Written by Aya Telmissany
There is something decisive about the sixty seconds that linger between 11:59 pm and 12:00 am. Sixty last seconds of hope and second chances, which vanish the moment the clock hits 12. Up until 11:59 that night, I had thought my elder brother was just working late, but all my fears and worries surfaced when the needles of my watch overlapped, and formed a fatal zero angle.
Sherif was eight years older than I was, and had always been a father, a friend, and a brother to me. Our mother died when I was five, and our father fell into a drunken, endless depression that brought out a very violent and abusive side of him. He used to beat us for the slightest misbehavior, as though he was holding us responsible for our mother’s death.
It was Sherif who took care of the little five-year-old girl that I was, and basically raised me. He always came between my father and me when he succumbed to one of his tantrums.
When he was fifteen, Sherif used to share with me everything he learnt at school especially when it came to stories and poems. One day, he told me about a poem called “Mon amie la rose” (My friend the rose). He told me that it had been made into a song; and I have listened to it all the time ever since. As a little girl, I loved flowers like most little girls my age did. Every time my brother would study a poem or a story that had anything to do with flowers, he would share it with me.
One time, he came up to me and said:
“Hey Laila, you know what my French teacher said in class today?”
“What did he say?” I asked as I put down the Mickey magazine I was reading.
“He said that girls shouldn’t be beaten,” he said with an air of pride of having become enough of a gentleman to know such things.
“They shouldn’t?” I asked, confused.
“Not even with a flower,” he said.
“How does he know that?” I asked
“Jules Michelet says so in his novel,” he said as he started recalling the exact quotation.
“Ne frappez pas une femme, eut-elle fait cent fautes, pas même avec une fleur,” he recited with pride.
The quote said “Do not beat a woman, not even if she made a hundred mistakes, not even with a flower.”
Sherif had always been the safety blanket that kept me warm and on that dreadful night, I was freezing. It was thirty minutes past midnight, and he was still not back from the Cairo Opera House. His concert rehearsal had already ended five hours before, and he was not answering his phone. I sensed a hint of selfishness in my concern because I knew that what scared me most was that I no longer had a shield to protect me from my father, should anything have happened to my brother. With that thought in mind, I told myself that I was probably just paranoid with fear.
My father was not home yet, and ironically, that made me feel safe. I went to Sherif’s room and distracted myself by going through some of his violin recordings. He played it so well, and most of the pieces he played were melancholic; but just the thought that he was playing made me happy. I curled up in his bed still listening to his recordings as I fell asleep.
I woke up at around four in the morning, to the sound of the mu’azin calling for prayer. This is the time around which my brother usually wakes up. The house was still empty and not a sign of Sherif. My brother. Where was he?!
I went to the living room and waited for the phone to ring.
At seven in the morning, it rang….
Sherif was dead.
To my surprise, I wasn’t shocked. It felt like Sherif had died hours before I got the news. I didn’t even pay attention to how he died. Was it a car accident? A hit and run? I did not know; but Sherif was dead, and my father wasn’t even around to go retrieve his body…
I couldn’t believe Sherif had become a random cadaver on the side of a road somewhere.
As I put down the phone, I heard a sound coming from afar, as though from another dimension…. It was the doorbell….
It must be my father, I thought…. How was I going to tell him that his son was gone? Would he even care? Would he be sober enough to remember it the next morning?
I went to answer the door but no one was there. I thought maybe my father was so drunk that he had fallen down the stairs; so I stepped outside and looked for him. Instead of finding him, I found a black envelope with my name written in white letters on it, lying on our doorstep. I picked it up and went inside, still trying to wrap my head around everything that had happened.
I kept staring at the phone… Maybe if I stared at it enough, it would disappear…
This conversation might have never taken place, and my brother might still be alive!
Once I was back to Earth, I tore the envelope and pulled out a piece of paper with a poem on it:
Pain is a cello player….. Pulling the strings of my heart
Until I can only see……The black and white
Of the piano keys; Until I can only hear
The beating of a drum….. Banging in my mind
Playing a broken rhythm…… That I dare not hum.
I can feel the pain creeping in…. Like a breath travelling through a flute
That comes out intoxicated…. With the saddest tunes.
I am as lonely
As the melodic line…. Of a monophonic melody.
Alone, I carry the heavy notes…. Which are not mine
In a chant somber yet heavenly…. Without you, The days and I
Are in dissonant harmony; For the timbre of your voice
Is the only melody that I need…. In this graveyard of fallen notes,
Come and sing life into me….. Let me, once more, hear
The prelude to our symphony….. Come and sing to me of the moon,
The moon which we split in two…. Sprinkling white dust across the sky
One half for me, the other for you…. And we shared the stars in between
In a universe of you and I….. Come and sing me to sleep
If you can still recall….. The words of our lullaby;
Hush….. I hear the finale begin
As I succumb to the tears…. Of a weeping violin.
Your absence sings a deafening silence, A silence I cannot bear.
But your music still fills the air; I can hear it from afar
In the notes you’ve left behind….. And I know you’re here somewhere,
Because love is not deaf….. Though it may be blind.
The author and sender were anonymous…. Perhaps it was a poem by a famous author I was unaware of, I thought. I typed a few verses of the poem online through my phone…
I found nothing….
Was it an original poem inspired by my misery?! I related so much to the poem that I thought it must be written specifically about me…. About my lost brother.…
It was my life stolen in verse….