By Ahmed Douma
Translated by Ahmed Hassan and Elliott Colla
Nothing is more precious than the opening of a new window onto the world… or onto freedom. This is true everywhere, but it is especially true here.
Our world is measured by the freedom we possess. We might spend our whole life boring a hole to squeeze through.
Here, the complex problem we face has to do with the thickness of the walls: they are impenetrable.
Yes, the window remains, one-sided as ever. But, as I tell my soul and its wishes, the window is merely the beginning of error. It is confusing that it looks at you while you cannot see. Very confusing.
But most important of all is this: the ability to see means that you are alive and that despite everything, you have agency. This fact explodes the the jailer’s intentions and the prison’s goals, which resemble stagnation, cruelty, and hostility to life!
Allow me, then, to breathe this space with you. To take merely a breath without purpose or aim. As I might smoke a cigarette on the balcony of my house (now ruined by absence). As I might kiss my beloved (I look around now but do not find her—has she, too, gone away?). Or even as I might pray (not out of duty, but out of an abundance of longing).
Only this: I close my eyes, spread my wings, and take my time sniffing around this empty space.
And then perhaps from you I will learn to speak and write again.
When for many years you are deprived of everything that your instinct inclines you to put into action, you are lead back to the beginning of things, to their pristine state.
You possess nothing but what you will learn. Or what circumstance compels you to learn.
Come here, Child! Take baby steps toward the doorway. One after the other.
Together, let us spell out LIFE, which is like nothing else. Let us keep spelling until it is time for our appointment with freedom.
Elliott Colla teaches Arabic literature in Washington, DC. Ahmed Hassan is a lawyer and translator in Cairo.
Let Us Spell Out Life: Prison Writing by Ahmed Douma