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Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Osama El-Dinassouri - 2



Turnipping

Tuesday July 17
2:00 PM
Kidney Ward, Muqattam Hospital
From My Beloved Dog, My Old Dog (2007), by Osama El-Dinassouri
Translated by Tarek Sherif and Iman Mersal
Osama El-Dinassouri
January 01, 1960 - January 05, 2007
Once, I was in the waiting room along with the rest of the patients, waiting to hear my name so I could go in to meet the doctor and he could give me my monthly prescription, or extend my sick leave, or renew my dialysis treatment for another three months.

The nurse would call the patient whose turn had come. I couldn’t hear anything, of course, but I would notice, every once in a while, that one of those seated would stir and make his way towards the examination room.
I was certain that I wouldn’t hear my name if I remained seated in my place. I had to go and stand near the door, with others who were hard of hearing like myself or trying to sneak in before their actual turn.
I would walk to the door, realize that the one called wasn’t me, return to my seat and then after a short while, start again.
I was returning to my seat, after one of these cycles, when the patient next me said:
“Excuse me, my boy. I see you coming and going, wearing yourself out. Relax a bit, and when you hear your name, then get up.”
“But that’s the problem, sir. My hearing is weak. There’s no way I’ll hear my name from here.”
“No problem. Tell me your name and I’ll let you know as soon as I hear it.”
“That’d be great, sir. My name is Osama al-Dinassouri.”
“Salama El Damanhury?”
“Forget it, sir. Don’t worry about it,” I said, trying not to laugh, and I stood up to go stand by the door.

I invented this story from start to finish, just so my friends and I could have a good laugh. My friends the assassins, the scoundrels. As soon as they realized my openness and indifference towards the subject, they quickly became experts at fun-making and killing time in laughter at the expense of my poor hearing. But honestly, I grant them full pardon for doing so, since I, myself, was the greatest expert in making fun of it.

My auditory system was damaged years ago. The doctors said: “This happened because of your excessive use of antibiotics, especially Garamycin, and other Tetracyclines.” I remember taking Garamycin for years in the form of injections to prevent urinary tract inflammation caused by urine backup on the one hand, and the continual use of catheters on the other. They also told me that Garamycin attacks the auditory nerve directly, and that the damage was irreversible. 
I went to more than one doctor and took hearing tests more than once. The results were that the sensitivity of my hearing was weak, around 30% of normal. It was suggested I wear a hearing aid, but I shunned the idea. I was content with my modest ability to hear, and I don’t think a hearing aid would have made life any better.

I discovered that I hear sounds that are within a particular range of frequencies clearly and without any effort. As for higher or lower frequencies, I can’t hear them at all.
Example: the doorbell.
I absolutely cannot hear the sound of the doorbell. That is, unless I am waiting for someone. Knowing that someone will be pushing the button from one moment to the next, I’ll sit in my room which is near the door, and having turned off any noisy appliances, will strain all my senses. Or I’ll pace back and forth in the main hall so as to be near the door. And even so, I’ll head to the door every few minutes and look through the peephole, afraid I’ll see one of them standing there.
I can’t hear our doorbell because it is a “bird,” or sounds like birds chirping. For a while, we tried a doorbell that made a piano sound, and moved the bird to the hallway by the bedroom. I heard the doorbell well during this period; I could detect the piano sound without any trouble. But Soheir found it irritating, yelling “That doorbell is so annoying!” I sympathized with her, so we went back to just the bird.

Often, one of my friends will pass by to visit, then head back the way he came because I didn’t hear the bell.
I’ve also asked Umm Ahmad, the doorman’s wife, to bring me the newspapers or a pack of cigarettes. I’d wait for her for hours, then open the door angrily, intending to scold her for being late, only to find the newspapers on the doormat. I’d realize that she had rung the bell until she got bored and then left after giving up. I tell her: “Don’t ring the bell. I won’t hear it. Instead, knock on the door.” (I can hear knocking well, even if it’s light).
I’ve started asking the same of my friends, especially if I am alone. “Before you knock, give me a ring on my mobile, then knock.”

The mobile: I used to have one that made a weak pulsating noise. It would ring right in front of me and I wouldn’t hear it. I discovered that I couldn’t hear pulses, though I could hear tones or melodies. So I got rid of that one and took Soheir’s polyphonic mobile. Now, I can hear it well. I hear it and am startled every time.

Once, Ahmad Yamani called me from Spain. While we were talking, he suddenly said:
“The doorbell’s ringing, Ous.”
“Okay, go ahead and answer it. I’ll wait.”
“Ha! Ha! Ha! Ous! Your doorbell’s the one that’s ringing!”
“So, you can hear it in Spain, you son of a bitch, and I can’t hear it from two meters away.”
And one of them was really there, standing at the door.
This has happened more than once, with Ahmad and with others.

 When I watch an Arabic movie in the theatre with Soheir, most of the dialogue is lost on me because of the terrible sound (of course that’s not the only reason). I try to read the actors’ lips and deduce, approximately, what the words are. There’s no point in asking Soheir, since I’d pretty much have to ask her about every line. But sometimes I’ll be surprised to find the entire hall, including Soheir, exploding into laughter, I’ll be the only one in the hall who isn’t laughing. So I’ll lean over to Soheir:
“What did he say? And the other one, what did he say back to him?”

I often hear an imaginary bell ringing in my head, run to answer the door and find no one.
It also happens that I’ll be passing by the main hall, coming from the kitchen or leaving my room, when suddenly an anxious suspicion will whisper: “Open the door. Maybe one of them has been waiting for a while.” At this point I haven’t heard a doorbell, real or imaginary, just the voice of my suspicion. And strangely enough, I’ve been surprised several times to find someone actually standing there.
“You must have been ringing for a while.”
“Not at all. I was just about to ring now.”

There was a period when I would frequently look behind me whenever I was walking in a crowded street or market. I would be certain that someone was calling me, “Osaaaaaamaaaaaa.” I would stop, turn around, stare at the people, then turn back and continue on my path. Certainly, there had been someone calling, but he hadn’t been calling me. The caller might have been yelling “Salama” or “Hamama” or “Alama” or “Ma’ Salama”, and so on. But my ear only picks up the last syllables, “ama,” so I would think I was the one being called.
I learned to turnip most of my conversations, just so life could flow a little more smoothly.
I turnip, you turnip, he turnips, she turnips; from turnip, the vegetable. According to my definition, it means: to turn one’s head into a solid turnip, aware of nothing, interested in nothing. One of them will start speaking, and I’ll find myself presented with several options based on my proximity to the person, my guess as to the importance of the conversation, and also the degree of clarity of the speaker’s words.

If the words are ambiguous from the beginning, whether it’s due to the faint voice of the speaker, his swallowing some of the letters, or his muddling sounds together, then at that point I make my decision to turnip. I do, however, give him a well-trained face. My share of the conversation, which might go on for several minutes, will consist of gestures, smiles, measured opening and closing of the eyes, and the flexing of facial muscles. Enough to give the impression that I’m participating, and with adequate style.

Most of these turnippings pass without incident, but the situation is not without its snares here and there. The snare I fear most is that the speaker, in the middle of our conversation, will direct a yes or no question towards me. He is shocked when I answer him, as I’ve been answering him throughout the conversation, with a smile, or a nod of the head, or profound look. He stops speaking and is unable to fathom what is going on, and I’ll know that I’ve stumbled into the dreaded snare.
This happens with few of my friends. One of them Mohammed Hashem, because he is one of those people whose speech I can’t decipher, even if he speaks one word at a time and in a loud voice. This is unless he’s reading something he’s written, or telling me about something of utmost importance, in which case I’ll stop him every minute:
“What? Say that last part again… what are you saying, exactly?”
As for ordinary situations, I turnip him with a clear conscience.
And this is my way of getting revenge on him. Sometimes, we’ll be sitting in Merit Publishing’s office, with the rest of our friends, and I’ll ask him some question, like “Where are you going tonight?”
“To the Grillion.”
I’ll have heard him correctly, “To the Grillion,” and be satisfied, but he won’t be satisfied. He’ll come and lean towards my head, stick his mouth right in my ear, and scream, “THE GRILLION!” Then he’ll leave, hiding his laughter.


 
2008, Kalbi al-Habib, Kalbi al-Harem (My Beloved Dog, My Old Dog), by Osama El-Dinassouri. Banipal No. 31, Spring 2008.