Alexandre Loguinov (Александр Логинов -pseudonym), UNOG
“Come on Terry … I need to know ... now!” Mike said, holding his kite firmly by the claw-tips of both wings. But once again, Terry Wing-Fingers -- or Pterodactyl, as they called him in the dinosaur book -- was in no mood to be serious. Mike could swear he saw his friend's pointy beak curl into a silly grin.
“Oh, Terry!!” Mike threw his kite to the ground, face down in the grass, but just as quickly picked it up again. He brushed the dirt off Terry’s face and back and straightened out his strings. Terry couldn’t help it. Sometimes he just liked to joke around. And Mike needed him after all.
Mike didn't know Terry was special at first. When his dad brought Terry home from the store, all Mike could think was: “Who needs a kite?!” and then “Wait ...why does Dad say he has to go away?”
It seems his dad had been away for a very long time. It was just the end of summer when he packed that big suitcase and Mike and his mom drove him to the airport. School hadn’t even started yet. And now it was already spring and he still wasn’t home.
Then last week, Mike found Terry stuffed away in the bottom of his closet and it’s a good thing too! Cause he was needing someone to help him out … And someone to talk to who wouldn’t go around talking to other people about these things. You see, Mike didn’t like staying in the house so much anymore. The phone was always ringing and his mom always ended up saying … “I don’t know…we don’t have any news…thanks for calling.” Then she’d hang up the phone and be quiet for a long time. Or she’d start yelling at Mike for nothing at all… And once Mike thought she was even starting to cry.
So that’s why he needed Terry. Terry had good strong eyes and Mike could send his friend high up in the sky where he could see what was really going on. The men on TV didn’t know. The women didn’t know either. Mike kind of figured that his dad was over there where people wore black masks over their heads with the eyes cut out; where people were shooting at each other all the time and even blowing themselves up. That brat Alison next door even said she heard his dad was dead.
“Dead … what does she know?” Mike thought, and started working a bit faster to straighten out Terry’s strings. Terry told him sometimes that he could see his dad. Once he said he saw him riding in the back of a jeep, down a wide street in a strange city. Another time he saw him in a sunny place with lots of sand. His dad was walking around with his camera and was smiling.
But then Terry told him lots of crazy things too. For instance, he was always talking about his own cousins. One time he told Mike that he could see some old cousins of his up north of the big lakes -- in Canada he said -- and their bony bodies were covered with white leathery skin so they could hide in the snow. Another time he said that he saw an uncle of his flying over Mexico. He had lots of colored scales and fuzz on his body that looked almost like a fur coat and a curly gold crest on his head that looked almost like a crown. Some people in Mexico thought he was a God and said prayers to him and things. Mike knew that if he didn’t keep a good hold on the string, Terry would fly off in the first big wind to try to find more of his relatives.
“Terry,” Mike said, straightening out his friend’s crossed sticks and checking the bows on his tail. “Be serious this time, OK? Go up there and look for my dad.”
He held Terry at arm’s length and started running at full speed across the field, in the opposite direction from the old oak tree with the face on it that looked just like a T-Rex and the boulder pile spread out in the bushes like a big old Brontosaurus bending down to eat some grass.
Terry caught the first breeze and, with his eyes flashing in the sun, started zooming right up to the clouds. Mike gave him all his string. “He’ll get a good view from up there this time,” he thought.
Just then Mike heard the phone ring. A second later his Mom excitedly called … “Mike come quickly … It’s your dad on the phone!”
Dad … on the phone … “Did you hear that, Terry?” In his hurry, Mike yanked the kite with all his force and Terry fell so quickly through the sky that he landed in the top branches of the old oak tree.
But Mike didn’t have time to go save him now. His dad was on the phone!
Mike dashed into the house. A minute later he raced out again shouting: “I talked to him, Terry. He said he’s coming home!”
But Terry didn’t hear. He was nowhere to be seen. Maybe the wind had ripped him out of the tree or he had freed himself with his own special fingers ...
"It's okay. Dad's coming home," Mike murmured, looking across the empty sky to the treetop with its dangling string and tail of bows. "Go on, Terry. Find your family."
Karin Kaminker, UNOG
“I want to make a visit to that prison!” Jane was so emphatic that I had to hold the phone away. “What’s it called?” she continued, “Wormwood Scrubs? Is that it?” I could hear the baby hitting something.
“No, not Wormwood Scrubs,” I said patiently, “that’s the men’s prison.”
“Well, where ever the women’s prison is then.” Jane’s voice was punctuated by another thump from the baby.
“The women’s prison is in Durham.” I added.
“I’d like to go there,” she continued, “go there and meet that Rosemary West and ask her what the hell she was thinking!”
“What a lark, what a plunge,” I quoted, “and what an interesting afternoon that would be.”
“Then,” Jane paused, and the baby was oddly quiet, “I would look up that Myra Hindley as well and give her a piece of my mind.” I heard the phone drop and could hear Jane move suddenly, “No no darling, not under the table.” About five minutes of resettling noises occurred. “Sorry,” she said once she had regained the receiver, “Sam, are you still on?”
“No, I’m on top of the jet d’eau,” I quipped.
“I can’t read any more of your true crime books. They make me angry and they make me sad.”
Jane and I were devoted not only to each other, but also to reading each other’s books. I wondered when her loyalty would be put to the test and here it was.
“People are always asking me why I read this stuff,” I justified. “I like to get all professorial and trot out that nonsense about an interest in human nature in all its facets. Didn’t Joyce Carol Oates write something like that when she wrote about Jon-Benet?”
“Oh sweet Marie,” Jane was off like a missile, “there’s another one. Of course the parents did it.”
“That’s what Joyce Carol says,” I put in.
“Well, who else could it have been? They were in the house. Statistics show that it’s usually a family member. Don’t forget that forged ransom note too.”
“Do you have a lot of students today? I don’t want to change the subject, but what’s your schedule like? When shall I take the baby?”
“I have only two students. Claudine comes at five-thirty. Right after her is Marcello.”
“Right. I’ll be there at five-fifteen. If you have the pram ready, I’ll take Ted to the park. By the way, did you get your neighbour straightened out?”
Jane had a neighbour who was writing complaint letters to her and to her regie – a Geneva-speak term meaning a landlord management company for apartment buildings – complaining about Jane. Jane teaches singing in the early evenings. Her neighbour directly below her apartment was upset with the noise. I can attest to the fact that the vocal exercises were absolutely shattering.
“He said it was okay until eight o’clock,” she answered, “which is fine because I’ve never had any students after eight so I don’t know what he’s on about.”
“You want the Bennett novel,” I reminded her.
“Of course. My god, it’s August already.” Lesley Bennett, mutually adored novelist, came out with a new novel every summer. This latest one I picked up in London.
“Is it depressing?” she asked.
The question unsettled me. Jane herself had introduced me to Lesley Bennett.
“I never find them depressing,” I was doing my best stiff-upper lip routine. “I find them invigorating and exciting. I think they celebrate life, and this one is no exception. There are many scenes in Nyon, by the way.”
“See you after five, Samuel,” was all the answer she gave.
Jane and I were ex-pats living in Switzerland. I am American and work as a research scientist on toxic substances for the World Health Organization. Jane is British and a singer. Until recently, that is until the birth of little Ted, she earned her keep by singing big roles with small European opera companies. If we were isolated and displaced from our roots, we were independent enough to enjoy it. For me, the stories written by Lesley Bennett described our own situation. To use a hackneyed expression, her characters felt lonely in a crowd, but were not especially unhappy about it.
By the time I got back the novel, it was December, in the Café Charrère.
“I think this is the only street in the Paquis that doesn’t have a pute on the corner,” said Jane.
“You sound disappointed.”
“I am. They’re nice ladies. They always say hello and make a big fuss over Ted. They have kids too so there’s Mom talk.”
The hostess wore big blood-red eyeglasses. She put a plate of homemade chocolate croissants on the table.
“The chairs may be hard but at least the design is filigreed.” Jane picked up a croissant and pulled off a piece for Ted. “The smoke isn’t too bad today either, for once.” We hate smoke. Even Ted.
“After nearly a lifetime of singing opera, chamber and church music,” I goaded. “I should think this piped-in classical music would drive you nuts.”
“I don’t even hear it.” Jane was eating slowly and staring out the window. “Sammy, isn’t that your neighbour?” she asked.
I looked out the window at a guy standing on the corner, wearing black jeans, black shoes and a black leather coat. He was pulling on a cigarette like in a 50s movie.
“Not even close,” I said to her. “My neighbour is Italian,” I continued, “not depressed. Besides, he’s a party animal, in addition to being the biggest slut I ever met. He’s got to be still in bed.” I let out an involuntary sigh. “Somewhere.”
The hostess returned with two renversés. That’s Geneva-speak for coffee with hot milk.
“What’s the story with this Russian guy?” Jane took out a baby’s bottle of orange juice and shook it.
“He drinks,” I replied. Holding the hot coffee mug was reassuring. I wasn’t unaware of feeling wrung out until this moment. “It’s such an obvious obstacle that I’m ashamed to talk about it.”
“Have you seen him drunk?” The baby was quietly sucking.
“Two weeks ago,” I sipped the bitter coffee. “He was in a blackout. I enjoyed it.”
“I imagine you would.”
“As much fun as tooth decay.”
“And is this why you took off for London last weekend?”
“Yes.” I replied. “Lesley Bennett,” I said. Now I grinned. I’d been saving this up for days. “I met her.”
“Is this a joke?”
“Everybody here,” I sang, “wants to be somebody!” Jane hates pop dance music. Even the baby made a face at me.
Jane stopped me with her hand. Then she took a bite of croissant. “You went up last weekend because you needed to get away, right? Like, what else is new.”
She had started to bounce the baby up and down vigorously on her knees. The little guy had stopped drinking because he couldn’t with all that bouncing going on.
“Okay, picture the Kings Road around 8:30 in the morning,” I said. “The sun was literally beating down on the street, even though it was freezing cold. The road was completely empty. All at once, I knew I was seeing Lesley Bennett in my peripheral vision. Like, right there at the side of my head.”
“Come on, Sam,” replied Jane. “How’d you know it was her? She’s a recluse. There’s only that one photo of her on the book jackets.”
“I just knew, you know? I saw this small lady in a brown tweed coat and carrying a shopping bag. I said 'Excuse me, are you Lesley Bennett?' and she turned to me all powder-faced and replied in a deep actressy Edith Evans voice, 'yeeeees' at which point I thrust out my hand and began gushing like a fool.”
“She was completely made up, you know, and every hair was styled and in place. She was dressed exactly like one of her characters.”
“You said that?”
“I said stupid things like I love your books, I read them every year, thank you for writing such wonderful novels.”
“Gosh, that’s original.”
“She took my hand. She didn’t shake it, she held it. Her eyes were all teary. She said I was very kind. I didn’t realize she had put her bag down. She picked it up and walked off. I haven’t stopped thinking about her since.”
“Well,” said Jane, “if anyone deserves to meet Lesley Bennett, it’s you. You’ve read all her books twice over. You're the only person I know who is an avid fan. Everyone else finds her too depressing. Dismal, really.”
“You got me started,” I protested, “by giving me one of her novels.”
“Yes,” she replied, “but it was meant as a joke. I never intended for you to take her so seriously.” I stuck out my jaw in protest. You’ve moved on, I thought, why haven’t I done the same?
By April, the air was sweet enough to spend time closer to the lake. The dusk had only just fallen behind the mountains when Jane appeared with the little guy not far behind. He had started to walk four weeks earlier. With this new taste of independence he no longer wanted to be assisted and insisted on travelling by his own locomotion. This made us laugh.
“Orangina,” said Jane to the waiter who was not looking at us but at the lake and the constant spray of the jet d’eau.
“Renversé,” I added. His disinterest was not upsetting. Given the balmy day orchestrated by the calm lake, it seemed natural. The drinks arrived sooner than I expected.
“I was in London last weekend,” I said.
“Sam, are you stalking Lesley Bennett? I’m getting worried about you.” She placed her hand on my forehead to check my temperature. Her hand was cool and I felt instantly subdued. The baby was walking towards the waiter who was still looking out at the lake.
“Where’s Ted?” I asked. I continually imagined the worst, as though he might disappear in the lake if he moved out of Jane’s sight.
“Did you see her?” Jane had developed a healthy sense of laissez-aller and pretended to ignore her son’s attempts at socializing.
“I didn’t go looking for her, if that’s what you mean,” I answered, “but you won’t believe what happened.” The baby was standing in front of our waiter, looking up at him and staring. The waiter said something to him and the baby giggled. Then he waved. Jane continued to listen to me.
“I went into Waitrose supermarket on the King’s Road, after a swim. I got stuck in the biscuit aisle around Rich Tea biscuits, Digestive Biscuits and Reduced Fat Digestive Biscuits. I looked down the aisle at the checkout counter and there she was, checking out. I grabbed a packet of biscuits and marched over to the next checkout counter. She looked ill. She is nearly 80. She was precisely made up and dressed almost exactly as her characters, you know, a below-the-knee gray skirt, white blouse, opaque hose and Mary-Jane one-strap black shoes. Every hair in place, rouged cheeks, but very toned down. On top of all this she wore a thigh-length blood-red sweater. She’s operatic, really, and caps it all off with an over-the-shoulder purse, almost like a well-behaved schoolgirl.” I paused, unnerved that I had just described clothes. I don’t know anything about clothes! “We were the first customers of the day. She finished, walked over to a bulletin board, looked at the ads and threw her receipt into the wastebasket below and left. I went over and looked down. There it was, her receipt, adrift in a new plastic wastebasket bag. What to do? What to do! I felt faint. I crumpled up my receipt, dropped it in the basket and then reached down to retrieve it, but instead deliberately picked up hers and shoved it in my pocket.”
Jane stood up and fetched the baby. She sat down with him on her lap. “Well,” she said wide-eyed, “what was on the list? What did she buy?”
I opened my knapsack and dug around to find my journal. “Don’t you dare tell a soul about this,” I warned, “or I’ll tell everyone about the time you got caught in the dressing room with that second-rate tenor.” I opened the journal, found the receipt and showed it to her.
“Cherry tomatoes,” she read, “a quarter pound of mushrooms, a dozen eggs, a pint of cream, a half pound of sharp cheddar cheese, a package of white flour.” She continued down the list. “A pre-made Christmas cake, and Digestive Biscuits.” She looked hard at me. “Sam, you’re nuts. They’re going to put you away some day.”
The baby, fascinated by the two of us with our heads bowed over my journal, reached out and patted Lesley Bennett’s supermarket receipt. I’m ashamed to say I actually put my hand on his to stop him. “Don’t dear,” Jane cooed to the baby. “It’s precious.” At that we laughed, even the baby.
In August, to endure Geneva’s dog days and give the little guy a taste of adventure, we met at the Paquis Plage. Plage is misleading since a jetty of cement thrust out over the lake can’t be considered a beach. Its graceful components consist of a charming lighthouse and several aged trees. It was largely peopled by the unemployed and the chemically enhanced population of Geneva. It is the only place where the Swiss version of redneck exists happily alongside the gay population, due to a mutual interest in outdoor drug use. Jane insisted on going there because it was a safe haven for children to play in the lake alongside beautiful swans. This couldn’t be refuted; it’s what postcards are about. The swans in couples paddled nearby. The baby sat in the water at the lake’s edge, splashing happily. This is a kid who never cries.
“How did you manage,” I challenged Jane, who was sitting on a towel with a book, “to create something as perfect as that child?”
Instead of an answer, she pushed her face forward to be kissed by three pecks on alternate cheeks. All Anglophones in residence seemed to have adopted this one Geneva habit. “What are you reading?” I asked on the second peck. “Bennett’s new book,” she answered on the third.
I grabbed it out of her hands. “Explain how you got this before me!” I demanded.
“From Angela,” she said. Angela is a mad opera singer who devotes her life to reading and raising cats. “Who got it from someone who bought one of her cats,” she added.
“Waves Upon Waves,” I read the title aloud. “It’s certainly making the rounds,” I said.
“No one has read it!” Jane countered. “It’s too dire, that’s why everyone is giving it away.” I made a face. “Just kidding,” Jane conceded. The baby ran over to me, patted me on the head and ran back to the water, all in one graceful arc.
“I’m going to read a paragraph to you.” Jane opened the novel. “The main character is twenty-five years old and is walking down the King’s Road on Christmas Day, passing the time until she can safely go to bed.” She found the page and began reading.
“For late December it was unusually warm and sunny. This did nothing to dispel my already recalcitrant mood and feelings of displacement. The road was empty. The sun was brighter than the decorative lights on the lampposts. A young man was walking down the other side of the street. I assumed he was a tourist. He carried a sky blue knapsack, its loose straps hanging down like ribbons. He stopped and looked at me. He was clean-cut and opened-faced. He waved. I waved back. He walked on.” Jane stopped for effect, and turned several pages before beginning again. “The day after Boxing Day, I was forced to go to the supermarket and collect fresh ingredients. Even though she remained in bed, my sister retained her healthy appetite and asked for a savoury cheese-and-mushroom omelette. Across from me in the checkout line stood the same tourist who had waved at me on Christmas Day. I might not have recognized him except for that sky blue knapsack and its useless straps. He had red rings around his eyes. I imagined he had been crying but knew he must have been swimming at the pool. He looked like that kind. Before I could talk myself out of it, I scribbled my telephone number on the checkout receipt while I stood in front of the announcement board. I pitched the receipt into the wastebasket below and left. I knew he’d fetch that receipt. He would never call. It thrilled me to have behaved so cheaply.”
“I guess she liked my blue backpack,” I said. I acted gruff, but I was pleased. I stood up and joined the baby. I picked him up and put him on my shoulder, pointed him to the swans in couples and heard him sigh. Jane closed her eyes and lifted her face to the sun. “Swains,” said the little guy, and I didn’t correct him.
Charles Slovenski, ILO
drawing by Bernard Bouvier, UNOG
The old man was a solitary person, he lived lightly and wanted for little, but need was something he knew about. Long experience of gleaning the bare essentials ensured his strongest possession, that of being in tune with the four elements. He had always managed to find water to drink and to cool his skin, earth to walk and sleep on, fire to be warmed by and to cook with, and air was all around. Practical essentials, those of shelter, food, clothing and tools, made the constant demands that kept him moving and his mind turning. An eye on the horizon, he knew the seasons had caught up with him, as they edged forward relentlessly forcing him to slow down, and when they began to overtake him, of course he was no match for them. But his thin cloak, made from an old blanket, still covered him sufficiently, and tied at the shoulder somehow it continued to provide an anchor for the slender leather thong which held a small water gourd. Wrinkles clothed his face but his eyes missed few details in the shifting vastness of the landscape he knew so well. His arms and hands remained supple, and with the soles of his feet protected by the hardened skin of many seasons, his thin legs could still carry him far. A journey simply took longer, that was all. All he needed was a stout stick.
When the hot dry season began to crackle the old man smelt the imminent arrival of rain. As its dark scent approached, he joined a stream of people walking across the sandy plains towards a marketplace. There, certain necessities could be found, bartered for or exchanged. Sometimes there were even things which no one needed but which provoked delight and were therefore desirable. On arrival he found himself shuffling through a crowd of noisy people, all stretching their arms up to the sky as if waiting to receive whatever would fall from the heavens. Unaccustomed to others and tired after the long walk, he edged his way cautiously through the throng and, without quite knowing why, lifted his own arms to join the forest of others. In the crush he was relieved not to lose his cloak but felt the heat of the sun on his bare shoulder.
The blue of the sky pressed down on the crowd and with the rays of the sun all manner of sticks began to appear. Long and short, one by one they fell into outstretched hands and then, along with their new owners, began to dissolve into the luminous landscape until they had all gone. He imagined he had been hallucinating and dismayed, found himself alone and empty-handed. But as he lowered his tired arms a strange stick, gnarled and thorny, appeared to float over him. It seemed to be offering itself but since its thorns looked strong and vicious it occurred to the old man that he could not possibly take hold of it. He had no use for such a stick.
Nevertheless, the stick had other ideas and compelled him to reach for it, even take hold of it with both hands and, as he wrapped his fingers carefully around the thornless area, he wondered if, indeed, it would be of any use at all. Resigned and weary the old man wanted to rest but instead set out slowly back towards the red dust road. Raindrops began to fall and as they freshened his skin they refreshed his heart and instilled a lightness he had not known before. Not wanting to seem ungrateful he glimpsed over his shoulder to the empty space that had held the crowd, hoping to be enlightened about the stick in his hand. But no explanation, not even a glimmer, was forthcoming. Only the wind passed, spattering the raindrops until a new sound slipped into his ears, and soon he saw a train making its way towards him. Once more he wondered if his old mind was playing tricks but as the train approached the sound grew louder and he awaited its arrival. Without pausing it sped across the road and, as many empty carriages flashed past, his view was momentarily obscured. In those brief moments, the energy of a young man surged and with one movement he threw the troubling stick over a bank of red earth. Once again empty-handed, he sprung forward and crossed the tracks as the train vanished across the plains, its sound diminishing.
Days and nights are the steps that link the distances between the seasons, both shading and sculpting the spaces in between. As the rainy season was drawing to a close a young man found himself driving a car along the same red road and as he cruised along, enjoying the freshness of the early morning, he mused on the increased width of the road, pleased that former holes had been filled in and that the new gravel surface made it possible to admire the landscape without having to slow down. He hoped to see a giraffe or even a guineafowl but instead, saw a few patches of earth dug here and there and the appearance of a small house in the distance.
When a faster car overtook him he glanced in the rear mirror and noticed from his shoulder that he wore a yellow shirt, and its brightness startled him. Moments later a second glance revealed the perfect skin of his cheek and while he remembered having shaved closely he was surprised by such smoothness. Shortly after, a third glance into the mirror reflected the long, winding road empty behind him. Unsettled, he pulled over and stopped the car alongside a bank of red earth and, as he turned off the ignition, something about the place stirred his mind. The quiet of the plains filtered into the car and over the dashboard he observed the contours of the land stretching to the horizon. Looking down, he noticed for the first time the weave of the strong fabric of his brown trousers and when his eyes had travelled down to his ankles, he studied the well-worn shoes with his feet hidden inside them and, at that moment felt a strong urge to get out and walk. After opening the door he breathed in the air with some relief and then stepped out into the dust.
After a few steps his shoes felt too tight, the constraint was interrupting his train of thought, and so he stopped to take them off and instantly felt a sweet release. As the young man’s soles touched the ground an old sensation of well-being surged through him and he squeezed the red earth between his toes. Leaving his shoes in the car for the return he began to walk along the bank towards a lone thorn tree he had not noticed before. Treading carefully, he marvelled at its size and the sweeping plateaux of its branches stretching over the road and, as he drew nearer, he saw others stretched over an old disused train track on the other side. Grasses were growing between the tracks. The young man stood in the dappled shade of the tree and closed his eyes. His hands began to explore the rough surface of its bark and he imagined the sap rising through its greenish yellow trunk in readiness for the approaching dry season. When the heat of the day had arisen he opened his eyes, heard the hum and stretched to pick the one black thorn within his reach.
Julia Yemin, UNSW/SENU
THE GOLDEN BOX
Excerpt from the novel RUBIES AND RICKSHAWS
Opening the box she saw a breathtaking ruby necklace. She started to tremble. Tears
rolled down her cheeks.
He spoke quietly. "Your life is in this box." He gave her a letter, which she read:
The mystery of this gold box is in your heart. Let your imagination twirl and close your eyes. Imagine you are far away from all that exists and think of treasures of gold, islands of paradise, warm lagoons upon your feet. Inside this treasure chest, you will find all these pleasures, all these desires. As you open it, it will be your source of life, your dreams, your wishes. It will be your heart and soul as with one action of your hand you will be showered with the golden dust of life. Let no evil find its place. For then you will crumble and lose face. Open your mind and body and let yourself go deep into your heart. Breathe so deeply that you can hardly move and let the air around you spin into a frenzy of freedom. The embedded pearls will be the paths you choose and each of them will make your fantasies real. Choose what you will but never with greed and all your dreams will come true. Give yourself to friend and foe. Give to them your sincerity. Look into the box and tell me what you can see. Look carefully beyond into the depths of the seas. For there lies a secret for all of us to find, as your life as you have it is all in your mind.
Vatsala Virdee, UNHCR
The Young Man and the Ugly Fairy
Once upon a time there was a young man very much like many others. He wanted what others wanted and sometimes even wanted what he thought others had even when he hadn't seen it.
Every day what he heard made him want more, beautiful women, wonderful meals, intoxicating drinks, travel to places too exotic for others to reach, launching himself at great speed through the air or over the road, to be admired and envied by many, many people.
The one respect in which this young man was not like any other was that he wanted harder than anyone else he knew. Day and night he wanted and, somehow, waves of his wanting reached the ugly fairy whose mission it was to grant all the wrong wishes.
It was on a Tuesday that she appeared in his small apartment and asked him what he wanted most: "All the things others have, only more and more of them." "It seems you will need a lot of money," she remarked. "And good health, and free time to enjoy things..." "I think the easiest is for me to give you this little 'wanting ring'. All you have to do whenever you want anything is to turn it twice around your finger." "I'll take it," said the young man, forgetting to thank the ugly fairy. Perhaps if she had been pretty he would have remembered, but then she wouldn't have had the wanting ring.
The sun had barely reached the roofline next morning when the young man leapt from bed and turned his ring two times. It worked. There were beautiful women to cater to his every need. And his needs were many.
Meal times were extravagant and delicious. Cars he drove passed all the others on the road and treated them to a view of his rear end rapidly receding down a long ribbon of highway.
There was swimming when the weather turned warm.And travel to exotic places. People admired and envied him. And this went on and on...and his health didn't suffer.
But one morning he awoke and found something changed. He didn't want any new women to look at or touch or to touch him. He wasn't hungry though he had just awakened. There was nowhere he wanted to go. One temple or church looked pretty much like another. The leaning tower in Pisa leaned of course, but so many others had climbed up and down its warn marble stairs...and ruined cities were only sketches for the imagination of professors to fill in. Waterfalls he had seen scores of, all falling with great rapidity and noise but they frightened him with their meaninglessness.
Speed in cars, in boats, in aircraft, didn't provide a thrill when repeated often enough and when at the end they all had to stop, he found himself just as before.
There was no physical sensation he craved or wanted to have repeated. There was no pleasure in being seen by others, whom he knew to be as pointless as himself, even those who were known to millions as famous people.
He summoned the ugly fairy. "Well?" said she. "Is that all there is?" "Don't you want anything any more, is there any craving left?"
"I can't find any."
"Well then, you see."
And, at last, he began to.
Nedd Willard, formerly WHO
He was skinny, tall for his age, and had a prominent Adam’s Apple that went up and down like a tiny elevator when he spoke; with small eyes he peered through thick round glasses metal-framed, a broken ear piece carefully fixed with scotch tape. I thought he looked like a stork. He was the only child of a man who had TB. At age thirteen, when his father died, he had to leave school to support his mother. Bravely he taught himself English, worked for a tourist agency, collected the addresses of strangers who lived in fabled, storied lands. And then, one day, he and his mother left Istanbul for Australia to make a new life.
When I met him again forty years later, he was a big heavy-set bearded man
conservatively dressed in a suit, white shirt and a tie. The Adam’s Apple had disappeared, but the eyes were the same, small and peering behind thick glasses, except that the frames were plastic, dark and rectangular. I thought, he now looked like a marabou. I can’t say that I am happy, he said, I don’t understand my wife and my children, and I have dull job as a spare-parts-man for Qantas. But one thing made my life: I can travel for free. I have seen the world change. And I can tell you, my friend, it is an amazing
Zeki Ergas, UNSW/SENU
وجه تحت المطر
في هذه المدينة الناس يمنعون عيونهم أن تلتقي بأعين الآخرين. ولا يتحدثون مع الغرباء أبداً. وعندما ينزل المطر تزداد جلافتهم ونأيهم. لماذا إذن يركز هذا القادم تحت المطر عينيه في عينيّ؟ كأنه يعرفني ويود تحيتي لكنني لا أعرفه. وكلبه معه يجري راغباً في الانطلاق والجري وراء قطرات المطر النازل لكن السلسلة تمنعه. حاولت تفادي نظراته دون نجاح. اقترب مني وواجهني وقال بصوت ودود:
أتريد كلباً؟ سأعطيك إياه مجاناً ومعه هذا الطوق وسلسلته. أنظر أسمه مكتوب بأحرف ذهبية على الطوق.. خذه..
الكلب جميل وصغير وشعره مقصوص ومصفف بعناية. يهز ذيله ويدور حول نفسه وينثر الرذاذ عن جسده بحركات مضحكة..
لماذا تريد التخلص منه؟ إنه جميل جداً..
أعيش وحدي. وعملي يضطرني للسفر كثيرا. ورعايته تزداد صعوبة وكل مرة أسافر أضطر أن اطلب من أحد أصدقائي رعايته.. بدأت أفقد الأصدقاء لهذا السبب.. يتهربون مني.. كما تعرف في هذه المدينة لا أحد يريد مساعدة الآخر.. كل واحد عنده مشاغله التي لا تترك للآخرين مكاناً في حياته فما بالك بكلابهم؟ خذه إنه كما قلت أنت فعلاً جميل جدا وسيعطيك حباً واهتماماً يفوق ما يعطيك البشر..
كان الرذاذ بغيضاً وصوت عجلات السيارات على الإسفلت المبلول أبغض. والوقفة طالت. قلت بلهجة نهائية:
أشكرك على هذا العرض ولكنني لا أستطيع أن آخذه. عندي نفس المشكلة، أسافر كثيراً ولن أتمكن من رعايته.. بعد إذنك..
تركته وسرت. لم تكن معي شمسية فأسرعت خطواتي فراراً من المطر المتزايد. بعد لحظات سمعت صوته ورائي:
لا تأخذه إذن.. تسمح لي أسير معك؟
انتفضت مخاوفي. آلاف التحذيرات التي سمعتها منذ مجيئي لهذا البلد تنفجر في رأسي. لا تكلم الغرباء. توجس من الناس. لا تطمئن لأحد مهما كان مظهره. لا تفعل هذا. لا تفعل ذاك. كن خائفاً مرعوباً حذراً طول الوقت فهذا طريق السلامة. قلت لنفسي في السماء نور والشارع واسع وعريض ولا يمكنه أن يمسني فيه. تمرد على التعليمات لمرة كفاك خضوعاً. قلت بصوت هادئ:
سار بجواري والكلب يجري أمامنا ويتقافز في المطر وينبح السيارات المارة ثم يقف فجأة ويرفع أذنيه ليسمع صوت الطائرة. يجري مرة أخرى مساحة حريته وانطلاقه بطول السلسلة فقط. يصل بها إلى نهايتها ثم يعود ويرفع عيونه الجميلة تكاد تنطق إلى صاحبه ثم إليّ. يمسح جسده في ساقي الرجل ويعاود الجري لآخر نقطة من الحرية ثم يعود.. سرنا مسافة طويلة دون كلام. أشار إلى مقعد على جانب الطريق وقال:
جلسنا. وبدأ على الفور في الكلام. بصوت آلي رتيب دون أن ينظر إلي مرة واحدة:
في الحقيقة هذا الكلب ليس كلبي. إنه كلب زوجتي.. السابقة. التقيت بها في حفل عند أصدقاء منذ أربعة عشر عاماً.. ستكون أربعة عشر عاماً بعد شهر ونصف. كان حباً من أول نظرة. كانت قصة كأفلام السينما.. ورود وهدايا وموسيقى شاعرية.. اتفقت مع بائع الزهور في شارعها أن يوقظها كل صباح بأربع ورود حمراء.. واحدة لها وواحدة لي وواحدة لحبنا والرابعة للوقت الثمين الذي يضيع دون أن نكون سوياً.. تزوجنا وذهبنا في شهر العسل إلى بورتوريكو.. هل ذهبت إلى تلك الجزيرة أبداً؟ بديعة الجمال.. من الشواطئ الرملية البيضاء إلى الأحراش الاستوائية عند سفوح الجبال إلى القمم الشاهقة وهوائها النقي.. تنوع عجيب في مكان صغير جداً.. مناسب جداً للحب والغرام وللرومانسية.. ولم نقصر في حقه أبداً.. كنا نذوب عشقا في بعضنا.. كانت النظرة وحدها أو لمسة اليد كافية لأن نترك كل شيء ونغرق في الأحضان.. تتطاير الثياب وتتعالى أناتنا وتأوهاتنا وندخل الجنة من جسدينا العاشقين.. أفكر أحياناً أن اكتب حكاية الأسبوع الذي قضيناه هناك.. سعادة صافية وحب بلا حدود.. ولكنها نفس القصة عند كل الناس.. أنا اعتقد ذلك فلا داعي إذن لتكرار شيء معاد لحد الملل.. المهم.. عدنا وعشنا حياة عادية سعيدة لا ينغصها إلا اكتشاف عقمها.. إذن لن نتوج هذا الحب العظيم بطفل يوحدنا ويبقينا سوياً في جسده وروحه حتى بعد ذهابنا.. قررت أن تشتري كلبا تعطيه فائض حبها واهتمامها.. الذي تراه الآن هو ثاني كلب تمتلكه.. الأول مات منذ عدة أعوام.. كان من نفس النوع ومات في حادث سيارة.. كان المنظر فظيعا وكان حزنها أفظع.. المهم.. اشترينا هذا تعويضاً.. وبالتدريج شغل مكانة الأول خاصة أن دمه أخف وأكثر مرحاً.. تعرف؟ الكلاب مثلنا تماماً فيها شخصيات مرحة وأخرى كئيبة وأخرى نزقة مجنونة لا تعرف الحدود ولا تخاف شيئاً.. أنا شخصياً لم أكن أعرف هذا حتى عاشرتهم فأدركت تنوعهم.. الشيء الوحيد المشترك بين الكلاب والذي يميزها عن البشر هو الوفاء.. الكلاب لا تخون العشرة ولا تتنكر لأصحابها مهما حدث..
المهم.. العام الماضي تركتني زوجتي.. السابقة.. قابلت رجلا آخر وضربها الحب كزلزال.. كان التعود والهدوء قد ألقيا بظلهما الثقيل على حياتنا.. كنا سعداء أو على الأقل كنت أنا سعيداً.. وفجأة أصابتني تلك الكارثة.. حاولت بكل الطرق أن أغير رأيها لكن الحب مرضٌ مستعصٍ وشيطان ملعون ما أن يتمكن من إنسان حتى يفقده صوابه.. المهم تركتني أو بالأدق تركتنا.. لم تأخذ الكلب لأن حبيب القلب عنده حساسية من الحيوانات ولا يطيق وجودها قربه.. كلما فكرت وعدت إلى الوراء بذاكرتي وجدت لها أسبابا لهجري.. أخطاء صغيرة تراكمت ولم أدرك في حينها خطورتها لكنني لا أفهم حتى الآن كيف استطاعت أن تترك الكلب؟ لقد أحبها حبا خالصاً فكيف تتخلى عنه؟
المهم.. مشكلتي الآن هي كما قلت لك أن الحب مرضٌ مستعصٍ وشيطان ملعون.. لم أبرأ حتى الآن من حبها.. بعد كل الحزن والألم الذي سببته لي لو قررت اليوم أن تعود إلي لقابلتها بأذرع مفتوحة.. لكن هذه أوهام فأنا أعرف أنها لن تعود.. قررت إنقاذا لنفسي من الجنون أن أغير كل شيء في حياتي.. كنت افضل أن أترك البيت والحي بأكمله لكنك تعرف طبعاً حال سوق العقارات في أيامنا هذه.. لو بعت البيت لخسرت كثيراً جداً.. غيرت لون الجدران والأثاث بأكمله.. حتى أدوات المائدة والأكواب والفناجين.. لم أترك شيئاً واحداً يذكرني بها.. لم يبق إلا الكلب شريكي في العذاب ووجوده يضيع نتيجة كل ما فعلته.. غرقت في الديون لتغيير كل شيء حتى لا أفقد عقلي ولا فائدة.. آخذه وأخرج لأمشي به مرتين كل يوم.. أمسكه من السلسلة وأشعر أنني مثله.. مربوط من رقبتي بسلسلة لماضٍ لن يعود ولا أستطيع أن أفر منه.. أريد أن أتخلص منه لأتخلص منها أتحرر.. باختفائه من حياتي ستكون قد مُحيت تماماً.. لن يعود لها وجود بالمرة.. لكنه معي ليل نهار..
توقف عن الحديث كما بدأه فجأة. نظرت عبر الطريق إلى المباني الضخمة المتماثلة ونوافذها المضاءة المتماثلة.. طال الصمت ثم قلت:
لا تعرف كم أريد مساعدتك.. ولكنني حقاً لا أستطيع..
هز رأسه بهدوء وقال دون أن ينظر إلي:
نعم.. لا أحد يستطيع مساعدتي..
جذب السلسلة فرفع الكلب عينيه إليه.. وخيل لي أنه قد ابتسم.. وسمعت الرجل يقول له بصوت مستسلم:
قصة من مجموعة "وجوه نيويورك"
الصادرة عن دار ميريت للنشر والمعلومات
Hossam Fahr, UNHQ New York , excerpt from "The Faces of New York", Cairo 2004
Jet d’eau of Geneva
Weimin Wang, UNOG
Weimin Wang, UNOG