You were hard of hearing. Huge ears, all in length. Your jeddo ears, drawn with folds, perfect for an anatomy class; enormous, but which were of no use to you to hear. You had to scream in front of your eyes; as you spoke low, slipping the words under the opacity of the air.
The only personal word between us dates back to when I was 15. A unique phrase, planted in absence. Come closer, my daughter… so you are his daughter, you. But you are small! Far too small! Your little girl, Ie am especially your granddaughter. Do you discover me that day?… I was looking at you so as not to stop the flow of your words. You did not budge, you continued between provocation and reproaches. How small you are! I was powerless, I would have liked to please you, I disappointed you. My grandmother intervened to keep you quiet.
Your reflection hurt me, but it was meant for me. You were talking to me. You had seen me, I had begun to exist. You called me: small, I grew up. You singled me out among your bevy of grandchildren. Out of silence, taking the risk that I answer your closed ears. But Teta left no room for astonishment. She ordered you to stop humiliating me, she was screaming for you to become silent again. She’s not small, you hear me?… Or maybe small, but smart. Very smart! What is the relationship between size and intelligence? Was she forbidding me or was she forbidding me to speak to you? I was floating between you two, crushed between two speeches. Neither with your voice nor without it. Small and alone, jeddo.
You are you. These words will remain the only word you speak to me during your lifetime. You resumed your position, you went back to your dreams. You looked away, out the window. Your blue eyes turned away from my suddenly tiny body. I tried to protest, to bring them back to our world, the only one I perceived. You had returned to your universe. You didn’t see me, I was too small, you were right. I no longer felt like I existed.
I’ve never seen the top of your skull extended by the tarbouch that you never left, as if to protect you from the sky. The streaks of silk attached to its top moved in your smallest gestures. Some remained attached to the rough fiber. And your saroual. Every day, every occasion, the same black and white outfit, you’ve never been dressed any other way. Consecrated costume. Jeddo. As a child, I tried to imagine your body under the tossing fabric of the saroual which delimits no form. I was thinking about your underwear, I didn’t know if you were wearing any: do they match your outfits? Where does folklore stop? I stared at you from the height of my urban pretension. I did not see your beauty.
Curved body. Wrinkled face. Big, huge ears that obviously don’t hear, when you could only see them in your walled-in face. were you really deaf? I would like to know your truth, to know your heart. Child, I did not believe in your deafness. He is lying… we hear or not… not between the two… the only way to escape Teta…
Jeddo, at the head of twelve children. Retired Patriarch. You didn’t take part, your wife managed. In a tremendous indifference, you opted for a life in neutral.
Yet you are someone, you! I always heard it, your grandfather is someone! A just, pure man. A worthy man in poverty. A pious Maronite who knows no sin. Your past is the basis of the mythical history of the whole family. World War I, you’re an orphan, you’re 14, you run away, well, you too, like me. But you run away from war. You would think the same is true for me. We could. You just lost three brothers. Escape the relentlessness, save what can still be saved. Warrior Courage; you leave on foot, in the direction of Syria, carrying your little brother on your shoulders. Your little brother, shot on your shoulders, on the way. You will later give his first name to one of your sons, to my father. You persevere, reach Syria. You settle there alone, you work in the fields. You leave behind a few survivors, four sisters, a brother.
You come back at 22, you bring back from these arid regions the rough accent that has always distinguished you and the obsession with revenge, the only link you have kept with Lebanon for eight years. An oath that allowed you to endure exile. In the family, no one doubts, you avenged the siblings, but no one says more. He avenged his four brothers, he especially avenged the little one, who died on his shouldersthis assertion works on its own, like a cross planted in the ground, without risk of dispute.
Married as a hero. For you, teta left her fiancé, a very rich party. She defied her parents in a time when love at first sight was heresy. Marriages were negotiated, arrangements that benefited the whole family. Téta awakened the mystery in me: your secret. I couldn’t understand why she preferred a peasant to a man of good family. Heroine, for doing the opposite of what was expected of her. I spied on you, tracked down what made you a man for whom one leaves, for whom one renounces. I wanted to be like you, my haughty hero, a masked king.
I watched for your slightest tremors, you who don’t hear. Who does not speak, does not ask questions. Your silence. An absence like yours. Did you even know that I was gone? We are not leaving Lebanon. Especially not young girls. A violent death in the country is preferred to the sweetest agony in exile. Total identification with the country is stronger than patriotism. A Lebanese can lose everything, he will only strengthen his ties to the ground; it is not nothing, the shade of a cedar of Lebanon.
You come back to me jeddo. In your words, with the rocky emotion of their consonances. I don’t write in Arabic. Can one be connected when one does not write in one’s own language? I express myself in a language that is hermetic to you, you were also hermetic for me. You wouldn’t understand a word of it. You don’t know how to read or write. And of French, you only know: “hello”, “goodbye”, “thank you”. In bearings of rrrrrr who assimilate them to your language. Strange, how they correspond to us; they might suffice for our link. During your lifetime, I only sent you “hello”, “goodbye”. And now, “thank you”, thank you jeddo!
I am proud of this parentage, I was ashamed of it as a kid. Youssef. I never named you. Youssef. To be able to shell your first name, sweetness and power; I repeat it to myself loudly, prolong the “ou”, press it on the “ss”. “You” tone breathed in my throat. Dense. Youssef. To pronounce tenderness, in these formerly deaf letters. Find depth. My roots, through a word. Yououssef. Stretch your first name, to connect us. Give you back your beauty. I would be proud of this filiation, if it could be restored to me. If it became matter to me. telluric truth. Proud that you were a farmer. A “farmer”, said my mother in her bourgeois family.
Jeddo Youssef, your first name is sweet, painful.
I am your granddaughter, in Paris, in supermarket queues, in the metro, your granddaughter in places you cannot imagine. What transmission between us? How am I your granddaughter? Where is your mark? We are not so far away, you also know exile. And that of the soul. You know isolation, deafness. The other impossible, which makes you deaf. The cut.
Now that you’re invisible, I imagine you see. Our father who art in heaven. Our father to all, holy man! How to continue you? With the particular accent which is yours, this accent which makes doubt the mother tongues. Rumble of bones in my blood. To hear your rough voice thunder, it still rises. Yet you spoke to me so little. Neither with this voice, nor without it. I am without. I don’t know your look, jeddo, won’t have an answer.
You come back to me, real. I seem to touch your complex hand of wrinkles that bear blessing. Of these common origins that I cannot share, because what could be more foreign to me than your love, than your fusion with the earth. Lebanese land, in the peasant sense. I live far away, on my sixth floor in Paris, in the other country. Heartless countries… soulless, I always heard these litanies condemning the Western world, intransigence which does not admit of reflection; collective truths. What is a country with heart, jeddo? I look for. A country without a soul, what is a soul? I want to hear it rustle in the vocalizations of your voice.
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