fiction

Good day

“Good stuff,” he said, not looking at anyone in particular. “All I want is good stuff. Nothing more, nothing less. I want my little bit of sweet, and to have it more than the bitter. Way more.”

Jeffrey Mistlethorpe had not yet realized the calamity of the situation he was in. It was the sort of calamity that takes time to dawn on its victim. A calamity of proportions so great that only its shadow was seen by Jeffrey. It loomed over his frazzled head. Poor he.

“Will you look at that fellow over there. Poor thing he is if you ask me,” an elderly woman said.

“Oh, mother, he’s just the way he wants to be. It’s young folks these days. They do things that you or I would never understand.”

***

And so time passed: hours, days, weeks, months; and all that Jeffrey did was walk under the shadow of this great calamity. The mother of all calamities.

He looked up. “That’s it. I want sunshine. I really do. I want that damn cloud to dissipate, to melt away, to vaporize out of my life once and for all.”

He took a few steps by the river Mistlethorpe, named after his great-great-grandfather, founder of Mistleville. A crackling, thunderous, booming sound rained down.

“Oh, my,” Jeffrey said as the sound waves knocked him over.

***

Jeffrey awoke to find himself as he was by the river Mistlethorpe. Yet something was different. A gentle, calming warmth penetrated his skin. Squinting, he looked at the sunlight that surrounded him. He stood up and patted his clothes clean.

“Good stuff,” he said. He smiled from ear-to-ear, his gleaming whites glinting in the sun.

***

With every morning, Jeffrey’s days got sunnier. His demeanor took one of gentle grace that allowed him to sail through all the tumultuousness that life tossed his way.

“Will you look at that fellow over there,” an elderly woman said.

“Oh, mother, he’s just having a good day.”

“I’d say.”

A moment of eternity

Once, there was a moment that surrendered to eternity.

Like all moments before it, this particular moment was not made to last. At least that’s what everyone thought at first.

In a medley of love and hate, defeat and triumph, lies and retribution; the moment came about. It looked at the blue sky patched with fluffy white clouds and asked, “what is it that makes me so…so momentous?”

The sky of course, being a sky, didn’t answer. The moment looked on elsewhere, it searched for anything that could possibly utter an answer. Perhaps it could be a bird, one that would sing an answer. Or a tree that would flutter its leaves like so and so to reveal a hidden truth. Perhaps.

The moment was steadfast in its search for an answer. The moment kept on looking, until it eventually and inadvertently became that which all moments cannot possibly be: eternity.

Then another thought-provoking, interesting moment came along and took over.

So much for eternity.

Make happen: Ladby Larabee and the bird that perched atop a coffee mug

Ladby Larabee (which some of you mistakenly read as Lady Larabee) was an ordinary man as far as ordinary men went: he was not dashingly handsome in any sense, nor was he hard to look at; he was not talented in any way, nor was he an idiot. Ladby Larabee was simply average. His outlook on life, though, was not average to say the least.

In the morning, Larabee woke up his soul with a prayer and his body with a shower. He would then sit in the balcony thinking of things that were, are and will be. He traversed his own universe of knowledge, scouring for answers from the nether and hither fields of his mind.

Most of the time Larabee’s universe of knowledge was confronted with a considerable number of questions to which answers were not immediate. Such occasions, numerous as they were, prompted Larabee to seek answers from books, people, film—even music. Thus, Larabee’s universe expanded.

One day—as with all days referred to with a consequential sounding “one day”—Larabee’s mind expanded more than he ever fathomed. On that one day, Larabee found himself floating on the wings of an oft pondered notion: fate and free will.

Books, people, film and music (and pizza, Coke and gummie bears) all conspired to conjure up an answer for Larabee. That questioning started taking twists and turns, going back and forth in time, traversing diverse planes of knowledge, and masquerading as a parade of history’s most famous: prophets and fraudsters, princes and paupers, champs and chumps.

Indeed, the questioning turned into a quest. The quest, dear reader, consumed Larabee. With each turn of the page in the grand book of universal knowledge, Larabee’s days rushed into each other. Flip-flip-flippity-flip, Larabee’s eyes scanned the words of the living, the dead, and the word of God.

Until one day (one of those one days undoubtedly), a little bird perched itself atop Larabee’s coffee mug. Tweet-pew-tweet, the bird said.

“Do you have an answer, little bird, about fate and free will?”

Tweet-po-tweet.

“I figured. I’ve been racking my head all this time trying to find an answer. I still don’t have anything.”

The clichéd days turned into clichéd months, which in turn turned into even more clichéd years. Larabee kept pestering the universe and its book of knowledge with how so? And how come?

The universe was aware of Larabee’s quest alright, it just wasn’t about to let go of the grandest secret ever kept without some more work on poor Ladby’s part. Yes, the universe was willing to answer, but only if Larabee would submit his question in the sincerest form possible.

***

Tweet-po-tweeeet!

Larabee awoke in the middle of the night upon hearing the bird. “You. What’re you doing here at this time of night?”

Tweet-tweet-po-weet!

“So, you’re saying that if I manage to sing my heart out I’d eventually find an answer? That if I go out on a limb and risk everything I might stumble across an answer? That needs a lot of faith.”

Tweet.

And so Larabee did. Not only did he sing. He danced, and danced, and danced. He skipped from star to star, galaxy to galaxy, he tossed pebbles of questioning across the grand pool of knowledge. Skip-skip-skippity-skip. He smiled and smiled. And laughed too, lots.

Larabee had found what he was looking for. He had found an answer to the age old question of fate and free will. It wasn’t in the annals of history, nor in the mouths of men busy about nothing. It was right there in Ladby’s heart.

***

In life, there are matters best left to fate, while others are best left to free will. It is with such delicate balance of fate and free will that our individuality arises.

Everyone is handed a set of cards. That’s fate. Playing the cards however you want, now that’s free will.

The common factor between fate and free will is faith. Faith is that which helps us believe in what we have (or are given) and what we aspire to achieve (what we want). Be it running an errand or changing the world, whatever we do is an intertwine of what God has predestined and what we ask God to please make happen.

Ladby Larabee, Esq. and Tweet, Bird.

Jim Masri

Jim Masri decided that today was a good day to die. There was nothing better than having a clear blue sky, or a starry night, on one’s day of death.

“It’s better than watching television. I’ll watch the sky. That’s what I’ll do. Might as well get ready for up there,” he said to Melissa, the day nurse.

“Enough of such talk, Mr. Masri. This morbidity of yours will not get you any better,” she said. “You’re perfectly well according to Dr. Petersen. In fact, you probably will not be needing me this time next week, Mr. Masri.”

“Call me Jim, dammit. And you’re right, I probably won’t be needing you this time next week.”

Going on about her daily routine, Nurse Melissa didn’t show much sympathy to the octogenarian’s drivel. Jim didn’t mind though, he knew she was trying to get through another day.

***

“No, no, no. Don’t turn on the television. In fact, don’t turn it on anymore.”

“Well, suit yourself,” said Jerome, the night nurse.

“It’s just a waste, kid.”

Jerome didn’t say anything back. Jim didn’t mind; after all, like Melissa, Jerome was just trying to get through another day.

The whole world seemed to be trying to get through another day, Jim thought.

***

Many days and nights passed and Jim Masri kept on repeating one spiel or another about it being a good day to die. Death; however, did not mind Jim Masri. Death did not care to pass by and pull the strings of life out of Jim. Death merely played them from a distance. It played them like a virtuoso, with flair and sophistication.

“I’m afraid you have what’s called a…”

“Spare me, doc, I don’t give a damn what it’s called, I can’t keep track of all the crap going on inside of me. Is it curable, doc?”

“I’m afraid it isn’t,” said Dr. Petersen.

“Good. Now if Death would only go about its business and come ’round here, you and I would be spared a lot of time, doc.”

“Now, now, Jim, we’re all here trying to help you as much as we can. You might want to go out to the park a little, get some fresh air. It’s a bit breezy and overcast though, winter’s almost here.”

***

One night, when a full moon shone bright, a shadow spilled across the grassy lawn of St. John’s.

“Jim, your time is up,” Death said.

“Figures, showing up at midnight. At least it’s a starry night. A good night to die.”

Change

Marwan stretched across a couch in the lunchroom of the Al-Wasat daily, pen and notepad in hand. On that day following the Eid holiday, there seemed nothing more serene than the silent rush of traffic as observed from a double-glazed window. The setting sun poured down its golden light in bucket loads across the road to Budaiya.

I began writing my column in this daily with the idea that I could say something that might, or might not change the world, he wrote. I then learned that changing the world does not begin with a barrage of ideas. Changing the world is not in the realm of human possibilities. It is an illusion that we chase, one that we fool ourselves into accepting just to give ourselves hope about the future. An uncertain future.

Little by little, Marwan slipped into the past, into the memories of a childhood spent running under the summer sun in palm gardens, stepping on rich, moist soil. Into a time when he went to the hafez, learning and memorizing the Quran.

“The objects of nature change very slowly. A palm tree remains a palm tree, it remains what it is and will not change for a very long time, unless it is very young and immature. The more mature, the more set in its ways an object is. All that changes then is what we think of it and how we appreciate it,” Sayed Ali Al-Qudsi said one day at the hafez.

“It is the same for everything else. Most mature things are constant. The change we observe in them comes from us.

“What changes most in this universe is what we, the vice-regents of God on this earth, do. Our free will, our choice and reason is what makes us different from other creatures and objects. We can change in an instant.

“Yet the older we get, like the mature palm tree, the less potential for change we have and the less potential for change we see in others.”

On remembering what Al-Qudsi said, Marwan continued writing:

Everyone is the same, it is only our inherent subjectivity that makes us appear different to each other. It is a subjectivity formulated by our presumptions and conceits, our judgments and suppositions, our culture and traditions, and our religion and faith. It is that subjectivity that makes you and I different to the same person. Perhaps I’m being sardonic, perhaps not.

Sometimes maturity means understanding why we’re heading somewhere before we know how we’ll get there. It is the reason why people stipulate and postulate, sometimes with regards to what they see as right, other times with regards to what they see as wrong. And sometimes, with regards to what they see. Simply see.

I’m afraid there is no better way to end this column than with an age-old cliche, that which says change begins with oneself. Ergo, change in others begins with oneself.

Curious Laura

“The degradation of an individual does not encompass the certainty by which that individual sees himself. For one to see himself in true light requires both certitude and verity. It is only with a lack of levity in character that one rises above the trifles of day to day life to obtain light. Sometimes–no, most of the time, we need each other to obtain light,” Dr. Emmerich said. His words slightly echoed in the lecture hall.

Emmerich was old, frail and had a calm demeanor about him that indicated his total and utter acceptance of his state of being. His tweed jacket seemed to have been surgically stitched to him, for one never saw him with any other jacket.

“He’s an idiot,” whispered Laura, “I’m going to Mack’s…you coming?”

Laura was young, pretty and–to put it bluntly, hot. She was the type of girl that you’d fool around with even though you had nothing in common apart from unhindered raging hormones.

“Sure,” I said.

***

Mack’s was a regular hangout for the five of us. We’d spend hours on end wasting time, talking about nothing and everything. Every time I decided to do something interesting, useful, or remotely beneficial, I’d be overwhelmed by the sheer mind-numbness of dazed and confused freshmen.

“Dude, where’re you off to?” Andrew said.

“Dorm,” I said as I stepped outside Mack’s. I needed timeout.

“I’m coming with you,” Laura said.

I wasn’t getting timeout.

***

My dorm room was Spartan at best. There were some textbooks and notebooks strewn on the floor and a few unwashed tees and boxers peering from a basket.

“Told you it’s not much to look at,” I said.

“You know, you’re the kind of guy I’d want to know more about. You make me…curious, Michael,” Laura said.

***

Laura was very curious. She was very, very curious. I’d never wanted to know as much about her as she did about me. It was fun, though. It was also one of those things, when you’re out there having fun, enjoying whatever comes your way, then suddenly–bham! You get hit on the face with,

“I love you.”

She’s nuts, I thought.

“I love you too, Laura.”

***

“Twenty years ago, a lecturer of mine once said, ‘the degradation of an individual does not encompass the certainty by which that individual sees himself. For one to see himself in true light requires both certitude and verity. It is only with a lack of levity in character that one rises above the trifles of day to day life to obtain light. Most of the time, we need each other to obtain light’,'” I said.

I was wearing a tweed jacket, ill fitting socks that had been washed one too many times, and I had a little photo of my curious Laura in my wallet.

Mr. Crippin

Mr. Crippin had a deservedly wicked name. He walked into class with calculated, military-precision steps that he himself never faltered to observe every morning. He’d focus on his own brown leather shoes as he walked in front of the whiteboard.

“Children,” he said, raising his head, “the homework tray seems to be filled up nicely today. I expect each and everyone of you to have done a job that would not have me furious this time tomorrow.”

He was barely taller than us, yet his extra two inches made all the difference to third graders. Add to that blondish side-combed hair, a weighty mustache that spelled nothing short of strict, and gleaming gray marbles for eyes.

We never could tell were Mr. Crippin was from. His unaccented English deluded all of us. At one point, he did say he was Welsh. Then he said he was British. By year end, he was either American or Canadian. I could never recall what the reason was for his ambiguous origins.

All sorts of theories were put up about Mr. Crippin. He murdered his neighbor and fled the country…he’s an alien…he’s Crippinface, a ghoul…he’s…and he’s to no end.

Yet we could never come to grips with the fact that Mr. Crippin could be the nicest man on earth at interspersed times throughout the year in which he taught us.

Mr. Crippin added a gold star to my sticker book…Mr. Crippin said I did real good…Mr. Crippin said I should skip a grade…and so on.

***

I don’t know what became of Mr. Crippin. It’s been twenty years since that day when I last saw him before summer vacation.

“Young man, you keep at it and you’ll rise to the stars. Aim high, always,” he said to me.

Throughout third grade, that was the only nice thing he ever told me. I remember it to this day as I sit here in my office writing a little diatribe about a certain teacher that scared us a little, that encouraged us a little, and that–most of all, believed in us before we were old enough to believe in ourselves.

Oreos aren’t cookies

Traffic, Part I

Rise and shine, everyone. This is Mental Melvin on 96.9, the sunshine station, with another brand new day of utter and total annoyance from yours truly. If you’ve got your own music, I’d suggest you play it instead of listening to not so funny me!

Mental Melvin didn’t say that exactly. But I think he should’ve. Why would I want to listen to a two bit DJ that’s pretending to be funny? Give me the news. Give me the weather, traffic report–anything but Mental Melvin. Give me silence. I turn off the radio.

Consolidated Flour Mills, reads the sign in glorious neon. Hello work.

Morning Coffee

“Philosophy melosophy.” Yousif picks up his teacup, “I don’t care what you make of life, as long as you make something out,”

“of it,” I interject.

“No, out of yourself. I don’t care what you think about all of this,” Yousif says, sweeping his hand. “Philosophies are a dime a dozen. In fact, how about this one right here,” he says, holding an Oreo, “life’s a cookie,” and takes a bite. He looks at it with reverence.

“Life’s not a cookie. It’s not like that, Yousif. Besides, an Oreo is way too complicated to be called a cookie.”

“No it isn’t, it’s a cookie. Looks like one, says so on the pack too.”

“Look at that Oreo. It’s a damn cake compared to a cookie.”

“It’s a cookie, Ameer,” he says.

“No, Yousif, it’s a philosophy,” I say, not looking at him, rather at steam rising from my coffee.

Yousif’s my colleague. He sits in a coveted vubicle, a cubicle next to a window. He has every right to be gung-ho. He has every right to call an Oreo a cookie. Or a philosophy. Continue reading

Hearts for eternity

There once was a little boy with a very big heart.

“I’m afraid your son has a rare congenital heart defect called Vendler’s Cavity. It’s an extreme case of malformed semilunar valves and a larger-than-normal heart size,” said the doctor. “I’m sorry, but your son is not expected to live long.”

The little boy was taken from doctor to doctor, his parents trying in vain to have someone say to them he will live forever. All they heard was that he will die sooner than later.

***

Alas, the years passed and the little boy was no longer little nor a boy, for he was a man.

With whatever time he had, the man decided that he would help people and commit to charitable causes rather than to worry about his future.

He traveled the world, saw places and met people from cultures far and apart. He also met a girl. She was a charity worker that pulled the strings of his large heart in ways never before known to him. Continue reading

Running home

He ran as fast as he could.

He took a new jogging route. Instead of the usual coastal front, he decided to head towards the village center.

The sun poured down its light like melted gold, silhouetting the vehicles, lampposts, trees and structures. The air was still–there was no humidity nor breeze.

He made a trail of dust on the unpaved roadside as his cross trainers struck ground.

The village was smaller than he had originally anticipated. Approaching its end, he ran back to the Spartan traffic of a Friday afternoon on Budaiya Road.

***

The sun took final majestic grandeur as it set in a frenzy of reds, oranges and yellows. The first call to sunset prayer was followed by another, and another. Allah u Akbar, God is the greatest, was repeated four times by the muezzins of each mosque.

Having run for exactly an hour, he paced himself, eventually standing still next to a dying palm tree. A limping dog passed nearby. Crows cawed in the distance.

He listened to the prayer calls as they came to an end, one by one, until the last muezzin uttered Lā ilāha illallāh, there is no god except God.

And like every time, he came to know, one more truth, towards the Truth.

I died as a mineral and became a plant. I died as plant and rose to animal. I died as animal and I was human.

Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?

Yet once more I shall die as human, to soar with angels blest; but even from angelhood I must pass on: all except God doth perish. When I have sacrificed my angel-soul, I shall become what no mind ever conceived.

Oh, let me not exist! For non-existence proclaims in organ tones, ‘To Him we shall return.’ – Rumi

Rutherford’s hope

“Hope can make you lose sight, kid,” Rutherford said, “it can blind you from the truth, it can take your mettle and turn it into that which is worse than nothingness. You can falter and fall far quicker than you thought possible.” The frail, old man said those words as though he lived them, as though his being felt every nuance of hope’s danger during his eighty-odd years of living.

I couldn’t tell what had happened to make Rutherford utter such melancholic drivel. Perhaps a love long lost, or perhaps something that had to do with matters of a pecuniary nature. “Hope,” he told me once, “is one side of the same coin, that of expectation, the other being disappointment.”

***

Rutherford had hope once, I thought. He had it and it let go of him. To the old man, hope could be perilous. It could take a man’s soul and raise it to the stars, only to let it fall back to earth.

Broken, shattered, Rutherford found a home not in hope, but in despair. He found a home in melancholic sputters of a nature befitting only a man ready to die, ready to let go of the world and all it had to offer.

***

The danger of hope lies not in hope itself, rather it lies in the person possessing it. If one plays party to the whims and fancies of today as if hope existed for the present moment instead of the future, then hope is merely deceit in sheep’s clothing.

Hope’s not about falling in love with fleeting moments, it’s not about finding comfort in daydreams. Hope’s about living true by seeking the right answers, by asking the right questions, by finding yourself as you look up at the stars and reach for their beauty, for their truth.

Fact of fiction (or the man with the funny red polka dots hat)

“Fact of fiction,” the man with the funny red polka dots hat says, “fact of fiction is what it is!”

“Fact or fiction?” I say, correcting him.

“Fact of fiction!” He giggles and interjects nonsensical sounds into his speech. “Eeh, hee, wee-yoo! Fact of fiction! Eee-yoooo!”

“Right, so, fact of fiction? What does it mean?”

“Oh, so many things, so many little things, so many big things,” he says. His hands stretch in all directions, spiraling upwards and downwards. “Take,” he says, handing me a little red gift box.

“What’s in it?”

“Fact of fiction! Fact of fiction!” he says, teetering off in laughter. Hysteric laughter that’s more alarming than annoying.

That is the last I’ve seen of the man with the funny red polka dots hat.

***

As in Plato’s cave, we acquire are own assumptions about reality. What constitutes it, what makes it reality as we perceive it with our five senses. Yet we are no more aware of its feebleness than say, a fictitious character is of his or her reality under the pen of a writer (if one were to say a fictitious character is real, which of course it isn’t.)

Although we are aware of our own existence, we are not necessarily aware of what is around and within us in the greater scheme of things. A scheme in which reality is a state of being that transcends mere material notions. Where it goes beyond our five senses into a state where anything is possible. The guy with the red polka dots hat might have known it best when he said fact of fiction, for what is fact but the acceptance of fiction in the context of our own perceived reality?

Philosophical meanderings aside, there is no reason not to find solace in the fact that we ourselves are fictions in a universe that conspires evermore to make us, dare I say that word again, fact. To make us true and nothing less. We are our own little book of suppositions and observations that might or might not become fact one day. Hopefully it will.

And why not? Why not become fact? And if reality is not bound in materialism then it is surely bound in something else that’s more real than this or that or him or her. Reality at the end of the day is not about seeing, not about touching, hearing or any of that. It’s about feeling.

As to what is in the little red gift box, well, there is no little red gift box.

Olive trees are forever

Layal took small steps. She looked across a field of rubble, befallen houses and distressed foliage. “In that house, in that house,” she said, pointing with her arm outstretched at what remained of Uncle Sharif’s two storey mansion, “in that house my uncle, my three cousins, his wife and mother stayed.

“The enemy jets flew past, not missing a single house in their onslaught. The roof caved in in the attack, crushing them as they scrambled for safety…by daybreak the rescue teams retrieved the bodies…and I…I saw…” she almost collapsed if not for Hassan, an aid worker, by her side.

There was nothing that could be done. Nothing at all. Peace was a wish and no more. It was the great unattainable, a lost sacred artifact. Hope for peace was not within the realms of the here and now, the present danger, the world of today. It was not.

***

With each day that passed Layal’s heart took to hiding more and more. Like a child sitting tight in a corner, hands clasped to knees, Layal wanted nothing more than to be held again without asking to be held. To be held like Uncle used to hold her.

She remembered Uncle’s words: peace is a fluid concept, one that can be taken with a grain of salt or with an incredible amount of faith. Whether we’ll ever achieve it is a question that can only be felt and answered in our hearts. Courage to believe comes from the heart, rises up to the mind where peace becomes more than a dream, where it becomes a possibility.

***

Layal lost all there was to lose. She returned to lay to rest the memories of her past. Not to forget them, but to remember them as they should be: amongst the ruins of Uncle’s house, by the burnt and broken olive trees, thyme shrubs and pine trees dotting the mountain.

I’m not hiding anymore, Layal told herself as she laid the wreath, I’m here to let my memories rise up to the stars. To reach you, Uncle, to find you and let you know that I will never forget. And that no matter what happens, the hope for peace will remain. No matter what happens.

***

“This is where Uncle Sharif used to live, children. Twenty years ago, long before you were born, ” Layal told Sharif and Maya.

“Mama, you’re smiling…crying? Are you happy…sad?” six year old Sharif asked his mother.

“Yes…yes I am,” she replied, smiling, kneeling down to embrace both of her children. “I’m happy. I’m very happy.”

Dusk began to settle on the mountain, bringing with it hues of reds and yellows, silhouetting olive trees. Their branches had grown back to their old, natural splendor, ruffling under a gentle wind.

“Come, children. Baba is waiting for us in the car.” She nodded her head as Hassan started up the car.

***

Time graced the ruins of Uncle’s house. It shed tears, it remembered and it moved on to another place. To a place where hope prevails. For in whatever way time worked its strings through successes and failures, expectations and disappointments, it brought up the courage to hope again, to wish for better days and to dwell not on the past, but on a future so full of possibilities, including peace.

Exquisite cadaver

There once was a boy who was constantly told how to be, how to do and how to grow up. On television, MTV told him to wear lose parachute pants, spike up his hair and lyricise suggestive words. In the theater, movies told him to act suave and to accept everything and anything as the truth. In bookshops, supermarket bestsellers told him to acknowledge the absurd. On the street, drivers rushed passed him, showing him that life had no time for quiet solitude.

And so the boy grew up adorned with more brands than a Formula 1 car. He was Valentino, he was Paciotti, he was Gucci, he was Benz, he was Vertu, he was Panerai, he was GQ personified, but one thing he wasn’t, it was himself. His opinions were those of others. Of Saatchi and Saatchi and HarperCollins.

Until one day, he found himself in a place so far away from MTV, movies, airport bookshops and speeding drivers. There were no iPods, no instant movie downloads, no credit cards, no instant satisfaction. There was only the boy, now a man, an endless field of grass, and a river that snaked by.

“Where am I?” he asked himself.

With trepidation, he moved a little. He didn’t know where he was. “Where am I?” he asked again. “WHERE AM I?” he screamed.

He awoke from the nightmare to find himself sweaty amongst silken sheets. Scrambling to get out of them; he fell onto the floor. His crimson satin pajama reflected the first light of day that broke through the muslin curtains.

He ran down the stairs, out through the door and onto the street. The servants stood aside, agog as they saw him shout “No, no, no!”

***

Later that day, the man recovered from his stupor.

“This should get him back to his senses,” he heard someone say. Someone old and austere. It was Dr. Khalil.

“Did I…” the man began to say looking at the doctor, his brother, and a servant standing by the far corner of the bedroom.

“It’s alright, you’re OK now, Yousif,” Dr. Khalil said as he pulled out a credit card swipe machine. “If you’d just swipe your card, please.”

“I’ll pay,” the man’s brother said.

***

Eventually, the nightmares subsided. The man no longer had dreams of being lost in a world with no copyrights or trademarks. He no longer found himself trapped in a wide open space with flowing rivers and green pastures. He no longer had to define himself. He was defined. All he needed was a credit card and a brand new day for shopping.

Sure, this might sound a bit cynical. Or perhaps way too cynical. But the fact remains that so many live and die by what they buy rather than by what they do. Though if left to their own devices, in a green pasture, they might find it within themselves to dream up and eventually follow their own destiny, unlike Yousif above.

Writing for Emily

emily2.png

Emily died. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. In a rather terrifying manner involving a slippery staircase, a glass pane and high heeled Jimmy Choos.

At first, Steve wanted her back. If that wasn’t possible, then he was going to join her. Still, he never felt death reach out with its claws to grapple that soul of his. Which made him wonder whether his soul fled, never to be caught, or whether he was yet to see what was to become of him. He had no clue. No idea. Maybe he should put on a pair of Jimmy Choos himself and marathon down Deringer station to try and catch the seven o’clock train, he thought.

The 34 year old investment banker had it all at one point. A great job, a great car and Emily. He and Emily were the quintessential city couple. Him, with a chiseled, angular face that demanded attention, and she, with a face that was the perfect opposite: calm, kind and simple.

Following Emily’s demise, Steve Pritchard went through his days calculating every emotion, not exercising motion until his notions were clear. They were never clear though. No longer did he tread upon the ground as if it belonged to him. Rather, he moved erratically, from place to place. He could never reclaim the solace that he yearned for. He never imagined himself without Emily. He never managed to find that which made him true again. All he found was a hopelessness bound in desperation. What else is there for me? He pondered.

“There goes Jenny…look at her, Steve, she seems to really like you, and I mean really like you,” his colleague Marcus said as Jenny merged with the rest of the crowd at tonight’s Christmas office party.

Steve would not entertain Marcus’ comments about women. He’d look away–at the ground, or at the distant setting sun, or at some other thing that excused him from a reaction.

All he could do was stare at a blank page and write. That’s what the doctor recommended. Steve’s thoughts would evaporate into words across the ether between mind and page, between heart and space.

Write Emily a letter as if she was still around, as if you could still call her up and let her know how much you care about her, Dr. Fredrikson said.

Steve wrote it by hand. Meticulously, on ruled notebook paper. His cursive script wasn’t so bad. It was quite legible and had a floral quality about it. It had more serifs and curves than a teenage girl’s scrapbook.

Dear Emily,
Always is a very big word. It implies forever. It means that you’ll be missed. It says that I’ll love you for all time. That no matter what happens, no matter what will prevail, my heart will be but a reflection of your smile inside of me. With every passing moment, with every beating of my heart, I will be glad to know that somewhere out there, you’re smiling at me.

He wrote many more letters. Some were written on a word processor, others by hand, and some where even written on his cellphone. Little snippets, conversations, feelings and other matters that he wanted Emily to know. Many were trivial.

He once wrote, 2nite is sushi nite at Asahi’s. Book for two? Miss ya. He even sent it through. Three days later, he received an automated text message notifying him of delivery failure.

Emily’s number was still on his speed dial. “E,” that’s what he called her. “E,” he’d say, looking at the miniscule screen of his phone. He’d dial it. An invalid number tone would come through.

For months Steve wrote for Emily: at work, while waiting for a bus, on a napkin at some deli. He saved everything. All of it. The files, the printouts, the napkins. He’d stash them in his briefcase. A Prada Emily gifted him on their first Christmas together.

As he looked out the 31st floor office window, beyond the crowd of boisterous colleagues and bosses, Steve noticed the rain turn into snow. It’s Christmas season already, he thought.

He could see other office parties across the city light up the towering buildings. Anonymous people mingling, trying to find each other in a city that was both the epitome of loneliness and the vestibule of success.

In the window’s reflection he saw his own familiar crowd of anonymity. People he worked with but hardly took the time to get to know.

He took a photo of the snowfall with his phone’s camera. He noticed Jenny’s reflection in the window, in the photo. He looked at the window, at Jenny. She was quite animated, giggling at whatever Marcus was saying.

Steve typed 2morrow is sushi nite at Asahi’s. Book 4 2? This time though, he sent it to Jenny.

Across the room, he noticed Jenny take out her illuminated cellphone. She looked at him, smiled, typed and sent a message.

A few seconds later, he received, I’d like that very much.

This Christmas, Steve found himself again. So many words, so many heartfelt sentiments, only to finally return to who he was: a man with a heart that prevails no matter what the consequences. He loved Emily and he still did, yet life is a plurality of loves that takes you from place to place, from heart to heart and from truth to truth.

Perhaps Jenny would be my next—and last, truth, Steve hoped. Perhaps.

A place called Wunderistan

greetings-from-wunderistan.jpg

What better way to pass a lazy Friday afternoon than Photoshopping some old travel photos? The basis for the image above is a snap I took while crossing from Dubai to the Omani border a couple of years ago. The cars, falconer, camels, jets, coffee stain, grocery list and note scribble, folds and other effects are all Photoshop magic! The original base image is this:

gfw-base.jpg

What in the world is Wunderistan?

Wunderistan is a place at crossroads. It’s somewhere in the desert of Arabia, where the old meets the new. Where the East greets the West. It’s a place unlike any other. A place where a car passes by a camel, and where a falconer looks up at jets flying past. If there ever is a wunderkind of a place, it’ll be Wunderistan.

Have a good weekend everyone!

Note: Click here to see a hi-res version.

Chance, Fate and Faith

Last year at Caesars Atlantic City I met three girls: Chance, Fate and Faith. We played poker.

Chance said, “sometimes life doesn’t give us what we want. We just have to take what we get. This doesn’t mean we’ve got no choice in our dealings. We can always take things with a pinch of salt, with reluctance or with outright contempt.”

Fate said, “we might fail to see the significance of the hand being dealt to us. We fail to understand the particulars beyond the obvious, beyond the hither and now consequences of immediate attainment.”

My favorite, Faith, said, “if we just open our eyes a bit wider, to see the whole universe instead of just the world, we might; with such enterprise of the self, gather within ourselves the workings of life, and make what we get all we need to get what we want.”

I lost my shirt at that poker game, but that’s okay. Faith and I are good friends now.

Jeb Morton is dead

Everybody thought Jeb Morton committed suicide. Yet no one wanted to believe Jeb Morton committed suicide. Jeb would never do such a thing! The poor bastard, he had so much going for him. What? Suicide? But why?

Disbelief aside, Jeb knew the day was coming. The day when he would finally have the courage to control his own destiny. I’m packing up and leaving, ma!

Old Man Redder used to say that we’re dying the minute we’re born. From the moment we leave the womb, the clock begins ticking. Tick, tock! Your life is down by a second. Tick, tock! Down by a minute. Tick, tock! Down by a year. And then it’s over. It’s all over.

But Jeb Morton loved life. He didn’t kill himself like some might imagine. He loved life so much so that he would have given his own life to save another’s.

And that’s what he did. Don’t worry about me, ma! I’ll be alright. It’s high time I saved you. About time I put an end to all of this misery that’s been going on for so long.

His poor mother didn’t understand. She never understood her son. He was always doing this and that and getting into all sorts of hullabaloo. I just hope he grows out of it. Though I’m not sure at thirty five he’s got much growing up left in him.

And so Jeb tread past Fisher’s Lodge, the Lake of Effigy, the Mile of Guile, and the House of Old Man Redder. I’ll be alright, ma! He said every time death faced him. I’ll be alright! Look here, ma! I wish you could see this, ma! Look at your boy getting past all of these monsters, ghouls and plain old nasty people with bad breath.

And so Jeb tread past the little troubles of Echipawa County. Here and there, nowhere left unturned, undiscovered. Jeb saw it all, heard it all. He even ate it all at one point. Don’t worry ma, it tastes just like chicken! Mmm… mmm!

And so Jeb tread past all of the things that scared all of the folks all of the time. Until one day, Jeb reached Angel Point. My oh my! Look at this, I could see as far as seeing could see!

Jeb looked at the sun rising across the vast expanse of Weddel’s Ravine. And that’s when he saw ma. Ma! He ran towards her. Oh ma! I’m finally here! I’m finally here with you. It’s going to be alright!

And so, you see, Jeb Morton didn’t commit suicide. No. Jeb Morton went home. He went back to ma and pa and Lorraine and cornbread and meatloaf and apple pie.

Cortexpod – Do not steal information

Blurb
Derivitive? Blatantly. Contrived? For sure. Fun? I think so. Have a read if you will. I began writing this while surrounded by a cacophony of text message notifications and cellphone chatter…

“Books?” the young man of ten said, looking at his uncle. “Why would anyone use them when you can use a cortexbox?”

“You don’t use books, Kamal. You read them,” Uncle Sharif said.

“Read them? You mean like word after word, like in the old days?”

“Old days? Yes, like in the old days. You’d read word after word, sentence after sentence, image after image.”

“Sounds boring. I’d rather use a cortexbox. At least that way I get the information sent straight to my head.”

“It’s different. What makes reading special is that you get to use your mind’s eye instead of some computer code or some guy in Tokyo interpreting information for you. You use your own mental faculties to…”

“You sound like a Luddite!” Kamal said, giggling. “Mom, uncle sounds like a Luddite!”

Such was the way in 2064. Reading was, in a sense, a vintage pastime. Everything was cortexized. You’d be shopping and at the same time you’ll have a sportscast beamed directly to your short term memory via a cortexbox; or if you’re into trendy gadgets, a shiny new cortexpod. Whether you wanted to recall the information years later, it was up to you to transfer it to long term memory. Push button style of course, for people didn’t have to worry about frowning and squeezing their foreheads against wooden desks to remember things.

It was all so easy thanks to the work of the Cortical Electronics Association. Sort of like the Bluetooth Special Interest Group back in the early part of the century, except the CEA; led by a Ukranian neurophysicist, was setting the pace for a new world of cerebral connectivity.

A world which connected to you; rather than you connecting to it. Similar to early internet desktop gadgets bringing nuggets of information to your desktop. Only this time the nuggets where chucked right into your head.

Technology evangelists all over embraced the new interyou, were people constantly connected and interacted with one another on a level far more advanced than typing a mere email. The whole world; at least the developed countries and those well to do in other places, were in constant sync. Always aware of the qualms, the trials and tribulations of everyone on their buddy lists… or were they?

**

White, clinical, clean, sharp, edgy, and bright. Words that described NeuroApple’s retail outlets. Every shop was minimalist in design. In the middle, a cortexpod or two were placed atop a transparent stand.

“Look at this place, such a waste of space. Go ask the lady for one,” uncle told Kamal.

It was Kamal’s tenth birthday, and as promised, he would be getting a new cortexpod.

“The new ones were so much better than last year’s. They’re smaller, don’t heat up as much and you can clip on OLED-screen covers,” he said more times than uncle cared to remember.

“Hello young man, let me see… yes, ok,” the shoplady said as Kamal messaged her directly using his old cortexpod. Finally! No talking, he thought.

Uncle refused to use a cortexpod. Not believing in having instant information or conversations sent to your neurons, he was one for the old style. Yes, I’m like a Luddite Tribe member. Dead trees, pixels and yapping mouths are my information sources he’d say, in reference to the hooligan band of teachers that attempted to burn down AppleNeuro’s NeuroApple’s headquarters fifteen years ago.

“Here you go young man. Be sure to neuroload the instructions first, usage is a bit different than your old model,” the lady said.

Kamal smiled as he held the shiny, crisp black box of his new gadget. It had the obligatory warning label:

DO NOT STEAL INFORMATION

***

My name is Bahrain

The following vignette is fiction, including the quotation.

I looked out the window on this cool spring day, thinking of how mother used to enjoy days like this. I remembered Fridays at our villa. Mother would take the opportunity of unusually good weather to walk in the garden. “Our villa’s garden,” she would say, “go out there and enjoy it people, go enjoy the garden that’s right there waiting for you.”

Her words fell on deaf ears, for each one of her four sons dabbled in his own world. Ahmed, the eldest, would be tinkering in the garage with his old Mustang that he insisted was a good buy. Mish’al would be on the phone, conversing about life in Bahrain with one of his friends. Salman, the youngest, would be browsing the web, programming or simply playing an online game. I, of all things I could possibly do, would be toiling in my father’s library, hoping to find one more elusive book that had been shying away from me in the dusty old bookcase of our study.

And I would find such a book at times. A thin volume hidden between Tolstoy and Avicenna. Or lodged deep within the rummage behind the bookcase. I found pleasure in reading a book that had long since been forgotten and buried by a gathering of dust. A pleasure in turning the cover and seeing the de rigueur signature and date of ownership.

One such book was My Name is Bahrain*. Written and published anonymously, the cover had no name, not even a pseudonym. Ali Abdulla, 12 October 1975 was scribbled on the inside flap. Father acquired the book one week before my birth.

The yellowed acid paper, fragile and crisp to the touch, smelled of old fiber. The soft and uneven text, recalling the thoughts of its writer, had an equanimity that instilled itself in the beholder.

Lying dormant for so many years, the gathered dust particles swirled upwards from the pages declaring once more the tome’s resurrection. The work journeys anew into the hands of a new reader, into my hands. I turn to the first page:

”1954 was not an ordinary year. It was a year of the people, for the people. The effort of our decades old struggle would finally payoff… It was with such anticipation and excitement that I took on the cause of our nation… We were spirited young men. People of the land, the soil and the toil. We would run through the streets, banners in hand, declaring our freedom in the face of adversity. No one could stop us. We were without fear confronting the enemy… I have no name. If I did, then it would be Bahrain. This is my story.

And so began that book of one fifty or so pages. Little did I know at the time that it would take center stage in my life.

*Doesn’t exist. I made it up.