Transcript: Anton Shammas | Feb 14, 1989

(violin music plays)

In animation, a marble entrance with two columns floating on misty mountains opens up to reveal a small bookshelf. Book covers from the collection flash by, including Cat’s eye by Margaret Atwood and The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie.
The title of the show appears as a book cover with a picture of the marble entrance: “Authors at Harbourfront.”

The Narrator says THE FESTIVAL OF AUTHORS AT
TORONTO'S HARBOURFRONT IS ONE
OF THE WORLD'S FOREMOST
LITERARY EVENTS.
NOW ENTERING ITS TENTH YEAR,
THE FESTIVAL ANNUALLY ATTRACTS
50 OF THE WORLD'S BEST AUTHORS
TO THE STAGE, TO READ FROM
THEIR WORKS AND PARTICIPATE
IN INTERVIEWS AND DISCUSSIONS
WITH THEIR PEERS.

The screen turns as if it were a book page and a male narrator speaks as clips of different authors speaking at Harbourfront flash by.

The Narrator continues
ANTON SHAMMAS IS A POET,
NOVELIST, TELEVISION PRODUCER,
AND FREELANCE JOURNALIST.
HE CONSIDERS HIMSELF A
PALESTINIAN ISRAELI CHRISTIAN.
IN THIS PROGRAM, HE READS
FROM THE INTERNATIONAL
BESTSELLER “ARABESQUES.”

A caption reads “Anton Shammas. Israel. Arabesques.” On the top left corner of the screen, a paused clip featuring Anton zooms out.

Anton Shammas sits on a chair. He’s in his late forties, clean-shaven, with short receding dark hair. He’s wearing glasses, a light gray jacket and a white striped open-necked shirt.

Anton says I SOMETIME TEND TO THINK,
I WOULD IMAGINE I BELONG,
REALLY, TO THIS HALF MADE
SOCIETIES BECAUSE WE WERE SORT
OF FLUNG OUT OF OUR SHAPING
MOULDS, FLUNG OUT OF OUR
NATIVE LANDSCAPE IN ORDER
TO ADAPT TO SOMETHING ELSE,
TO DIFFERENT NATURE.
SO WRITING IN HEBREW, IN THIS
SENSE, WOULD BE LIKE PUTTING
A MASK ON YOUR FACE.
TRYING TO USE THIS MASK AS
NATURALLY AS POSSIBLE AND
BEHAVE AS EVERYTHING IS WELL.
BUT, ACTUALLY, IT'S NOT.

(classical music plays)

A male host says NOW, PLEASE WELCOME FROM
ISRAEL, ANTON SHAMMAS.
[applause]

Anton comes to the stage and says THE YEAR IS 1926.
SO THIS IS THE TALE OF
FATHER SIM'AN AND HIS CAT.

The audience listens carefully.

Anton reads FATHER SIM'AN WAS WRAPPED UP IN
HIS SOUL THAT PARTICULAR DAY
BECAUSE OF WHAT
HIS CAT HAD DONE.
FOR YEARS, HE HAD BEEN
DEVOTING HIMSELF TO THE
COMPOSITION OF THE HISTORY OF
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN THE
HOLY LAND, FOR WHICH PURPOSE
HE HAD PURCHASED, IN DISTANT
BEIRUT, A SPECIAL NOTEBOOK,
SPLENDIDLY BOUND IN LEATHER,
AS BLACK AS THE
SOULS OF SINNERS.
ON ITS FIRST PAGE, HE HAD
INSCRIBED IN HIS BEST
CALLIGRAPHY, THE TITLE OF THE
BOOK TO BE WRITTEN THEREIN,
THE COCK DOTH CROW IN
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.
HE HAD ALSO ATTACHED A
BOOKMARK, A SCARLET RIBBON
THAT HAD BEEN PLUCKED, IN A
MOMENT OF WEAKNESS, FROM AN
ANTIQUE MISSAL THAT
WAS IN THE CHURCH.
ONE MORE THAN ONE OCCASION,
FATHER SIM'AN HAD SUFFERED
SLEEPLESS NIGHTS AND PANGS OF
CONSCIENCE OVER THIS DEED.
SOMETIMES TO THE INQUISITIVE
MUSE OF HIS CAT, HE WOULD
DESCEND FROM HIS SLEEPLESS BED
TO THE CHURCH DOOR, FINGERING
THE SCARLET RIBBON HE WAS
ABOUT TO RETURN TO THE MISSAL.
BUT THEN, HE WOULD BE SWAYED
BY VARIOUS REASONS WHY HE
NEEDN'T DO SO.
THE LEADING ONE BEING THE
LOFTINESS OF THE PURPOSE FOR
WHICH IT HAD BEEN BORROWED.
IT WAS SERVING, AFTER ALL, A
UNIQUE AND UNPARALLELED WORK
WHICH WOULD GLORIFY THE
CATHOLIC CHURCH AMONG ALL THE
ARABIC-SPEAKING PEOPLES.
ALSO, ONCE HE HAD COMPLETED
THE TEXT AND PREPARED IT FOR
PUBLICATION, HE WAS GOING
TO RETURN THE RIBBON TO ITS
RIGHTFUL PLACE.
IT SOMETIMES HAPPENED THAT AN
EARLY RISING ROOSTER WOULD
CROW AND DISTURB HIS VIGIL,
FOR HE WOULD RECALL THE WORDS
OF OUR LORD THAT HE SPAKE UNTO
PETER SAYING, “THE COCK SHALL
NOT CROW 'TIL THOU
HAS DENIED ME THRICE.”
THEN, FATHER SIM'AN WOULD SAY,
UNTO HIMSELF IN THE WORDS OF
St. PETER, I WILL LAY DOWN MY
LIFE FOR THY SAKE, BUT I WILL
NOT DENY THEE IN ANY WAYS.
AND I WILL RETURN ITS
RIBBON UNTO ITS PLACE.
[laughter]
BUT IN TIME, THE ORIGIN
OF THE RIBBON SLIPPED AWAY
FROM HIS CONSCIENCE.
THE SENTENCES OF THE TEXT HAD
LONG SINCE TAKEN THEIR FINAL
FORM IN HIS ORNATE,
ARABIC CALLIGRAPHY.
AND EVEN THOUGH THE WORK OF
EDITING AND CORRECTING HAVE
LONG BEEN COMPLETED, THE
RIBBON STILL LAY BETWEEN THE
PAGES OF THE NOTEBOOK, PEEPING
AND SPIRALING OUT OF IT.
ITS FRINGE
CARESSING THE SHELF.
DARKLY UNDER THIS SHELF STOOD
A LARGE CROCK INTO WHICH THE
VILLAGERS WOULD POUR AS MUCH
OF THEIR VIRGIN OLIVE OIL AS
THEIR SPIRIT OF GENEROSITY
MOVED THEM TO GIVE AT THE END
OF THE PRESSING SEASON.
NOW, AT THAT PARTICULAR DAY,
FATHER SIM'AN HAD DECIDED TO
TAKE THAT TINIEST BIT OF OIL
TO ADD TO THE DISH HE WAS
PREPARING IN HIS
MEAGER KITCHEN.
AS HE WAS RETURNING THE COVER
TO THE CROCK, HE NOTICED THAT
IT HADN'T BEEN
WASHED FOR SOME TIME.
HE TOOK IT, AND WENT BACK TO
THE KITCHEN WHERE HE FOUND HIS
CAT SNIFFING AROUND
THE SIMMERING POT.
FATHER SIM'AN IN HIS WRATH
LOUDLY SCOLDED AT THE CAT
AND EXPELLED HER
FROM HIS KITCHEN.
THE CAT, STILL SALIVATING,
SLUNK INTO THE OTHER ROOM.
AND THERE SHE SEES ON THE
SHELF, ABOVE THE OPEN CROCK
OF OIL, THE GLISTENING
TAIL OF A MOUSE.
INSTANTLY, THE CAT LEAPT
UP AND BOUNCED UPON
FATHER SIM'AN'S NOTEBOOK,
AND STRUGGLED TO CLAW HER WAY
BETWEEN THE PAGES.
AS SHE STRUGGLED AND KICKED
AND PULLED AND SCRATCHED,
SHE PUSHED THE NOTEBOOK
STRAIGHT INTO THE JAR.
FATHER SIM'AN RETURNED WITH THE
RINSED COVER IN HIS HAND AND
THREW HIS HABITUAL GLANCE
OVER TOWARD THE NOTEBOOK,
AS IF TO ASSURE HIMSELF
OF ITS WELL-BEING.
AND LO! THE TWICE FRUSTRATED
CAT LAY THERE IN ITS STEAD.
WITH RANCOROUS EYES, HE LOOKED
INTO THE JAR, AND SPIED A
DARK BATCH IN ITS DEPTHS.
HE ROLLED UP HIS SLEEVE AND
DREW OUT THE
COCK DOTH CROW
IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.
[laughter]
AND DISCOVERED THAT THE
CALLIGRAPHY WHICH HAD ADORNED
THE PAGES OF THE NOTEBOOK HAD
RETURNED TO ITS LIQUID STATE.
FATHER SIM'AN LAID THE DRIPPING
NOTEBOOK ON THE SHELF, AND
TORE OUT THE SCARLET RIBBON
IN ORDER TO RETURN IT TO THE
CHURCH AT ONCE.
[laughter]
[applause]

(music plays)

Back in the interview, Anton says I AM WRITING IN HEBREW.
AND TO WRITE IN HEBREW IS, OF
COURSE, A POLITICAL STATEMENT.
YOU CAN'T HELP IT -- IF
YOU WANT IT OR NOT.
AND WHAT MAY BE TO SOME
EXTENT, IF WE RECALL WHAT
DEREK WALCOTT ONCE SAID ABOUT
WRITING IN THE LANGUAGE OF
THE MAJORITY, IT'S THE
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CANIBAL
AND PROSPERO.
CANIBAL BEGINNING TO USE
PROSPERO'S LANGUAGE, OR THE
TORTURED IS MASTERING THE
LANGUAGE OF THE MASTER.
NOW IT'S NOT THE
CASE IN MY SITUATION.
THE FIRST REASON WHY I STARTED
THIS IN HEBREW IN THE FIRST
PLACE WAS BECAUSE I DIDN'T
WANT MY MOTHER TO READ IT.
[laughing]
AND THE SECOND REASON, NOT
NECESSARILY IN THIS ORDER,
WAS THAT I WANTED THE STORY
TO BE TOLD TO THE JEWS.
IT'S A PALESTINIAN STORY TO
BE TOLD TO THE JEWISH PEOPLE.
THERE'S NO POINT OF TELLING
A STORY TO THE PEOPLE WHO
ALREADY KNOW, MIKE SAID,
IT'S TALE, ACTUALLY,
IT'S NOT A STORY.
THAT'S WHY I CHOSE IT.
IN ORDER TO TRANSLATE THIS
BOOK NOW BACK INTO ARABIC IS
LIKE TRANSLATING SOME TEXT,
SAY, FROM ENGLISH OF AN
ANCIENT GREEK TEXT, WHICH WAS
LOST, AND JUST BRINGING BACK
INTO ARABIC.
SO IN MY CASE, THE ORIGINAL IS
LOST BECAUSE I DIDN'T WRITE
IT IN ARABIC.
SO TO TRANSLATE IT WOULD BE TO
REINVENT THE TALE, AND I JUST
SIMPLY DON'T HAVE
TIME FOR THAT.

Standing on the stage, Anton reads IT WAS A BROILING
DAY IN EARLY MAY.
ONE OF THOSE DAYS WHEN THE SUN
COULD SET A BIRD'S TAIL ON
FIRE, AS PEOPLE SAY.
SHE WAS ALONE IN THE HOUSE.
SHE AND THE HORSE
IN THE STABLE.
SHE SAT ON THE ROOF THAT
LOOKED OUT OVER THE INNER
COURTYARD, WATCHING THE
SHADOWS OF THE DOVES FLYING
OVER THE COURTYARD, AND
THE ROUND STONE TROUGH AT
ITS CENTRE.
THERE WERE PIED DOVES WHO
CAME AND WENT FROM THE
DOVECOTE IN THE ATTIC.
AND THE COLLAR OF COLOURED
FEATHERS AROUND THEIR NECK
GLEAMED IN THE BROILING SUN
AND GLITTERED IN THE WATERING
TROUGH FOR THE GIRL TO WATCH.
SHE BEGAN TO SING
SOFTLY A FOLK SONG,
[speaking in Hebrew]
FLY, FLY AWAY, MY DOVE.
BUT SHE SOON LEFT OFF HER
TUNE AND SMILED IN THE
LANGUAGE OF CHILDREN AND
ADOLESCENCE, HAMAMA WAS THE
NICKNAME FOR THAT BODILY
ORGAN WHICH BOYS NEVER MISSED
AN OPPORTUNITY TO
DISPLAY TO HER.
HER THOUGHTS ARE INTERRUPTED
BY THE OPENING OF THE
COURTYARD GATE, AND SHE SEES
UNCLE YUSEF PASSING THROUGH
THE INNER COURTYARD
TOWARD THE STABLE.
HE SEES HER.
HE SEES HER SHADOW CAST ON THE
WATERING TROUGH AND RAISES
HIS HEAD AND GREETS HER.
HE HAS COME TO TAKE THE
HORSE TO THE FIELD, HE SAYS.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING UP THERE,
HE ADDS WITHOUT WAITING
FOR AN ANSWER.
COME ON UP HERE, SHE
THROWS BACK AT HIM.
I WANT TO SHOW YOU SOMETHING,
THOUGH SHE DOESN'T KNOW WHAT.
MY UNCLE, A MATURING BOY WITH
TIME ON HIS HANDS, CAN SENSE
IN HER VOICE THAT SEDUCTIVE
MELODY, WHICH GIVES THE GIRLS
OF IKRIT AWAY.
HE TURNS AWAY FROM THE STABLE
AND GOES UP TO THE ROOF.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING UP
HERE? HE SAYS AGAIN.
WATCHING A DOVE, SHE REPLIES.
AND EVEN BEFORE HE CAN WEIGH
THE HINT IN HER WORD, SHE
LOOKS BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN
HIM AND THE WATERING TROUGH,
AND THEN SPEAKS THE MOST
DARING SENTENCE THAT MY UNCLE
YUSEF WAS TO HEAR IN ALL
THE 85 YEARS OF HIS LIFE.
HE CAN'T BELIEVE HIS EARS.
THEN, IN A VOICE THAT HAS LOST
THE INITIAL EMBARRASSMENT,
SHE REPEATS, DO YOU WANT
TO HAVE A CONTEST WITH ME
TO SEE WHO CAN PISS FROM
HERE INTO THE TROUGH.
[laughter]
MY UNCLE LOOKS AT THE GIRL,
AND LOOKS AT THE WATERING
TROUGH IN THE MIDDLE OF THE
COURTYARD, ABOUT TEN PACES
FROM THE WALL, ON THE TOP
OF WHICH THEY ARE STANDING.
AND THE CHALLENGE
INTRIGUES HIM.
[laughter]
HE ASKS HER TO TURN HER EYES
AWAY, AND WHEN SHE DOES,
HE GIRDS HIS LOINS, ARCHES
HIS BACK, CROSSES HIMSELF, AND
SQUIRTS AN ARC IN THE DIRECTION
OF THE WATERING TROUGH.
THE DOVES, STARTLED IN
THEIR FLIGHT, RUSH BACK TO
THE DOVECOTE.
THE SUN BEAM RETRACT AS THEY
TOUCH THE ARC, AND THE SOUND
OF THE WATER SPLATTERING
ON THE PAVING STONE OF THE
COURTYARD MAKES THE HORSE
IN THE STABLE NEIGH.
HE TRIES AGAIN, BUT
THE IMPETUS IS LOST.
UNCLE YUSEF USED TO FLAVOUR
HIS STORIES WITH THE SPICE
OF EXAGGERATION.
BUT HE SWORE BY ALL THE
SAINTS, AND BY ELIJAH THE
PROPHET, THE HOLY PATRON OF
THE VILLAGE WHO LOOKED DOWN
UPON THE TWO OF THEM FROM THE
HEIGHTS OF THE CHURCH, THAT
THE GIRL PULLED UP HER DRESS,
DID NOT ASK HIM TO TURN HIS
EYES AWAY, ROLLED DOWN HER
UNDERPANTS, AND SAT DOWN ON
THE EDGE OF THE ROOF AFTER THE
PASSION OF WOMAN, AND IN A
WONDERFUL ARC, AND WITH PEELS
OF LAUGHTER, PISSED RIGHT
INTO THE TROUGH.
[laughter]
AS MY UNCLE STOOD THERE
OPEN-MOUTHED, SHE CAME OVER TO
HIM AND SAID, I WON AND I CAN
DO WHATEVER I WANT TO YOU.
BEFORE HE KNEW IT,
SHE HAD LOOSENED THE STRING
OF HIS PANTS.
NOW, THIS GOES ON...
[laughter]

In the interview, Anton says I'M A JOURNALIST.
I USED TO CONTRIBUTE, FOR THE
LAST SEVEN YEARS OR SO I'M
WRITING A WEEKLY COLUMN FOR
TWO LOCAL HEBREW NEWSPAPERS
IN ISRAEL ABOUT
POLITICAL SUBJECTS.
AND I'M SORT OF ONE-MAN
CRUSADE TELLING THE STATE
TO DEFINE ITSELF.
TELLING THE STATE OF ISRAEL
TO BECOME THE STATE OF ITS
CITIZENS, INSTEAD OF BEING THE
STATE OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE.
SO IT WOULD BE PARALLEL TO
WHAT I AM TRYING TO DO IN MY
WRITING, WHICH IS BLUNTLY
SPEAKING TO UNJEW
THE HEBREW LANGUAGE.
TO MAKE IT LESS
JEWISH, AND MORE ZION.
I'M IN A VERY UNIQUE POSITION
BECAUSE I THINK I'M CYNICAL
IN THE SENSE OF USING MY
“POSITION” AS A WRITER,
IN ORDER TO PROMOTE
MY POLITICAL IDEAS.
I WOULDN'T HAVE THAT
OPPORTUNITY TO DO THAT HADN'T
I BEEN WRITING.
TO BE A WRITER IN ISRAEL
IS A VERY RESPECTFUL THING.
PEOPLE TEND TO LISTEN TO YOU.
AND SO YOU CAN EXPLOIT THIS.
YOU CAN APPROACH THEM, ON THE
ONE HAND, SENDING YOUR HEBREW
TEXT, AND ON THE OTHER,
PROMOTING YOUR POLITICAL IDEAS.
SO THE IDEAS I BELIEVE IN
POLITICALLY SPEAKING, TODAY IN
ISRAEL, ARE SHARED BY NOT
MORE THAN, IN AN OPTIMISTIC
EVALUATION, 3-4 PERCENT
OF THE JEWISH POPULATION.
SO, IN A WAY, IT'S
A CRUSADER MISSION.
IT'S HOPELESS.
[laughter]
[applause]

At the reading, Anton says NOW, FINALLY WE
REACH THE YEAR 1960.
IT'S RATHER A LONG PIECE, SO
PLEASE STICK AROUND IF YOU
WANT TO WATCH ME PLUNGE
INTO THE TRAP DOOR.
IT HAS A TRAP DOOR OF ITS OWN.
YOU'LL SEE.
THE YEAR IS 1960.
He reads THE CUPBOARD WHERE WE KEPT OUR
MATTRESSES AND BLANKETS, THE
SMANDRA, WHICH WAS THE COLOUR
OF GREEN OLIVES, STOOD
HUGGING THE WESTERN
WALL OF OUR HOUSE.
IT CONCEALED THE DOOR BEHIND
WHICH THE THICK WALL WAS AN
ARCHWAY THAT LED OUTSIDE.
SET IN THE THRESHOLD OF THAT
ARCHWAY WAS THE MOUTH
OF THE CISTERN.
A GREYISH METAL LID, WITH A
RING IN ITS CENTRE COVERED THE
MOUTH, AND THIS PROTECTED THE
COOL WATER AND THE DARKNESS
OF THE CISTERN FROM THE WHIMS
OF CHILDREN AND CATS, AND
FROM THE FALLING LEAVES,
WHICH DURING THE DAYS OF
SUMMER, HAD MADE THE CIRCLES
OF LIGHT THAT SEEPED THROUGH
THEIR PROFUSED FOLIAGE DANCE
ON THE SIDES OF THE ARCHWAY.
AT THE END OF FALL, WITH THE
FIRST RAINS CAME THE SOUND OF
THE WATER THAT COURSED FROM
THE LONG ROOF OF OUR HOUSE
INTO THE DRAINPIPE LEADING
INTO THE SHAFT OF THE CISTERN,
AND SPATTERED ON ITS CLEAN
FLOOR SOME 20 FEET BELOW.
AFTER SUPPER, MY MOTHER WOULD
SPREAD THE STRAW MATS ON THE
FLOOR, AND TAKE THE MATTRESSES
OUT OF THE CUPBOARD, AND
ARRANGE THEM SIDE BY SIDE
FOR THE NIGHT'S SLEEP.
WHEN MY EAR LAY CLOSE UPON
THE PILLOW, I COULD HEAR THE
SPATTERING OF THE WATER
SWATHED IN ECHOES FALLING DOWN
THE SHAFT TO THE
BOTTOM OF THE CISTERN.
THESE SPATTERS GREW FAINTER
AND FAINTER, AND HID THEIR
ECHOES AS THE WATER LEVEL ROSE
IN THE CISTERN, UNTIL NOTHING
WAS HEARD BUT MOANS OF
REPLETION, RISING AND
SURFACING FROM THE
THROAT OF THE CISTERN.
FOR THE WATER POURING DOWN
THREATENED TO MAKE THE
SWELLING CISTERN OVERFLOW.
THAT WAS THE TIME THE
DRAINPIPE WAS TURNED AWAY FROM
THE SHAFT TO SPILL ITS TORRENT
DOWN THE WIDENING PATH TO OUR
FIG GROVE AT AL-JAHALEEF.
THIS WAS ALSO THE TIME OF YEAR
UNCLE YUSEF'S CAT WOULD GO
INTO HEAT AND RETREAT TO HER
HIDING PLACE ABOVE THE LINTEL
OF THE DOOR LEADING TO THE
ARCHWAY BEHIND THE SMANDRA.
WHENEVER SHE WENT INTO HEAT,
HER FUR TOOK UP INTO ITSELF
IN THE MOST WONDERFUL AND
MYSTERIOUS WAY, THE BLUE-GREEN
TINT OF TURQUOISE, WHICH
SEEMED TO REEL IN ALL THE
TOM CATS OF THE NEIGHBOURHOOD,
WHOSE WAILING CAME THROUGH THE
LOCKED DOOR OF THE ARCHWAY.
MY FATHER SPENT MANY HOURS
WHEEDLING THE CAT TO ABANDON
HER PERCH AND GO FORTH TO MEET
HER SUITORS IN LESS ACROBATIC
SETTINGS FOR FEAR ONE OF THOSE
LOVE STRICKEN SWAINS, SO
BESOTTED WITH LUST FOR THE
INVISIBLE, HIS NOSTRILS FULL
OF THE ROTTING SCENT THAT
PENETRATED THROUGH THE PLANKS
OF THE DOOR, WOULD MANAGE TO
GET THE COVER OFF THE MOUTH OF
THE CISTERN AND
PLUNGE TO ITS DEPTHS.
UNCLE YUSEF, HOWEVER, WAS
WRATHFUL AT THE BAND OF
SUITORS WHOSE SERENADE
REVERBERATED IN ITS CLAMOROUS
WAILS THROUGH HIS SLEEP.
MORE THAN ONCE, HE MANAGED TO
GET HIS HANDS ON ONE OF THE
BAND, GRAB HIS TAIL AND SWING
HIM AROUND AND AROUND HIS
HEAD, AND THEN RELEASE HIM
LIKE A STONE FROM A SLINGSHOT
INTO THE PRICKLY PEAR THAT
GREW IN THE NEIGHBOUR'S YARD.
AND EVEN THOUGH THE CAT WOULD
LEAP FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF
THE PRICKLY PEAR UNHARMED, THE
MIGHTY ARM WOULD SUFFICE TO
CONVINCE THE BAND OF HIS
COMPANIONS TO KEEP AWAY FROM
OUR HOUSE UNTIL THE NEXT DAY.
AT SUMMER'S END, WHEN THE
VOICES OF THE WATER EXPLODING
HAD EBBED ENTIRELY FROM MY
PILLOW, AND WHEN THE BUCKET
THAT WAS LET DOWN INTO THE
CISTERN TOO SOON IN THE YEAR
TOUCHED ONLY THE MUDDY WATER
AT THE BOTTOM, THE HOUSE WOULD
RESOUND WITH ACCUSATIONS THAT
WHOEVER IT WAS HAD TURNED
AWAY THE DRAINPIPE TOO SOON.
THIS WAS ALSO THE TIME TALK
WOULD BEGIN ABOUT THE NEED TO
CLEAN THE BOTTOM OF THE
CISTERN OF THE SILT AND
REMNANTS OF THE LEAVES THAT
HAD SUNK INTO THE CONCAVITY AT
THE CENTRE OF THE SURROUNDED
AND SLOPING FLOOR, IN ORDER TO
GET IT READY FOR
THE RAINY SEASON.
THOUGH, NO ONE KNEW ON WHICH
DAY THE FIRST RAIN WOULD
CHOOSE TO FALL.
I WAS 10 YEARS OLD WHEN ONE
NIGHT, AS WE SAT AROUND THE
DINNER TABLE, IT WAS SAID
THE TIME HAD COME FOR ME TO
PERFORM THIS TASK NO ONE ELSE
WAS EAGER TO PERFORM BECAUSE
OF THE DUBIOUS PLEASURE OF
SPENDING HIS TIME AT THE
BOTTOM OF A DEEP CISTERN,
COVERED WITH A SLIPPERY LAYER
OF DARK SILT, BUT WITH
THE EAGER HEEDLESSNESS OF
CHILDHOOD, I IMMEDIATELY
VOLUNTEERED TO TAKE ON
THIS TASK EARLY THE
FOLLOWING MORNING.
I HAD A TROUBLED SLEEP THAT
NIGHT, ANTICIPATING THE
ADVENTURE AWAITING ME.
IN MY DREAM, I AM LOWERED DOWN
INTO THE DIMNESS, PULLED UP
AND THROWN BACK INTO THE
LIGHT, LOWERED, AND PULLED UP,
IN AND OUT, BACK AND FORTH
BETWEEN THE ANXIETY AND THE
PLEASURE OF DISCOVERY THAT
LURKED AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIT.
SINCE THE ARCHWAY WAS IN THE
WESTERN WALL, WE HAD TO WAIT
FOR THE SUN TO SLANT WESTWARD
AND ILLUMINATE, IN THE END OF
SUMMER LIGHT, THE OPENING OF
THE CISTERN, AND A FEW TILES
OF STONE IN THE
SLOPE OF ITS THROAT.
WHEN THE SHADOW OVER THE
CISTERN HAS GONE, A ROPE IS
TIED AROUND MY WAIST, AND MY
OLDEST BROTHER RUFFLES MY HAIR
AFFECTIONATELY BEFORE
SENDING ME DOWN.
I TAKE OFF MY SHOES, AND
STANDING WITH MY LEGS SPREAD
ACROSS THE MOUTH OF THE
CISTERN, I ATTEMPT TO ADOPT A
HEROIC POSE FOR THE BENEFIT
OF NAWAL, THE NEIGHBOUR'S
DAUGHTER, WHO IS WATCHING ME
ON THE SLY, AND TRYING TO HIDE
HER ADMIRATION.
[laughter]
I GINGERLY LET DOWN MY
FOOT TO TOUCH THE MOSSY STONE
IN THE HIGHEST TIER.
THE COLDEST OF THE STONE, AND
ITS GREENISH SLICKNESS SET
OFF A SHUDDER IN MY BODY I
HAVE NEVER EXPERIENCED BEFORE.
I HOLD ONTO MY BROTHER AND
SLIDE THE LOWER PORTION OF MY
BODY DOWN, TRYING NOT TO HIDE
MY QUEASY REACTION TO THE
CONTACT OF THE SLIPPERY STONE
AGAINST MY BARE LEGS IN SHORTS.
MY BROTHER TIGHTENS HIS GRIP
ON THE ROPE TIED AROUND MY
WAIST, AND BRACES HIS FOOT
AGAINST THE STONE AT THE MOUTH
OF THE CISTERN AND TELLS ME
TO RELEASE MY HOLD ON THE
METAL FRAME OF THE COVER.
MY EYES CLOSED, I GRASP THE
ROPE, AND LET GO THE TIPS
OF MY TOES FROM THE STONES.
WITH SOME LAST WORDS OF
WARNING AND ENCOURAGEMENT,
AND PROMISING THAT HE WILL
SELL ME TO THE ISHMAELITES,
MY BROTHER PAYS OUT
THE ROPE BIT BY BIT.
TEMPORARILY REASSURED BY HIS
STEADINESS AND COMPETENCE,
I SHUT MY EARS TO THE SOUND OF
THE ROPE SCRAPING ON THE FRAME
AT THE OPENING OF THE SHAFT, AND
SHUT MY EYES TO THE SIGHT OF
THE WALLS OF THE CISTERN,
GOING AROUND AND AROUND AS I
TWIST ON THE ROPE, WHICH IS
TOWED AND RELEASED BY TURNS.
I BREATHE IN THE CHILL OF THE
MILDEW, AND THE ANCIENT ODOUR
OF THE STONES, AND THE DARK
SCENT OF THE SILT RISING FROM
THE BOTTOM OF THE CISTERN,
SUFFUSING THE SPACE AROUND ME,
WITH THE FEELING OF POROUS
GROUND WAITING TO TOUCH
THE SOLES OF MY FEET,
AS I AM DROPPED FARTHER
AND FARTHER DOWN.
THE SCRAPING SOUNDS EBB AWAY,
AND I SEEM TO BE GETTING
CLOSER TO ITS ECHO, WHICH
RISES FROM BENEATH ME AND
WRAPS ME IN A SORT
OF A DIM SOLACE.
I OPEN MY EYES, AND LOOK UP AT
THE SQUARE OF LIGHT RECEDING
ABOVE ME, TO WHICH I AM STILL
TIED BY THIS ROPE, AND THEN
LOOK DOWN AT THE BOTTOM
COMING CLOSER TO ME.
I TRY NOT TO THINK ABOUT THE
APPROACHING MEETING BETWEEN
THE SOLES OF MY BARE FEET, AND
THE CRUST OVER THE STILT AND
MURKY WATER LYING IN THE POOL
AT THE CENTRE OF THE ROUNDED
AND SLOPING FLOOR.
MY EYES HAVE BECOME ACCUSTOMED
TO THE DIMNESS, AND I SEE MY
OWN REFLECTION IN REVERSE,
RISING TOWARD ME FROM WITHIN
THE DARK MIRROR OF THE POOL.
THEN, WITH A SHAKE OF THE
ROPE, MY FEET SINK INTO THE
MIRROR, WHICH SHATTERS
INTO A MYRIAD OF FRAGMENTS
GLIMMERING IN THE DARKNESS
AND THEN BEGINS TO BUILD ANEW
REFLECTION OF THE SQUARE OF
LIGHT THAT IS ABOVE MY HEAD.
MY LEGS SINK UP TO THE SHAKING
KNEES, AND THE MIXTURE OF
MUD, STRAW, AND FOUL ODOUR
THAT LIES BENEATH THE PURITY
OF THE WATER DRAWN FROM THE
CISTERN DURING THE YEAR THAT
HAS PAST.
NOW, THE LIGHT DIMS IN
THE SQUARE, AND I SEE THE
SILHOUETTE OF MY BROTHER'S
HEAD LOOKING DOWN FROM ABOVE
ME, AND ASKING WHETHER I HAVE
ARRIVED SAFELY, AND CAN I
UNTIE THE ROPE.
I DO SO AND WITHOUT TAKING THE
TIME TO TELL HIM I HASTEN TO
WADE OUT OF THE POOL TO A
SURFACE THAT LOOKS DRIER AND
MORE SOLID TO ME.
AS THE ROPE IS DRAWN UPWARD, I
TRY TO MAINTAIN MY FOOTING IN
THE SLIPPERY SILT WHILE MY
FEET SINK DEEPER INTO IT.
AFTER SEVERAL ATTEMPTS,
I MANAGE TO DO SO.
THEN I BEGIN TO BE AWARE
OF THE ENCHANTED PRESENCE
SURROUNDING ME, AND THE BLISS OF
SOLITUDE PERMEATES MY ANXIETY.
BUT ALL OF A SUDDEN,
I HEAR A SCREAM.
NAWAL IS TRYING TO FRIGHTEN ME.
HER SCREAM EXPLODES INTO A
HOST OF ECHOES, AND FROM
SOMEWHERE WITHIN MY THROAT
COMES A KIND OF WAIL WHICH I
HASTEN TO STIFLE WITH MY HAND
STAINED BY THE HARDENING SILT.
BY THE TIME THE ROPE HAS
WRIGGLED DOWN AGAIN FROM
WITHIN THE SQUARE OF LIGHT
ABOVE, BRINGING ME THE BUCKET
WITH A SCOOP INSIDE IT, MY
EYES HAVE BECOME FURTHER
ACCUSTOMED TO THE DARKNESS,
AND MY BODY TO THE QUEASY
TOUCH OF MUD.
I BEGIN TO FILL THE BUCKET
WITH THE BLACK WATER WHICH
EXPOSED WITH EVERY DRAW, THE
NICE FLOOR OF THE CISTERN.
THE EXPERIENCE BECOMES MORE
ORDINARY, AS THE POOL DWINDLES,
AND I BEGIN TO SCRAPE WITH A
SCOOP ON THE LOWER PARTS OF
THE SLOPING SIDES.
I SOON DISCOVER THAT I CANNOT
REACH THE WHOLE OF ITS
CIRCUMFERENCE FROM WHERE I
STAND, AND MY FEET ARE NO
LONGER ABLE TO HOLD THEIR
GRASP ON THE CONCRETE FLOOR
THAT IS BECOMING MORE
EXPOSED WITH EVERY SCRAPE.
I TELL MY BROTHER OF THIS, AND
ASK THAT HE LET ME COME UP NOW.
BUT HE YELLS DOWN TO ME FROM
WITHIN THE SQUARE OF LIGHT,
THAT HE GOING TO SEND
NAWAL DOWN TO HELP ME.
I AM HURT TO THE QUICK.
NOT JUST BECAUSE OF THE
DISGRACE IF I FAIL TO COMPLETE
THE TASK I ALONE HAD BEEN
GIVEN, AND NOT JUST BECAUSE OF
MY FRUSTRATION WHEN NAWAL WOULD
BE SURE TO BOAST TO ANYONE
WILLING TO LISTEN THAT SHE HAD
CLEANED OUT OUR CISTERN, FOR
NAWAL, WHO WAS A YEAR OLDER
THAN I, WAS ALWAYS TAGGING
AFTER BOYS AND REFUSED
TO PLAY WITH GIRLS.
SHE WAS SUCH A TOMBOY THAT SHE
WOULD EVEN URINATE STANDING UP.
BUT IT WASN'T THESE CHAGRINS
THAT SO HURT ME, BUT RATHER
THE FEELING THAT THIS WHOLE
ENCHANTED WORLD, WHICH I ALONE
INHABITED, A WORLD IN WHICH
I IMAGINED NO ONE BUT MYSELF
HAD TROD, WOULD COME TO AN
END ONCE I, AGAINST MY WILL,
HAD TO SHARE IT
WITH SOMEONE ELSE.
THANK YOU.
[applause]

(classical music plays)

The end credits roll.

Produced and Directed by Tracey Fisher.

Executive Producer, Michael Vaughan.

A Production of TV Ontario.

Copyright The Ontario Educational Communications Authority 1988.

Watch: Anton Shammas