A Love That I Do Not Love by Mariam al-Saedi

Translated by Barbara Bakker

I love to feel love. And I do not love to feel love.

I love to feel love for the whole universe. For the little black birds, with their yellow beaks and their yellow skinny legs, scattered all over the streets of Abu Dhabi, on hedges, on rooftops and in great number around my feet. I love to feel love for the little roses scattered here and there at roundabouts and in the small green areas surrounding the skyscrapers, and I love to feel love for the leaves fallen during autumn. I love to feel love for the trees and their leaves, for the autumn, for the rays of the sun in the winter, for the cold brushing my cheeks and bringing tears to my eyes. I love to feel love for the smell of fire on a cold night, and for the indefatigable thin Asian worker, bent on dividing his sandwich in three small meals in order to save as much money as he can and return as soon as possible to his home country. For the poor Egyptian peasant standing on the sidewalk in his loose galabeya, wandering daily in search of work. For the Pakistani butcher, miserably sitting with the tools of his trade for hours during the days of the Eid under a sign written in Arabic that says “beware of street butchers”. 

And I love to feel love for the flavor of coffee, its aroma, and the smiling waiter serving it to me. I love to feel love for Majida El Roumy, who sings like a white butterfly with the might of a black knight on the stage of the Emirates Palace of Abu Dhabi. I love to feel love for the calm of the late morning, when I head, late, to work in order to enjoy the solemn calm that wraps the air at that hour, which makes me feel that the Judgement Day is definitely going to happen at this time of the morning. 

But, but…. despite all this love that I love to feel, I do not love, I do not love to direct it all towards you, I do not love to feel you to this degree. I do not love to feel that all these things I named before cease to exist, cease to mean anything, that you, yourself, become the center of my universe, the reason for my existence, the source of my oxygen. I do not love to be occupied all the time thinking about you, your being, and only you. This is inconceivable, unfair, this is utterly illogical, and it should not be like this. 

I want to get you out of my mind, for a while, just for a while, so that I can do other things in my life, like listen to others, give them my advice when they need it and my opinion when they expect it, laugh at a joke someone tried to tell. I want to do things like read, always attempt to write, watch a movie, follow the news, make an effort to be mentally ready in order to know exactly what to write about and rise above my own selfish existence. Like to say “thank you” when someone does me a favor, such as the porter who carries my suitcase for me, the doorman who opens the car door for me, the servant who serves me coffee, the stranger in the elevator who cares to hold the door when he sees me coming, the one that makes way for me in the street and the one that insists on me taking his turn in a long line in front of an ATM, or a movie theatre, or while waiting for my coffee at Starbucks. I want to get you out of my mind so that I can notice all these courtesies and say thank you to those who did them to me even if they didn’t have to. I want my pupils back so that I can see with them, instead of walking around like this, like a ghost with its eyes gouged out, deprived of sight unless to see you. 

I haven’t been able to do any of these things since I met you. Everything, every thing outside the contours of your person, beyond the shape of your features, the huskiness of your voice, your laughter, your smell, the shape of your hand, the roundness of your nails, the white strands scattered in your hair, your nagging the waitress every time you order your black coffee, every thing that is not related to you does not exist, I do not see it, I do not notice it, I do not feel it. Everything has to be near you, has to pass by you, or you to pass by it or have some connection with it, in order for its features to become clear so that I can recognize them and be aware of their existence. 

Is this love?!

This is a painful feeling, a feeling that you are lonely, and that you always need the source of your existence, which can only be found in one person, only one, exactly one, and you have to put up with his many absences. He is just one person, who needs to be far away for long periods of time for his work, when he rests, when he is in the company of others, in the bathroom, at the barber’s, at work, when he gets from one place to another. One person who needs a lot of his own time in order to deal with the requirements of his own daily existence. How? How can your life hang on only one person, stop existing until he returns within the contour of your vision?! What kind of broken existence is this?! Miserable and bitter!

I am not like this, I was not like this, I was stronger, more distant than and from everything and everyone, I was more complete when I was alone. When did you invade me and pervade the atoms of my existence in this way? How did I not notice it? I wonder, where was I? Did I underestimate you, or was I wrong in assessing my strength?

Now… How do I heal from you?

Otherwise you will be my death.

“Maybe you are delusional, describe your feelings to me, because I knew love before you” says my all-knowing friend. “Alright. I feel a pressure in my ears whenever I think about him, exactly like the pressure an airplane passenger feels when the plane is getting ready for take-off. I feel cramps in my stomach and I am always feeling like I have a fever…” she rolls her eyes and says, laughing: “These are swine flu symptoms, my delusional friend.”

I decide to make you the project of a new text, another literary work, in order to heal from you, to become distant, to see you on paper, in order for you to become a case, just a case to be explained in another text. The greatest thing about being a writer is that all your life experiences can be just a writing project. Therefore you do not live through them, you do not need to suffer their agonies and be deceived by their dreams and illusions: they are there only to be written about. You only exist for me to write about you, and you end when I put a full-stop at the end of the last line. You end completely, and after you I enjoy health, well-being and a long, happy life. 

I am pleased with this realization. I write a text and I feel that I get to be Switzerland again. Like what you would suggest I be whenever I complained about being misunderstood and about feeling a pressure on my chest. You would say “Be like Switzerland, always neutral and with no feelings.” I write you in a text and I feel I am Switzerland again, Switzerland to the bone. I gaze at the moon and I am able to perceive how bright and dazzling it is. The many stars in the darkening sky start to twinkle and the whole universe starts to get back its features, so that I see it and distinguish it and feel it. My pupils start to widen and see, and I get back to feeling that universal love that I love. That love that makes me a sweet person like a kind, happy, and free bird. 

The ring of my mobile phone interrupts me, interrupts the serenity of my soul, the purity of my mind, and the serene devotion in the sanctuary of universal love, and then there’s your number, there’s your voice, and all of a sudden the universe collapses in front of my eyes, shatters, the moon falls, vanishes, the stars disappear, and the sky looks dark and the universe darkens and nothing, nothing shines anymore except for the screen of the mobile phone. 

From Che Guevara’s Seagulls

collection of short stories by Mariam al-Saedi (2012)

Mariam Al Saedi was born in 1974 in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. She majored in English literature at UAE University and has published short stories since 2009. With her short story “The Old Woman,” published in the anthology “In a Fertile Desert: Modern Writing from the United Arab Emirates” (2009), she won third place at the Emirates Women Creativity Prize in Sharjah in 2008. Some of her short story collections were published in German and two short stories were published in English in the literary magazine “Banipal.” Her collection of stories entitled “Nawāris Che Guevara” (2012, Che Guevara’s Seagulls) was nominated for the Sheikh Zayed Book Award. She participated in several literary events, book fairs and festivals in Europe, the UAE and South Korea.

Mariam Al-Saedi currently works for the Abu Dhabi Department of Transport. She writes articles for a number of Arab newspapers and magazines and has been writing a weekly column for the cultural page of Al Ittihad since 2010. She lives in Abu Dhabi.

Originally from Italy, after living in Egypt for eight years Barbara Bakker moved to Sweden in 2003, where she graduated in Library and Information Science at the University of Borås and in Arabic at Dalarna University. She has been teaching Arabic at Dalarna University since 2015. Her two research fields are modern Arabic literature, in particular speculative fiction, and language pedagogy, with a focus on vocabulary learning. She translated short Arabic fiction from Arabic into English and into Italian and, together with L. Berg and N. al-Rubaye, also several children’s books from Swedish to Arabic.

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