THE CURIOSITY OF A CHILD…
OR THE DISTINY OF A MAN
My son, oh future,

I overhead you yesterday in the other room asking your mother, "Am I Palestinian too?" When she said "yes", a heavy silence engulfed the whole house. It was as if something that was suspended over our heads had fallen, its noise exploding, and then falling silent.

Afterwards, I could not believe my ears, but my fingers I did believe. I was reading when I felt the book trembling in my hands. No, everything was real to an alarming extent. I heard you cry.

I could not move. Something grater than my grasp was being born in the other room through your ambivalent sobbing. It was as if a blessed scalpel was cutting open your chest and placing there the heart that belongs to you.

Your question was still moving about the ceiling and reverberating in the trembling of my fingers: "Am I Palestinian too?" Then the scalpel falls, in that quick, clean move of a skilful surgeon: "Yes". Then silence falls, as if something has occurred, and I hear you crying.

I could not move to see what was happening in the other room. I knew, however, that a distant homeland was being reborn, that some land of meadows, olive groves, dead people, torn and folded banners, was making its way into a future of flesh and blood, to be born in the heart of another child.

I was overcome by the same ambivalent feeling that gripped me five years ago when you were born. I was standing there waiting for you to emerge from one unknown into another. I felt – when I heard you coming into the world crying with a wailing voice-that you had fallen on my shoulders and embedded me more firmly into the earth.


Here I am, in the other room, seeing you being born again, feeling you falling on my shoulders again and thrusting me deeper into the earth. At the moment I wished I could see how your small face, abounding with the bloom of innocence, was being initiated to sorrow, how that "yes" was coming sown on it like a branding iron, taking away your innocent glide over a childhood unaware of the blades scattered ahead.

You were being created, at that moment, before your mother's eyes and my fingers, as they trembled like the page of a book. Someone was handing you a gun and directing you eyes to its trigger.

Between out two rooms and the wall, the veins of the earth were creeping like a legend binding us once more. I could not move, but I knew in an obscure way, difficult to discern, why it was that you unwillingly cried. I believe in that unknown which is conveyed by words, but can be perceived by none.

You were unknowingly feeling it, that word which signifies belonging and suffering. It may mean to you, more than to me, the elation of victory. These years that elude me shall be yours, and hope, within me does not wither, but shall be conveyed to you and added to your hopes, and shall grow within you.

You undoubtedly felt that; otherwise, why was it that you cried?

I remember – while sitting in the other room listening to you being reborn through your sobbing – how I too was born again. I was only ten when cars transported us to the disgrace of escape. I knew nothing then, I felt nothing. I was still gliding, unaware, over the innocence of childhood. But in that instant, I was baptized in a scene I shall never forget: the trucks had stopped; I sneaked to where the men were standing, driven by the curiosity of a child or the destiny of a man. I saw them surrendering their weapons to the border sentry post so that they may enter the world of refuge with bare hands.

I walked back depressed, sensing something I could not fathom; my mother was sitting with the other women. I proceeded towards her as though she was a refuge. She asked what was wrong. "They are surrendering their weapons", I said. In the same way that your mother said "yes" to you, so did my mother, say "yes" to me, then. Silence befell us as if something had fallen, and under the lash of her intelligent eyes I found myself weeping.

I was born anew then. I was watching the men once again, with a look they were unaccustomed to, and my mother – alone – was giving me a look I was unaccustomed to.

Do not believe that man grows up. No. Man is born all of a sudden: a word, in an instant, penetrates his heart to a new throbbing. One scene can hurl him down from the ceiling of childhood onto the rough road.

As that piercing "yes" recreated me, another "yes" recreated you. And I heard how you accepted it with the wailing of a man emerging from one unknown to another with the rhythmic flow of sound impossible to be rid of.

Was your question just like mine, the curiosity of a child or the destiny of a man?

It is of no consequence.

At that moment, the old land had been born within a new man. I witnessed the birth while I was in the other room and felt that the resisting veins had taken root in another patch on the expanse of unending bodies.

When you came to me, it seemed as though you were emerging from you own private enclosure and a voice had instructed you to read. It caused you to panic at first, but it put you at the gateway leading out to the road ahead.

Ghassan Kanafani
Beirut - 1967