AWEJ. Special Issue on Translation No.3 May, 2014 Pp. 260-262
The Beautiful Monster
Douja Mamelouk &Frank Lawrence
He has to go.
The doctor exclaimed: “There is nothing more we can do than wait for the Lord’s mercy.”
For years, I have been waiting for a mercy that never came. For years, he has been suffering thousands of times every second.
I took an unpaid leave to take care of him. That evening, I had to participate in a conference on “Death and Merciful Death” at the Ibn Khaldun Cultural Center. I had to visit him at the hospital before attending the conference. I walked into his room. As usual, he was lying on his bed, suffering from the horror of pain and strings of intravenous needles. He sensed my presence and opened his eyes. I saw his look of despair and helplessness. I held his cold hand and clasped it in mine. His cracked lips moved and he said what he says every time I visit him: “Have mercy upon me. Please take these machines and needles off me… I beg you to help me… I’d like to rest in peace.” I felt the prick of his needles in my heart. What could I do though? It’s hard to see him suffer. I wiped his face with a wet towel, gave him a sip of water, pulled all the needles out of his body, kissed him and whispered in his ear: “I love you.” He opened his eyes and looked deeply into mine. I said: “I must leave. Good bye.” I opened the door and looked back. He had closed his eyes. Then, I left.
I arrived late to the conference. I sat on the podium next to the other lecturers. I was still nervous and totally wet with perspiration. I could barely swallow. When it was my turn to speak, I could hardly find my words. I felt my voice dry and distant from me as I was trying to read what I wrote about death:
“It hits quickly like a flood, destroys like a tornado and throws the dart of eternal and inevitable separation. The force behind death is not a wave of wrath that will eventually calm down some day or a temporary separation that will draw to a close when the journey comes to an end or the reasons of exile cease to exist. Dissension is dissension. There is no running away from it! The beloved one left behind is walking wounded waiting for tomorrow with half a beating heart but in pain and torment.”
I felt the pain in my heart resonate in my voice. I attempted to read but found myself unable to do so as tears strangled my voice. I delicately sipped from a glass of water unaware of how it reached my mouth, pulled myself together and went on reading:
“When the tragedy in its worst form strikes us, the breath of our sorrow touches upon the wounds on our hearts, and we mourn for those we have lost. The wind of pain disperses our sorrow into a forest of sadness. Eventually, we get used to the separation and our pain melts away. That is when we find refuge in oblivion and we continue life half-heartedly. That is death or the strange rope of existence that we all must trip upon and fall into forgetfulness. We wonder, what is the taste of Death.
We who are alive and healthy can put off thoughts of death until tomorrow because we know well that it is a bitter cup, everybody refuses to drink. But what about the deceased whom we enshroud in sterile white hospital sheets, the white grave clothes of innocence hoping for God’s forgiveness? How does he feel about death? How does that dying soul feel about death? How does it feel to surrender? Does death bring peace and safety? Maybe it is an eternal comfort and a restful sleep. Perhaps it arrives as a shock and surprise or comes with fear and horror. No one knows the truth about death except that it is the destiny of all beings.
And because it carries its secret in its mystery and abrupt arrival, death is the only phenomenon that is totally unexpected and deeply disrupts. People still tell stories and legends about death.
In olden days, when modernity had not yet invaded the world with its technology, a sick child who resisted death was granted by it a chance to live a long preserved life until old age. Today, in the technology era, germ phobia, and modern medicine, even death has a modern feel to it. Death has the upper hand, hence, it decides without notice to take away that young man in the prime of his young life following a stupid car accident. It also decides to take the life of that other man while in his middle age. This epidemic of modern life ravages human beings and strikes suddenly and unexpectedly many individuals by heart attacks due to our stressful lives and pressure.
That’s not all… Death has various modern forms too. It rips out a child from his parents’ happy arms after an HIV infection that no one knows how it invaded the baby’s body.
Another robust young man full of vigor and delight is devastated by death after an overdose of heroin, whose whiteness is not the brightness of purity. So many death stories surround us; you can see death on every street corner, view it on any internet page and hear about it on everyone’s lips. Strangely, death has another face different from that of disaster, separation and pain. The monster has a lovely face, too. It sometimes comes to us as mercy that takes us away from our suffering. Some other times it is a covert that hides our wrongs and conceals our secrets. There are times when death strikes as a form of justice in the world by taking away an evil person whose disappearance restores peace to our lives. There are times, too, when we kneel, bow and reach our hands out to the Lord praying for the death of the one we love.”
I broke down again and my crying became hysterical. The Conference organizer asked me to step down and rest in his office but I refused. I pulled myself together, got over my breakdown and continued: “When the prayer is sincere, God responds to it. Soon, we bury our dearly loved one beneath the earth, and we conceal our tears in our heart. In silence, we offer him a toast. Do we call this a merciful death?”
I listened to myself, but heard nothing. My voice died. I burst into tears. I lifted my head above my father’s tomb. It was morning. The cemetery’s guardian told me: “Have mercy on yourself, my dear. Crying does not bring back the dead.” I walked a few steps toward the gate of the cemetery where two policemen were standing. One of them asked me: “Are you Rahma Ben Abdallah?”
About the Translators:
Douja Mamelouk, Ph.D. is currently an Assistant Professor of Arabic and French at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. She obtained her Ph.D. in Arabic Language, Literature and Linguistics from Georgetown University in 2010. She completed her Master¹s of Arts in Middle Eastern Studies at the American University in Cairo and her Bachelor¹s of Arts at Willamette University, Salem, Oregon in French Literature and Political Science. Her Research Interests are: Tunisian novels by women in Arabic, the literature of the Tunisian Avant-Garde literary group jamaŒat that al-suur. Her most recent Publications are: “Temimi, Abdel Jelil,” Dictionary of African Biography, Oxford University Press (2011).
Malcolm F. Lawrence is an independent scholar, living in Northern Virginia. He has received asylum and various degrees from a melange of colleges and universities across time and the country. His interests are in the decadent literature of the fin-de-siecle, philosophical hermeneutics and hermetic philosophy.
 The narrator’s first name is Rahma meaning mercy in Arabic.