The Kaftan Mourner in Hotel Grand de France, by Arturo Desimone

I showered for more than 3 quarters of an hour, expelling the phantom smear residue of adrenaline from my skin, cleaning my very nerve endings, I dreamt in the shower, with my traveling tête-head mind the dreams I give into and over to before I return to bed.

Upon exiting the communal shower a man approached me in the corridor, guest of a hotel chambre neighboring the bathhouse-closet which I was to lock before returning the rental key to the reception. He was old, gray mustache like a moth that survived catastrophe but wearing ash heavy on its very wings and it perched warm under his warm nose, his afraid cataract eyes behind thick black-rimmed glasses—I wonder if cataracts come from a need to preserve water and fluids in times and places of drought, despite grief and sadness. His one grief-eye was magnified bigger than the other. A long white kaftan robe held his old corp body together under a white fez. He approached me talking in Arabic.

“Je ne peut parle pas El Arabiye,” I tried, my Arabic words correct but arranged in a horrid amateur savage grammar

He kept talking, flustered, pleading, maybe asking me the way to something. He shook palm-fist from under white kaftan, more in Arabic with some French

I understood only the words ‘toilet’ and ‘chouf’, showed him to the toilet but he persisted in his questions that possessed no known answer other than

“Je ne parle pas El Arabiye, I speak English, French, Espanol. Pardon” I stood with the funny pink and blue beach towel wrapped round my waist, tracking from dirt from the floor of the shower which  I needed to lock. My room for 21 dinars was without a shower and I had to borrow the key from the receptionist, 2 dinars for every dose of cleaning le corps. Was he angry that I walked around a hallway without a shirt, like an arrogant French or American tourist? Or with a towel round my waist like a woman’s skirt—no, that style of dress was normal here if the man also has his trunk covered. What was the matter?

My heart raced with wanting to help answer, help hook the fish of his flounderings
I locked the door of the douche and left.

Upon key-entering my room I saw he stood there in his kaftan, barefoot—no, he wore socks and sandals, his body twisted, haloe of anxiety round his head.

Once inside I turned on the music. I knew, then, like a key had dropped from a mischief-messenger’s cloud into the deep quiet well of my Oriental soul, I knew what it was, what he had dreamed while staggering in the clean blue white corridor of Grand Hotel De France aux Rue Mobarak.

I knew as if he had spoken to me, wondering why this youth-man, tracking his dirt on the mosaic tiles, pretends. Hypocrite, he acts like he doesn’t understand, why are you pretending not to know Arabic? Not to know this oldest of Semitic languages. Answer and stop making me bang my head against a wall of your hypocritical cataract you or they put in your head, you forgot you understand Arabic, that you were a fisherman as a child, and you know the way winds blow the skirts of merchants in the market places that sell both food, flowers and metals.

 A vein shot from the coordinate meridian in his palm closely associated with the heart organ, pierced through the hotel plaster walls and tunneled into my room so I would hear his air.

He was worried to grief, about the water. Why was I scattering and wasting all the jewels of water, throwing tourquise down the tiles and drains?

There was a water scarcity, he was from a desert town. There they lived in houses of brown clay. And the brown town is next to mastabas where Anubis the Egyptian god of hygiene for the dead still walks at night smoking and thinking of poetry. Between the town and mastabas of Anubis toeprints there is a tower of which only the wise and the dead have known the inner.

They do not know what is stored in the tower. They just know water is rare and precious, what are you doing showering so long? All of the rain sliding off Gabriel’s skirt that the prophet of cups gave us is down the pipes, to the cold gray damp park of the dead souls. A matter of awakening and extinction, and here you are with your beachtowel  shoveling our saltless water into its premature grave, before morning of light.

I worried in the pre-midnight vibrations of dreaming shadows and wrinkled lungs outside that the kaftan judge was right; I had caused the destruction of a city, I had buried a family alive, forcing them to drink from the sea.

In my sleep I saw him standing in the hall, back twisted like an Arabic question mark. And what worse was that he knew that I knew what I had did, but then on top of that I pretended to know no Arabic.


Arturo Desimone, Arubian-Argentinian writer and visual artist. His poetry and short fiction have previously been in The New Orleans Review, in the Buenos Aires Reader, and in the Rosetta World Literature Quarterly of Istanbul,  Counterpunch Poets Basement.
He is currently working on a longer fiction project.

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