Selma Dabbagh, Out of it (2011)

SelmaDabbaghOutOfIt

London was quiet to Imam. The traffic, planes and people worked along allocated channels. They moved along the grooves cut out for them. It was not a world shaken down and cut through night after night. The noise was conformist and the talk and expressions appeared to operate on one level only. People behaved in ways that seemed unconnected to others. Their actions had repercussions only for themselves. There was an enviable ability to relinquish involvement in the bigger picture, to believe that it was all under control, that somebody with your interests in mind was looking out for you.

But close up the whole place was talking. London was babbling. The air was crossed through with questions and fragments of sentences, the tails of the kites of conversations that flew elsewhere:

…so I said to Nisha…
…could always do Ibiza if we can’t do Goa…
…machine-washed my dinner jacket three times already…
…knocked through into the dining hall…
…like a crêpe rim around the bottom…
…he just won’t talk to the children…
…she’s a dancer, doesn’t have any fat on her…
…I told him about the Viagra…
…her mother sand at the Sydney Opera…
…it’s a mini form of typhoid…

To get more of their lives, Imam followed strangers, fascinated by the directions that the mind’s interests took when no longer consumed by fear. But then her world caught up with her and she could not do it anymore.

The news became so terrible: an onslaught on a West Bank town, rumours of a massacre, of mass graves, and yet the character did not ease up for a second, there was no pause. The humanitarian organisations were being refused entry. The dead were rotting in the streets.

…it was bliss, it really was. Sailing on Thursday?…
…no one’s going to go near you when you’re breastfeeding…
…she does it to wind me up, every morning…

Food could not get into the town and the water was dirty; medical professionals spoke of the spread of cholera and typhoid.

…if I were single and could still get it up…
…he has the same land but better money…

The UN monitors still were not allowed to enter. The numbers of dead flew between the tens to the thousands. Day after day the town was pounded by missiles, hit by tank shells, mowed down by bulldozers.

…are you taking your camera on holiday?…
…you are always in my heart…
…the most amazing curtains…

The chatterers that filled the streets became complicit with each missile that blasted the town, each sheet-wrapped body thrown into a mass grave, each child screaming outside a demolished home. As soon as Imam had the satellite wired up to bring sympathetic commentators to her, she no longer felt any desire to be out there, in streets delirious with inanities.

—Selma Dabbagh. Out of it. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011, pp.185-6.