A Mouthful of Dirt (A Short Story)


I’m all alone here in this room. No sun enters, only the flies and the loud sound of my solitude. I’m going deaf and blind but it’s all in my head.

Everything is in my head: the whole world, heaven, hell, god and the angels. But my head empties from time to time and the world disappears. Heaven and hell melt into a snowball and the angels leave, leaving nothing but darkness and silence. What day is it today? What day was it tomorrow and what day will it be yesterday? God knows everybody knows except me. I dislike knowledge even of the simplest things.

Knowledge is torture. It’s painful to know and keep on knowing all those hurtful and worrying things. No, take it away, all knowledge and learning and sense. Give me a plot of land and some sunshine instead. The sunshine! I can’t remember its taste and color. It was a long time ago when I saw that for the last time. Where was it? Yes, on a beach somewhere north. The Mediterranean smelt like a corpse. Beautiful girls were walking that day wearing nothing but youth and lust. I was watching them from a distance. I was clocked in pain. They were happy, smileful, enjoying their fleshy temples and youth. 

Ah! The girls, the sand, the sun; that was a long time ago. Oh, how cruel Time is! Time is cancer that eats our lives away. I shouldn’t say bad things about Time. Never scold that Master. Just try to forget about it. Escape its gaze. Forget about it – it won’t forget about you – but try to forget about it. Close your eyes and mumble something pleasing: a lullaby or a song or a prayer or a curse. Produce a comforting sound of some sort. Close your mouth and open your asshole and fart; fart Albinoni’s adagio or Mozart’s 25th. Fart all of Bach and Chopin. Waste more time and words and type, type, type whatever that comes to your mind. 

I occupy a chair in a room that isn’t mine, wearing nothing but my socks and underwear. It’s night – it’s always night. I sit and wait and wait and wait. I’m not waiting for any particular thing or person. I’m simply waiting; waiting for things to happen and things to stop; waiting for people to come and others to go. I sit and stare at white pages and sometimes I scribble a few lines when I dare. I put pain into paper and wait and imagine strange frescos on the grey, naked walls of the room. I have no family, and I know nobody and nothing. I had a job but they fired me about a week ago. I was a teacher of Spanish and I had one student: Lilium.

She was breathtakingly beautiful; fifteen years old, honey-brown eyes, dark hair. I was in love with her but my love was doomed because it was forbidden. The classroom was a cement garden, she was the lily and I was the beast. Lilium used to wear all sorts of titillating clothes. The last time we saw each other she was wearing an orange jacket, a skirt, and two white socks that ended in shiny black shoes. I watched her cross and uncross her legs and dreamt of the softness of her thighs. I dreamt of her and all the other ones who passed me by in the streets like forbidden fruits. And there was I, correcting her grammar and pronunciation and thinking of things no grammar can rule or words can pronounce.

I was the satyr; I was the hunchback, crouched in the corner, beating my wings of desire in empty halls. And then one day as I were explaining to her a poem, I put my hand on her thigh and felt her cheek and lips with my other one and then there was a long silence and then my eyes looked into hers and said yes yes yes please and hers said no no no and then she stood up and left.

I was summoned by the directress. She closed the door and sat looking at me; her eyes were moist with tears. She looked at me and said I don’t believe it, I thought you were such a nice, honorable person. I am, I thought. How could you do such a thing to her and me and the school? She, Lilium, said she won’t tell anybody but she’ll never be coming back to this place. She was doing theatre and learning ballet beside Spanish but now that was all over. She’ll be more cautious next time and stay away from perverts like me.

I was fired. Madame Zineb said not to show up ever again and go marry or seek help. Help? Why help? Help for what? Help from whom? The only help I needed was a kiss from Lilium, a hug, a sin, a smile, a tear, anything human.

I needed to feel another human. That’s all the help anyone really needs. What if she decides to tell her parent? I kept thinking on my way home. I was horrified by the possibility of a scandal. I would be trialed, and then jailed, and then condemned into infamy and forgetfulness. I kept thinking of the trial of Socrates, and all those four hundred Athenian sons of bitches gathering in the amphitheater, wearing their effeminate white robes, all agreeing that the wise old man should drink Hemlock and perish and let ignorance and stupidity prosper in peace. But I was no Socrates, no iconoclast or youth corrupter; I was simply a lonely guy with the hope and resolution not to remain lonely. My solitude was my cup of Hemlock. 

Now it’s all gone: the job, Lilium, and my desire. I sit here and count my breaths and farts. I journey back and forth from the chair to the bed to the papers to the walls to the darkness of my mind when I open my eyes.

I own nothing except what I have already mentioned plus an old dictionary half of which was eaten by a gang of cockroaches that couldn’t find anything edible in my room. I pick up what is left and go word-hunting.

I particularly love words which begin by the letters N and O as in nowhere and nobody and nothing and nomad and Norway and no way. Nobody knocks on my door or calls my name which makes me wonder if I had ever known anyone. I don’t remember faces or names except for Lilium but even she is slowly starting to fade away from my memory. She had the most beautiful face I can remember seeing but one day she’ll grow old and ugly and die, and what will happen to that face? It’ll only exist in photographs. It’ll be locked in them, preserved. But it won’t mean anything. 

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Younes El Hamidi
"I am a machine condemned to devour books."


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