It was said that this song is about a war. Some specify more and said that it was about Vietnam war. But I have put it some way from its proposed contest, this post is not about war, it is more about a journey. It seems that writing a post while hearing a song over and over again is working for me But it is not always linked together, sometimes the link get loose, and words flow like the resolution of a grey clowd into a budding tree. This is my trip, to and back from, Damascus. I went there to take my final year written exam in psychiatry.
Us and Them
And after all we're only ordinary men
Me, and you
God only knows it's not what we would choose to do
I was in my spaceship wearing my oxygenated human-contact-proof helmet playing some kind of mental solitaire in the waiting space to take a bus to Syria. An elderly lady wearing a necklace with a cross, entered to the waiting area with a slow pace, with all her historical charm, slimness, short hair, and walking stick talked to me. I didn’t hear. My helmet is noise-proof. She held her stick up high in the heavens and with the weight of all the different Gods that people once dreamt of she centered the tip of her stick on my contact-proof helmet and break it like breaking a cover of a nut for her grandson: “young man, take this prescription, bring me this drug from a nearby pharmacy, I cannot walk anymore”. I went roaming around and around and the pharmacologists were giving me paranoid looks since that prescription got opioids in it. I went to her back without the drug. “Sorry, they don’t have it”. She took the prescription and for 12 hours of the road from Baghdad to Damascus she kept giving me sandwiches, candies, and nuts.
Forward he cried from the rear
and the front rank died
And the General sat, as the lines on the map
moved from side to side
Al Saleheya explosion was a black dot that didn’t dry I held on the back of my head. I tried not to touch the back of my head. On the day of the explosion I was going to that same area but I quitted. I was still at the street when I heard a sound of explosion. I thought it is so near. All people started looking to the direction of the sound. After one minute we heard another one. We looked down and walked in our way, each one to his way. I took a bus to my home. The radio was off. We were silent. Two men came up in the bus and told us about the site of the explosion. We sank in our silence. On the night of that same day of the explosion, I decided that I should send her a message telling her how much I like her, and that I want to be her friend. In Syria, almost all the taxi men asked me about the cause of the explosions and what is going on. I knew no more than them.
Black and Blue
And who knows which is which and who is who
Up and Down
And in the end it's only round and round and round
In the exam there was a question about Digoxin and whether it causes confusion or not. I wondered for some few seconds and then wrote: “yes, it causes confusion”. Then came another question: “by what mechanism?”. Oh God, and what the hell I know. Ask him, ask the Digoxin why he causes all that confusion and by what mechanism I am little tired for this. They told me that it was me who asked to be examined. “Really?”, I said “I cannot remember, my memory is tired, I want something to drink please”. Godot opened the door of the examination room and offered me a walk in Damascus.
Haven't you heard it's a battle of words
the poster bearer cried
Listen son, said the man with the gun
There's room for you inside
Damascus was rainy but Godot put a rule if I want to stay with him then I must go silent for a while. We walked till we reached Al Hamedya market. He stood and looked at me. I knew he was examining me: will I chose to enter the market or walk by the old walls.
I walked by the wall. He followed me with a smile of victory. By the wall we saw that statue of Salah Al Deen Al Ayoubi. Godot stopped and started talking: “Al Ayoubi was born in Iraq, went to Syria, then Egypt. In Egypt he had to enter the war with the crusaders. Many Egyptians are Christians and they were not sure what to do. Should they fight with Al Ayoubi against the crusaders, or should they welcome their brothers in religion. Al Ayoubi said his famous saying to them: “Religion is for God, and nation is for everyone”.”
“Godot,…” I said and looked in his eyes seriously. He held his breath. “Get lost!” I said. He disappeared at once while I was trying to fixate my attention and to maintain my concentration in resolving some other questions. With time, I felt I am more into the game of answering questions. With time, my divergent squint into a convergent one.
Down and Out
It can't be helped but there's a lot of it about
And who'll deny that's what the fightings all about
I took the bus back to Baghdad. Gladys Matar took it with me and told me that story of that valley of the Ash she thinks worth to talk about. People living there were called “the Grayish People” and their society was “Unsuitable for Adults” as she said, and she seemed to liken it to a circus, as the circus was mentioned in each chapter of her narration. They were having constant war without a clear cause with people who came from the desert who finally invaded their city, the Grayish Valley. The invaders were of a different religion. She told me about Thu Al Hak (=Of the Right Justice) who is shy, suspicious, and impulsive. Who loved an ex-prostitute and married her. Told me about their city sultan who every time he overtopped the pulpit and starts talking, a crowd of dinosaurs invade the city in a chaotic running shaking the earth beneath them and swaying their bodies. She is good in some parts of her narration but I was lost in some of her circumstantialities and tangentialities. While she was talking I remembered some of my dreams and wondered about their meanings. She kept talking her thousand and one night while I slept in the chair of that bus. I woke up with a neck pain. She was still talking. “Gladys, listen”, I said while she stopped talking stunned, “your novel got some unnecessary details and some of them are misleading, you called your novel as “Velvet Revolution” and there is no Velvet, nor Revolution, and somebody had put Delacroix painting of “Algerian women in their apartment” on the cover of your novel but why?”. I said that to her in some anger. I got the sense that I was rough on her, in spite of the fact that her narration is one of the few Arabic female narration that doesn't feel "female". I felt I should show her some respect. But I added with some calm and a smile while my eyes were looking at the desert from the window of the bus: “Woody Allen got a film named Shadows and Fog, it is of the same theme of your novel”, then I looked at her and said while my smile turned into laughter: “but it is much better”. She stood up, pulled her shirt down with anger and went to the desert alone leaving me to my neck pain and fading smile.
Get out of the way, it's a busy day
And I've got things on my mind
For want of the price of tea and a slice
The old man died
I reached Baghdad to know that I failed to pass the Iraqi board exam. I was so tired so I preferred to take a deep sleep and spent some time in yawning. My friend phoned me and asked me about the result of my exam. “I failed” I said. The other day he phoned me again and said: “Sami I decided to give you a present because you failed.” We went by a taxi, the taxi man was talking too much. We went back home by two new bicycles. I reached home very tired. I took a very hot water bath that washed the dead leaves from my growing tree.
"Velvet Revolution" is a novel by the Syrian Gladys Mattar.