Sunlight drowns the room with softness. The dark wooden floor boards seem tranquil; they are loved. Under dust, and debris of days gone past they lie in the steel file holder standing on wheels. Those are the ones that have gained a certain privilege; which she has shown off to visitors, random ones, other than him. Some are out of focus – slightly – and some are precise as the pulling of a kohl pencil between eyelids closed with certainty.
Mug of black tea. The rhythm of the cars and buses passing under the windows has a familiar and unfriendly feel in the ears. She opens the steel file holder and takes them out. The ones fate has chosen to be present. She spreads them on the floor boards around her feet. Sizes vary. Portraits, landscapes, the river glaring blue despite the Cairo grit.
They have no claim on her. She owes them nothing. Will never see them. Yet she rests their faces inside her as she picks them up to place them in the same order as they sat before her interference with the negatives.
Memory plays a card and Fayoum – never visited – visits her. Pictures different than she has known flow in front of her. A morning in Tunis. Women she doesn’t know in a village in Fayoum celebrating the birth of a new day. Morning beauty digitalized and saved for her to see and yearn for.
She plays hers. Out of her sleeve comes her own and last card and she plays it. Without thinking. She plays in the aftermath of a revolution in Tunis and in the middle of hers. She takes out a Queen of hearts. And loses.
Photography leaves through the crack in the closed window. The tea is still warm. She sips as she sits with weight on the only cushion. The ashtray is not needed today. She remembers
The art of losing isn't hard to master
The art of settling into a cushion without shifting for comfort is. The art of forgetting. The art of loving the loss.
Fuchsia kleem in morning Tunis stilled and willed to stay frozen next to manicured feet. The photograph returns as she brushes the other kleems in her memory with her own feet. Kleems on wooden floors like wrapping to bars of bitter dark chocolate. She sips again. The tea is still warm. The loss sighs inside her and she tells herself that she has the final call. The Queen of hearts is under her command. Just will it, she thinks. Will it to be anything other than a loss.
She stops sipping once she can see the tea at the bottom clearly. At her side her purse lies open. She cringes. Openness scares her now. She moves slowly inside and blesses it with her fingers. Short and used. Green. Sea green. Perhaps teal or dark turquoise. No, maybe teal. Or sea green. Names are an unnecessary burden. She leaves the cap besides the mug and stands in front of the glass panes.
Shifting she finds the right angel. The sun doesn’t hurt her eyes. First a twirl. Under the left eye. Then they come on their own from the tip of pencil. Its softness new to her skin, old to her eye lashes. She has seen this before and now she sees it in the glass on her face filling with color.
Reflected not refracted.
As the day flows from the tip of the pencil on to her face, she remembers the minute details. Crying. Pain. Confusion. Yearning. Wishing to undo it all with a wipe of a cotton pad with baby oil as she will clean her face. His boyish smile. His silence and staring on the floor. The warm hug in front of the mirror. Dark wood framing their faces.
She keeps the memory of giving it all with the pictures and the negatives. There they stay safe. She doesn't want to lose it in the rubble. She stares at the Queen of hearts, so aloof on the glass panes and nods. The art of letting go is hard to master.
She has forgiven him. She will forgive herself.
The sunshine in Giza is not like morning Tunis glowing with Fayoum yellow. It is sadder. She puts the cap back on. She picks the mug from its resting place to fill it again. She doesn’t pass a mirror on the way. Not one.
But the Queen of hearts was staring at her from every corner – aloof.