'Hue Cry' is a short story written by Judith.

Hue Cry

There is a small globe where red drops fall as it is shaken, not snow, not rice, but red. They gleam and spatter on the little fields and rivers and the cottage and the red girl who stands at the flame-red door of the little well-built house which stands, minute, in the crystal globe, gently shaken.

Then during a sudden, unprecedented storm, a minute yellow jeep drives from around the red flowering bush that conceals the house from the road. The jeep draws up with an adolescent squeal on the blood-red gravel before the door. A loudhailer announces: Hue change! This is a global shakeup. There is nothing to fear.

The red woman takes a look, peering in through the global glass, stained and misty, you can just see her pale, her skin already a sallow tinge. She runs into the house, slams the blood-red door.

A soldier dressed in shimmering gold, yellow curls, yellow eyes, rifle and guitar, vaults from the jeep, starts to bang and kick on the door which is still slathering and running off with the storm’s violence of red.

‘Hue change,’ he yells, ‘ Hue change! Official. Highest levels.’ No response. ‘Comeonoutyoured bitch –‘

‘Yellow!’ she peeps and pipes up. It all seems like a joke. Surely.

‘That’sitnobitchofascarletwhorecallsmeyellow’ he gobbles, his platinum uranium plutonium gold-blue lips spitting off such savage golden-blue squeaks the infinitesmal particles in the ordained abacus of sheltering glass tremble in their coiled too moveable slipping rows. Zigzag sound waves pain mountain and marsh, snow sallows the coarse tufts of grass, a hush; flushed roses in the garden turn discreetly primrose.

A crimson-furred bee caught and bundled up by a spider hangs in the frozen tree, the bloody door bangs open, a bulldozer of a golden mountain bears down briskly on the obsolete residence. Gilded roses bloom, as does the globe welcome the sun that warms our faces.

 

 

Judith reviewed ' I’Jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody ' for Banipal magazine

I’Jaam An Iraqi Rhapsody by Sinan Antoon

Published by City lights 2007 ISBN-13 978-0-87286-457-3
Introduction by Elias Khoury. Translated by Rebecca C Johnson and Sinan Antoon
(Banipal published an extract from I’Jaam in 2004)

This is an imagined prison memoir, not, as far as we are told, the true story of any one Iraqi detained by Saddam’s apparatus. Yet the jerking contrasts between past ‘normality’ and the gathering nightmares of the isolation cell are done with such conviction that I’jaam reads as a miniature of Iraqi suffering from the Baathists to Bush.

An unknown prisoner, a student raped and left to rot, is suddenly given paper and pen by his gaolers. Mockingly he is told: We hear you are a writer, so write. But – wasn’t he slipped these same sheets of paper by a mysterious friend who calls himself ‘Ahmad’? Will ‘Ahmad’ come back to rescue him? Out of a ‘normal’ memory Antoon’s prisoner juggles with increasing chaos. Yet he writes out his past life so endearingly and with such verve that we are one with him in his final wishful nightmare, hoping against foreknowledge that he, and we too, have escaped from the present.

For ‘Furat’ - apparently the prisoner’s name – uses these sheets to write for his life, to remake meaning through memory. Later on, we gather, a dusty manuscript is ‘discovered’; it is edited, then filed away by a bored security official. The title ‘I’jaam’ is deeply ironic. The unknown writer, says the official’s disdainful report, wrote his jumbled text in letters minus their ‘dotting’, they lacked ‘I’jaam’ – the changing dots to the characters which lend written Arabic its elucidation, its contexts, its ‘clarification’. So the bored official has added in the ‘dotting’, eg the State’s meaning, its final triumph over the writer. Yet we are the final ‘I’jaam’, we understand Furat’s writing. The State does not win.

If writing is meaning, then ‘I’jaam’ is the metaphor as well as the method of meaning. Furat’s growing nightmares or daymares of dissolution provide a context of meaningless no-time to his wonderfully ‘present’ memoirs. If for him his nightmares are the terror of his undotting, his undoing, for the reader they are also the dotting: they bracket and sharpen his narratives of the everyday.

Furat describes a boy who wants to write, a mildly rebellious, sardonic young Bagdadi who regards the regime as a nasty absurdity. He starts with a comical and tender picture of one sort of passive resistance, that put up by the old Christian grandmother who is his only parent. Then we are in the university, following his efforts to interest the approved literary editors in his writing. One of his professors, lecturing on the Theatre of the Absurd, loses his entire audience of students to an abrupt summons to a staged demonstration. The chief speaker, a sycophantic dean, is a terrible versifier, and Furat, ‘nauseated’ by his unspeakable performance, refuses to clap; no more than he can write ‘positively’ about Iraq’s glorious war martyrs.

For the war with Iran hangs as a lethal threat over student life; which defends its space with the usual activities, from Furat’s cheeky sex experiments to his exams. Finally then, a true rhapsody in the heart of fear and absurdity: Furat finds the last and best love he will know, fellow student Areej. Their kisses and their streetwise chat slip backwards and forward increasingly out of sequence between the closing walls of his present. In the last memory he takes Areej to a great national football match. Despite the fact that the game is rigged to ensure the Father Leader’s team wins, these final pages are to be ‘Furat’s’ own epitaph, a lovely, confident, funny homage to youth, love and football. And so back to the present; gently ended, miserably ironic: when writing can no longer protect the writer.

Late in the book there is a vision of letters, characters, who throw away their dots, steal each other’s dots, eat the dots, making love illicitly…the writer has lost his meaning. But surely these rebellious nihilist letters are also there to refuse censorship, the meaning the State imposes on them. Madness is Furad’s revolt as well as his end. This is why the manuscript is undotted.

Can a character who doesn’t exist wring one’s heart? Antoon’s achievement is to tip us into real lives: those of all the real unknown prisoners, from Iraq to Guantanamo and its gulag, and on. If as Elias Khoury suggests, this account of prison hinges on the writer as witness to meaning and hope, then the simplest words and images remain the human cry for dignity, even where there can be no hope, or only for others. Robert Fisk saw the words scratched during 1990-1 on Iraqi prison cells by girls raped and waiting to be murdered:. One wrote simply ‘This is my fate’. Another: ‘I am going to die. Tell the others.’ Under it the unknown girl had drawn a rose.


2007 CHOLMONDELEY AWARD
FOR POETIC ACHIEVEMENT

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You can buy the pamphlet, and see the press, at the Tom Paine Printing Press, 151, High Street, Lewes, or you can order direct from Judith.

You can also enquire about this and some of my other books at Sky-Lark, in the Needlemakers, West Street, Lewes.