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Authors: Elias Khoury

Gate of the Sun





Elias Khoury
Gate of the Sun

Bab al-Shams

Translated from the Arabic by Humphrey Davies



archipelago books

Copyright © 2006 Archipelago Books

English translation copyright © 2006 Humphrey Davies

First Edition

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be
reproduced or transmitted in any form without the prior
written permission of the publisher.

Archipelago Books

25 Jay Street #203

Brooklyn, NY 11201

Maps drawn by Reginald Piggott.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Khoury, Elias.

Gate of the Sun / by Elias Khoury
translated from the Arabic by Humphrey Davies. – 1st ed.

: 0-9763950-2-9

I. Davies, Humphrey. II. Title.

45T7913 2005

891.8′538 – dc22     2005016693

First published with the title
Bab al-Shams
by Dâr-al-Adâb, Beirut, 1998.

The edition of the Koran quoted in this volume is
The Koran Interpreted
, translated
by Arthur J. Arberry, Oxford World Classics, Oxford University Press, 1998.


Distributed by Consortium Book Sales and Distribution

1045 Westgate Drive

St. Paul, MN 55114

This publication was made possible with the support of Lannan Foundation, the International Institute of Modern Letters, and with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.






He said, may Allah be pleased with him:

One day, Sheikh al-Junayd set out on a journey and while traveling was overtaken by thirst. He found a well that was too deep to draw water from, so he took off his sash, dangled it into the well until it reached the water, and set about raising and lowering it and squeezing it into his mouth. A villager appeared and asked him, “Why do it so? Tell the water to rise, and drink with your hands!” and the villager approached the edge of the well and said to the water, “Rise, with God's permission,” and it rose, and the sheikh and the villager drank. Afterwards the sheikh turned to the villager and asked, “Who are you?” “One of God's creatures,” he replied. “And who is your sheikh?” asked al-Junayd. “My sheikh is al-Junayd, though I have yet to set eyes on him,” replied the man. “Then how did you attain these powers?” asked the sheikh. “Through my faith in my sheikh,” replied the man.

Gate of the Sun

Bab al-Shams


Part One: The Galilee Hospital

Part Two: Nahilah's Death

Part One

> <

The Galilee Hospital

is dead.

I saw everyone racing through the alleys of the camp and heard the sound of weeping. Everyone was spilling out of their houses, bent over to catch their tears, running.

Nabilah, Mahmoud al-Qasemi's wife, our mother, was dead. We called her
because everyone born in the Shatila camp fell from their mother's guts into her hands.

I too had fallen into her hands, and I too ran the day she died.

Umm Hassan came from al-Kweikat, her village in Galilee, to become the only midwife in Shatila – a woman of uncertain age and without children. I only knew her when she was old, with stooped shoulders, a face full of creases, large eyes shining in a white square, and a white cloth covering her white hair.

Our neighbor, Sana', the wife of Karim al-Jashi the
seller, said Umm Hassan dropped in on her the night before last and told her her death was coming.

“I heard its voice, daughter. Death whispers, and its voice is soft.”

Speaking in her half-Bedouin accent she told Sana' about the messenger of death.

“The messenger came in the morning and told me to get ready.”

And she told Sana' how she wanted to be prepared for burial.

“She took me by the hand,” said Sana', “led me to her house, opened her wooden trunk, and showed me the white silk shroud. She told me she would
bathe before she went to sleep: ‘I'll die pure, and I want only you to wash me.'”

Umm Hassan is dead.

Everyone knew that this Monday morning, November 20th, 1995, was the time set for Nabilah, Fatimah's daughter, to meet death.

Everyone awoke and waited, but no one was brave enough to go to her house to discover she was dead. Umm Hassan had told everyone, and everyone believed her.

Only I was taken by surprise.

I stayed with you until eleven at night, and then, exhausted, I went to my room and slept. It was night, the camp was asleep, and no one told me.

But everyone else knew.

No one would question Umm Hassan because she always told the truth. Hadn't she been the only one to weep on the morning of June 5, 1967? Everyone was dancing in the streets, anticipating going home to Palestine, but she wept. She told everyone she'd decided to wear mourning. Everyone laughed and said Umm Hassan had gone mad. Throughout the six long days of the war she never opened the windows of her house; on the seventh, out she came to wipe away everyone's tears. She said she knew Palestine would not come back until all of us had died.

Over the course of her long life, Umm Hassan had buried her four children one after the other. They would come to her borne on planks, their clothes covered in blood. All she had left was a son called Naji, who lived in America. Though Naji wasn't her real son, he was: She had picked him up from beneath an olive tree on the Kabri-Tarshiha road and had fed him from her dry breasts, then returned him to his mother when they reached the village of Qana, in Lebanon.

Umm Hassan died today.

No one dared go into her house. About twenty women gathered to wait, then Sana' came and knocked on the door, but no one opened it. She pushed it, it opened, she went in and ran to the bedroom. Umm Hassan was sleeping, her head covered with her white headscarf. Sana' went over and took
her by the shoulders, and the chill of death flowed into the hands of the
-seller's wife, who screamed. The women entered, the weeping began, and everyone raced to the house.

I, too, would like to run with the others, go in with them, see Umm Hassan sleeping her eternal sleep and breathe in the smell of olives that clung to her small home.

But I didn't weep.

For three months I've been incapable of reacting. Only this man floating above his bed makes me feel the throb of life. For three months he's been laid out on his bed in Galilee Hospital, where I work as a doctor, or where I pretend that I'm a doctor. I sit next to him, and I try. Is he dead or alive? I don't know – am I helping or tormenting him? Should I tell him stories or listen to him?

For three months I've been in this room.

Today Umm Hassan died, and I want him to know, but he doesn't hear. I want him to come with me to her funeral, but he won't get up.

They said he fell into a coma.

An explosion in the brain causing permanent damage. A man lies in front of me, and I have no idea what to do. I'll just try not to let him rot while he's still alive, because I'm sure he's asleep, not dead.

But what difference does it make?

Is it true what Umm Hassan said about a sleeper being like a dead man – that the sleeper's soul leaves his body only to return when he wakes, but that the dead man's soul leaves and doesn't come back? Where is the soul of Yunes, son of Ibrahim, son of Suleiman al-Asadi? Has it left him for a distant place, or is it hovering above us in the hospital room, asking me not to go because the man is immersed in distant darknesses, afraid of the silence?

I swear I've no idea.

On her first visit Umm Hassan said that Yunes was in torment. She said he was in a different place from us.

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