Bittersweet Candy

Some of my first memories of giving, or rather receiving, are of my grandfather giving me candy. My grandfather always pulls treasures out of his droopy pants, wide and concealing like a magician’s cloth. Under this cloth hides his shockingly thin body, as well as the timeline of the rather ritualistic candy distribution, always managing to trick me. He is returning from a game of “Tawla” with his friends, walking along the earthy road that leads to his house, which looks more like ruins from a neglected archeological site. Meanwhile, I am in the garden doing my childhood business, spinning like a space shuttle, or forcibly squeezing stray cats. I recall how he used to advance quietly, observantly, and with a fake casualty, he would put on the candy extraction performance. He would stand up in my field of vision, and start searching his pockets, stumbling upon all sorts of things; keys, napkins, dice, money, cigarette filters, Maté straws, wrinkled papers. Finally, after I had almost sunk into a dispirited hole, he would find the candy, usually snake green with its undulating shine, in the way artificial things glimmer. 

Half of the above story is made up; and I am not ashamed to admit it. I probably left out many details, such as that I was not the only candy bearer, that my cousins too flocked around my grandpa, and that sometimes he ate the candy by himself instead of giving it to us. If I were to tell you this however, the story would be hallowed out of its center, I would cease to be the protagonist. This fraudulent fiction seems to be the only solution, to rescue what crumbs I have left from this chronic dementia of time that is fast advancing, vacuuming my memory on a mission. 

I am telling you this story from a place of fracture, which inevitably devours truths into its inflated belly. This fracture is multifaceted, ultra-dimensional, because not only does it separate you and me, but it separates both of us from a supposedly objective truth, seated and waiting for us to find her, dusty and dirty and bewildered, by the eternal wait. Both of us on either end of the fracture are deceived, with false signs and echoes, that repackage reality by either acute reminiscence that blurs, or acute determination to make the story so sensible that it loses its limbs. Maybe you too, on your other end of the river bank, try to repackage my story with what you already know, with what the stream has already gifted you. Just like me, maybe you end up changing the story altogether, but that’s okay, because neither of us has the authority to order the truth to remain an obedient seated child, to not grow up.

This is, of course, not my first time visiting this fracture of a river, in fact I go to it quite often, out of boredom and out of habit. Everytime I take a walk in the orderly streets of Germany, every time I see a hunched old man’s back or hear the reverberations in an angry mother’s voice, I go there. There, time is suspended, between the origin and the destination, where I don’t need to take a stance, where I don’t need to choose either end of the riverbank. There I have the temporary illusion that time is suspended, that I captured it in both worlds, just because I can see its flow from outside, like leaving the Earth and seeing it not as the vivid world it is but only as a stationary ball enveloped by the shell of the atmosphere. This reminds me of video games when Super Mario jumps to a floating brick, or when Tarzan fastens himself to a suspended rope that saves him from falling into an abyss. If I choose to settle on either end of the riverbank, I need to beg permission in the territory of linear time, that inevitably forgets parts of me. It only admits me if I throw away parts of my luggage into the river first, because it’s already overcrowded and overwhelmed with the baggage of the new arrivals. That in-between land where imagination is the only law seems to offer the compromise of being whole, of composing one’s whole. Being whole is an act of composition; it requires one to consciously create a passageway that connects those two fractured realities. This creation—if indeed a good creation— takes a lot of trial and error, and a whole lot of repetition.

There is a certain pleasure in repetition, in retelling the same thing in a polished way, in the feeling of reclamation. Everytime I go home to my mom’s little flat in South Germany, I feel as though I am in a mini simulation of Syria, with our soap operas belting out in Arabic 24/7, through the walls and from under the doors, challenging the dominant contemporary pop songs that yell at us in retaliation from the clothes store below. Every time I am annoyed at the sound pollution, and every time I ask “why the hell do we need to have an actor’s voice penetrate our ears all day long?”  Five years later I’ve given up on asking, but my mom still sees the question written on my face and answers me hastily, trying to avoid an argument “I know that you don’t like soap operas, but it’s because we don’t know anyone here, we need familiar sounds to personify the space”. I know this fact, just as I know all of my family stories, such as great uncle Sami who walked barefoot every morning to school in the neighboring town so that his shoes would stay new, or how every Eid mom used to sleep with her new shoes under her pillow because she was so happy with them, or how aunt Hala believed that her shoes were magical and that they would make her run faster “I put on my quick shoes, phoom phoom” she would say, and so on. I hear these stories all the time, and I used to be fed up with them, until I noticed that throughout the years, I too started to like indulging in the same stories, usually stories about our childhood. This dwelling in a fragmented past seems to have become the new ritual which isn’t actually too new, since everyone seems to enjoy revisiting this agreed upon familiarity that glues generations together. One just needs to grow up a little bit to realize that they’ve been doing it, like a snake that revolves around your neck sneakily until one day its grip is too tight you can’t chew it away anymore. There are so many shoe stories though, the title of this piece might as well be “The Lost Shoe,” or something.

Many of those family stories are stories of hardship and mourning of an unfiltered childhood innocence that is no longer capturable. Repetition asserts, and convinces, that one is a hero, is morally superior to the imposed material conditions. I guess we tell stories in order not to forget, but also to reaffirm where we come from, even though most of it was imposed on us. We retell stories to feel like we are the agents of our lives, mechanically refashioning our shabby inherited package and making it presentable, even admirable. We turn the bitter sweet, we confuse our senses and give color to ordinariness with the bored pen of adulthood. It is as simple as taking a shower on a bad day, trying to reorder, trying to repolish the deformed clown in oneself, cleaning up the over spilled rouge and wiping away the smudged eyeliner with the tip of a napkin, attempting to look coherent, and feel that our existence makes sense.

Once the poet Niyi Osundare said “The enlarged heart is not a medical condition”, and I don’t know how to emulate him, but I want to say something similar about nostalgia. “Nostalgia isn’t…” some universal wisdom I wish I could formulate. That’s the way it goes, for stories about the past; it’s easy to claim that we’ve known all along how they would turn out, but in fact, they’re just the lucky outcome of an often unlucky and painful repetition. They’re continuous, and flow earlier than any actual attempt to craft them because they’re already waiting in our subconscious, assembled rather randomly and ready to be rearranged. When it comes to saying any meaningful deduction about the present or future, one seems to lack the words, because one definitely lacks something, which is the gift of retrospect, the fracture. I hope that even though my imaginary land is a made up shadow of the past, you can still feel your feet touch parts of your present in it, that you manage to stumble upon fragments of your luggage between its bushes, a lost sock maybe, or a lost shoe.

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