Written by Aya Telmissany
She is sitting at her usual spot at Café Suprême and is ordering a skimmed latté.
She does not like to admit it, but Yara has always felt like coffee shops were the ideal spot to get some writing done; the fancy smell of freshly brewed Italian coffee is enough to intoxicate her brain with endless streams of creativity. The image is a little foreign to her own Cairene culture and that is perhaps why she doesn’t like to confess that this is where she feels most inspired to write. Not only does Yara write in a language that’s not hers to dally with, but even her source of inspiration is an image borrowed from the West. She feels a sense of guilt and betrayal. But that’s nothing new so she brushes it right off and starts to focus on the writing that she needs to get done.
But then another thought distracts her.
Yara thinks of the many famous Egyptian authors and poets that she aspires to become like and who used to hang out at the qahwa to get the inspiration to write. Then, looking around her at all the neatly dressed waiters serving drinks with complicated names that they can hardly utter, she feels the distance between herself and her culture growing and her sense of identity shrinking. Although the qahwa is basically the Egyptian version of a coffee shop (it literally means coffee!) every Egyptian knows that the difference between these two spots is rather considerable.
The qahwa used to be one of Egypt’s cultural centers where authors and poets would gather and read to each other and to their audience while they have a cheap cup of coffee. Occasionally, they would play cards or chess. Today a qahwa is just the spot where one has a night out with the boys when they don’t have enough money to go to expensive coffee shops which they save for when they’re going out with girls. Today in Egypt, a coffee shop is where people like Yara go to write, work on group projects, have business meetings, or just hang out.
She brushes off that last thought as well and there she is, sitting and drinking her coffee.
The page in front of her is so virginal in its whiteness.
The blinding kind of white that distracts you from any thoughts, even the random thoughts Yara was having about her loss of sense of identity. Lately, it seems like every time she sits down to write, she gets distracted by all kinds of irrelevant thoughts. But today she feels like all these irrelevant thoughts might have a common core that she needs to get to before she can jot down any word.
Yet all Yara can think about is how spotlessly white the page is. It’s like her mind literally went blank.
She feels herself starting to hate the color.
She is so desperate for any thought that she starts to wonder whether it is true that the color white is actually all the colors of the spectrum combined while black is the absence of color. She is old enough to understand the science behind this statement, but she can’t help but remember that when she was younger it made so much more sense to her that white was the absence of color; that’s why all the pages of her coloring books were white. Yara used to think black was the combination of all colors and she actually conducted an experiment to prove that. She brought all 36 color pencils from her box and started coloring the white page with all these colors on top of each other until she began seeing a color that was dark enough for the child that she was to call it black.
Apparently she has outgrown these thoughts, but the arrogant whiteness of the page in front of her only reminds her that whiteness is the absence of color and, most importantly to her right now: the absence of words, the absence of inspiration, and perhaps even the absence of identity.
But then she starts thinking that since it is inescapable, that whiteness is indeed all the colors combined, then this must mean that she has a page full of all the colors she could possibly imagine. She just needs to fish out a few colors to find out what to write about. In search of a seed for inspiration, she starts thinking about everything that happened to her this past year. But she knows better than this. Poem seeds are found, but never searched for.
They are just like the colors of a white page; you’d think you’d have to go and get them out of your pencil case,
but they’re right there
in front of you
lying on a white page
just waiting to be fished out.
In this brief epiphanous moment, Yara comes to a realization: this loss of identity is illusory; she is a white page full of colors that she is unaware of. In the next few minutes, she is fishing out different shades of different colors from the achromatic page in front of her which no longer intimidates her, until her poem is finished:
Of its words
As it goes
Down your throat.
Let it fill your hollow
Gut and leave
It there afloat.
Heart into a
Let it sink
The drippy craft
To read what