‘Aisha Descends into the Underworld’ (#1 Post) (pgs. 11-29)

‘Aisha Descends into the Underworld’ by Buthaina Al-Eissa

Translated by: H.I. Al-Muhairi

Check out Translator’s Notes at the end as you’re reading to better understand some of the terms here. This is the beginning of the story, it actually starts on page 11.


April 10th, 2011

12:00 a.m.

I am Aisha.
I will die in seven days.
And until then, I decided to write.
I don’t know how writing is supposed to start, probably from a place like this where everything leafs with doubt.

Writing seems to be the only thing I can do. I want to put the last period in the last sentence before I get swallowed by absence.
I have decided for my last days to be like this. I mean, like writing. A word is a fragile and tenuous creature, like me. And I, in my last days, wish to look like me as much as possible. I’m doing this for me; these papers, this writing, this wound: for me.

This writing is not a biography of my life. What has passed isn’t worthy of interest; everything is now done and finished. This writing goes nowhere and I don’t think I have lived a life that deserves to be documented. I am writing to be clear with myself, alone with myself, full of myself. This writing does not cure, but kills. Death is good, and I wish for it with all my heart.

I will become like him soon; I will become similar to him and to his death. I will see my body lying in the same place and thrown in the same whiteness.

My death will arrive soon, and I will obtain that white deathly appearance: cotton in the nostrils, in the mouth, in the ears, and in every cavity that can be—a body stuffed with white. I wondered that day why they tucked cotton into every place that they could get their hands on. I was wondering to the point of bereavement as I was standing in front of his small corpse, so small it contradicts the idea of endings and graves and leaving. They told me then that I can come inside to see him for one last time. It wasn’t the last time; all of my dreams and nightmares carry his face.

What more can I say?
My son has died, O’ world.

April 10th, 2011

1:10 a.m.

This a sick and weak writing for which you can’t find the origin of its question or probe its reality. This is a writing whose purpose is unknown as to why its words were invaded, scattered, and dispersed like tears of glass. Yet, despite that, it looks extremely instinctual, and perhaps brutal. Calling it forth is not difficult, as if it was waiting for me all along.

I am writing the waves of a drowned person, and at the same time, I find my soul stunned in front the gravity of the scene and the depth of the question: why does a drowning person wave his hands?

The drowned person who was placed in a bag, whose feet they tied to a rock, and who was thrown into a depth of thousands of meters of water and salt, where the darkness is a glowing black. This drowned person, my drowned person—why is he waving and to whom?

Not a day passes that I don’t ask myself this question, one nightmare after the other. I am the one sentenced to drown by dying, and to die by drowning, thrown by unknown hands into the depths of the ocean, into the belly of a broken well, or inside a bottomless cup. The nightmare itself repeats with a new version of drowning every time, as does the same question: why does the drowned person wave his hands? Why doesn’t he just die?

I think that the writing that I have committed now looks like the waves of a drowned person: frivolous, desperate, painful, and carry many meanings of goodbye.

I write to drown, I drown to die, and I intend -for a reason that I can’t fathom- to write my death/drowning, and this writing that here and now has no name except for the ‘Waving of a Drowned Person’ is the goodbye that nobody will witness.

The world has disappeared in an orphaned spot of light, which is the last thing a drowned person sees before water fills his lungs, before he becomes a sea.

April 10th, 2011

2:13 a.m.

My son really did die.

There’s no nice way to say it; no right way or word to explain the death of a child. But this is what I will do now, because I can only start from here, from this wound that is multiplying in my inwards.

I will try -like the drowned person waving to life- to write the death of a child.

To write the death of a child as it is, without poetizing the matter, spiritualizing the bereavement, rationalizing the gravity, or justifying the disaster; without complaint; without an excess of sorrow—this is what I’m intending to do.

And although I had done that day all that could be done from wailing and hysteria, when I held him in my arms and ran as if I were crazy (or so I’ve been told) without knowing where I was heading with him, and how I was to save him or save myself from his sudden departure.

I remember how far the sky was, how deserted the earth was, and how extreme the loneliness was yet I, and after around four years, I can think of nothing else except for: how is it that living could be possible after that happened? Adnan was running after me, “Come back! Come back! Give me the kid, you crazy woman!” Could I have ran this fast? I don’t know; it was said that Adnan and I had fought over his body, it was said that I’d dug my nails in his forearms and screamed with my loudest voice, as if he were a thief that wanted to steal the dead body of my son. But they succeeded in removing him from my arms, and moved him to his father’s car, and what was I doing then? Was I screaming and stretching my hand in emptiness, looking for his body? And what did I want anyway? To hide him in the house garden? To bury him in a hidden place like a treasure? I don’t know anything about that day except for all of what I’ve collected from the neighbors’ tales, and the testimony of my husband who has apparently retained his memories.

Life is no longer possible; this is the only thing that I know for sure about me and about this world. I am the one tattooed with this name that contradicts my very existence, the one vowed to living with impetus, or that was how my parents wanted. I would have been more like myself if I had a name similar to my suicidal tendencies—my black abaya{1}, blue lips, the cheeks scratched with tears, the swollen eye-lids, the eternal appearance of crying, and the nearing death.

Aziz died in front me, I mean: behind my back. Why wasn’t I looking at him? I left him in the middle of the street and got busy…with what? With the only thing that I did those days: with arguments. And although he insisted to me, “Mommy, my toys fell!” I did nothing, and he, a five year old…did his childish intuition inform him that was leaving? I asked him, without bothering to look at him, to stop whining, because I couldn’t take two steps and pull him from the grasps of terrifying probabilities. I said to him, “Aziz, I swear to God if you didn’t come here I’ll hit you! I’ll throw your toys in the trash!” These were my last words to my son before his death.

He couldn’t move; one of his toys fell while he was still holding two. Three toys of super heroes and two tiny hands only. Every time he picked up one, the second fell, every time he picked up the second, the third fell. Two tiny hands and a crazy world, that was how a car ran him over while he was bending over his toys, trying to pick them up, trying to protect them from being trampled by a car like the one that trampled him. He will never abandon his toys ever, because he is not like his mother.

In the last moment of his life, he was looking towards me, frightened, as if he had realized something important.

April 10th, 2011

2:45 a.m.

On April 18th, 2007, Abdul Aziz died -my only son- at an age of five and a half because of a car accident that happened when he was standing in the middle of the street, trying to pick up his toys. On that day, my life began to lose its falseness and became more real, became less empty and more impossible. And on that day, my memory began to monitor my days, my heart began to pulse with pain, my eyes began to overflow, and I began to have sins that ate through my soul, and bite marks of regret on my palms, forearms, upper arms, and…Life began to have a color and a meaning.

The color of life is a bright black and its only meaning is death. Just as soon as I realized that -I mean the color and meaning of life- my whole body began to respond to its only truth: the truth of the cessation of being.  I was able to die and to return and to swing between the two worlds, the world of the unseen and the material world, as if I was sentenced to eternally shift back and forth between them, hung by the grapples of my pain in a middle world that never ends.

I have died since my son’s death a number of three times, and I came back three times as well. My deaths coincided with the anniversary of his death, on the 18th of April for the years 2008, 2009, and 2010. My son’s anniversary is due in a week, and along with it, my fourth death, which I think will be my last. This is why I write.

I write because things are no longer understood or capable of being explained, and I, in all honesty, am no longer interested to explain them. Yet, with that being said, I wave with resignation and incapability because this world is much crazier than I thought.

Three deaths, each occurring in a different hour, in a different form on the same date: once by electricity, once by food poisoning, and once by a car accident. All of these accidents and their frequent occurrences in a way that does not allow for the most random of coincidences happened on the 18th of April. The matter is unexplainable as well as undeniable. All that is to the matter is that I, with every anniversary of my son’s death, die.

It’s past two in the morning, the day has just started and I am tucked between the pillows and wrapped in the comforter, writing quickly out of a fear of drying up. I sit contracted on the edge of my end, peering into the darkness where there are no stars and no one.

I am alone as I was the moment I was thrown into life, and alone just I will be under the dirt. Very soon. Loneliness is -then- the only sure, real thing in this life. A family is a myth, friends are a lie, and marriage is a joke. Everybody has abandoned me. Why? Because I die every year once and come back! Because I scare them, it seems. Where are they now? All of them, I’m sure, are thinking of the same thing: How would Aisha die this time? Is she going to drown in a bottle of milk? Or choke on a chewing gum? Their silence says a lot about their terror.

The living weren’t meant to cohabitate with the dead; the unseen divisor between the kingdom of the living and the kingdom of the dead is there for a certain reason. I know that, Adnan knows that, and my mother, sister, and my only brother know that. Even my deceased father knows that, and my son.

With every death -every time I was swallowed by the great hole- they were falling from my life like dried petals, falling outside as if losing me and getting me back multiple times was more than what they can tolerate. All for what? If I was going to die anyway, then why don’t I do it the right way? Why all this playing between worlds and the heresy that comes with it about the beauty of the world and the brilliance of the unseen world? Why not just die and let them have the privileges that family and relatives entertain to mourn my youth and bury me in the belly of the earth and then move on like everybody else? Isn’t that what they want? The ability to move on? I’m the one who is disturbing their fabricated certainty, their utter knowledge with everything related to life and death and the other world?

This is the writing of a person saying goodbye, but it’s not a will. A will requires certainty and I don’t have it; I have nothing but anxiety and the absurd need to write everything, shake out everything, and pronounce everything. I do not write; I just refuse the nonsense of this world. I want to be more pure when I leave, much lighter and similar to his soul so that I might…might touch him there in the light.

A life of thirty three years is a short life, I can’t help but think as I sift through the explicitness of my end. I am afraid if I die to come back for the fourth time.

With every death experience that I’ve been through, I lost bits of me and more of my relatives, starting with my maternal cousins, passing through my sister, and ending with my husband. Every death that I’ve experienced left inside of me scars and scratches and cracks. My body is quivering now, and I feel like I can’t control it. Its quivers are greater than what I can contain, but there’s no time for me to quiver.

Quivering is a luxury of the living, and my time is short, and my age is -also- short. I should write everything in seven days, before I get swallowed by the great hole.

April 10th, 2011

4:02 a.m.

Adnan is sleeping in the living room; he’s been sleeping there for the past six months or more. He doesn’t look me in the eyes or talks to me. He knows we’re about to go through a difficult time and this seems to be the way he deals with it, by abandoning me, who is about to leave. I asked him a while back out of curiosity, “Do you believe that I will die in less than a month?” He didn’t answer and was grimly quiet as his hands moved in an automatic fashion to fix his Ghutra{2}, and then he left. His whole demeanor says, “I wish you’d die”. If I survive this time, I will get divorced from Adnan and make my loneliness more acute.

If I was destined to live, I will get divorced from Adnan and live a year of complete independence and isolation until my fifth death comes because I know that this cycle -the cycle of death and rebirth- will spin around with me forever until one day, there won’t be anyone to save me. One day, I will enter your groves, Death, and I won’t be able to go back. But until that moment comes, I have a lot of things to say.

Two weeks ago, we fought. Adnan claims that I have suicidal tendencies; he asks me, “How can I make sure that you didn’t touch the electrical wires on purpose? That you didn’t throw yourself in front of the car intentionally? How can two people eat from the same food and one gets food poisoning while the other doesn’t?”

Ever since my last death, he hasn’t stopped demanding me to check with the psychology clinic so that doctors would dive in the depths of my unconscious mind, my underworld, which is dubious and rich with anomalous thoughts to extract the reasons that are pushing me to commit suicide. I didn’t commit suicide; if I wanted death I would choose nicer methods. I would swallow a hundred tablets of sleeping pills and lie warm on my bed, dreaming of my son.

The day we fought -for the thousandth time after million- I told him to get out of my sight, that he wasn’t fit to be a husband, and that I curse the hour that I married him, had his child, and everything.

To be honest, I wasn’t being fair to him. I can imagine what living with a woman who’d died and came back three times mean. Adnan experienced losing me three times, and my return three times, and most likely, going through the fourth experience of this sort would be something that terrifies him too. Who wants to live under the threat of demise? We all die, but we don’t think of death no matter how prophetic events urge us to do so; we live grateful to the reality of life, and that death is our postponed ending always.

The night I died for the first time, Adnan fell to his knees and released to the world his sobbing. He said, “Don’t you go too. Don’t leave me, Aisha!” In my second death, he cried less. In my third death, he didn’t cry at all. This time, maybe he will kill me with his own hands and rest.

Adnan’s theory is built upon logical, Freudian, Dogmatic foundations beyond what is tolerated. Adnan’s theory is as follows:

Since my sense of guilt is driving me to commit suicide, and the law of heaven forbids me to do it, my unconscious mind hurries to make my wish come true by killing me unawares to die like my son! Something which is what happens when my feelings of guilt reach their zenith on the 18th of April of every year on the anniversary of Aziz’s death.

This is Adnan’s theory, one that is solid and firm and relies on very scientific foundations, yet it’s still not right. I don’t care if the matter could be interpreted this way, because in the end, spoilt food, traffic accidents, and electric shocks can’t be a thing of my creation.

Isn’t that right?

April 10th, 2011

5:07 a.m.

“Oh Death! I could not remove myself from sweetly contemplating your gentle nature that is closely tied to mine, O’ mirror of my soul and the reflection of my existence!”

–Ludwig Feuerbach{3}

This is a long night of a short life. I will indulge in the praise of death tonight, as I -anyway- do not want to sleep so that my life gets shorter by a few hours. Didn’t Imam Ali{4} say: “People are asleep, and if they die, they awaken”? Awaken to what, I wonder? To the truth of death? Then I am much awakened, aware of every tick of the hands of the clock, to every moment that seeps out of my life.

I will indulge in the praise of death, then. Perhaps if I do that, my terror would lessen, and my pain. Maybe if he came, he would be kind with me, the way unjust Sultans are kind with fawning poets, because this fear that is gnawing at me at its own pace is something that I can’t deny.

I will indulge in the praise of death on the basis that I -and especially in the last year of my life- had immersed myself in contemplating everything that concerns it to the point where I became an expert in the matters of the end, death, extinction, suicide, the old methods of burial, and the other derivatives of death.

If death was yet another instinct, a greedy worm that swallows us at its own pace, then I shouldn’t fear my nature and stray from my instincts. Isn’t it so?

It is said that death linguistically means stillness. Stillness can’t possibly be evil; all of the Positivist philosophies search for stillness; Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism all glorify stillness and sanctify the non-action, the non-movement. Stillness is the thing I want the most.

Arabs have also said that death is a heavy sleep, and that sleep is a light death. I will sleep later then, and death anyway isn’t something bad. If death is a heavy sleep that a person that doesn’t wake up from, then I have nothing to fear, except that I’ve been seeing a lot of nightmares of drowning lately and I fear that they would follow me there.

I will indulge in the praise of death!

The word ‘death’ was mentioned in the Holy Qur’an in 161 places -or so I’ve read- and that ‘death’ always came before ‘life’ and this simply means that death is the beginning and the end, and that life is a middle ground between the two resting places. And now I stand on the edge of the middle world, staring at the abyss as it scowls in my face.

When I saw death for the first time, I was twelve years old. I was with my mother and two of my aunts in Al-Salehiya Mall, dinning in one of its restaurants. I wanted to go to the restroom and passed a dark and narrow corridor with a glass front that overlooked Al-Salehiya graveyard whose gravestones appeared in front me, filling the earth to the farthest I could see, filling the areas and excessively overflowing from the place was the assurance of the only truth that doesn’t accept refutations: the truth of demise. I didn’t know that the dead were this many!

I felt a spasm in my legs, I couldn’t move. I closed my eyes and blocked my ears with my hands, and sat on the ground in front of the glass wall that overlooked the graveyard. I began to whimper in the darkness of the lonely corridor; I wet my clothes, this is what I remember. Mom says that this is a thing of my imagination.

Every time I remembered our first meeting, Death, I wondered: if death is an instinct, Freud, then why is it terrifying to this extent? Death in our heads is always someone else’s death. After that evening, I used to often think: when would my grandma die? Mom? Uncles? I used to think of death as if it was a thing that concerned others, now I know that it concerns me more than it concerns them.

My life in the last year started scaring everyone so much that my imminent death seems like salvation. Why do I deviate from the topic? Why did I stop praising you, Death? Or is it that the enormity of your reality is what is taking over me now and is shaking my tenaciousness? That evening my mother kept complaining about the Mall’s management that gave us that grave view to the garden of nonentity. Does it make sense for one of Kuwait’s most classy, fancy, and expensive malls to overlook a graveyard? I found the matter extremely fitting; when a woman buys a Louis Vuitton bag for a thousand Dinars{5}, then ponders upon the graves of those who are gone, she’ll know then that that bag that she is feeling with her fingertips is a mere lie, that those graves are the only reality of our existence, and that death is our life’s ultimate goal.

Saying that death is an integral part of life is understandable, but saying that death is a being’s instinct is something else. We respond to instincts easily; we love to gratify and relish them. And if death was an inherited instinct in our bodies then why do we hate it so? I don’t think that we own an intuitive certainty in death. It’s most likely that we discover it through experience, just like I slammed into thousands of sprawling graves behind Al-Salehiya Mall and discovered the black hole in my heart.

I will indulge in the praise of death then. I will flirt and cajole with him, I will dig through all of my books and extract his appearances, manifestations, and circumstances. I will play with and tease him, I will read into his face, and ruminate upon his wisdom. I will make him much lighter and simpler.

Death is clear, life is ambiguous. Death is simple, life is complex. Death is a “strange world that the young are fascinated with”, and life is a frightening world that terrifies the adults!

I will indulge in the praise of death.

Your virtues are many, my Lord, for you allow the space for the newcomers and you gift them the areas when the earth narrows on the worlds because you make from our flesh a land, and from our soil the nourishment for crops, and on crops the animals feed, and the human feeds on crops and animals altogether. You are the unknown soldier that never ceased to faithfully serve humanity, and humanity never ceased to scorn his efforts and insist on its spite for him.

We did not give you your due appreciation, we didn’t thank your efforts, and we didn’t mention your virtues at all! We all owe you, Death, because you gave us a space to exist and room to live. You were never late in your work; you are always on time, working night and day with no vacations and no resting breaks. Not a moment passes when you are not taking a soul, and the most important thing is that you have to take the souls of beings, and nobody would take your soul, you poor fellow! You are sentenced to life, Death! I bet that every time you took a soul and released it to fly in the heavens free you wonder, “When is my turn going to come?” Your tragedy is so great, Death; everyone fears you and you have no friends, people avoid you as if you are leprous, people dislike mentioning you, and everybody keeps satirizing you. It would’ve been better for them to think upon your virtues, and to excessively praise you as I am doing, Death.



Translator’s Notes:

{1} Abaya is a clothing garment that Arab women wear and that is most often black. Unlike how many westerners associate abayas with Islam, it’s more of a cultural symbol. Muslim women around the world don’t all wear abayas and aren’t required to in Islam per se.

{2} Ghutra is a head garment that Arab men wear. It comes in different colors and is most commonly worn by Khaleeji men (men of the Arab Gulf region) although it’s not restricted to them. It is mainly recognized by its white and red pattern (the more dominant type).

{3} I couldn’t find the English version of this quote so I had to make due with what I had and translated it from Arabic to English. So, it’s not a direct quote. Please tell me if you find the original one.

{4} Imam Ali is one of the many men whose life coincided with the prophet Mohammed’s. He was also Prophet Mohammed’s cousin and the fourth Caliphate after his death. Imam Ali was a wise man and whose sayings still circulate among the people.

{5} One Kuwaiti Dinar is equivalent to 3.54 USD.


New Project: ‘Aisha Descends into the Underworld’ by Buthaina Al-Eissa

ImageHi everyone! I want to mention a new project that I will be working on (this time a much longer book than TDoaEYP which is currently on hiatus) from a creative voice in the Arab world. I’ve read a book (more like booklet) by Buthaina Al-Eissa, a Kuwaiti writer, before this one that was basically a collection of extremely short stories that spanned a page or two at most and which I was completely absorbed by. Her prose was unlike anything I’ve read before in Arabic literature (not that I’ve read that much Arabic fiction anyway) and I added all of her books to my ‘to-read’ list.

Aisha Descends into the Underworld has been described by reviewers on Good Reads as a book about death and loss, and a journey that takes the readers into the depth of Aisha’s tired soul.

Here’s the blurb on the back of the book (which is actually the first lines of the book):

I am Aisha.
I will die in seven days.
And until then, I decided to write.
I don’t know how writing is supposed to start, probably from a place like this where everything leafs with doubt.

Writing seems to be the only thing I can do. I want to put the last period in the last sentence before I get swallowed by absence.
I have decided for my last days to be like this. I mean, like writing. A word is a fragile and tenuous creature, like me. And I, in my last days, wish to look like me as much as possible. I’m doing this for me; these papers, this writing, this wound: for me.

This writing is not a biography of my life. What has passed isn’t worthy of interest; everything is now done and finished. This writing goes nowhere and I don’t think I have lived a life that deserves to be documented. I am writing to be clear with myself, alone with myself, full of myself. This writing does not cure, but kills.

Death is good, and I wish for it with all my heart.