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Iman Humaydan

Biography

Iman Humaydan (b. 1956) is a Lebanese journalist and writer of novels, short stories and screenplays. She regularly writes for Lebanese and Arab newspapers and cultural magazines. Humaydan studied sociology and anthropology at the American University in Beirut. Today she gives lectures at various European and American universities about the Middle East and the rights of Arab women. She also gives workshops in creative writing in English and Arabic. In 2008, Humaydan founded ARRAWI, a non-profit organisation that supports young talent and culture in Lebanon. She was co-founder of PEN Lebanon in 2012. Today, she alternately lives in Beirut and Paris.

Iman Humaydan made her international breakthrough in 2004 with her debut novel B as in Beirut, a story about four women who have to live with the consequences of the civil war. In her second book, Wild Mulberries (2008), the author describes life in a small Lebanese village in the nineteen-thirties. Humaydan's third novel, Other Lives (2010), tells the story of a woman who returns to her own city after years of exile and who tries to reconstruct her past. Her work has been published in English, Dutch, French, German and Italian.

Humaydan co-wrote the script for the film Chatti Ya Deni (Here Comes the Rain), based on her investigation into disappearances in Lebanon. The film won first prize at the 2010 Dubai Film Festival. Beirut Noir, a collection of stories by contemporary Lebanese writers including Hyam Yared, a former Passa Porta resident, will be published in 2015. Humaydan edited the work.

In November 2013 Passa Porta invited this writer-journalist to spend two weeks at Villa Hellebosch in Flanders. While there she worked on her fourth novel, which has the working title Rassael Istanbul (Letters of Istanbul). In January 2015 she will spend a month in the writers' flat at the Hallepoort in Saint-Gilles. During her residency, she will finalise the manuscript of Rassael Istanbul, which will be published in the summer of 2015. 

 

Photo © Greg Ball

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Authors' text

ايمان حميدان كاتبة من لبنان
فصل من رواية "خمسون غْراماً من الجنة"
دار الساقي بيروت 2016

يوميات نورا


حلمتُ أن أكون كاتبة منذ صغري وكنت أرى سقف الكتابة هو مقال

في صحيفة.

كانت دائما الكلمة التي أبحث عنها تحت اللسان، قريبة من القلب

لكنها لا تجد موطئاً لها. لا تستطيع أن تلبس جسداً له صوت ورنّة

ووقع وتأثير. وكنت أعتقد أنني مصابة بأمر ما، مرض، او قلة حيلة،

إصابة تضعني بمصاف أقلّ من مصاف الذين في مثل سني.

أذكر اللواتي كنّ في صفي. كانت ضحكاتهن ترنّ خلف جدران

الصفوف وفي الملعب. كنت أمشي معهن ننزل الادراج نحو الملعب الكبير،

أضحك معهن لكن سرعان ما كنت أضجر وأعود الى وحدتي بعيدا عنهن. كنت

أقلق من أمري هذا. ثم صرت أسمع حكايات زواجهن وانجابهن وبقائهن في

البيوت. مضى وقت قبل أن أعرف ما بي وأن ما بي أمر جميل وعلي

الإعتناء به كتميّز وليس كمرض.


في سوريا أحرقت كل الدفاتر السميكة التي ملأتها حين قررت
المجيء الى لبنان والإقامة هنا. لم أفهم حينها السبب الحقيقي
لرمي كل ما كتبت في الموقد ثم الوقوف قريباً منه أتفرج على
النار تأكل الأوراق وتأكل قلبي. لماذا حرقت كل ما كتبت؟
هل كنت أعاقب نفسي على موت أختي أم كنت أرغب
بالتطهّر من الذنب؟ أو ربما قمت باحراق ما كتبت لأبدأ حياة جديدة في
بيروت، وكي لا اموت في بيت جدتي. لم تهرب أختي هناء، تَرَكتْ رسالة كي
تحكي قصة موتها.
أوّل ما قمت به حين وصلت إلى بيروت أنني كتبت قصة أختي هناء.

لم أعرف حينها أن تلك الصفحات سترسم حياتي كلها. كتبت القصة

وأثناء الكتابة أمور كثيرة أزيحت من أمام عيني. إذ حكاية اختي غيّرتني. لم تمت

أختي فحسب بل ماتت نورا القديمة أيضاً. الآن أفكر ان حرق ما كتبت كان

انتحاراً صغيراً، لكنه كان أيضا حماية لي كي لا أكتب موتي النهائي هناك.

كانت حكاية الموت طريقاً للنجاة. استطعت أن افهم حينها لماذا بقي

أبي صامتاً ولماذا هدى ابنة عمتي تجاهلت ما أخبرتها به، ولماذا أخي

من أبي اختار الحياد. انتهاء قصة اختي هناء كان بداية لقصتي. إلّا

أنّ كتابتي لقصة أختي لم تشفِني من رغبة المحاسبة، التي هي

حق لي ولأختي التي خسرت الحياة.

لم تكن أختي هي الوحيدة التي شربت الديمول ونامت في أرض
الباكِه ولم يجدونها إلّا أول المساء، لا، لم تكن هي وحدها بين نساء
العائلة، من انتحرت أو حاولت الانتحار . قبل حادثة أختي بعشرين سنة حاولت
احدى شقيقات أبي الإنتحار بنفس الطريقة في مكان آخر، إلّا أنها ركلت الموت
في لحظاتها الاخيرة.
قصص كثيرة عن نساء العائلة بعيدات وقريبات خضن تجربة الإنتحار ونجا بعضهن.
نساء ينتقمن من الظلم بظلم أنفسهن. إنها دوائر مغلقة. لو فهمت المرأة لماذا
تذهب صوب قتل نفسها لتوقفت عن ذلك. لكن كيف تفهم، حيث ربما من الصعب
عليها الفهم؟ كثيرات رفضن ان يظلمن أنفسهن دون أن يستطعن تحديد مصدر
الظلم. رغم ذلك فتشن عن نافذة ضوء ، ابتعدن، هاجرن ونجون. هل هو الاختلاف
في الشخصيات؟ أم أن مستوى غريزة البقاء يلعب دوراً في حماية المرأة
لنفسها؟ انتحار هناء دفع بكل تلك الأسئلة الى أوراقي كل مرة أردت الكتابة عن
موتها. لم ألقَ جواباً لكنني وجدت نفسي مدفوعة بقوة داخلية لكسر تلك الدوائر
المغلقة. قوة ورثتها عن جدتي لأمي التي علمتني ان الحياة حق، وهي التي
بقيت على قيد الحياة بمحض الصدفة، حين أتى بها شاب من شمالي سوريا،
ولم تتجاوز الست سنوات، من مخيم للاجئين الأرمن قرب حلب بعد أن شاهد
مقتل عائلتها. كان جنديا في الجيش العثماني وسرّح بعد إصابته برصاصة في
ذراعه شلّت يده. أتى بها الى عائلته وقال لهم ستكون اختنا الصغرى. شاهاني،
هذا كان اسم جدتي قبل ان تغيّر العائلة التي حضنتها اسمها ودينها. أرادت
العائلة الحفاظ على اسمها بطريقة ما وعدم نسيانه فوجدوا لها اسما غريباً. صار
اسمها شهلا. أحيانا تذكر جدتي اسمها الأول وتتخيّل لغتها وتروح تدندن أغان
أرمنية حملتها معها منذ كانت طفلة. أغان اختلطت مع الزمن بإيقاعات لقدود
حلبية ولا تعود تعرف الفصل فيما بينها. كنت أسمعها ولا أفهم شيئا وغالب الظن
أنها هي أيضاً ما عادت تفهم معاني الكلمات التي تغنّيها. نسيت لغتها لكنها لم
تنس ماردين البلدة التي هُجّرت منها مع أهلها وهي طفلة. نسيت ربما كل
شيء إلّا ذلك اليوم الذي التقت فيه بجدي وكانت في السابعة عشرة، وتغيرت
حياتها للمرة الثانية، وكان جدي شاباً يبيع شوالات القمح مع أبيه في سوق
حلب وصودف وجودها في محل أبيها في السوق، وابتسمت بدلال حين رأت
جدي قائلة "لا نشتري قمحكم ولا نأكل الا من قمح الجزيرة " وكانت تقصد
منطقة الجزيرة المشهورة بزراعة القمح . أعجبها وأرادت التحرّش به ولم تدر
كيف. كانت على وشك السفر للتدريس في إحدى مدارس جبل حوران، فسافرت
معهما لتصبح معلمة أطفال في مدرسة البنات التابعة للإرسالية الأنغليكانية، ثم
زوجة لذلك الشاب الذي هو جدّي وصارت تهتم بالبستان القريب من البيت
وتحاول زراعة الفستق الذي كانت تستظل به في سهرات حلب الباردة، والذي لم
تنجح زراعته في الجبل. ثم راحت تزرع مزيداً من الكرمة، وتقوم بصناعة النبيذ
الأحمر الذي تتركه في الخوابي من سنة لأخرى.
لم أعرف تفاصيل حكاية جدتي وموت عائلتها ولجوئها طفلة الى حلب
الا بعد موت أمي، وبعد أن كثرت زياراتنا الى بيتها في بلدة رمّانة في الجبل،
وصار بمثابة بيت ثان لنا، خاصة بعد زواج أبي، نقضي فيه الصيف بأكمله ولا نعود
الى دمشق الاّ في بداية السنة الدراسية. كانت حياة جدتي اشبه بحكاية
مقطوعة لا ماضٍ لها ولا مصدر. لم ترث أمي قصتها ولم تنقلها لنا. كانت أمي
صامتة كأنها ولدت من جذع شجرة وليس من رحم امرأة. وجد الكلام بيني وبين
جدتي طريقه الينا يوما ما بعد موت أمي حين صرت أرافقها الى الباكِه قرب
البيت ثم الى عليّة المؤونة. أتفرج عليها تنقي حبات العنب في بداية الخريف
تهرسه وتضعه كي يتخمّر في الخوابي الفخارية، تاركة بعضه يجف ويتحوّل الى
زبيب تضيفه مع اللوز والجوز الى الصحون المملوءة بالقمح المسلوق. تجلس
على الارض وتبدأ بوضع الزيتون في أوعية زجاجية كبيرة ثم تضيف إليه قطع
الحامض والفلفل الاحمر ، تغمره بالماء المملّح وتنهي لوحتها الفنية بسكب
طبقة من زيت الزيتون الصافي على الزيتون الأخضر.
هناك في ذلك الخريف الاول بعد موت أمي ولم أكن قد تجاوزت
العاشرة بعد راحت جدتي شاهاني تروي لي قصتها، ومع الحكاية كنت أستمع
وأراقب ما تقوم به. كنت كمن أسمع حكايتين في آن. حكاية طفولتها ومراهقتها
في حلب وسط عائلة تبنتها إلّا أنها في النهاية لم تكن عائلتها، وحكاية ثانية
هي قصص عذابات تأقلمها على طبيعة جبلية متوحشة وعلاقات عائلية كان من
الصعب على شاهاني الدخول فيها كواحدة من أهلها.
حين وُجدت جثة هناء في الباكِه القريب من البيت كانت جدتي قد صارت في آخر
أيامها. لم تستطع القيام والسير الى الخارج. صارت تنوح من مكانها في السرير
وتقول ان لا ثعابين في الباكِه وان ما يقوله الأهل عن سبب موت هناء مجرد
غباء.
في زيارتي الاخيرة لها، قلت انني اريد السفر، وكانت قد هزلت كثيراً منذ لقائنا
الاخير يوم عيد الأضحى، وتوقفت عن صناعة النبيذ وزيارة الكرمة. صارت توصيني
وتردّد ان السفر نعمة، وان اليوم هو الحياة، وان الحياة حق لا يؤجل للغد، وان
المكان أينما أكون هو مرآة روحي ولا بدّ سيشبهني. لم تعش شاهاني، كما
أحب دائماً ان اسميها، طويلاً . رحلت أياماً قبل الذكرى الأولى لرحيل هناء
واسبوعين قبل سفري.

***
ماتت جدتي ورفض مشايخ رمّانة والجوار تلاوة صلاة الرحمة عليها. اضطر خالي
أن يأتي برجال دين عُرفوا بانفتاحهم أكثر من هؤلاء الموجودين في البلدة لصلاة
الرحمة. قال رجال الدين أنه لا تجوز الرحمة على امرأة من أصول بعيدة عن
الطائفة وانهم سيحرقون في نار جهنم إن فعلوا. كل هذا الغباء عبّروا عنه
فقط لأنها لا تنتمي الى الطائفة. منذ تلك الحادثة تغيّر خالي، وما عاد يقيم أي
علاقة اجتماعية مع عائلات المشايخ وما عاد يساهم في أفراحهم ولا أتراحهم.
موت جدتي أعاد اليه وعياً كان قد ابتعد عنه خلال حياته التي اتسمت بالعمل
اليساري السري، ان الموت هو الفرصة الملائمة لرجال الدين للانتقام من الاحياء
عبر معاقبة جثث موتاهم وإغلاق طرق الجنة أمامها. يتهمون الأحياء بانعدام
المسؤولية وبتقصير ما أمام أمور غامضة غير مفهومة. هكذا تغدو الجنة مقفلة
ليس أمام الأموات فحسب بل أمام الأحياء أيضاً.
***
قررت أن أسافر لأنني أردت أن أنجو بنفسي. لا أريد هذه الجنة ولا هذا الموت.
أريد النجاة أولا ثم فهم أسباب الظلم. لا اريد أن أموت انتحاراً، بل لا أريد أن أموت
أصلاً ولا أن أكون شاهدة على الظلم. أريد أن أحيا وأن أنمو وان أحب وان أكتب
وان انجب وأن أكون أماً. أريد أن أشعر بطعم السعادة كفعل حاضر وليس كفعل
ماضٍ. أن تكون السعادة مقترنة بكلمة الآن ولا علاقة لها لا بالجنة ولا بالماضي
الذي لن يعود. هكذا أنهيت كتابة قصة اختي بكلمتَيْ جدتي "الحياة حق".

 

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Translation

Noura's Diaries

I've dreamed of being a writer since I was a young girl and I see newspaper articles as the pinnacle of writing.

The word I was searching for was always on the tip of my tongue, near my heart. But it didn't find itself on paper. It wasn't able to become a material reality in a body with a voice, a rhyme, a rhythm or an impact. I used to believe that I was afflicted by something, an illness, or a lack of power; this affliction put me in an inferior position to other people my age. I remember those other girls in my class. Their laughter used to ring out behind classroom walls and in the playground. I used to walk and laugh with them, when we went down the stairs into the big playground, but just as quickly I would get bored and revert into my far-away solitude. I used to be anxious that I was like this. Then I started to hear stories of their marriages, the children they had and how they stayed at home.

Time passed before I knew what was up with me, that it was something good that I should look after-a distinction, not an illness.

In Syria, after I decided to come and live in Lebanon, I burned all the thick notebooks that I'd filled. At the time, I didn't understand the real reason that I'd thrown everything I wrote into the fireplace and then stood near it, looking at the fire consuming the pages and my heart at the same time. Why did I burn everything I'd written? Was I punishing myself for my sister's death or did I want to exorcize my guilt? Or perhaps I burned what I'd written to begin a new life in Beirut, so as not to die in my grandfather's house. My sister Henaa didn't run away, she left a letter telling the story of her death.

The first thing that I did when I arrived in Beirut was to write down my sister Henaa's story. At the time I didn't know that the pages would also determine my entire life. I wrote the story down and while writing many things came out into the open. My sister's story changed me. Not only did my sister die, but indeed the old Noura died too. Now I think that burning everything I'd written was a little suicide; but it was also protecting me, so that I couldn't write down my final death. Writing about death was a way to survive. I could understand at the time why my father remained silent, why my cousin Huda ignored what I told her, and why my half-brother decided to remain neutral. The end of my sister Henaa's story was the beginning of mine. However, writing down my sister's story didn't cure me of the desire to settle accounts, which was both my right and that of my sister who lost her life.

My sister wasn't the only one who drank poisonous pesticides and went to sleep on the floor of thebakeh, where they didn't find her until early evening. No, she wasn't the only one of the women in the family who committed suicide, or to tried to kill herself. Twenty years before my sister's incident, one of my father's sisters tried to commit suicide in the same way, in a different place. She beat death in her final moments, however.

Many stories about the women in the family-both close and distant relatives-contain the experience of suicide attempts, but most of them survived. Women retaliate against oppression by oppressing themselves. They are locked in this cycle. If a woman could have understood why she was considering killing herself, she might have been able to stop. Many women refuse to oppress themselves without being able to specify the source of oppression. Despite this, they search for some light of day, they distance themselves, migrate, survive. Is it differences in personality? Or is it different levels of the survival instinct that play a role in women protecting themselves? Henaa's suicide compelled me to put all of these questions on paper, every time I wanted to write about her death. I didn't find an answer but I found myself propelled by an inner strength to break these vicious cycles. I inherited this strength from my mother's mother, who taught me that life is your right. She managed to stay alive by pure chance --when she hadn't even yet turned six years old, a young man from Northern Syria took her from an Armenian refugee camp near Aleppo after witnessing the murder of her family. He was a solider in the Ottoman army and was discharged after taking a bullet wound in his arm, which paralyzed his hand. He brought her to his family and told them, "She will be your little sister."

Shahani was her name before the family that adopted her changed both her name and her religion. The family wanted to preserve her name somehow so she wouldn't forget it, so they found her a strange name. She became Shehla. Sometimes my grandmother remembered her original name, conjured up her language and started humming Armenian songs that she had carried with her since she was a little girl, songs so mixed through time with the typical Aleppo rhythms of qududhalabiya, that she no longer knew how to distinguish between them. I used to listen to her, not understanding anything and most likely even she no longer understood the meanings of the words she was singing. She'd forgotten her language but she hadn't forgotten Mardin, the village from which she'd been displaced with her family as a child.

Perhaps she had forgotten everything except one day, when she'd was 17 years old, and she met my grandfather. This meeting changed her life a second time. He was a young man selling sacks of wheat with his father in the Aleppo souqs when he encountered her in her father's shop. She smiled coquettishly when she saw my grandfather, saying, "We won't buy your wheat. We only eat Jazira wheat." She meant the province of al-Jazira, famous for its wheat cultivation. She liked him and wanted to flirt with him, but didn't know how. She was about to leave and travel to teach in a school in the Hauran Mountains, so she travelled with the two of them to become a schoolteacher in a girls' school belonging to Anglican missionaries. She then became the wife of this young man who was to become my grandfather. She started tending to the orchard near the house, trying to grow pistachios there, whose shadows under which she used to sit on cold Aleppo evenings. She never succeeded in growing them in the mountains. She cultivated more and more vineyards and then started making red wine, which she kept in vats from one year to another.

I didn't know the details of my grandmother's story--the death of her family, her being a refugee in Aleppo-until after my mother's death when we started visiting her house in the mountain village of Rummaneh more. It had become our second home, especially after my father remarried. We would spend the entire summer there and only return to Damascus when the school year began. My grandmother's life was a chopped up story with no past or origin. My mother didn't tell her story or pass it down to us. My mother was silent, as if she had been born from the roots of a tree and not a woman's womb. For my grandmother and me, words only found their way to us one day after my mother's death when I accompanied her to the bakeh and the storage lofts. I watched her cleaning clusters of grapes at the beginning of the autumn, mashing them up and putting them in earthenware vats to ferment them, leaving some of them to dry into raisins, which she would then add to dishes full of boiled wheat, along with almonds and walnuts. She sat on the ground and filled large preserving jars with olives. She then added bits of lemon and red pepper, poured salted water over them, and finished off her artistry by layering pure olive oil over the green olives.

On that first autumn after my mother's death, when I hadn't yet turned ten, my grandmother Shahani told me her story. While she told it I was both listening and watching what she was doing. I was like someone hearing two stories at the same time. One was the story of her childhood and adolescence in Aleppo with the family who raised her but who, at the end of the day, weren't her family. The other was her story of her suffering in adapting to wild, mountainous nature and family relations, both of which were hard for Shahani to adapt to as a family member.

When Henaa's body was found in the bakehnear the house, my grandmother was at the end of her life. She couldn't get up or walk outside any more. She started mourning from her bed, saying that there weren't any snakes in the bakeh and that what the family was saying about the cause of Henaa's death was simply foolishness.

The last time I visited her, I said I wanted to travel. She had declined a lot from the time of my previous visit at Eid al-Adha. She'd stopped making wine and visiting the vineyards. She started giving me advice, and repeating that travel was a blessing, that today is life, and that life is a right that shouldn't be postponed until tomorrow--that wherever I am will become the mirror of my soul and no doubt come to resemble me. Shahani, as I always liked to call her, didn't live much longer. She passed on days before the first anniversary of Henaa's passing, two weeks before I left.

**
My grandmother died and the shaykhs and neighbors in Rumanneh refused to perform the funeral prayers for her. They said that there was no mercy for a woman whose origins at birth were so distant from their sect and that they would burn in hell if they performed them. All of their stupidity was just because she wasn't a birth member of the sect. My mother's brother insisted on bringing in religious men who were known for being more open minded than those in the village to perform the prayers. After that happened, my uncle changed. He no longer maintained any friendly relations with the families of the shaykhs; he no longer participated in their joys and sorrows. My grandmother's death made him recall a fact that he'd forgotten for some time now but knew previously throughout his life devoted to clandestine, leftist struggles: that death is the perfect opportunity for religious people to take revenge on living people-they punish their dead by closing the path to heaven to them. When faced with mysterious, incomprehensible things, they accuse living people of renouncing their responsibilities. This is how heaven becomes closed not only to the dead but also to the living.

**
I decided to travel, because I wanted to survive. I didn't want either that heaven or that death. I wanted survival first of all, then to understand the reasons for oppression. I didn't want to commit suicide: indeed I didn't want to die at all, and I didn't want to be a witness to oppression. I wanted to live, grow, love, write, get pregnant, and be a mother. I want to taste happiness, in the present not in the past, for happiness to be associated with the word, "now," linked neither to heaven nor to a bygone past. That is how I finished writing my sister's story-with my grandmother's four words: Life is a right.

When my cousin Huda came to my house and made me the offer to go to Beirut, I accepted without thinking. Actually I accepted after thinking for a long time, but my long think about Beirut had preceded Huda's visit to my house. It was as if her visit and her offer could see directly into my dreams. She wanted to distance me from the family and any talk about Henaa's long letter in which she talked about her relationship with Shawqi, the army officer who later became Huda's husband. She wanted to distance me from any disclosure, which would destroy the marriage that she'd waited for 15 years to happen, after she'd already prepared her trousseau and locked it away in the cupboard. I also wanted to get far away. So I agreed to come here to live. I decided not to go back to Syria. I wanted to forget what happened. But I can't forget if I don't write about the past. I won't be the first woman who traveled abroad so she wouldn't die. My story can be added to the stories of women who leave their countries, travel abroad, or who are forced to leave. Oppression pushes women to emigrate, to flee: it's the kind of oppression that often comes in the form of a man. But my sister didn't see that she had any choice other than death, perhaps because with her boundless naiveté she believed that violence could sometimes be the other side of love.

I didn't hesitate to leave Syria for Lebanon. I left home with a suitcase filled with books, recordings of Asmahan's songs and some clothes. I dreamed of writing freely without censorship. In Syria, my father used to receive Lebanese newspapers, some of which were later banned after the Assad family's coup, that they called the Correction Movement. I read all the books that my father had collected throughout his life. I started reading to him, first newspapers and then books too, after he got out of jail and had lost the desire to know what was happening around him in the outside world.

I had to tell the family what happened but after Shawqi married my cousin Huda, it became difficult to talk. He was a young officer who aspired to social climbing that would help him reach a status closer to power. Marrying my sister-the daughter of an employee in a farming collective who'd just recently gotten out of prison-wouldn't secure this for him, whereas Huda was the daughter of a family who'd emigrated to the Gulf. Surely she was more appropriate for him, even if she was several years older than he was. He didn't even wait two weeks after Henaa's death to get engaged, at a simple party with only family members because of the mourning period. I didn't go, I stayed home at my grandmother's; my legs and joints felt kind of paralyzed. I sat up in bed, re-reading Henaa's letter. I don't know how many times I read it that evening. I needed to nourish the anger, which had started to grow inside me and not let it atrophy and weaken me.

I felt at the time that my anger would keep me alive, but the silence almost consumed my heart and killed me. I remained silent for a year and then couldn't continue, I was no longer able to carry this anger around. My ability to absorb it had been exceeded. I let Huda know the truth during my visit to her after she'd given birth to her first child. I intended to visit her, and tell her while she was breastfeeding her newborn. As I was entering the building where she lived, I repeated the words that I would say to her in my head, imagining her response. She would be totally stunned no doubt--perhaps she'd start crying and perhaps she'd ask for a divorce. But none of this happened. Huda acted as if she hadn't heard anything. As if what she'd heard was a story that happened to people she had no blood-connection to, history with or previous knowledge of. She kept listening, silently and calmly. This mystified me and made me think that Huda already knew.

I won't ever forget the day when Huda came to visit me. It was winter and cold outside. This was after I had gotten a job in the Ministry of Information and it emerged that the editorial department would be censoring and interfering with our work as journalists. Huda came alone. She asked my father's wife where I was and she indicated that I was in my room. She entered when I was writing, listening to Asmahan. When I saw her I lowered the sound of the music. She told me, "I know that you aren't happy with your job at the Ministry and you really want to be a journalist, writing without censorship. Why don't you go to Beirut, a place where you can write as freely as you like? You would be far away from this atmosphere. I'll help you as much as I can to keep your current job here, for a few months while you're away. Take this money. Use it to set yourself up in your first year there, and I'll send you an amount that should be enough for you until you find work. This can all remain between the two of us. No one has to know about this or that I'm helping you. But I want you to destroy the letter, Henaa's letter."

I took the money from her without hesitating.

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