I racconti del Premio Energheia Europa

The guilt, George Yacoub_Jounieh

_Winner Energheia Liban Award 2016.

joumana haddad2It’s been some time now since I have been living in this place. I tried hard to get out of here but it’s difficult to find ways when this place is always foggy and the sun never shows up. I keep on thinking about how I got here, who dropped me here. But the more I want an answer, the more I get stuck and suffer. I also think of what I did in my past.
I have a little shelter now that I made out of wood. It’s really cozy; I always escape through coziness in my shelter. I don’t know if anyone lives in this place. All I have discovered so far is a forest that you can get lost in.
It was really hard in the beginning. You know, a shock as if not believing this is happening to you but you get used to the shock as it starts fading little by little? You have to make the best out of your living situation. Things get better. I guess when you start feeling grateful time passes quickly. What keeps me safe now is the feeling that everything is how it should be. I am where I’m supposed to be. I let Life choose for me, Life knows what’s best for me, I let Life decide for me, I am where I’m supposed to be and I just trust in Life…
My worries and miseries fade with that feeling. I don’t have to think of my family worrying about me or anything else.

I used to live in Beirut. The nice thing about Lebanon is that people like to live rather than survive. It is the easiest thing to have friends, go out, go to clubs, restaurants and beaches anytime you want. People are very emotional and heartfelt from where I come from.

I graduated from film school two years ago and I’m really into film work and script writing. My potential satisfied me and every project I would work on made me feel just like every mother and every mammal who wants to give birth to her beautiful, beloved baby. But who knows? I might leave this place sometime and find the truth about how I got here. Then I would write a script about it and send it to producers.
I start my long walk while hunting for food with my spear, just like I do every morning. It’s not that dangerous after all. I just have bears chasing me every now and then. It sounds funny, I know, but I really know their technique now. I just hope that a bear does not deceive me.
The fog is much less than usual today. So I keep enjoying my long walk while searching for deer until I see a mountain that I have never seen before. It’s extremely foggy at the top. I start to walk up, and hours later, as soon as I reach to the top, I see no view behind the mountain peak. Just fog. But there’s a land a few meters below the peak. I walk down to it and through the fog. I see a shelter from a distance, much bigger and more properly made than mine.
I start to walk to the shelter excitedly and as soon as I reach it, I knock on the door but get no answer. I keep knocking until I push the door open with my hand and see a couple around the age of fifty or so. They are sitting in a yoga posture and just staring at each other looking depressed. They don’t even look at me, as if I’m invisible. I say hello but they don’t answer. So I start to explain to them about not knowing how I got to this place and all but they only smile at each other sadly, as if I’m dumb.

I hear something start to move inside the closed door until the door starts to open slowly. It’s a girl with white skin, blond hair, and bloody blue eyes. She’s thin. She looks in my eyes sadly and lovingly as I stare at her loveliness as if possessed. I feel a great desire, but then I think ‘where am I?’
“You’re “No Where,” she replies in a feminine and mysterious tone. She probably read my question from my expression.
A smell of perfume starts to appear, as I feel drunk by the absence of a depressive, poetic mood. I feel trapped by a feeling of love. Her stomach pulls back and forth and her eyes shut half way. I can’t take it anymore. I need her affection and love in my arms but am scared to make a move because of the reaction of her parents, or whoever they are.
She leaves to go outside and I follow her. We walk slowly in the fog, which slowly clears. The silence is so beautiful. It has an aliveness to it, as if our movements are echoing within it. Words are not needed to communicate.
The perfume blows in more smoothly with the cold breeze that tranquilizes us more into the feeling of love.
She stops and looks at me with such innocence, as if she is obsessively expecting me to express my emotions. I get close to her. She puts her arms on my shoulders and I make the move and kiss her. She kisses as if she is expressing her feelings for me through the taste of my lips. I feel her kiss in every cell of my body. Her mouth tastes so good. Her lips are like cotton, and her breath like watermelon. Her skin smells of the same perfume but mixed with cold smoke. The more we kiss the more we fall drunk in love through the poetic feeling of sadness.
I never felt this way, feeling so full of heart. Usually I crave more for the one when I’m not with the one. I always wanted a girl like her. Music starts to come from a distance. I can’t understand the language in which they sing because they sing with a squeaky tone. It’s a bizarre music that I have never heard before. It sounds like harmony with kids and ladies who sing while playing instruments such as whistles, keyboards and horns that create the sound of a sarcastic and depressing carnival. It’s as if it’s a music that deceives. It’s not possible to describe with words.
I get a feeling of insecurity and I feel more absent as the need for her affection grows. I hug her and ask her where the music and perfume come from.

“It’s an infinite question. There’s no beginning to it,” she says.
She holds my hand gently as we continue to walk slowly and enjoy the mood. The music starts to fade slower and slower until silence stretches as the sound of frogs start to be heard, sadly, from distance. They echo obsessively and depressingly in my head.
The fog gets stronger and the perfume purifies. She hugs me tight as if she’s a kitten who has fallen in an empty pool for days and the mother finally finds and rescues her. Then she looks at the ground deeply. Flashbacks of situations that were negative when I was really positive come to me. I wake up from that as she’s staring at me seriously.
We begin to walk back to her place as I start to feel totally like myself and centered. I am meditatively viewing her being so herself, as if she’s walking without suppressing. It’s just innocence. Usually it’s the opposite in the outside world. Usually couples are in the business of changing themselves out of the fear of truly being themselves. It makes them feel like it’s their duty. I mean, lying in a relationship means that there is business in the relationship, just the way those couples who live in her shelter stare at each other as if loving and feeling each other through silence. Lovers never do that usually. But it’s not like that in this place. Even to ask her how to leave this place is pointless.
We reach her place as she knocks on the door. The man opens the door. I whisper to her and ask her if those are her parents. She nods as if saying yes. Usually, fathers project the worst onto you for the first couple of meetings, but in this place you can’t do anything but be yourself. To be on the poetic side seems free, with no problems, no fusses, no goals, no ambitions and no ego. It’s just silence and tranquility. Fakeness, business and hypocrisy are useless. It’s no wonder that her parents behave as if they don’t care since only truth is between us.

She smiles at me and nods while I go to sit on the couch. I sit beside her parents for some time until she comes back with two plates, and hands me a plate that has steak and salad on it. She smiles lightly at me and sits beside me. I feel a warm and homey feeling. I’ve never seen such a beautiful girl, the way she eats as if praying.
Once she’s done, she leaves the table and I follow her to the room. She lights her candles and gets in bed. I get in bed beside her as she hugs me.

The feeling of tranquility and the absent poetry becomes more intense. I don’t see the point in the sun and in happiness anymore. It makes me depressed, and without a poetic feeling, but instead just a logical, nervous depression and a heat that makes you suffocate. It’s boring, shallow and dull. What a waste.
I feel isolation and mysteriousness, what’s real? It’s time to meditate and find the real; I’m sick of the fake, confusion and being lost in infinite lives, its time as I smell a fire smoke from distance, it makes my consciousness unfold as I get a feeling of an open mysteriousness and a great awareness which is much bigger than me, these planted ideas and thoughts in us which have been wasting our lives, how man is so insensitive through desires, it makes me feel fear, a love feeling which makes me feel phobic, I start to feel for my mother as I feel a great detachment from her, it feels like death and smells like it too, this detachment feeling which gives me truth, I can’t find words to thank my mom and thank my family for giving me access to the world but what my mother gave me is as big as the universe and which makes everything in the world out of my interest, she gave me love and compassion and I’m so full of it, I can’t sleep from this feeling of love and how cruel the world can be, what can I do, I’m sensitive just like my Mom, I know like her and it’s my right to be sensitive, I will never forget my mom in all the rest of my lives…
Pleasurably and warm, I fall asleep. I wake up and she’s not beside me. I get out of bed gently and exit the room. Her parents are staring at each other. I head outside and look around but she’s not anywhere near the shelter. So I head back inside the shelter and ask her parents where she is, but they don’t answer. Their expression is as if they are thinking ‘he will get used to it.’
I head back outside and start to pace back and forth. I’m back to logic, doubts, feelings of mistrust, isolation, confusion and the sharp feeling of fear within me. I keep pacing back and forth until I sit by a tree needing to relax from the chaos as I hope for clarity. I guess I’ll wait for her until evening, and if she doesn’t show up then what can I do but move on with my life?
I convince myself for a while but the convincing doesn’t work after feeling an intruding desire and compulsion for her, like a fish on the shore needing to get back in the sea. I face my distress until the cold breeze starts to blow in. The perfume awakens and the music starts from a distance. I raise my head and close my eyes, feeling the pleasure of it rush in my body as I open my eyes. She is walking toward me. She hugs me as my soul feels warm and secure.
“Where were you?” I ask.
“I’m going to take you to a place where I go when things are complicated,” she says.
We begin to walk in the woods. There’s something else about this feeling of absence that makes me feel distant from her, as if teasing me by not being able to be with her. It makes me even more depressed and desperate for her.
A small lake begins to appear ahead of us. We reach the lake as she takes off her black dress and enters the lake. Her body is like a lotus flower and the way she walks in the lake is so poetic and artistic. She looks back at me lightly and in a feminine way. I take of my jeans and sweater and head into the lake. I hug her in my arms and feel everywhere as if I am one with the universe, I trust the universe, everything will happen like the universe wants…

She pulls back as her eye lashes separate from each other and swims away. I walk out of the lake feeling weightless and lay my back against a tree while I watch her enjoy the water. She comes out of the lake and rests in my arms.
“I really want to be yours,” she says.
“I can’t even try to say no,” I say.
“But it doesn’t work how you think it does in this place. I have been seeing this guy for three months now. That’s why I’m not home much during the day. I have to see two guys, and at the day of judgment, the judge decides which of the two men will win me. I’m sorry it works like this here, but this is life here. But, once you reach your goal, imagine. Imagine us. Everything will be paradise and that’s the beautiful side of it. We can fly freely up high to the sky and there will never be pain. It will be a feeling of swimming nude in the universe and a feeling of being one,” she says.
“When is the day of judgment?” I ask.
“It’s tomorrow night. I told them I’m ready but it can be canceled if you want,” she says.
“I guess you have to face what you really want in life.”
She smiles out of relief. “I don’t want him. I only desire you. You’re special to me. That’s why I love you,” she says.
I get close and kiss her chin reaching to her mouth. “I can’t anymore,” she says. “I’ll be punished by the land for betraying the rules.”
I feel insecurity and fear creeps inside me. We head to her place as my poetic feeling fades to become meaningless. Once in her room, we lie in bed. “We’re so good together,” she says.
‘I know,’ I think to myself. “I never asked for your name,” I say.
“Does it matter?” she asks me sarcastically.
“No,” I reply.
“It’s Maria. What’s your name?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember. I don’t even know how I got to this place.” We stare into each other’s eyes as she falls asleep. I start to imagine us together as I feel a fire burn within me with the hope of being with her.
I wake up and exit the room. As usual her parents are staring at each other. I head outside the shelter and start to pace nervously as I wait to meet with the judge. The feeling of waiting for relief when gratefulness fades is like a wild cat trapped in a cage, pacing right and left to lessen his suffering. Even trying to escape the suffering of waiting doesn’t work, but makes it seem that you are waiting even longer.
The perfume starts to blow in and the music is heard from a distance, making me feel an alcoholic, light buzz that comes over me, and I feel the hope to achieve Maria. She arrives and hugs me as I feel security rush through me.
“Let’s head to town. There’s a celebration before the judge’s decision,” she says.
We begin to walk. I feel better as the shock of last night melts acceptingly in me as if it is meant to be. We reach the town. Snowflakes drop gently. The smell of perfume is blown in by the freezing breeze. The music is heard closer than usual as people walk and dance in slow motion. Some sing opera through the gloominess.
There’s a huge old building. It seems to be the only one I can see. We begin to walk around people. Suddenly, the door of the building opens and a man walks down the stairs with a body in his arms and three men beside him. They reach the landing as people start to gather in a circle and the man lays the body in the middle of the floor. The man seems dead. People watch as if they are feeling relieved. I can tell from their expression that it is as if pleasure is rushing through them.
Then a man walks out of the building and everyone stares at him. He walks slowly down the stairs as a girl walks out of the gathered circle and smiles at him. He reaches her as they both stare at each other.
“What was that all about?” I ask Maria.
“He won the competition. It’s either dead or alive.”

What’s the point of living when you have no dream and challenge? What am I supposed to do, just vegetate on my nuts? All I know is that I want Maria. I only desire her. The people gathered in the circle are still staring at the dead man.
“What’s the joy people get out of this scene?” I ask Maria.
“It makes us feel alive and gives us courage,” she says.
A lady starts laughing, which dominos until everyone starts to laugh.
“Don’t you guys care?” I ask.
“Why should we? This is life. It’s okay, don’t worry about him. He’s probably being born somewhere in the world. You’re just brought up to feel sadness when looking at a scene like this.”
The laughter starts to die as everyone heads inside the building. Maria holds my hand as we walk inside. Once in, people start to walk to the jugs and the cups. The cups are made out of rock. They are really artistic. They all begin to drink, drink to get drunk. There are more than enough jugs for everyone. Maria starts to drink until I take a tiny sip, the wine tastes so good. Strong, but really good. Maria hugs me as if giving herself to me and whispers in my ear that she loves me. A man shouts out loud, “Maria come to me!”
“This is the judge,” Maria says. Maria heads to the judge and as soon as she reaches him, the judge whispers to Maria as Maria calls out the name James. James walks up and stands beside Maria. Maria then signals to me to come up.
“Doesn’t he have a name?” the judge asks Maria.
“He doesn’t know how he got here and he doesn’t even remember his name.”
“Well, name him before he steps forward,” the judge says. Silence stretches.
“His name is no name,” Maria says loudly.
“Just call him Noemi,” the judge sarcastically says.
The crowd starts to laugh but the laughter diminishes immediately. Smiles appear on people’s faces as if their state is annoying them, as if it is a painful feeling. They slap themselves a couple of times.
“Okay, step forward no name,” says the judge.
I head to stand beside Maria.
“As you people know, the goal is to achieve a love, and once you succeed in the competition, you will achieve freedom. The competition between no name and James will start tomorrow morning. Both have to find each other here in town and the one who kills the other will achieve Maria and freedom forever.”
“I will kill him!” James shouts.
“I will kill!” I shout.
Everyone starts to leave as I leave with Maria. We reach her shelter and get in bed as she cuddles with me.
“You can do it. I can feel it. I’m sure,” she says.
I feel a bad feeling as if I’m a failure and not good enough unless I kill him. The night gives me nothing but a feeling of nervousness, hate toward the idea of who is better and who deserves Maria.
I wake up. Maria is staring at the ceiling with an expression of despair.
“We’re meant to be together,” Maria says.
I get out of bed feeling nervous and responsible as I head outside the shelter. I start to look for something to use as a weapon and find a big, thick piece of wood. I start to sharpen the end of it on a rock. Just before I head to town, I head back inside the shelter and kiss Maria on the cheek. I leave and her parents give me a look of good luck.
I start to head to town, and when I reach, the sound of wind is blowing strong through the building and the strong fog distracts me from finding James. But being cunning, I think ‘where would I hide? I would hide behind the building but what if James thought about this theory? It’s infinite to calculate where he could be, but who knows if he thought of it?’
I head to the other side of the building and his back is in front of me. But I feel a bad feeling before I want to kill him. I don’t know. I just can’t do it. I turn my back and think of leaving for now, and wait until my sensitivity and point of view change. Then I can kill him. I turn my back and walk away until I start to feel unconscious. Then I drop to the ground…
I hear laughter as I force myself to open my eyes. I can barley open them. In a blur I watch people gathered in a circle laughing at me. Maria is laughing hard. They all stare at the building. It’s surely James coming down the stairs. He reaches me as Maria smiles and gives him a look as if she’s in love. I start moving.
“He’s alive!” a lady shouts.
“What?” James asks loudly.
I muster up courage and stand as they all stare at me. Maria pulls back from James and stares at me with loving eyes.
“I remember I hit him really hard on the head,” James says.
“I’m going to call the judge!” a man says loudly.
Maria stands with an expression of confusion. The judge walks out of the building.
“We thought you were dead,” he says.
“Well, I’m alive,” I say.
Everyone starts to whisper as the judge starts to think deeply.
“Okay, okay people. You will fight for death again tomorrow. This time I only want a head.”
They all start to walk inside the building and head to the jugs of wine. Once in the building I watch Maria besides James. I feel like a failure for not succeeding in killing James. I mean, he wanted me dead. He did what’s best for him so why shouldn’t I have killed him? I was supposed to win Maria. I’m supposed to be with her. We’re meant to be together.
Then James hugs Maria and I feel closed inside my failure and not good enough. She doesn’t even look at me. It’s as if I don’t exist. I head to the jugs of wine and drink the wine like its water, hoping to change my state to tranquility. But nothing is felt but a bad feeling, a nervousness that has fear in it which spreads all over my body, pulling me down as if someone is on my shoulders and my belly is sucked in.
I leave in a rush and start to walk fast into the forest, feeling hell descend on me. I reach the lake and sit back on the same tree where Maria was in my arms and I try to calm myself down, as if a sign from existence telling me, ‘You and Maria are meant to be together and Maria is meant to be yours. She belongs to you. You did wrong.’
The regret of not killing James deepens as the bad feeling in me grows stronger. I can’t believe what I did to myself and to Maria. I should have just killed him. It shouldn’t be like this. I shouldn’t be here. I mean, everything would have been just perfect if I just killed him.
The next day, I reach and head alertly to behind the building and lay my back to the wall. I wait for some time but nothing is heard or seen. I start to walk ahead as slow as I can. I reach a dead end. I see a view of a vast valley. ‘I guess I’ll go back to the building and just wait there,’ I think.
Just before I head back, I hear sounds as if something is being prepared. I head to the other side of the dead end. There’s nothing but the vast valley. I hear the sound again and just underneath is James on a big rock fixing his bow and arrow. I take a few steps back smoothly and a rock is a few meters behind me, a rock big enough to kill. I knew it. I just did. It’s meant to be. Existence is communicating with me.
I pick up the rock and step forward, but the bad feeling comes over me, making me not want to drop the rock on James head. I just can’t do it.
My desire for Maria fades as the land starts to fade. I’m standing in a garden with the rock in my hand and a gardener begs me not to throw it at him.
It’s sunny. I hear cars and motorcycles. I smell trees and grass. I’m wearing hospital clothes, and I guess I’m in some garden in Beirut. I drop the rock. The gardener thanks me over and over again.
“How do I get out of here?” I ask the gardener.
“The same way you came in, from behind the house.”
I go behind the house and wait for the cars to pass on the highway so I can cross the road. A car stops beside me. Two men step out dressed as nurses. They secure my hands with plastic cuffs and put me in the back seat of the car.
“Where am I? Where am I going?” I ask.
“How did you run away?” one of the male nurses asks.
“I don’t know,” I reply.
“Why are you even asking him? What, are you crazy too?” the other nurse asks his partner.
We reach the front of a building and I read ‘mental hospital’. The nurses help me out of the car and into the building until I reach a room. They lock me inside.
Two doctors open the door to the room. The first doctor starts to tell me that he knows how I escaped. I tell him that I don’t remember anything. He starts to point a flashlight in my eyes.

“He seems back to normal,” the other doctor comments. “How long have I been here?” I ask.
“Around eight months.”
“How did I get here?”

“You had mental difficulties, so you were transferred here. Don’t worry, it was just a phase, you will do just fine. But we will run some tests before we let you out tomorrow, Lina will explain the rest to you” one doctor says. They walk out of the room as Lina enters the room as she hugs me tight,

“What happened” I ask

“You couldn’t accept the idea that you cheated on me, the bad feeling in you was immense which made you unconscious and a negative imagination played you” Lina explains…