By: Omar Kikili**
The incident of the opposite balcony:
As he opened the door a heavy dry silence confronted him. His one year old son bursting towards the door, lisping “daddy, daddy” as soon as he hears the key in the lock, in recent days his mother hurries behind him and picks him up taking refuge in the bedroom, despite his screams, kicks and thumps of his head on her chest.
He closed the door. Removed his shoes on the door step, and entered in the roughness of silence and the rumbling of obsessions. His wife might be at one of the neighbors, or she might have left the house, fleeing with the kid. She must left a letter some where, telling him her decision and plans. He wasn’t in a hurry to find it. He puts the bag and keys on the table in the hall. The bag is full of bread, yogurt, cheese and some balloons for his son. His wife always takes the keys and put them in a particular drawer in the kitchen’s cupboard, and the other things where it should be be, and she often does this with a downpour of reproach and rebuke on his carelessness.
He approached the toilet to wash his hands, face and feet then moved to the bedroom to change his clothes where he noticed the disappearance of all his wife’s clothes and belongings. He entered the kitchen and opened the empty fridge, taking a bottle of water “he starts drinking cold water before the hot season begins” filled a glass and drank it slowly. He began preparing a cup of tea. It has been years since a feeling started to infiltrate his conscience, that life has lost its taste and glamour. There is no taste for tea, coffee and cigarettes, even food, drinks and fruits, no glamour in shaving, bathing, sex and sleep, no joy in jesting with his wife, or playing with his son, or teasing a friend, no enjoyment in being drunk or strolling or sitting in a café, no intimacy in mixing with people, nor peace in solitude. No comfort in chatting, no tranquility in taking refuge with silence and distractedness. No glamour in anything, absolutely anything. He became a man without pleasures, without dreams and desires, he performs his things out of necessity and habit. May be to prove his existence or may be, motivated by the one and only hope which remained inside him, that someday he will defeat his feelings of dullness and regain some pleasures. At the beginning he thought that there is behind the problem some sort of physical problem. But the medical checks and examinations proved nothing, so he considered the case as a psychological defect. Some of his friends said that they have apparently the same situation. Now he is feeling that the attractiveness of the whole life, descended to zero point. He prepared a cup of tea and decided to drink it on the balcony, and think about what he ought to do.
While he was heading to the balcony, he noticed a small folded paper on the table in the hallway; it was fixed under the glass jug. He withdrew it and took it with him.
He sat on the plastic chair, took small sips from the cup then he put it on the plastic table. He lit a cigarette, and sucked a deep breath, kept it in his lungs for a while, then exhaled slowly. He unfolded his wife’s letter:
“At last I did what I should’ve done long time ago. Life with you became unbearable. I ran away with my son. I don’t want him to fly like birds. I want him to grow in my warm lap and under my care. I don’t want anything from you. I can take care of him. I hope that things can be settled quietly”.
He repeated reading the letter and thought that his wife was always, when she wants, precise focused, and clear in her words. He gazed on the opposite balcony in the building that faces him.
He often sits with his wife and their son when he isn’t asleep, in the balcony, having tea or coffee. In recent months they frequently saw their neighbor in the opposite apartment, on the balcony in an unkempt agitated state. He stands for a while holding the rails, staring around him, then he shouts loudly and repetitively:
– Life is unbearable, is unbearable…
He hits the balcony’s rails with his palms many times, slaps his face shouting with a low pitched voice mixed with weeping:
– Unbearable, no more, unbearable.
On one of the evenings, while they were sitting in the balcony with two cups of tea counting their accumulating debts without any chance to pay back even part of it, trying to spread the remaining amount of money on the coming days before the salary of one of them is due, the man in the opposite apartment appeared on his balcony carrying his son, in his arms, who seemed not more than two years old, shouting loudly:
– Life became unbearable.
The child was crying kicking the air with his arms and legs. The man continued to shout:
– What can I do?! Why human children don’t fly as the children of birds? Like this…
And he threw the crying child in the air from the height of the fourth floor. The child sent a fierce scream, as if the scream of life when it finds itself taken by surprise in the hands of death, thus it screams from its frustration, helplessness, and abandonment. The scream was cut when the child struck the ground. Cries and screams were sounded from different areas, and were overlapped in the yard which the buildings face. His wife sobbed and stood up then trembled and fell unconscious.
She was confused and disturbed for two days, crying with a black face and swollen eyes, exclaiming from time to time:
– Did it really happen?! Is that possible?!
– Regrettably it really happened.
– Is that possible?!
– Not everything that happens is possible
When she regained some peace, after few days, and while they were sitting in the living room, she was watching the muted television, and he was skimming over a magazine without a desire to read anything. He said without taking off his sight from the magazine:
– A reasonable question!
He saw her head turning towards him, he said:
– It is not a futile question as it may sound.
She said in a faint sound:
– What is that?
It seemed that she thought that he is commenting on a something in the magazine.
– That question, the man who threw his son, had shouted with.
– I mean from the point…
But she stood suddenly, carried their son that was sleeping beside her and took him to the bedroom, locking the door behind her.
From that day on she never left the child with him. If she wanted to go to the toilet or the kitchen or the dinning room she carries him with her and locks the door, or if she wanted to leave him for a short time she will lock the bedroom behind him. She no longer went to her work and never left the apartment. He tried hard to get her out of her condition, but she kept saying that he intends to kill her son. He often awakes during the night on her screams.
He repeated reading the letter: “Life became impossible with you…” he said: “ Life became impossible”. He stood up: “impossible”.
He stared around him. The silence and calmness of the afternoon was dominant. He sucked the rest of the cigarette then stepped on its stub slowly and aggressively, took a sip from the tea and headed for the toilet.
He came back, sat on the chair, sipped from the tea, felt a slight stinging in his left wrist and thought that suicide is a great human discovery or invention, the human kind didn’t justify it and wondered: “in which circumstances, and how did the first person in the history commit suicide”. He sipped the rest of the tea, stared at the spring clear sky and thought that there isn’t any more need to think of what is around him. He felt some laxity, looked at the small pool of blood that is forming on the floor of the balcony, closed his eyes and thought that his wife and relatives will be very astonished and wondered on what some of them will think about the reason of his suicide.
He felt more laxity and an urge to sleep, tried to take a more suitable position on his chair. He didn’t predict that death might be simple and easy, or even gentle, to this limit. People unjustify death a lot. Here it is everything is finishing quietly, as his wife described it in her letter. The door bell rang. He said without opening his eyes “Who will it be…” he said “the razor preceded the bell”. He laughed inside, and said “it is a funny expression without doubt. But won’t reach to anybody” the ringing was repeated many times then it stopped. A semi-sleep took him… the space of the yard in front of him started to be crowded with children shouting and flying in changing shapes.
His son was among them. He landed on the balcony’s rails lisping “daddy… daddy” and he continued to smile, shouting in joy, swinging as if he was dancing, like what he used to do. He opened his arms and tried to say “come”. Thus no voice got out. He stood towards him opening his chest, but his son flew in the space of the yard gargling in laughter. He noticed that his wife was flying beside his child. He jumped in the space flying behind them, at the beginning he felt that he is flying with ease and lightness, then his breathing became difficult and his body became heavier, and felt that he was falling slowly – plunging with his head- in a dark hollow.
After the writer had finished writing his story and checking and rechecking, the spreading of light and shade, the heat and cold, and the strain and looseness, and the softness and hardness on its parts, till it matured in the form what appeared above, he knew that his artistic ability had ended without any possibility to add any more improvements, he showed it, as usual, to his wife, and sat watching her while she was reading, inspecting the frowning of her looks while she was going deep inside the story.
After she finished reading, she threw the papers on the table in front of her. She said nothing for awhile then faced him. He became worried from her nearly exploding repressed anger.
– Good story!
She was leaning with one of her elbows on the table while interlocking her fingers on her belly; she looked directly in his eyes:
– You’re talking about yourself, and us, it’s obvious… Your boredom from life… the hallway’s table… the balcony’s table… the kitchen’s cupboard… your carelessness… my fury… our child, our debts, our empty fridge, the late salaries… etc..
She stopped talking while looking at his eyes. He stayed in his chair without answering.
– I understood the message from your story. You want me to go and leave you. Let it be, as long as this is your wish.
Then she stood up, while the wooden chair that she sat on was falling.
He stayed in his place hearing her noise and her resentment, while she was collecting her belongings. She carried her child who began to cry and scream she pulled the suitcase, while she was passing beside him she said without facing him:
– Commit suicide if you want, because you mean nothing to me anymore. It was a mistake from the beginning.
And she left.
He sat in his place stunned, hearing – through the open door – the screaming of the child and the sound of her heavy steps on the stairs, till they disappeared.
He stood. Closed the door, went to the kitchen, and took a cold glass of water “he starts drinking cold water before the hot season begins”. He took a cup of tea. He said “is it possible that everything turns to this ending?!” he answered himself “not everything that happens is possible”. A feeling that life’s attractiveness, all of it, has descended to zero point attacked him suddenly.
* From the collection (Sana’a Mahaliya) = (local product) Tripoli 2000
** Omar Kikili: (1953- ): A renowned Libyan short storyteller published his early works in the 1970’s. He has published two collections of short stories, and is working on a third collection titled (Sejnyat) = (Jail tales) on the period when he spent ten years as a political prisoner in Libya.