The Costliest Dream in the World
Many talked to me about the charge that led Mazen to prison. I do not know why I always felt that they were adding all kinds of spices to the story. The whole thing seemed like one big heap of spices from the very beginning.
At first, you could only be suspicious as you see the heedless spirit with which they regarded the most dangerous and horrific of calamities.I wondered whether prisoners have a psychological urge that pushes them to exaggerate and fish for ironies in such a manner that leaves no room for reason.
Imagine that all the stories that I heard confirm, with the highest degrees of earnestness and sarcasm, that the sole reason for Mazen’s detention was a dream!
I tried to make some sense out of the story so I assumed that the dream would be one of several factors or one of a number of elements, that led in its totality to the arrest.
The question remains however:
Why does everybody agree over the sole responsibility of the dream while ignoring everything else?
I expressed my curiosity about the story to one of them, so he told me:
Abu El-Rowdh is your man. He is the central bank of all of Mazen’s secrets, from the day he was born until his latest Sufi whims.
You do not know who Abu El-Rowdh is... One can get neither here nor there with him.
He himself once told me:
- Take nothing from me. I would not vouch for my own integrity, besides I tend to contradict myself a lot. Between uttering a joke and a statement, I could smuggle an elephant.
He is the same person who coined the maxim:
- O inmates, dervishes and devils are first cousins. Never be only one or the other, or else you are doomed.
One morning he glanced at me while I was passing by his prison dormitory, so he leaned over and stopped me:
- Good evening, martyr of love, poetry and democracy!
- Good evening, martyr of …?
- Why, the martyr of straight talk of course.
He followed it with a raucous laughter that could fill up an entire musical scale, ascending and descending.
- When did you earn that honor, Abu El-Rodh?
- Since my first democratic flogging, one you would only wish upon an enemy.
- You remind me of something important I wanted to chat about with you.
- We chatted for too long, and that store is no longer open.
- That’s easy. We will reopen it tomorrow.
- How about we let sleeping dogs lie instead.
- Ok, how about you accept my invite for a cup of coffee then?
- No way. Twelve years ago, they asked me to stop by for a quick cup of coffee, and you see where I am for it.
At the end, I had to corner him, so I said:
- Abu El-Rodh, let’s no beat about the bush... I have a favor to ask you?
- All yours.
- I would like you to set all jokes aside and tell me Mazen’s story from beginning to end.
He replied decisively:
- I cannot.
- Strange... I did not think it was a secret or...
He interrupted me:
- There are no secrets or anything. I meant I cannot set aside jokes, especially if it’s Mazen’s story.
He smiled as he looked at me as if he was reading my questions:
- Man, everything you heard and hear about Mazen is one hundred percent true, including some of the exaggerations, touch-ups and little lies that are indispensable for the margins.
- I want the story without any touch-ups.
- It will lack in credibility then. I assure you touch-ups are absolutely necessary. Besides, what really took place remains larger than the whole story - even with the touch-ups.
- Perhaps... But leave the touch-ups for me to add.
- Alright. No additions or touch-ups. Before you lies a reality called Mazen. A reality made out of flesh and blood. . . or to be more precise.. a reality made out of flesh because... as you know, the blood stayed at the center eleven years ago. . .while the bleeding continues. Yes buddy, eleven years in cash and he is yet to pay the full bill of his small dream.
I said while trying to zoom in on the details:
- It must be a golden dream.
Abu El-Rowdh could not believe that he found an echo of his sarcastic tone in my comment and went on …
- Yes. . .more like a gonner’s dream. Hopefully he will go straight into Venus. . . Venice, Fanoos Record. . . or whatever you guys call it.
He shook my shoulder:
- Seriously, do not you agree with me that such a hit would put us in the record for a thousand years to come?!
- As you can see. . .
He immediately interjected:
- Of course as I can see.. If it were up to you and how you see things, with democracy and the rest of it, how are we to ever get into the record? Or perhaps you think we can do it through the Odyssey of Syros Democraticus after all this ragtag history?!
How can I sort out Abu El-Rodh’s endless barrage of serious jokes?
- Abu El-Rowdh I am getting neither here nor there with you about Mazen.
- Well, as for here it’s not good enough for you, and as for there it’s beyond our reach.
- What should we do then?
- Come to our dorm around the afternoon prayer time and I will have you drink from the source that will quench your every thirst.
In the afternoon I met with Mazen at the door of the dorm. Abu El-Rowdh welcomed us and seated us to his bench, covered by a military-looking civilian sheet, and said sooner after:
- We only have tea, would you rather coffee?
- Your options are unacceptable, and your hospitality is inexplicable.
- Well, options are just there to uphold the democratic principles; as for hospitality, it is meant to guilt you into withdrawing your accusations against my despotism.
I had started writing about Mazen, how in earth did Abu El-Rowdh manage to sneak in, one word after another, one thought after another, one page after another? I feel that he has even started sneaking between the lines.
It is starting to appear to me that there’s no stopping Abu El-Rowdh. He is not one person, nor two nor three. He is neither himself, nor myself.
The prisoners gave him tens of nicknames such as: the first prisoner, the abstractionist prisoner, the king, the sheikh of prisoners, the schizophrenic, the prisonee, Mr. Good, Satan, the Sufi, the talkster, the wise-man, the roaming stone, Prince Arthur, Mr. Wronged, the trickster, Mr. Gluttony, Spiky etc.
They also added an honorary title to his nicknames when they elected him during one of their ceremonies the official spokesspirit of the prisoners dead and alive alike.
Once one of his friends beat him in chess so he told him:
- Abu El-Rowdh, unless you beat me three times in a row, I will withdraw “the King” from your litany of titles.
Abu El-Rowdh answered with a kind of affected dignity he often puts on:
- Even if you do, I will still have enough titles that are only outnumbered by those of Almighty God.
- My oh my, so our Sufi saint, you compare your names to those of the Divine?!
- In terms of quantity only, I know that most of my names are cursed ones and are a far cry from those of the Divine. . .although only half of His strike me as particularly good.
- Strike you?! What about the other half, you infidel?
- Alright, alright. . .By He who gathered us here in this pious imprisonment, they are all excellent names, perfect even, but I just meant that more than half of them are magnificent, warm, and very very very dear to the soul. . .
I will take the opportunity that Abu el-Rowdh is busy making tea to finish what I started about Mazen.
They call him “Mazen of the dream:” a man in his thirties, a little plump, his eyes grow large with dazzling black. He has an alert hawkish nose that comes between you and connecting his eyes to his shivering voice.
Through talking to Mazen, I could confirm that he was indeed detained because of a dream. When I asked him about the nature of the dream, he said:
- It’s a fuzzy blurry dream, it looked like the funeral of an official, or maybe an assassination attempt.. perhaps a military coup. . .in short, a mixed-up dream.
Abu el-Rowdh said while he laid the tea tray in front of us:
- In short. . .a dream with militant intent.
I tried to find out the context under which Mazen had to confess about his dream, so he said:
- I did not confess. . .a friend of mine was detained, and under torture and while they were investigating his friendships, he mentioned my name. It seems that they tortured him a lot to report me. He knew that I had nothing to do with politics or parties, but the poor guy could not take it anymore, and to get himself out of their hands, he had to tell them about the dream, which I had talked about a few days prior. This is how I got detained.
- They did not accuse of anything else?
- No, but they considered the dream a crucial piece of evidence on my plotting against the government... They insulted me a lot, but at the end, they told me:
- There will come a day when we uncover which party you belong to, you son of....
His color changed as if his mind was replaying the curse. . .He was too ashamed to repeat it. I asked him if he had reconciled himself to his long detention because of this scandalous charge:
- It’s alright.
Abu el-Rowdh sprang from his place as if bitten by a snake:
- Alright is all you have! You ungrateful son of. . .! Do not you know the meaning of being the one with the costliest dream in the world?!
What remains is not important, and I am already tired.
My soul is weary. . .and I want to sleep.
Shall I bid you a dreamless night?!
[An excerpt from Khiyanat Al-Lugha wa As-Samt (Beirut: Dar al-Jadid, 2011) pp. 115-123.]
[Translated from the Arabic by Ahmad Diab]