Residenties komt met Reflecties

Randa Awad
A visit in the corona time (a short story)

Randa Awad is schrijver en publicist, afkomstig uit Syrië, van Palestijnse komaf, en nu in Utrecht woonachtig met haar twee dochters. Awad schrijft korte verhalen, poëzie, theater en artikelen en in 2018 verscheen haar boek ‘Homeland, Bread and Memory’. Als internationale kunstenaar, levend in Utrecht, deelt ze de komende tijd met enige regelmaat haar visie op de Utrechtse samenleving. Haar reeks bijdrages start ze met het speciaal voor deze gelegenheid geschreven korte verhaal ‘A visit in the corona time’.

Randa Awad: 
A visit in the corona time (a short story)

My mobile phone rang and my mother’s name fluttered like an angel on the screen, I imagined the conversation before I picked up the phone and as usual an electronic shower of blessings and prayers will keep the evil eyes away. But this time I am disappointed.

-Do you remember Intesar* ?

– No really, I don’t, why?

– How not! The daughter of  Am Hossam, she was our neighborhood in Damascus alley, she was working in a sewing factory, and used to take some girls to work there, but not you. The important thing that she is now in the Netherlands.

– Hollanda* welcoming here.

-Oh, Randa, you are like your mother, welcomes people and relatives.

-You get me wrong…

Two hours later, Intesar sits in my place at the round table, I am hearing her roar, seeing her foam. She is stretching her neck like geometric shapes, telling stories using all her senses benefitting from her body language as if  she was displaying mime scenes.

So Madam Corona is the one who makes you come from Italy, and your relative in Germany refuses to receive you, the reason is that your brother, you sit with him, is suspected to be infected by the coronavirus. I wish the situation will be good, don’t worry, you are welcome until the issue will improve.

Mrs. Intisar does not shut up for a moment, she speaks like a radio broadcast throughout the day, the disturbing thing that I have been living here with my daughter for three years and she is relatively quiet and I do not speak as much as I listen and read. So, the sudden presence of Intesar in my house spreads chaos.

I imagined her as a large tongue hits the teeth like the raging sea waves hit the rocks. What made me more tired is that I had to focus with her as she was stopping suddenly and asked me my opinion of what she said.

The first thing that took my attention was her ability to create conversation from any trivial subject, the talk was branching out, for example, we started talking about chocolate and we ended up that America is one of the major causes of the world destruction. Our guest does not make an effort to start with an idea and develop it, she is a master in carving pain in her heart like the craftsmen of Al Ghouta turning the wood board to a piece of mosaic art.

As we sat down, she jumped like a spring that escaped from a pen pipe and opened the curtain saying “Open the curtain”.

– who close it?

Randa, are you the one… ? Then she asked my daughter the same.

I tried to use the body language. Maybe she could understands my discomfort, so I closed one eye and put the palm of my hand over my forehead, but she pointed me to move to the nearby sofa, crumping: move to the other side.

After that she started a long discussion about vitamin D, the sun and her story that she went to the doctor who prescribed her vitamin D and recommended her to expose to the sunlight but no positive improvement happened. Then she asked my daughter to bring her bag, she took out the medicine, we read the patient information leaflet, the formula, and the use till the last word.

Not only did we compare the two medical insurances between the two countries, she went too far suggesting that I have to send tips to the medical insurance company in the Netherlands to improve their treatment, especially with refugees, adding such proposals in those countries are taken seriously.Believe me for a second I thought we were preparing a program to save the world.

In reality, my energy was consumed by this kind of dialogue which is similar to those skills that are nothing but a waste of time,  even it has no benefit, like the one that broadcasts on the entertainment programs on television, a man eats glass and another places a nail in his nose… And our visitor topics are like nails and glass pieces.

Our visitor used to sit for hours next to the window looking outside. Her eyes catch something we do not see, her pupils like a magnet, attracted to it until it becomes out of her sight and when it is swallowed up by the horizon her mind builds stories out of it. She often gets terrified that she comes out what is in her coat pockets of dried paper napkins so the white dust flys out of them, bills and hair tweezers she puts them in her lap and anxiety is clear on her, at the end we find out that she is looking for her mobile that she puts somewhere else so we all calm down with an exaggerated dramatic scene.

A few days later, I felt that all my muscles were in spasm and I was nervous, I surprised of myself  how many books I read about controlling stress, adapting to change and others. I thought it is necessary to have a meditation session, I previously had recorded one of these sessions on my mobile so it came to my mind to put the headphones and start relaxing. Since my visitor was to take a bath, I felt that I had to seize the opportunity, my behavior seemed unfamiliar to me and as two runners we split up, quickly I wore my pajamas, I got rid of my hair tie and dimmed the lights in the living room. I  started thinking about my future goal, which is publishing a book, but with Intesar either that will not be accomplished or will be a kind of Kafkaism books. Then I started deep nose breathing, exhaled it slowly out of my mouth tapping my finger between the eyebrows to reach the focus, thinking of nothing, to inter the alpha phase of brain vibrations then relaxing the muscles of my eyes to the point that I couldn’t rest them anymore so they became closed. After that, I steeled the rest muscles and at that point, I had to cancel any external sound I heard and focus on the sound of recording to deepen the meditation. Unfortunately, the sound of Intesar asking for something that I tried to ignore, but she woke up my muscles and leached them like the runaway horse.

She was repeating over my head: Who poured the coffee and wiped it with the white towel?… Randa, is it you?

My muscles no longer knew what to do to paralyze or to become stiffening.

– Aunt Nasoura, my love, did’t you see that I am relaxed and listen to the instructions I am about to….

– Did you still believe in such talk there was nothing better than washing with laurel soap and rubbing your body with the oriental bath bag!

Oh, those days when my father was welding the water heater, which dripping hot water,  the calcareous water causing holes over the time… The war came and the fuel was cut off and we are no longer …..

Two days after the arrival of the visitor of the corona time, the house turned upside down,  I was searching for  the calm in the folds of my shirts, under the mattresses and above the shelves but in vain … her questions were coming from all directions, like sniper bullets, as I climbed the stairs, I heard her voice coming deep from the kitchen: Who did this?

While I’m in the bathroom her sound startled me: where did you put the pan?

Entering my room to sleep, questions and inquiries poked me. I became like a freak turned around while Intesar roaming the house up and down, I did not know where she was, but her voice made me predicting her place to avoid it.

In fact, Intesar was evoking all the time what was lost in the war, and during the asylum procedures, she looked like a lost child full of nostalgia and suffering of the homesick. She brought her inherited fear to Europe: “That all people who live in Europe are tracked by the government where they stay.”

All she cares about is to talk to someone, to empty her speech charge like a thunderbolt cutting a tree in half, she wants to recall the spirit of the family that was scattered, she is not able to store her sadness somewhere, but keeps remembering and repeating them, which constrains her ability to concentrate on her present and puts her off her stroke.

A few months passed, the visitor of the corona time stays with us, the news about her brother cuts off. It is said that theyputs him in quarantine and no other information about him.

Accordingly Intesar no longer belongs to any place, I really envy her being non-belonging person, I feel that if I had been in her place, I would have been free from the restrictions of possession, space and time, free from all  negative external powers, not being captive to the threads of the past that tighten my body as the surgeon pulls the skin to close the surgicalexcision .

Intesar is one victim of  the  dictatorship regim systems, that  she does not choose. Perhaps she is now in the stage of molting, and what comes next will not be known, as no human being has ever emerged to a fully grown adult and return back to be a nymphs thrown by the uterus in the open.

The surprising thing that she is pretty certain that what happened to her brother is not true. She is sure that the coronavirus does not exist and it is created to exterminate some politically wanted persons, so I engaged  myself with non-winner discussion for days, I got out of it like someone entering a Milky Way, or crashing into an orb and returning to the Earth with a memory gap.

The coronavirus disappeared and we entered the post-crisis phase, and the strategies of rationing . The visitor of corona time still with us, on the contrary to her name she had a setback that was no way out, she became less talkative. I became more aware of her questions, her place, controlling my tension, and more worried about the victims of  the wars.

I came to a conclusion that if you want to cool down the crimes of the wars in the eyes of the world, then you provide oppressed people places outside their homelands or create a bigger case.

Sadly, we have become excess goods in the second hand shope escaping from the Middle East.

I looked at Intesar’s face, she was sleeping on the sofa while I read  Louis Argonne

“We have prepared everything for those who are suffocating.
Everything they need  to breathe.
We curtain the darkness of the night.
We have opened shelters everywhere.
Saving ourselves the provision for complaining”

I have to admit we are not desirable antique, we are like relics that are cheaply smuggled in the days of the wars, to include them in the western museums, where tourists take photos in front of them.

If you think coronavirus is the most dangerous thing that happened at that time, you are wrong, the wars with their consequences are most deadly and dangerous. If you don’t believe it, then you must go to the museums, we had been immortalized there in many forms and colors. Some of us are carved from stone, some of us are old wood, some of us are trapped in oil paintings, some of us are prevented destruction weapons and  the rest had been recorded as victims of a pandemic which was called coronavirus that killed thousands of human beings that was since hundred years ago.

This is what my mother read to me from a manuscript that is placed on a table at the entrance of the Oriental Museum in Utrecht city.

* Intesar: is an Arabic female name,it means victory .

*Hollanda:  The pronunciation of the Netherlands in Arabic language.

Randa Awad, 01-04-2020