Original by Abdelhamid Abdellatif, translation by Dina Al-Mahdy
The insomnia tearing at your soul is the outcome of the paradox of adopting wisdom without applying it, like someone who’s dying of thirst while holding the water.
Simply put: “Drink, idiot!”
Complexly: “I can’t!”
But why not?
“Why” is the battle ground.
I wake up to find myself wearing black with a big white question mark on my chest. On the left side, my attention is drawn away by Sargon Boulus’s words: “Here I’m waking up once again a stranger in my own body like a man suddenly gets up to find himself in a lifeboat away from the shore”. On the right side lie what I can smell and feel, but fail to meet, R. Hughes’s words describing Emily’s feelings when it suddenly flashed her mind that she is who she is.
To realize who you are, and fail to be it, is a stupid paradox. I want to be myself. I want to be me.
I repeat this to myself hoping it comes true, and I know nothing will happen. I take steady steps towards the white table inside the spotless room that is as white as snow like Moses’s hands. There are dice between a basket of fruits and a green apple in a glass box.
There are new promisingly delicious fruits today in the basket, but the glass on the other side preventing me from eating the green apple makes its imaginary taste more succulent in my head. I eat green-colored fruits from the basket while contemplating the apple behind the glass, which spoils the good taste and prevents me from enjoying it enough because I’m present somewhere else.
I think about the dice, and my hands approach them, but the sound of wisdom in my head keeps saying: “Don’t use the dice…Don’t approach the dice…You have free will, so don’t sacrifice it for them.”
I’m sick, though, of the other sound that resounds inside me, telling me that the use of dice marks its end and departure like a needle scratching the best music disc whose sound is turned down and gets replaced with the friction sound which confounds me with confusion.
Every day, I wake up and I pinch myself; I pinch myself but I don’t wake up.
Today, the fruits look more beautiful than yesterday. Has the apple become shinier? I wonder how it feels when it touches my lips. Its imaginary juice melts and the saliva runs in my mouth. The voice telling me to use the dice gets louder, but logic shouts “don’t!”
“You idiot moron!” Had one of the uncountable fruits in the basket been behind the glass, you would have done the same. This is just because what is prohibited is appealing, and the one who prohibits isn’t trustworthy.
“You idiot moron!” Don’t exchange that which is better for that which is lower.
“You idiot moron!” Stabbing isn’t a stab’s treatment.
Experience is itself proof. Is this enough reason to test death by killing yourself?
There is no insufficient wisdom; what is insufficient is applying it. Kierkegaard tries to convince me that regret is my destiny. If I choose right I won’t regret choosing left, and left becomes heaven; and if I choose left I won’t regret choosing right, and the right becomes heaven. Rest in the heaven you chose, because regretting not choosing the other side is an illusion.
In the past, the present and the future, one leaves heaven every day. I pick up the dice, raise them above, and throw them. The green apple’s image appears, and the glass barrier disappears. I devour the apple eagerly, lustily biting each piece, while ignoring all the voices. Disappointingly, it tastes normal, or rather less than normal; it’s a hard, dry apple, as if it was picked prematurely. It hurt my throat while swallowing. I felt exhausted and devastated, but at least the voices are gone now. Tomorrow I can wake up without hearing them to enjoy the fruits in the basket.
It’s the hundred and ninth day. The white room now has a black circle that grows day after day. I try not to step over it on my way, then I stand trembling at the table. One’s mind is only used in fear. Now the dice have a choice.
The fruits look incredibly beautiful today, yet I can’t eat any of them. But why? Why?! Is it because you didn’t eat one of them both yesterday and the day before? Why today, then? Is it because that is what I want now?
Why today? It’s because I want to.
Why today? One day, as today is just another day.
The dice repeat the question, and doubt the logical answer until the latter surrenders and dice reach the answers they want. It’s the force of habit.
The flies are surrounding the rotten apple which is torn by the worms. Thus, I resignedly hold the dice, begging them to bring me the image of the basket which has become behind the glass barrier. I throw them and close my eyes in fear of the result. The dice chose the rotten apple. I hold it in despair with my eyes full of tears. I bite it and taste a dead fly and the head of a worm. Then, in devastation, I turn to the corner of the room hoping the dice will choose something different tomorrow.
It’s the nine thousand and ninth day. The walking distance from the corner to the table is arduous. It’s difficult to step over all the black circles without falling into one that could swallow me. I hardly catch my breath then weep, for all this effort is in vain when the dice eventually choose the rot. It affected my whole body, made the worms pierce me, and ate away the apple which is no longer there, leaving behind more flies and worms. The damn dice! My hand embraces them, and I wonder why they won’t leave me alone? Why won’t they go away? All I want is the basket. Please give it to me. I roll the dice with fear and longing before throwing them. I weep more than before because I already know the result. I throw them while recalling the music. How stupid I was, back then, for being disturbed by the voiceless rustling sound of the needle.
When you contemplate what doesn’t exist in the first place, and when you persistently claim its presence before your eyes, you actually create it in your own imagination.
Now there is no music; only the damn rustling of the needle is left. The dice choose the flies and the worms, so I forcedly hold them. I close my eyes and attempt to swallow them without chewing, but the rancid taste has made me shiver, step back, and fall into the black circle.
The loss of light is accompanied with a loss of day count. The featureless darkness surrounds everything and spoils meaning. Falling leads to more falling. While waiting to hit the ground, more waiting comes. I imagine hitting the ground and ending everything, but falling persists as if it’s endless. I can feel the worms eating what’s left of me. All that I hope for now is the merciful collision. Is it the thousandth day? Is it the first minute?! I don’t know. Everything is postponed because you can’t be yourself. One regrets all the past; for postponing living this life, for knowing the right question and asking the wrong one. How can I use the dice? That’s wrong! Why did I have to use the dice?!
The answers to wrong questions are even darker.
Have you practiced your free will today?
Why don’t you leave me alone, dice? Why?
While crying, I see the white question mark on my chest reappearing as though from nothing. Why haven’t I left you? I beg you to leave me. How could I be so foolish? The secret lies in me leaving you.
Tears increase. My eyes open and I find out that I haven’t fallen and that there’s no darkness around me. I was stupid enough to keep my eyes closed out of severe fear. I looked around me in disbelief for everything was just there: the whiteness of the room that was trying to resist the excessive blackness, the table, the fruit basket behind the glass, the worms, the flies left from the green apple, the dice…those damn dice! I spit on the worm that I had bitten, and I drag myself to the corner of the room, abstaining from choosing more foolishness.
Dear Kierkegaard, true regret results from attempting to catch other regrets.
It’s the hundredth day after my return. The worms snap at my flesh, and the pain of starvation feeds on me to urge me to throw the dice which shall choose more worms for me. The room was as it is in the beginning, and then I noticed after some time that it undergoes minor changes to retrieve its whiteness and overcomes the black circles day after day. I sit in pain in the corner of the room. It’s just another day. It will all go away one day. Be patient. For now, the present worms are as beautiful as the other unavailable fruit basket. The worms end this pain, even if it is temporarily. No! No! No! What harm does one more time bring before abstaining from them once again? “Overcome your fears, weak idiot!”
While struggling with myself, the glass of the basket shone then disappeared. At first I couldn’t believe this could really happen. I hurried towards it in disbelief. My hand reached out to the regularly changing infinite fruits. I held them and wondered how could I let them go one day? How did I allow this to happen? I ate and ate until the worms biting my body died, and then I felt a breeze of peace surrounding me to take me to the safety and rest…to rest for the first time since it all started as an endless trip.
It’s the eleventh day since the reappearance of the glass barrier on the other side with the red apple behind. The superbly beautiful fruits in the basket, from which I can choose whatever I want, annoy me. I didn’t taste them.
The red apple seduces me. It ripeness is the same as the green apple’s which has caused me a lot of pain. I believe I deserve the red apple. What will happen if I try the dice one more time? Just one more time…
“Please don’t lose control over yourself again. Don’t do things you don’t want to do!”
But what’s the use of regretting all that I did, and all that I didn’t do?
I kept looking at it from the corner because the distance added to it a special charm. I keep thinking over and over while its reflection is in my eyes: a spot removed from a circle.
It seemed as if it has grown some shade that started occupying the white room until it approached me and covered the whiteness of the question on my chest. Now I’m sitting in the shade of the red apple.
Abdelhamid Abdellatif, born in 1990, an Egyptian author currently living in Cairo. Author of two novels, The mysterious and El-lawh Al-mahfouz, and a poetry collection, Counting the days backwards. His website: https://www.goodreads.com/abdelhamidabdellatif.
Dina Al-Mahdy is a freelance translator and writer at numerous local and international magazines and newspapers: Al-Ahram Weekly, Medium, Elephant Journal, and Women of Egypt Mag, and at various publishing houses inside and outside Egypt: Egypt’s National Center for Translation, Dar Dawen Publishers, Bloomsbury Publishing, and Austin Macauley Publishers. She currently works as Head of Projects Coordination Unit, Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Library of Alexandria).