The Grave

Baqaa refugee camp in Jordan, North of Amman

In just a few hours, a new day will dawn and the Eid will begin.

What have you arranged for this special occasion? Will your kids end up regretting the fact that they came into the world? They cluster around the section of the shop with the bags of sweets and refuse to leave and return home unless you cave in to their demands.

You are expecting your open wounds to heal on Eid even though they have been bleeding every day for the past year. They are slowly depleting your stamina. They have deprived you of the ability to think, which in turn has driven you to subside into a stony silence. From time to time it is streaked with the smoke from your cigarettes, which swirls around you and merges into a cloud that floats up to the corrugated tin ceiling of your room. Did you save something for your sisters? Were you careful with your calculations so that you would have enough to spare for the feast? This time you hope to sate your children’s appetites after having disappointed them each time in the past when they entreated you to feed them mutton. A miserable chicken wing would have done the trick in keeping them from sucking on their lips in front of the neighbors.

You won’t be able to cook the inside of the chicken you want to serve on your kerosene stove without burning the outside. Your wife will scorch her fingers trying to switch it off amid the whooping and hollering crowd, whose unified voices will swallow that of the street vendors who bawl out the names of the toys on tap at this time of year.

Your wife is as stubborn as a mule and will refuse to borrow a pressure cooker from one of the neighbors. It stands to reason that she doesn’t want to be flashed with the smug smiles of the well-heeled housewives and become the butt of their jokes the moment she turns around. At least God has blessed you with sisters who make a living for themselves so that you don’t have to provide for them as well. If you could make more money you would cater to your wife’s whims by buying her a nice dress.

But what if by making her feel like a princess you boost her ego to the point that she gets all high and mighty and asks you for a pair of shoes to go with the garment?

You always end up fantasizing about the future. Why can’t you be more down-to-earth and think about the present? Why can’t you get your children to stop begging for food? You are most certainly a terrible person.

As a roaming beast, you comb the streets in search of a job that will allow you to relieve your family’s hunger. As opposed to the time you declined a job offer that would have forced you to become a guard in the illegal trade of cement and wrought iron, this time around, you won’t let your apprehension get in the way of accepting a job.

Tomorrow will be a day of celebration so you need to plan how you want the day’s events to unfold in order to avoid forgetting anything.

Your wife got angry last year because you didn’t go visit her mother’s grave. She accounted your stupid oversight an affront to her mother’s memory and rebuked you for shirking your husbandly duty to treat your mother-in-law with respect. It is always the same old story. She could go on and on about your misdemeanors forever.

This time you have to make amends and square up your bills, as well as drop by your father’s grave. After all, he always put his family first.

Suddenly, you hear your children’s voices as they joyfully romp around the house. You, the father, steal a glance at your wife. Peace has settled over her.

One of the kids slams a door shut and the rest huddle together around their mother. You are busy with the children who are nudging the age of learning how to walk. Your oldest child drives you up the wall. You plead with their mother in order to avoid the catastrophe looming large.

You manage to arrive at the cemetery in one piece, but the entrance is locked. You kick at a stone and feel like half your hair has turned gray instantly. You light a cigarette.

You grumble, “Even the cemetery is closed!”

You look around you and force the door open. You walk inside the graveyard, paying no heed to the keeper. Instead, you rove the burial ground on the lookout for a place to dispose of your cigarette butt.

What a world! The death toll is mounting at the same alarming rate at which women spawn children. The situation has gotten to the point where there is virtually no space left to jettison the bodies.

Feigning interest, you ask your wife where her mother is buried. Your wife picks up on how little you actually care about paying respect to her mother from your tone and shoots you a withering glance.

You let go of her hand and sneak a peek at her. Then you rub your hand across your face and interrupt her when she starts sobbing.

“Let us recite the Fatiha and pray for the soul of our neighbor, the martyr,” you mutter.

You then hear approaching footsteps. Suddenly, the area starts to smell funny. You turn around, hoping to find the children, but the place is completely empty.

You wonder where the smell is coming from. You sniff deeply to determine its origin. The smell is getting stronger. Should you ask the mother of your children about it in case she has an idea? But your asking may vex her!

The smell gets stronger and stronger. You wrinkle your nose with distaste.

You stop, squat down, lay your outstretched hands on the ground, inch your nose toward it as well, and then raise your head, stand up, wipe the dirt off your knees, and pinch your nose.

It does not come as a shock to you to witness your child cower in fear after seeing the grave.

Your anger is bubbling up. You cast a look around you, run away, and sneak up on the pack of children who are gathering around a blind Koran reciter.

Written by Sameer Ahmed Sharif.

Choose your own adventure

To be at peace with oneself, one has to

a) die.

b) put a damper on one’s belief that one has outgrown the human condition.