The Return of the Prisoner ~ عودة الأسير

Written by: Buthaina Al Nasiri

Translated by: Denys Johnson Davies

Dedicated to soldiers and prisoners of wars around the world

Above all else, the house he returned to was not his house, the woman not his wife, and the children not his sons.

The car took him to a two-storey house, painted white and surrounded by a spacious garden, in an area of the outskirts of the city he had never been to before.

Inside was a thin woman. The veins in her neck twitched nervously and her forehead wrinkled into a frown that the smile she greeted him with failed to remove. She rushed toward him when he first stepped over the threshold; then it was as though something curbed her exuberance so that she came to a stop and extended her hand.

As for the children, they sat paralysed with embarrassment on the couch in the living room, seemingly forced to keep silent and well-behaved, as though in the presence of a guest who would shortly be leaving. He knew three of them, though he now had to recall their names and to make sure who was who. As for the fourth, the youngest, he had not previously met him and did not even know his name, for he had left the mother when she was pregnant with him ten years ago.

They began to get acquainted through his general questions and their brief answers, and they ended up in a solemn silence that hung over their heads.

Unable to raise his eyes to her face, he asked the woman “When did you buy the house?”

Even her voice had changed, had become harsher, as she said, “We didn’t buy it already built. I put it up bit by bit. I sold the old one, borrowed from the bank, and supervised the workmen myself. It was a difficult time, what with the responsibilities of bringing up four boys.”

“You’ve done a great job,” he told her, staring at the walls and ceiling.

“I paid off the final instalment of the loan last year.”

“It never occurred to me that you’d be able to stand on your own feet. The woman I remember used to rely on me for everything. I would think of you all when I was there, and this feeling would torment me.”

“It was a hard time- ten years is quite a while.”

“It is.”

“And one changes as time passes.”

“One does.”

“Would you like to see over the house?” she asked eagerly.

“If you like.”

The bedroom furniture was the one thing that had not changed, and he found it familiar. There was the wardrobe with the four doors and the wooden top carved with flowers and birds, and the dressing table with the square mirror which he was now standing in front of; the face he now saw in this mirror was not the one he had seen there ten years ago. He had grown thinner, the bones of his face had become more prominent, his hair had grown white, and his shoulders were bowed from the sorrows that had added years to his actual age.

When it was time to sleep, the bed was the same one that had united their dreams in past times and that he had always dreamed he would sleep in again, but the woman and the man were strangers. He was careful not to touch her body as he sank into his side of the comfortable bed and he felt her keeping herself at a distance. He stared at the ceiling lit by moonbeams coming through the window and his thoughts began floating off thousands of miles away, crossing the borders to the prison camp. He saw the faces of those of his comrades who were still alive; he imagined them spread out on the ground, sunk in a heavy sleep after the hardships of the waking day, fleeting smiles on their faces as they dreamed of returning home.

The iron gates clang suddenly, and guards yell roughly at them, “Get up!” They awake from their dreams to find themselves being herded with sticks into the camp courtyard. He crouches in the long file, his hands on top of his head. An officer whose face cannot be seen walks along between them. He talks in a monotonous tone. “Your country has let you down. You are here with us till you rot.” The sun’s rays grow more scorchingly hot. He feels cramp in his arms and legs, and a dryness in his throat. He will not be able to bear it another second. He falls to the ground. The guards hurl themselves at him with their sticks; he is dragged along the ground by his hands until his arms are almost wrenched from their sockets. The door of the tomb-like cell is thrown open and he is pitched into it. The door is shut with a clang that rings in his brain. He raises his head to find that the ceiling allows him to sit only in a crouched position. He curls up in the dark, letting out a continuous moaning like a wounded animal.

He hears his name being repeated insistently. He opens his eyes wide in the darkness. Suddenly, a glaring light floods the place and he closes his eyelids in pain.

“Are you all right?”

“What happened?”

“You were moaning.”

“I was dreaming.”

He moves his dry tongue around in his mouth. “Can I have some water?”

The woman brings him a glass of water, which he gulps down, and then he leans against the bedstead. He no longer feels any desire to sleep.

“Can you imagine- when I was there, I used to dream of the house each night, and now I’m here and in my own bed I dream of the camp? It seems the suffering isn’t over yet.”

“If you’d like to talk, I’m listening.”

“ I wanted to ask you why you didn’t send me a card or a letter all those years.”

“We didn’t know you were still alive.”

“Why didn’t you try to find out through the Red Cross, as everyone does?”

“I tried in the beginning and I was told that your name wasn’t registered with them.”

“If you’d made more of an effort,” he said sharply, “you’d have known how to find me, but you all abandoned me.”

“It’s not for you to blame me,” she replied, her voice raised. “The circumstances were difficult, and I had enough troubles of my own. Everybody regarded you as missing.”

“It’s clear that my reappearance isn’t welcome, for here you are raising your voice at me, and the children don’t even know me. You didn’t have the time to talk to them about me. You were busy building houses. What was wrong with our old house?”

She got up from the bed, saying firmly, “I’m not going to answer you.”

She left the room, slamming the door after her.

He looked about him like someone who had been locked up, feeling that the walls were narrowing and the roof descending so that he was unable to raise his head. He curled up on the bed, filled with the sensation that he had not left his imprisonment and that everything around him was unreal. It was as though he were watching a never-ending nightmare: a vast house that almost overwhelmed him, children who were strangers to him and a woman toward whom he could not reach out.

With the morning light he crept out, careful not to make a sound. He went out to the garden. He shook the branch of a nearby tree and the dew was scattered over his face and clothes. Happening to turn to one side, he saw the youngest of his sons sitting on the steps leading to the house. He was holding his head in the palms of his hands, immersed in thought or sadness.

He seated himself beside him, and the boy looked as if he had been taken by surprise. He moved slightly away from the man, who asked him, “What are you doing here at this early hour?”

“I was thinking.”

“Shouldn’t you be going to school?”

“I don’t want to go to school today.”

“Then you don’t have to go. I too want to spend some time with you all so I can get to know you better.”

“But I don’t want to go for another reason.”

“It must be a really good reason. Can you tell me it?”

“Because of my friend.”

“What did he do?”

“He’s our neighbor too, and he is bound to know you’ve come back, and he’ll tell everybody in the school.”

“And what’s wrong with that? What’s that got to do with wanting to stay away?”

The boy lowered his head and muttered, “Because they all believe you died a hero’s death ten years ago.”

This surprising news silenced him. After remaining quiet for a long time he asked, “Was it you who told them that? What’s wrong in being a prisoner-of-war?”

The boy kept silent.

“Would you prefer it if I were dead?”

The boy burst forth, talking loudly and fast, as though repeating some lesson he had learned by heart: “My friends say that heroes die defending their countries. But a prisoner is a coward who has surrendered so he can stay alive.”

He caught his breath, then said, “In real wars, things aren’t always quite like that. Not every prisoner has surrendered because he is a coward. There may be some mistake in his commander’s plan, or the ammunition has run out, or perhaps the enemy’s numbers were greater than expected.”

The boy gave a shrug of his shoulders and said, “I wanted you to go on being a hero in the eyes of my friends. How can I show them my face after today?”

“You’d rather I was dead?” He shook his head, not believing what his ears had heard. His feelings of bitterness and despair grew.

Here was the youngest of his sons wishing, perhaps deep down, that he had not come back, that his return would embarrass him in front of his friends. What was he to do? Should he seek out some war in which to fight until he was killed? Suddenly he got to his feet as though he had made up his mind about something and went up the steps to the kitchen door. His eyes met those of his wife, who had been standing in the doorway. He understood from the way she looked at him that she had been listening to the conversation, which only increased his sensation of shame and the feeling that he was not wanted in his house. He crossed the kitchen with resolute steps to the living room and from there went upstairs to the bedroom.

(He got up from beside his son and moved to the kitchen. His eyes met mine in a look that seemed to me to be full of reproach and blame. Then he made his way through the kitchen and went up the stairs to the bedroom. I said to myself, “Let’s leave him to calm down and get back to normal.” The children had gone to school, all except for the little one. After that I busied myself with preparing lunch and did not notice anything untoward. When the children returned we set the table and sat down as usual to eat. We did not miss him until my elder son said, “Where is he?”

He did not say “my father.” I asked him to go and call him. After a while he returned to say that no one was answering from behind the closed door. It was then that I felt really alarmed and the thought occurred to me- I do not know why – that he had done something to himself, for ever since he had been back he had not been normal. I rushed to find myself in an empty room.

“Where’s your father, children?”

“Perhaps he’s in the bathroom.”

One of them went to the bathroom but he was not there.

“Where’s your father, children?” I repeated the question.

“The suitcase he brought with him has disappeared,” said the eldest.

“Perhaps he went back to where he came from,” said the youngest.

One of them rebuked him with the words,” Shut up, you idiot!”)

(He got up from beside me, shaking his head. My mother was standing by the kitchen door. She stood aside for him and he disappeared inside.

After some moments, I went in after him. He was nowhere to be found. I went to my room and took out my magazines I had read time and again and began flipping through the pages, having nothing else to do. After a while I heard the sound of footsteps pacing up and down in the upstairs room; then they stopped for a time, so I imagined he had sat down or gone to sleep on the bed. But sometime later, I heard something like the sound of footsteps creeping down the stairs.

I opened the door slightly and began following him with one eye as he descended the stairs carrying the small suitcase he had brought with him yesterday. He hung about for a time near the kitchen, then slipped out of the back door. I walked behind him at a quick pace, keeping close to the wall. From an opening in the garden gate, I saw him standing uncertainly in the middle of the road looking to right and left. Then, giving the suitcase a shake, as though arriving at a decision, he walked to the right in the direction of the main road. I continued to follow him with my gaze as he moved away, that thin man with the graying hair and bowed back who had come to us yesterday evening and had spent the night in our house and who had talked to me for a while this morning. I continued to watch him until he had disappeared.

عودة الأسير

بثينة الناصري

مهداة إلى أسرى الحروب في كلّ مكان 

قبل كل شيء لم يكن المنزل الذي عاد إليه بيته ولا المرأة زوجته ولا الأولاد أبناءه

أخذته السيارة إلى دار ذات طابقين مطليّة باللون الأبيض تحيطها حديقة واسعة في حيّ لم يطأه من قبل في أطراف المدينة

في الداخل كانت ثمّة امرأة نحيفة تتحرّك عروق رقبتها بعصبية وينكمش جبينها بتقطيبة لم تفلح في إزالتها الابتسامة التي غطّت وجهها وهي ترحّب به. اندفعت نحوه أول ما وضع قدمه داخل الدار ثمّ بدا وكأنّ شيئاً ما قيّد اندفاعها فتوقّفت ومدّت له يدها. أمّا الأولاد فقد جلسوا مُسَمَّرين على الأرائك داخل الصالة محرجين ويبدو عليهم الاضطرار لالتزام السكون والأدب وكأنّهم في حضرة ضيف سيغادر بعد قليل. كان يعرف ثلاثةً منهم، وإن كان عليه الآن أن يستعيد أسماءهم ويتأكّد مَن منهم مَن، أمّا الرابع-أصغرهم- فلم يتعرّف عليه من قبل ولا يعرف حتّى اسمه فقد ترك أمّه حاملاً به قبل عشر سنوات

ابتدأ التعارف بأسئلة عامة منه وأجوبة مقتضبة منهم وانتهى إلى صمت حرج معلّق فوق الرؤوس

:سأل المرأة دون أن يستطيع رفع عينيه في وجهها

متى اشتريتم المنزل؟-

:حتّى صوتها تغيّر، ازداد خشونة وهي تقول

لم نشتره جاهزاً. لقد بنيته شبراً شبراً. بعت القديم واقترضت من البنك، وقد وقفت بنفسي على العمال. كان وقتا عصيباً مع مسؤولية تربية أربعة اولاد

قال وهو يتلفّت محدّقاً بالجدران والسقف

لقد انجزتِ عملاً رائعاً-

قالت : وسدّدتُ آخر قسط من القرض العام الماضي

لم يدُرْ في ذهني أبداً أنّك قادرة على الوقوف على قدميك . المرأة التي أتذكّرها كانت تعتمد عليّ في كل شيء. عندما كنت أفكّر بكم هناك كان هذا الشعور يعذّبني

كان وقتاً عصيباً، وعشر سنوات ليست بالقليلة-


والأيّام تغيّر الإنسان-


قالت بحماسة

  هل تحبّ أن (تتفرّج )على البيت؟-

كما تحبّين-


غرفة النوم لم تتغيّر، الشيء الوحيد الذي لم يصبه التغيير. أحسّ بالعرفان لها، فها هو الدولاب ذو الأربعة أبواب وتاج  الخشب المحفور بالورود والطيور ومنضدة الزينة بالمرآة المربّعة التي يتوقّف أمامها الآن فلا يرى الوجه الذي عرفته هذه المرآة منذ عشر سنوات خلت. لقد ازداد نحافة وبرزت عظام وجهه وابيَضَّ الشعر وانحنت الكتفان بهَمٍّ يضيف سنوات زائفة إلى عمره الحقيقي

عندما حان وقت النوم، كان السرير هو ذاته الذي ضمّ أحلامهما معاً في الماضي من زمانهما والذي طالما حلم أن يعود للنوم عليه، ولكنّ الرجل والمرأة كانا غريبين. حاذرَ أن يمسّ جسدها وهو يغرق في جانبه من الفراش الوثير وأحسّ بها تنكمش بعيداً. حدّق في سقف الغرفة يضيئُه شعاع القمر المترامي عبر الشبّاك وراحت أفكاره تسبح آلاف الأميال، تعبر الحدود إلى معسكر الأسر. رأى وجوه من بقي من رفاقه. تخيّلهم يفترشون الأرض غارقين في نوم ثقيل بعد عناء اليقظة ترفُّ على مُحيّاهم ابتسامات خاطفة وهم يحلمون بالعودة إلى البيت. تصطكّ الأبواب الحديدية فجأة ويصرخ بهم الحرّاس بخشونة: “انهضوا”. ينتبهون من أحلامهم ليجدوا أنفسهم يُدفَعون بعصا غليظة إلى باحة المعسكر. يقعي في الطابور الطويل ويداه أعلى رأسه. يتمشّى بينهم ضابط لم يتبيّن وجهه. كان يتحدّث برتابة: “لقد تخلّى عنكم وطنكم. إنّكم هنا معنا إلى أن تتعفّنوا”. تزداد أشعّة الشمس لهيباً. يحسّ بتشنّج ذراعيه وساقيه وجفاف حلقه وأنّه لن يستطيع التحمّل لحظة واحدة بعد الآن. يقع على الأرض، يتكالب عليه الحرّاس بالعصيّ ويُسحَب على الأرض من يديه حتى تكادان تنخلعان، يُفتَح باب زنزانة صغيرة مثل القبر ويُرمى بها وتُغلَق الباب باصطفاق يرنّ في دماغه. يرفع رأسه، يجد أنّ سقف  الزنزانة لا يسمح إلّا بأن يجلس مطويّاً. يتكوّر في الظلمة وهو يئنّ أنيناً متواصلاً مثل حيوان جريح

يسمع اسمه يتردّد بإصرار، يفتح عينيه على سعتهما في الظلام، ثمّ فجأة يغمر نور باهر المكان فيطبق جفنيه تألّماً

هل أنت على مايرام؟-

ماذا حدث؟-

لقد كنت تئنّ-

كنت أحلم-

يحرّك لساناً جافّاً في فمه وهو يضيف

هل يمكن أن أشرب؟-

تأتي له المرأة بقدح ماء يعبّه بلهفة، ثم يستند على ظهر السرير. لم يعد يشعر بالرغبة في النوم

هل تتصوّرين؟ هناك، كنت كل ليلة أحلم بالبيت والآن وأنا في البيت وعلى سريري أحلم بالمعسكر. يبدو أنّ العذاب لمّا ينته بعد

إذا كنت تريد أن تتحدث فإنّي مصغية-

كنت أريد أن اسألك لماذا لم تبعثي لي بطاقة أو رسالة طوال هذه السنوات؟-

لم نكن نعرف أنّك على قيد الحياة-

لماذا لم تحاولي أن تعرفي عن طريق الصليب الأحمر كما يفعل الجميع؟-

لقد حاولت في البداية وقيل لي أنّ اسمك لم يكن مسجّلاً لديهم-

:قال بحدّة

لو كنتِ بذلت جهداً أكبر لعرفتِ طريقي ولكنّكم تخلّيتم عني-

:ارتفع صوتها وهي تقول

  ليس لك أن تلومني. كان ظرفاً عصيباً وكان عندي من الهموم مايكفيني .. وقد اعتبرك الجميع مفقوداً

من الواضح أنّ ظهوري مرة أخرى غير مرغوب فيه، فها أنت ترفعين صوتك عليّ والأولاد لا يعرفونني، فلم يكن عندك وقت لتحدّثيهم عني. كنت مشغولة ببناء البيوت. ماذا كان يعيب بيتنا القديم؟

:نهضت من السرير وهي تقول بحزم

لن أردّ عليك-

وغادرت الغرفة وهي تصفق الباب بشدة

تلفّت حوله مثل حبيس شاعراً أنّ الجدران تضيق والسقف يهبط حتى لا يستطيع أن يرفع رأسه، فيكوّر جسده على السرير وقد ملأه إحساس أنّه لم يغادر أَسره وأنّ كل ماحوله زائف. وكأنّه يرى كابوساً لا ينتهي: منزل واسع يكاد يطبق عليه.. أولاد غرباء وامرأة لايستطيع أن يمدّ نحوها إصبعاً


انسلَّ مع نور الصباح محاذراً أن يحدث صوتاً. خرج إلى الحديقة. هزّ غصن شجرة قريبة فتناثر الندى على وجهه وملابسه

حانت منه التفاتة إلى جانبه فرأى أصغر ابنائه يجلس على السلالم المؤدية إلى المنزل. كان يضع رأسه بين كفّيه مستغرقاً في التفكير أوالتأمل أو الحزن . جلس إلى جانبه فبدا على الولد كأنّه أُخِذ على حين غرّة فابتعد قليلاً عن الرجل الذي سأله

ماذا تفعل هنا في هذا لوقت المبكّر؟- 


أليس عليك أن تذهب الى المدرسة؟-

لا أريد أن أذهب اليوم إلى المدرسة- 

إذاً لا داعي للذهاب إلى المدرسة . أنا أيضاً أريد أن نجلس مع بعضنا لنتعرّف أكثر-

لكنّي لا أريد الذهاب لسبب آخر-

لابدّ أنّه سبب وجيه. هل لي أن أعرفه؟-

بسبب صديقي-

ماذا فعل؟-

إنّه جارنا أيضاً ولا بدّ أنه عرف برجوعك وسيخبر الجميع في المدرسة بذلك- 

وما الضير في ذلك؟ ما العلاقة بين أن يعلم الجميع برجوعي ورغبتك في الغياب؟-

حنى الولد رأسه وتمتم:

لأنّ الجميع يعتقد أنّك متَّ شهيداً منذ عشر سنوات

:ألجمته المفاجأة فوجم، ثم تساءل بعد فترة صمت طويلة

هل أنت الذي أخبرتهم بذلك؟ ما الضير أن أكون أسيراً؟- 

لزم الولد الصمت

هل كنت تفضّل أن أكون ميتاً؟-

:اندفع الولد يتكلّم بسرعة وقوة وكأنّه يكرّر درساً محفوظاً

أصدقائي يقولون أنّ الشهيد يموت وهو يدافع، أمّا الأسير فإنّه جبان يستسلم من أجل أن يعيش

:ابتلع ريقه وهو يقول

في الحرب الحقيقية الأمور ليست دائماً على هذا النحو، فليس كل أسير استسلم لأنّه جبان، فقد يكون هناك خطأ ما في خطة قائده أو تكون الذخيرة نفدت أو ربّما بسبب تكاثر الأعداء على غير المتوقع

:هزّ الولد كتفيه غير آبه وقال

كنت أريدك أن تظلّ شهيداً في عيون أصدقائي. كيف أريهم وجهي بعد اليوم؟-

كنت تفضّل أن اكون ميتاً!؟-

هزّ رأسه غير مصدّق ما سمعته أذناه، وازداد إحساسه بالمرارة واليأس. ها هو أصغر أبنائه يتمنّى -ربّما في أعماقه- لو لم يعد، أن يظلّ رهن الأسر نسياً منسيّاً لئلّا تحرجه عودته أمام أصدقائه. ماذا عليه أن يفعل؟ هل يبحث عن حرب يقاتل فيها حتى يقتل؟ نهض فجأة وكأنّه عزم على أمر وصعد السلم إلى باب المطبخ فالتقت عيناه بعيني زوجته التي كانت واقفة في الباب وفهم من نظراتها أنّها استمعت إلى المحاورة ممّا زاد من شعوره بالعار وبأنّه غير مرغوب به في هذا البيت.

اجتاز المطبخ بعزم وثبات إلى الصالة ومن هناك ارتقى السلم إلى غرفة النوم


نهض من جانب ابنه واتّجه إلى المطبخ. التقت عيناه بعينيَّ بنظرة بدت لي مليئة باللوم والعتاب، ثمّ أخذ طريقه عبرالمطبخ إلى الصّالة وصعد السلم إلى غرفة النوم. قلت في نفسي: لندعه يهدأ ويعود إلى طبيعته. كان الأولاد قد ذهبوا إلى مدارسهم ماعدا الصغير وانهمكت بعدها بتحضير الغداء فلم أفطن لشيء غير عادي. حين رجع الأولاد هيّأنا السفرة لتناول الطعام وجلسنا على المائدة كالعادة ولم نفتقده إلّا بعد أن قال ابني الكبير

أين هو؟-

لم يقل (أبي) فطلبت منه أن يذهب لمناداته. بعد قليل رجع قائلاً أن لا أحد يردّ من خلف الباب المغلق. عندئذٍ شعرت بالانزعاج حقّاً وخطر لي خاطر لا أدري من أين جاء: أن يكون قد فعل بنفسه شيئاً، فإنّه منذ أن عاد لم يكن طبيعياً. هرعت أقفز على السلم يتبعني الأولاد

دفعت الباب بقوة لأجد نفسي وسط فراغ الغرفة

أين أبوكم يا أولاد؟-

لعلّه في الحمام-

ذهب أحدهم إلى الحمّام فلم يجده أيضاً

وكرّرتُ السؤال

أين أبوكم يا أولاد؟-

قال الكبير

لقد اختفت حقيبته التي جاء بها-

:قال الصغير

ربما عاد إلى حيث كان-

:نهرَهُ آخر

!اسكت يا غبيّ-


نهض من جانبي وهو يهزّ رأسه. كانت أمي تقف على باب المطبخ. تزحزتْ من طريقه فاختفى في الداخل. بعد لحظات دخلت وراءه، لم يكن في أي مكان. ذهبت إلى غرفتي وأخرجت مجلّاتي التي قرأتها مراراً وجلست أتصفّحها مرة أخرى فلم يكن لديّ ما أفعله غير ذلك. بعد قليل سمعت صوت أقدام متلصّصة على السلم. واربتُ باب الغرفة وأخذت – بعين واحدة- أرقبه وهو يهبط السلم حاملاً حقيبته الصغيرة التي جاء بها البارحة. تلكّأ قليلاً قرب المطبخ متردّداً ثم تسلّل خارجاً من الباب الخلفي. مشيت وراءه بخفّة ملتصقاً بالحائط، ومن فتحة باب الحديقة رأيته يتوقّف وسط الدرب متحيّراً يتلفت يميناً تارة ويساراً تارة أخرى ثم هزّ حقيبته وكأنّه استقرّ على رأي. وسار يميناً في اتجاه الشارع الرئيس. تابعته بعيني وهو يبتعد .. ذلك الرجل النحيل ذو الشعر الاشيب والظهر المحنى الذي قدم إلينا بالأمس وبات الليل في بيتنا وحدّثني قليلاً هذا الصباح .. تابعته حتى تلاشى في الأفق


نيسان 1995

نشرت في مجموعة (الطريق الى بغداد) 1995

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