BY : Kussay Sheikh Askar
She was telling him to go alone and watch the moths with the members of the cooperative, but she will stay with her daughter at home . He did not object, Siba is a medical doctor and can manage, she knows how to approach things when the time of birth comes, and her husband Tom will come, in an hour, from the Royal Hospital, but they found Tom's father, who arrived before, running quickly towards them, with wide open arms.
Mr. Henry, we are conservative people. A man does not hug or kiss a woman's hand. She used to say this to Tom's father, her daughter's husband. In return he replies with a smile, meaning he was joking more than ignoring, saying: I am the father in law, you are the daughter in law. So, no problem, we are relatives.
Then she smiles, turning her face towards her husband, and says with a hoarse voice: since the invitation is open, go and mix with others in this pandemic time.
You and I had been vaccinated twice, so no place for worries.
Dr. Siba, gathering her legs on the sofa and resting her hands on her stomach, says: I love seeing insects. If I am in a better condition, I would accompany you to watch the show.
Your mother and I read the letter that came from the agricultural cooperative about the moth festival, and I told her to keep herself free on 17th of July, we need to be there before midnight at a quarter to eleven.
I wasn't expecting Siba's labor today.
My father-in-law will be with me, my husband too will come in a few hours.
Henry said: It's eleven o'clock. Today it's twenty-ninth and they won't play the pictures until it's completely dark.
Yet he had to go alone. She was worried for her daughter, keeping her eyes on the kitchen door, ignoring the conversation... He wished she would attend the party with him. In recent circumstances strangers do not hug like they do on other occasions, and she would not be obliged to say – as she always does when it is Henry - we are a conservative people ... The epidemic forced social distances and people greet each other only with elbows .. No doubt he would get bored when celebrating without her ... An hour he would spend with the members of the agricultural cooperative sipping tea, watching a lot of moths on a screen placed at the entrance of a car park.
Neighbour Pat asked: Mr. Jawad, what was the festival you celebrate in Iraq during the summers?
Oh, summer is hot, but we celebrate the spring in March.
He laughed at the question that took him back several years. Mrs. Sharon, the director of the cooperative, interrupted with her wide smile saying: why (qabeelah) is not with you?.
I explained in an email that Dr. Siba will give birth tonight. didn't I?..
Perhaps everything here, at this moment, reminds him of the past.. Pat asked him about the July celebration, he told him of the spring festival (the lettuce day), and about the joy of eating lettuce.. How did he forget that a revolution started after three days of the festival, turned out to be a coup, and people poured in streets to greet the new president. Enthusiasm drove him when was a child to take part in a demonstration with his father.. He didn’t feel at time the heat of July.. The slogans pleased him, and so the women’s songs as when drinking juice and licking ice cream. It was a long, violent time with little charm mixed with the heat and humidity of high July.. Siba did not go through these events. She was the only one who came to this life in Britain. Nasser, Amjad and Mustafa had been born in Iraq.. He does not remember how he decided on their names.. All three of them wedded to foreign women.. He considers this as a personal matter.
He does not deny he hid his annoyance in his chest. His concerns concentrated on his young daughter, later he flew on a visit with her to Iraq. Her grandfather adored her so much, he once placed her tiny foot in his mouth saying: you are sweet my little girl. I will swallow your foot.. She imagined that her grandfather eats children's legs. But he bet on her.. She became his closest one in a solid belief she was a copy of him..
He suggested another visit to Iraq…
Now she is in second year medicine .. Her grandfather had passed away years ago.. She did not forget he loved to swallow her feet one day, and he wanted to introduce her to his nephew the engineer or his nephew the pharmacist, Salah, his favorite. He insisted on this saying since she is his favorite she must find someone he is fond of. She smiled and shon away. This is a trait she inherited from her mother, who escapes with her eyes any thing she does not like without arguing. Her father did his best to bring that wish into reality till she blurted out her affair with Tom, her classmate. But why do these incidents come to mind and float over the moth festival?. He does not claim it is a coincidence. Moths in one country coincide with a coup in another, only after a few days from a revolution forced the heat of high July to rise. The temperature was yesterday about 25 degrees centigrade, and perhaps any looter could shout saying the heat this year is unbearable, and no birth could take place. not Siba's, not any other one. The logic might go against itself on occasions.
It was not all a coincidence ... a light darkness fell, and Mrs. Sharon raised the curtains for the show. Soon moths appeared on the screen:
A moth with a big mouth.
A moth with two bulging eyes.
A moth with wings like a butterfly.
Red... yellow. Green moths. A moth laid eggs on the leaves of a willow tree. While watching the “moths” picture another picture was in mind.
He did not go for another visit. His wife stayed in Britain. The grandfather Abdul Karim, who allegedly eats feet, died and the mother lost her memory. Evil dementia made her unable to recognise him nor her doctor. She mistook her granddaughter Siba for a neighbour’s daughter.
She went with his nephew, Eng. Karam, for lunch in a restaurant on the bank of al-Ashar. On the second day, they toured the presidential palaces. Then, she went on a boat tour with his nephew Jalal, who was with his girlfriend, and this brought both of them closer than ever. Both were alike. Of a sort. But after one year he married her.
It was not a shock, nor a surprise, it was like when he saw a stiff moth took his female on a yellow willow leaf of a branch and died soon. He composed himself until his mobile vibrated. He put it on his ear to hear the news: his daughter siba is in labor.
The show was still on, he was tormented with many incidents and dispersed events. But he had to make his way through the crowds in the utter darkness while the images of the moths fading away and going out of his vision.
translation into English by author* & Scott Minar**
*Kussay Askar: Iraqi writer living in England
** Scott Minar: emeritus professor of English at Ohio, Lancaster University. USA.