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The Unseeing Eye Hanan Aj-Shay

2006-09-08 14:03

    The old man stood at a loss, his sunken eyes staring at the man seated behind the table. Raising his hand, he wiped the sweat from his forehead and heavily wrinkled face. He didn't use the traditional kerchief and headband though he could feel the sweat running down his temples and neck and he gave no reply to the man seated behind the table who went on asking him, 'Why did you go in opening all the doors of the wards looking for your wife? Why didn't you come directly to Enquiries?' The old man kept silent. Why, though, was the man seated behind the table continuing to open one drawer after another? His eyes busy watching him, he said, 'I came here the day before yesterday wanting the hospital and looking for the mother of my children.'

    The man seated behind the table muttered irritably, blaming himself for not having ever learnt how to ask the right questions, how to get a conversation going and why it was that his questions, full of explanations, and sometimes of annoyance, weren't effective. He puffed at his cigarette as he enquired in exasperation. 'What's your wife's name?' The old man at once replied, 'Zeinab Mohamed.' The man seated behind the table began flipping through the pages of the thick ledger; each time he turned over a page there was a loud noise that was heard by everyone sitting in the waiting room. He went on flipping through the pages of his ledger, pursing his lips listlessly, then nervously, as he kept bringing the ledger close to his face until finally he said, 'Your wife came in here the day before yesterday?' The old man in relief at once answered, 'Yes, sir, when her heart came to a stop.' Once again irritated, the man behind the table mumbled to himself, 'Had her heart stopped she wouldn't be here, neither would you.' With his eyes still on the ledger, he said, 'She's in Ward 4, but it's not permitted for you to enter her ward because there are other women there.' Yawning, he called to the nurse leaning against the wall. She came forward, in her hand a paper cup from which she was drinking. Motioning with his head to the man, he said, 'Ward Number 4-Zeinab Mohamed.' The nurse walked ahead, without raising her mouth from the cup. The old man asked himself how it was that this woman worked in a hospital that was crammed with men, even though she spoke Arabic. Having arrived at the ward, the nurse left him outside after telling him to wait; then, after a while, she came out and said to him, 'There are two woman called Zeinab Mohamed. One of them, though, has only one eye. Which one is your wife so that I can call her?'

    The old man was thrown into confusion. One eye? How am I to know? He tried to recall what his wife Zeinab looked like, with her long gown and black headdress, the veil, and sometimes the black covering enveloping her face and sometimes removed and lying on her neck. He could picture her as she walked and sat, chewing a morsel and then taking it out of her mouth so as to place it in that of her first-born. Her children. One eye. How am I to know? He could picture her stretched out on the bed, her eyes closed. The old man was into confusion and found himself saying, 'When I call her she'll know my voice.' The nurse doubted whether he was in fact visiting his wife; however, giving him another glance, she laughed at her suspicions and asked him, 'How long have the two of you been married?' Again he was confused as he said, "Allah knows best-thirty, forty years…'

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