The Parisian by Isabella Hammad Read Online (FREE)
Originally published: April 9, 2019
Author: Isabella Hammad
Genre: Historical Fiction
PART ONE CHAPTER 1
There was one other Arab onboard the ship to Marseille. His name was Faruq al-Azmeh, and the day after leaving port in Alexandria he approached Midhat at breakfast, with a plate of toast in one hand and a string of amber prayer beads in the other. He sat, tugged at the cuffs of his shirt, and started to describe without any introduction how he was returning from Damascus to resume his teaching post in the language department of the Sorbonne. He had left Paris at the outbreak of war but after the Miracle of the Marne was determined to return. He had grey eyes and a slightly rectangular head.
“Baris.” He sighed. “It is where my life is.”
To young Midhat Kamal, this statement was highly suggestive. In his mind a gallery of lamps directly illuminated a dance hall full of women. He looked closely at Faruq’s clothes. He wore a pale blue three-piece suit, and an indigo tie with a silver tiepin in the shape of a bird. A cane of some dark unpainted wood leaned against the table.
“I am going to study medicine,” said Midhat. “At the University of Montpellier.”
“Bravo,” said Faruq.
Midhat smiled as he reached for the coffeepot. Muscles he had not known were tense began to relax.
“This is your first visit to France,” said Faruq.
Midhat said nothing, assenting.
Five days had passed since he said goodbye to his grandmother in Nablus and travelled by mule to Tulkarem, where he joined the Haifa line for Kantara East and changed trains for Cairo. After a few days at his father’s house, he boarded the ship in Alexandria. He had become accustomed to the endless skin of the water, broken by white crests, flashing silver at noon. Lunch was at one, tea was at four, dinner was at seven thirty, and at first he sat alone watching the Europeans eat with their knives. He developed a habit of searching a crowded room for the red hair of the captain, a Frenchman named Gorin, and after dinner would watch him enter and exit the bridge where he supervised the helm.
Yesterday, he started feeling lonely. It happened suddenly. Sitting beside the stern, waiting for the captain, he became conscious of his back against the bench, a sensation that was bizarrely painful. He was aware of his legs extending from his pelvis. His nose, usually invisible, doubled and intruded on his vision. The outline of his body weighed on him as a hard, sore shape, and his heart beat very fast. He assumed the feeling would pass. But it did not, and that evening simple interactions with the quartermaster, dining attendants, other passengers, took on a strained and breathless quality. It must be obvious to them, he thought, how raw his skin felt. During the night he pressed the stem of his pocket watch compulsively in the dark, lifting the lid on its pale face. The ticking lulled him to sleep. Then he woke a second time and, continuing to check the hour as the night progressed, began to see in those twitching hands the spasms of something monstrous.