Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
13 - 19 July 2000
Issue No. 490
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BOOKS: a monthly supplement of Al-Ahram Weekly

Excerpts from Rama and the Dragon

Translated by Ferial J Ghazoul

(Published in Beirut by the Arab Institute for Research & Publication, 1980)


He began to narrate to her a children's story. He was enjoying and deriding the story, as he fumbled through it. His voice fluttered with a passion he had not yet discovered: Once upon a time, there was a little Princess who went to the forest looking for something unknown, but she knew it was there. The Princess traveled in God's wide world, moving from one country to another. In her search, she met with trees, clouds, monsters and children .. But she did not find what she was looking for. The sun rose and then the night came .. Always, came the night .. and the search.

She interrupted him in a drowsy voice with a hint of sarcasm:

-- This is no way to tell a story.. You should give the name of the Princess and describe her to me.

Rama .. Rama..

All of a sudden, he answered with shrill laughter:

-- You should only listen to the story until you fall asleep.

She said with a submissive tone that touched his heart -- a little girl searching for a little refuge and unwilling to lose it.

-- Alright. Finish your story, my love.

And when he told her the Princess found the knight she was looking for, he was not about to believe in this worn-out, silly story. The few salty drops in his eyes remained unshed.

She said to him: Don't leave me until I fall asleep.

He did not say to her: What are you afraid of, my love? What is the secret of this barren void, of this infinite desert around you?

pp. 11-12


Your continuous presence. Your silence. Your closeness to me, and yet the remoteness of your life in various paths which you defend so well with a sharp, alert intelligence. As if your life ran into locked compartments, one barred from the other, separated; and you protecting heroically each insulating wall. Do you think, dear heart, that you -- the real you -- exist within this maze of walls and ramparts? That you exist behind these forts and fortresses which you erect in front of my face, in front of the world's face, and in front of your face? Do you think that you, yourself, exist in the world of each of these spheres which touch but do not overlap, which accompany each other but do not ever join -- in each one of these lone worlds that run strangely apart from the others?

He said to her: Do you know, dear love, that Michael, the archangel, is my patron, my guardian and angel, and that I was named after him? This is what they told me when I was little. I was also told that the Nile won't flood unless the archangel Michael descends on his holiday to the Land of Egypt and weeps.

One drop of his tears and the waves rich with fertility and redness pour out; the thirsty plants sway joyfully in the soil; the cracks of the barren land are filled with abundance, and prosperity prevails.

He said to her: When I was little, they used to make fatir cakes on my birthday, the day of St. Michael, the archangel and the leader of God's soldiers with his two-pointed sword. When I ate the oiled, glimmering cakes decorated with ancient Coptic words, I used to see him -- my angel, my guardian, my brother -- with his silvery armor and long lance attacking all the lies and all the devils crowding in the dark.

No. He did not say to her any of this.

He did not say to her: Truth for me is the demolishing of ramparts and the outpouring and joining of life's waters into a sea with an open horizon, and two lovers on one light sylvan bark, floating on its agitated waves.

He did not say to her: What I want -- what I want more than anything else, I want it for you, I want it for us -- is that you be free with me, free from the need for self-justification. My little one who has met with ghosts in her long search in the night, you are justified because you are loved. Love is the only thing that does not need justification. It takes and gives without question. Dear heart, I think I know you; I know your mettle; I know you though I know of no explanation or justification of you. Love for me is knowledge, and candour is a burning desire. I don't want to say that I accept you. Why do I accept or not accept? I want to say that I love you, you, all that is you unconditionally and without reserve.

And when I say this I know I am breaking all the rules of the game. Yes, it is a game; life is a game and so is love. I am taking a risk. I am putting my heart, naked, trembling, throbbing, stubborn in its faith, under the pangs of disclosure, and without protection. What happens when the barriers and dams give way, and the imprisoned, anxious, surrounded waves gush out from the fenced compartments and collide carrying stony rubble with them? Is it frightening? Yes, I know the warmth of concealed darkness, and preserved secrets, but I also know of the bitterness and loneliness behind the ramparts. What happens when the Self unveils its intimate disarray, its incomprehensible and unjustifiable longings, and the drives of its frenzy and hidden demands?

pp. 16-17

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