The Hermit

By: Zayd Mutee' Dammaj
Translated by: Shaker Al-Molsi

The people in the neighborhood used to revere and respect him, a passionless respect. He was not a tough man, an influential person, nor a favorite of the empowered elite.

He was aptly described by the righteous wise men of the neighborhood as a hermit in his hermitage, corner or workhouse. Some pedants in the neighborhood who opened their minds on other neighborhoods described him as a thinker and philosopher secluding himself in his ivory tower, amidst piles of books, some of which were useful and the rest sheer blasphemy.

The hermitage, zawia, or workhouse or whatever place, taken as an abode by this man, was nothing but a room built on top of the roof of a building in the neighborhood.

He managed to get his livelihood like other God’s creatures, along with his cat who had become a part of his life.

-          What was the use of life?

-          He had got no wife, no children and perhaps no relatives.

-          People like him are usually stingy with themselves

He used to hear such conversations and more, while he was walking along the alleys of the neighborhood. Yet, he suffered no harm. Everyone respected and revered him. Some even wished to live like he did.

-          Despite his apparent piety, he almost drips venom.

-          Believe me or not, his behaviors seem sometimes sadistic.

-          Come on man, you should judge him by what you see and leave his inner to God.

 He heard this conversation on his way back from his simple routine work. Yet, there are people who would pity him and behold him with true affection and love.

 He was an avid reader. He had authored literary and philosophical works that were read by the general public. The minority of enlightened and knowledgeable people were desirous to get acquainted with him, especially the ones with interest in creative works of arts, literature, culture and philosophy which represent the forefront of the tolerant progressive human civilization.

 He shunned to rise into fame even within the dim light of the neighborhood whose inhabitants had the simplest life and knowledge in the town and on whom God had bestowed a good deal of ignorance.

 The neighborhood grew turbulent. Some of the valiant dwellers marched angrily towards the building on whose roof he lived. Earlier, he had heard the voice of the Friday sermonizer at the local mosque roaring through many loudspeakers, denouncing him, calling him infidel and calling for his death. He, however, did not consternate like a rabbit but smiled as he looked down on the angry mob from the roof of the building.

 He had written an article in a newspaper about heaven. He claimed in the article that life in heaven could be boring and tasteless because it would deprive the human being of activeness, and the joy derived from toil and effort exerted in the achievement of ambitions. “If all needs are met effortlessly, what meaning does the existence of the human being have?” he asked. He preferred the other life which must force him to invent and innovate, say, an air conditioner to soften the heat of fire.

The money he earns through his work is spent on books, papers, pens and some specialized newspapers and magazines. The remainder is spent tightly on his day to day needs.

He came to shun politics and everything that has to do with it. He had suffered, for the sake of politics, the bitterness of expatriation, the humiliation of imprisonment, and the detention camps administered by the henchmen. Once, he had almost lost his balance of mind. He still believed he had lost his sanity leading his current life.

 When the homeland was throbbing with enthusiastic revival in all respects, he was the mouthpiece of the nation; he was one of the lofty national landmarks. He enriched the feelings and inspired enthusiasm with his writings, speeches and talks until the epidemic was rampant everywhere.

He smiled when his memory hovered over that past period as he rocked himself leisurely in his chair, with his legs stretched over an old wooden trunk on the roof of the building and his hands joined behind his head. His docile faithful cat was beside him, letting him stroke her fur from time to time with his warm kind hands. He was listening to a calm sound, as faint as the city’s light, from a Beethoven symphony played on his old cassette player.

-          Good evening or rather good morning. It is now past 1:00 a.m.

He stood to his feet. He tried to switch off the player, but the visitor kindly insisted that he leave it on for the sound was faint.

-          I hope you were not upset with yesterday’s mob.

 He smiled and gave no answer.

-          Be sure most of them did not understand and did not want it to happen.

He smiled once again with no answer.

-          They now seek atonement. Be sure most of the suffer now pricks of conscience.

He delved into his room and brought another cup for his visitor to share him his night or rather his morn.

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