I've been working on a book for a very long time now. Sometimes it feels like an endless tunnel. When it does, I go back to my blog and read your encouraging comments. It keeps me going. I want to share the opening of the book with you and I would love your honest feedback.
If you could only see me now, Abu Tawfeeq. I am not the Najma you married. I have passed ninety, and I wait everyday for the moment God decides to take His property back. Even Nabeel doesn’t need me anymore. He can move around in his wheelchair faster than I can push him. He’s made some new friends in the neighbourhood. He comes back with a full stomach, and only takes a couple of spoons from the meals I make him, just to humour me. Maryam comes to visit me from time to time, but I don’t know what to talk about anymore. I bore everyone, even myself.
Nabeel’s been spending a lot of his days on his new devices. He taught me how to use the Skype today. You touch the blue button and touch the name of the person you want to talk to, and lo and behold, they are there in front of you. A talking picture.
‘Halaw, Mama,’ said the picture of Nada.
‘How are you?’ I shouted. The picture and Nabeel burst out laughing. ‘You don’t have to scream Bibi, she can hear you perfectly,’ Nabeel said. It sounded so simple, so easy. Suddenly, I could no longer pity myself from living away from her. It was Nada’s voice but not really, and it was her face, but not really either. I touched the talking picture and felt angry- I don’t know why.
‘Put the webcam on, habibi, I can’t see her,’ the picture said. Nabeel made some moves on the screen and an old lady popped up. It took me a second to realize the old lady was supposed to be me. Her skin had the coarse, spongy look of a badly peeled tangerine. Beaded into this face were two crinkled eyes, a bulbous nose dotted with spots and odd patches, and a puckered mouth. ‘Look at how they’re making me out to be,’ I cried. The picture and Nabeel laughed again. ‘Mama, it’s a camera. They’re not drawing you! Masha’Allah, you are still the beautiful moon you use to be.’
I let them catch up with each other while I sat back, not in the mood for conversation. It had been a while since I had stepped on to the stool by the sink to take a look at myself in the mirror, but how could this much change since then?
As I sat down on my bed last night, plaiting my hair before tucking myself in (I can never plait them as perfectly as you did, though), I looked around at the furniture and had a moment of realization. That the bedroom knows me better than any person does. The bed with its white oak headboard, the table de toilette with the coffee ring stain that still refuses to go, the beige painted walls that are peeling off in many places. This room and these pieces of furniture saw me transform from a shy bride to a hideous widower, day by day. I wished I could give them tongues and see what they had to say about me, after all these years of their silent observation. I thought of how much has happened, of you, of my poor Mustafa, of all the ladies I knew who had passed on. And I thought of Baghdad, and its endless heartbreak.
The days merged into each other, the events swirling in my memory, indistinguishable from each other. And I decided that if it’s the last thing I do, I must write it all down, document everything. Maybe it’s the heaviness of my life that’s weighing me down, and if I empty myself of it all, I will be light enough to leave.