we are all equally far We Are All Equally Far from Love

by Adania Shibli

The First Measure
As if every beginning is an end

She left school today. She had repeated fourth grade twice, seventh grade twice, and was this year about to repeat ninth grade as well, but her father raised his eyebrows and said no. This was precisely the movement that Afaf had been expecting since fourth grade, but her father’s laziness had delayed it all those years.

Despite the fact that her grandfather had been a revolutionary, and been killed in 1948, her father was a collaborator. The government had entrusted him with a variety of tasks for various ministries, including the receipt of requests for issuing identity cards, travel permits, building permits, postal services, approval of telephone line extensions, permits to sell diesel, etc. But because he had accumulated excess fat in every corner of his body, and was therefore rather overweight—as well as having a thick moustache, and a large gold ring on the finger of his right hand—, he had in practice distributed most of the spying tasks among the members of his family. He was by nature quite happy, though, to operate the small recorder that sat in the pocket of his always clean and ironed white shirt. He was a conspicuously lazy man, who seldom stirred from his place under the almond tree. But then again, he had no need to do so, no need even to leave his seat, to know what conspiracies the locals were hatching up that might affect state security. The locals would come to him themselves, and he was so lazy and obese that, if he could, he would have called her to press the button on the recorder in his shirt pocket.

Afaf crossed the square to go back home, leaving her father where he sat in the shade under the tree. She was used to the sun blazing above her since the final days of the school year, but she had a feeling that it was now determined to melt her. The two circles of sweat that could be seen on her school shirt under her arms were spreading uncontrollably.

She went up the steps into the house, breathing a sigh of relief when she found them clean, a sign that her father’s wife had finished the housework. She went inside, and went into the room where she and the other children slept.

Sitting down on the bed, she ran her hands over her face to wipe the sweat away, then took a long breath, as if to say “Thank God!” She turned her hands over again in front of her eyes, which twinkled despite the lack of light in the room. Little by little she started to return to her senses from the giddiness caused by the heat of the sun.

It was only then that she realized how heavy the bag on her back had been. She took it off, and put it down on the ground for the last time.

From now on it would be a handbag. Goodbye, back!

She stood up to take off her school clothes, then headed towards the sewing machine in the sitting room and took out a pair of scissors from under the cover. Her father’s wife of course jumped out to ask her what the scissors were for, but she didn’t reply. This creature didn’t seem to understand that she didn’t want to talk to her, ever. Then she cut her school trousers, thereby announcing the severing of all links with the educational system and emphasizing the impossibility of returning to it. She made the cut up to the knee, so that no one would open their mouth—though they would open their mouth anyway—but it was her father that really mattered. She ate her father’s wife’s flavorless lunch then went out. “Whore!” she heard the woman say, and every letter of the word rang in her ears.

Expressions like this only served to emphasize that it was she, her father’s wife, who was the whore, but there was no justice in this world. She didn’t want to go back to argue with her. She didn’t want to upset herself, or spoil the happiness she felt that school had finally disappeared from her world.

She crossed the square and headed towards the almond tree, where her father was sitting, now staring at her legs from a distance. It was only with difficulty that his voice emerged from under his moustache as she reached him.

“What are these trousers?”

“Knee length,” she replied indifferently.

“Oh, knee length!” he repeated.

Then, after perhaps a couple of seconds: “And who are they for, apart from your mother?”

“Maybe for my father!” she heard herself say.

All of a sudden his house shoe was flying straight through the air towards her head. As it struck her, for a few seconds all she could feel was the place where it had hit.

“You whore!” he shouted, then fell silent.

She retraced her steps with her father’s shoe still ringing in her head, until his orders caught up with her: “Tomorrow you’ll get up early and open the mail. Don’t think that just because you’ve quit school you can laze around in bed until noon.”

One day, one day God willing, she’d shoot him and his wife, with the same revolver that he kept behind his back. She wouldn’t take off her trousers, even if they were covering her corpse. And then he could open all the mail himself.