Banipal - Issue 40

Page 13

ABDELKARIM JOUITI

throughout the interview and focus it on where you’re supposed to be: under their feet. “What are you doing here?” the director asked.

“The doorman called me to speak to you.” “Ah yes. . . . They tell me you can speak English.” “A little,” I said hesitantly. He pressed a button and the doorman came in. The director ordered him to find a comb from one of the female employees and to be quick about it, then instructed me to take off the tattered overcoat I was wearing and told one of the group in the office to give me his jacket. I hesitated for a moment then took off my overcoat, with no small amount of embarrassment and considerable confusion, and put on the jacket while desperately seeking signs of disapproval or support in the empty eyes of the group surrounding the director. The doorman came back and, reaching into his shirt pocket, presented me with a small comb which the director ordered me to run through the tangled forest on my head. I began combing my hair while turning my baffled gaze onto the director and his companions.When I had finished he told me that there was some mad woman from Denmark sitting in reception. “They got rid of her from the Governorate and foisted her onto me.” They had told him that she wanted to make a small gift to our citizens. “Present yourself as the deputy director. Tell her the director is busy in an important meeting, listen to her then send her packing.” And with that he went back to his vulgar gaiety.

She was in reception, absorbed in her thoughts, wearing a black dress and clutching an envelope and a bunch of keys. She rose to greet me and I could see that, despite the freckles covering her skin and despite the fact that she was over fifty, traces of great beauty still remained in her tired and lined face, and in her slim compact body. She spoke good English and, following some initial embarrassment and the usual commonplaces, which flowed from my mouth with a facility that surprised me, she told me in a clear voice, not without overtones of sadness, that it would be difficult for me to understand the matter that had brought her here from Denmark if she did not tell me, if only very briefly, the story of what had happened to her in Beni Mellal twenty years ago with her husband Robbie. Everything about her expressed deep sorrow kept under tight control, though from time to time it filtered

BANIPAL 40 – LIBYAN FICTION 13