A man once told me that the greatest thing he ever learnt was how to travel through time. “But,” he went on, “the most useful thing I ever learnt was to not talk about it.” Never mind time. Right now, I’d be delighted if I knew how to travel through walls and get away from this crazy who’s brought me nothing but bad noise. But it was talking that got us stuck together. Should have not said anything. That old man stayed silent so no one would think he’s mad. I talked too much and now I’m going mad in this cell with a grinning gunrunner for company. Between these four blank walls and to the hell they’ve probably got bubbling for us somewhere in this palace of bland evil.
He was laughing when they brought us in, right in their rat bastard faces. The nervous little one beat him down with the edge of his gun. But the crazy just laughed harder, the blood twisting his smile so it was like watching one of those sudden sunsets we used to get in Cairo as they made sure he stopped laughing. Now he sounds like he’s talking with paper on his tongue. They gave him a new mouth, but he still won’t shut up. Some times a guard will ask me what he’s saying. Why he doesn’t realise it’s no good now. How do I know what makes a crazy do his crazy? Am I crazy too? The guard laughs and says I must be to get involved with a man like this. Maybe I am. But then, why am I worried while he can still find something to laugh about?
“What good is worrying?” George asks me.
“What else is there?” I say, turning my palms up when I really want to squeeze them round his throat. I start to wonder if my hands are big enough to meet around his neck.
“Planning, dreaming, waiting.”
“You see where we are? I’ve been in places like this before, these walls aren’t kind for dreams.”
“No, they’re the kind for making you know the price of waiting and value of opportunity.”
“No, wait what?” We keep having these misunderstands. It’s become more annoying in here when everything he says he seems to think should be preserved in gold and served out of the ass of a professor at some university or in a newspaper column. But I’m not going to start now on newspapers. They call me a criminal because what I print on paper is not so real, but what about the lies and dog shit newspapers are allowed to charge you for? I don’t know, I really don’t.
“And you got out before, so why not again?”
“I had something to give them then. Here, I know of nothing. My paper is no good here.”
“Relax Moussa, it’s me they want anyway. You they’ll brush off like a dog wiping its arse on the grass.”
“I’m not the shit, George. I’m in the shit, and because you.”
“We can go round and round like this. Relax, might as well make some use of this time off.”
We can’t go round and round as he says. There’s not even space to argue in this cell. And what am I going to do? Beat him too? The crazy is still made like a soldier, and too insane to let pain make him think any different.
“Well, if they want you so much, why have we been sitting in here staring at the cockroaches for three days?”
“Has it been that long? I thought we got here yesterday.”
“That’s because you are enjoying it. I never seen you laugh before.”
“I haven’t had the time to laugh before. See, I’m making use of this little break they’re giving us.”
See what I mean. Crazy fashkh. Wana mitnaak. I don’t tell him because I might throw up if I hear him laugh one more time.
“Tell me, Moussa, how did you stay alive out there so long doing what you do if you get so nervous.”
“My nerves help me stay alive. Keep me awake, you know. How do you stay alive doing what you did when you’re sofashkh stupid?”
“I wasn’t stupid, I was set up. It was a trap.”
“And you fell in the trap.”
“I was intrigued, Moussa. I wanted to see what they could do to me if I walked along with their little plan. It’s all research for the next time, to help me imagine the moves they’re making and see the strings connecting every piece together. The best chess players aren’t the ones who set out just to win, but the ones who can see their own defeat before their opponent does. I saw what was going to come, but needed to know what’s beyond the fall.”
“I should kill you.”
“Come on Moussa, you’re just as curious as me to find out how we’ll be sitting in the shade drinking cold beer, planning our cold revenge.”
“How did I get to be such a schlimazel?”
“You make your own luck, Moussa.”
“And I fuck mine when I met you.”
“Get some rest, trust me. We’ll be out of here and then we’ll need some of that anger kicking in your belly.”
There’s nothing to say to someone like that, so I said some more until I was too tired to imagine opening my mouth again. I’d been standing the whole time because George was sitting on the bench and I didn’t want to sit next to him or appear as relaxed as him. When he saw I was done, emptied and finished, he patted the space next to him and I accepted by collapsing on the seat.
Three times I’ve been in a prison and this was the first one I remember dreaming.
A dry sound woke me up. Through the dark I saw grey figures moving backwards and forwards in a circle. I thought maybe they were trying to catch a rat with their feet because I could see them making strong steps each time one of the figures moved forward. And each time one of the figures made a step, there was the dry sound, but there was also a wet one now. Grunts and curses from the figures at the rat, it must be very fast or strong. And it’s crying. No, that’s laughing. Fuck, they’re kicking George. I was still not all awake so I walked forwards and put my hand on one of the guard’s shoulder to pull him off. His elbow landed on my ear and he played his knuckles on my face a bit more, so I had succeeded to pulling him off George.
After the rest had finished their game of football with George, they picked us up and pushed us through a cold corridor. How could anywhere be cold, I wondered. At the end were heavy metal doors and that’s it, the end is on the other side. They were having fun in the cell with us while we still had breath and beating blood in us to feel pain. Now we will be nothing more than sacks of cabbages. At the door they dragged us through a smaller one on the right and into a courtyard where a white truck waited. Its white doors under black windows looked like hungry teeth grinning at its meal. Three days we spent in the kitchen. Out of another white truck soldiers were carrying guns and sticks of dynamite into the same small door. In the back of the truck I looked at George, he was groaning and hissing like a cracked motorbike engine. They had played a good match all over his body.
I thought about asking where we were going, but I decided I wanted to give it my own name. Wherever they were going to finish us, I wanted my own name for it. I always believe that when you die, it’s one long dream. I don’t know if it matters in the dream if you’ve been a good person or a bad one, but being those things is just about how you are you to people, so the echoes they leave in your dreaming death will come from the things they know and have seen from you. But anyway, I didn’t want the bed I was going to fall the long sleep in to be described to me by the same voice that was going to kiss me off the earth. You keep as much for yourself as you can, right to the end. The bastards take enough without your help.
The truck stopped and we were still in the desert, nothing forever around us. The door opened and an officer in sunshades howhowed like a dog at us to get out. I helped George out and held his weight as his legs adjusted to the ground. The dog voice officer took his glasses off, looked into my eyes, right in like he was trying to see what was behind them. I stared back, hoping he could read every edge of the disgust his sort makes us feel. That stare, I’ve seen mean, nervous policemen beat a man to death because of it. They can’t take how naked it blows them and their brutal hearts are too weak to accept what they’ve become. This one here, he’s seen the look I give him, I can tell he’s even looking for it. He smiles, he’s trying to tell me it’s no good, I can’t shake him. But who blinked first, you son of a dog? George’s eyes he doesn’t look for, no one can really look George in the eye. I tried once, when he first said we should work together, I was looking to see how serious I could take this strange man, half crazy half serious as a bullet. But I couldn’t find them, his eyes, it was like how a great boxer moves his head every way to stay inside the punches, waiting for the open chance to step inside his man. George’s eyes don’t hide from contact, they just seem to vanish from it.
So dog voice smiles again at George, but it’s thinner this time. They are so easy to read these weak monsters, so boring and predictable, so scared. If only they could have another proper fright. “Son of a dog, sons of sluts, you’re very lucky,” he says as if he’s making a speech.
“You’re the lucky one,” I say.
“We’ll see,” he tries to sound threatening. “Come on,” he orders his driver, who is still in the car so he says it really for us, to show he’s a boss of someone.
And the truck turns round and returns the way it brought us.
“What the fuck was that?” I ask George.
He smiles through a blurred mouth and eyes that look like pickled aubergines. He holds in pain in his ribs and picks up all his strength to tell me, “I told you”.
Eyes like an Arabic Fifty is an excerpt from a novel in progress.