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Cairo: The House of Words

by Inaya Jaber, Miled Faiza, Karen McNeil

I submitted the manuscript of my new poetry book to Dar Sharqiyat, and that’s that. I’m completely free now: no commitments, no work, no writing, no planning for absolutely anything. A good opportunity to travel and just forget about everything. With this frame of mind, I go to Cairo. Just an excuse to forget about my injury and make things a bit easier. When the plane lands in Cairo International Airport, I tell myself that a plane like this will never know what it carried inside it, what it landed with.

I tell myself that it carried me to the same Cairo that Imen Mersal, who now lives far away in Canada, knew. It’s the same Nile, spread out under my balcony. It was for this river that the plane carried me here, my insides licked by flames. My heart is at once light and heavy, like a winged bullet.

I invite silence in this apartment; I invite peace. I walk the streets of Cairo quietly. This city looks like an old bedroom. A city that doesn’t ask for anything except my dead desires. No chatter about life or death, or anything else that is happening so quickly in Beirut. I make a telepathic connection with Imen Mersal in our special language, highly mathematical with no trace of flesh or blood? It is a strange, ghostly connection. Why do I suddenly remember the Greek Club and Imen sitting with us, her fine presence and her great power? I was so upset that we didn’t leave the room together, to get some fresh air and talk. A missed opportunity like that pains me; it stares at me from the sky and the ground, from the walls. It saddens me more than it should. It rained that night without any warning — no doubt you remember that. It’s okay. I wander now in your city like a secret crime, like a mischievous angel.

And why shouldn’t I spend the night listening to the rumble of the elevator? I follow its sound, up the flight of stairs, until its last hiss on the tenth floor. I really need the rumble to calm down as I lay anxious, unable to sleep, even close to the sky.

And to him: I wish that you would call now. If you called I would be able to eat. It’s been a week since I arrived in Cairo and everything is fine, except that I don’t eat well and I don’t sleep well and it would be great if you called because your voice is a miracle that makes me eat ravenously and fall into bed like a drunk.

Night comes with no sign of sympathy. No sleep, no writing. Here I am, an uneasy traveler, sullen and unaware of what compelling reasons make people jump from the tenth floor. But I am quite sure, my dear friend, that you know more than me what drives people to do these things. No doubt you don’t want me thinking this way. Alright, then. I wander quietly at night through the charms of Cairo, from place to place, slowly, like a large animal on 5th Avenue.

It seems a bit strange that I brought with me the sounds of explosions in Beirut. All the dead children and the destroyed buildings and the incinerated crops. The Lebanese carry these things with them everywhere they go. Anyway, each country has its oddities.

I go to Dar Sharqiyat with Girgis Shoukri and sit at the computer, looking at my words for the last time before they become a book. A great joy revives my spirit and keeps me from leaving the place. I notice Girgis looking at me, his eyes broadcasting a simple and positive message. He pats my shoulder and says: Your book is done. Are you happy, ma’am? We don’t have to be rich to be happy. It is enough to have a life made of words. Heba Helmi has a lot of ideas about the book cover. She calls it, “the mythology of book covers.”

I like myths, but I have no particular interest in them. I want it all white, Heba, and avoid any embellishment please. Creativity can be dangerous on a cover of a simple book. I would just like for it to not be ugly, to focus on building tension in the words’ feelings, in their fall into the grip of delirium.

I have enough vision to realize that the world is bruised and that there is no place for us, whether our books come out beautiful or ugly. We can, however, continue writing, nurturing ourselves with depths of words.

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