- How?
-- You gave away what wasn’t yours to give to those who had no claim on it, the houses of those who didn’t know any better.
-- Can you explain?
-- See this spot?
-- Yes.
-- In a few hours, the sea will rise fifteen metres above your head.

How can I possibly claim to understand this life? How can I justify the loss that others have suffered when I was among the first to flee? Why don’t I say what all the others say: “Life has changed. It has changed drastically. And we need to adapt to this enormous change.”

Everything has changed. The father isn’t what he used to be, brothers and sisters aren’t what they used to be, neighbours, the earth, the sky, the stars, the land, the sea, rocks, dust, the dogs that roam the streets, everything is not the way it used to be. Even the phrase “everything is not” is not the way it used to be. Why can’t I just say all of this in one breath and then, finally, rest? Why does this filthy pain continue to moan within me?


In the evening cold, a strange woman sat down at the corner opposite and began to play on a kind of flute. The sound escaped the instrument like a soul escaping a corpse. The sea began its leisurely approach and slowly, the city began to undress, the scent of its desire filling the air. A few metres away, an old man leaned against the fragile darkness. I walked a few paces in the direction of the gradually approaching sea. I could feel those few pounds in my pocket. I looked in the direction of the old man and the gypsy.

Both of them were drowning in their own mysterious world. I got closer to the sea, took those pounds and threw them in. I stared out into the void for a while, wiped away a tear, put my hand in my pocket, and walked away.


The original version of this story was published in Lura d-Dar (Midsea Books, 2009).

© University of Wales, Aberystwyth 2002-2009       home  |  e-mail us  |  back to top
site by CHL