Ġorġ Mallia

Author, cartoonist and communications academic

Here is a sampling of of my stories. Two have been translated into English from the original Maltese (with the Maltese original also included), and a long one written originally in English, three very short ones also in English and one extremely short one in Maltese.

 

Those stories that I write that are not for children tend to be quite stream-of-consciousness and character driven. When writing in Maltese, I wallow in the sound of the words and often create what I would describe as "tone-poetic-prose", the melody of the language often reflecting the thoughts and feelings of the characters.

 

My characters are, in the main, unnamed, because, though rounded and intended to be individuals, they explore emotions, dilemmas and other feelings (at times even happy ones, though that's the exception rather than the rule) that are easily corresponded to. So, in one sense only, they become everyman and everywoman.

 

The examples here are not necessarily typical, but do give an idea of how I like to write "fiction" when I have the time to do so.

How much does a baby cost?

A Roaring, Silent World

Experimental short stories

How much does a baby cost?

A short story for Christmas

(Il-verżjoni oriġinali bil-Malti qiegħda HAWN)

 

"How much does a baby cost?"

 

The shop owner stared at her.  A pretty girl.  A little pale, as if she had just come out of some illness, but pretty.  Mostly her long black hair contrasting with the pale skin of her face.

 

"Sorry?"

 

"A baby.  How much does it cost?"

 

And again.  "A baby.  Isn't this Christmas?  Isn't that a baby in the manger?  I want a baby."

 

"Aah, now I understand.  Crib statuettes.  A baby jesus for the manger.  No, those we don't sell.  If you would like you can try Knick-Knacks at the corner.  He'll have them for sure."

 

He could not understand her.

 

Not even this one.

 

He was not alone in this.

 

She said nothing else to him and left the shop.

 

The cold was not there.  Indeed, it was warm, as if St. Martin's Summer had extended to December.  And the stickiness of a stinking south wind that only a Christmas in Malta can give us.

 

Last year it was cold.  She felt it suddenly when she saw the blood dripping on the bedsheet.  She felt it shiver her spine when on the realisation that that large red spot was coming out of her.

 

And outside there was a band playing Jingle Bells.  Today she can still not understand how in that moment of terror the only thing that passed through her mind was how alien that melody sounded - those words speaking of snow that in Malta never twirled round the frequent winds.  Alien.

 

Like the baby in her womb.

 

So alien that it did not want to stay there.

 

And now, looking into a window lit by lights twinkling a colourful winking, she felt the cold again, snaking its way up her spine, and the skin on her neck, pins and needles, reminding her.

 

The doctor had told her to try and forget.  To get lost in the work that, once, was so dear to her.  And occasionally she managed, but not at Christmas time.

At the first plastic three dressed in hair of aluminum glinting in the confusion of fairy lights;

 

at the first released strands of familiar notes that are dusted each year at December's dawning;

 

at the word "Christmas" or "Yuletide" stuck into adverts that insinuate themselves among radio and television programmes, until they grow into a chain that occasionally links to it a programme or two;

 

at the laughing faces of children...

 

...children...

 

(WHY DID YOU HURT ME SO MUCH?  WHAT HAVE I EVER DONE WORSE THAN OTHERS TO HAVE ENDED UP DENIED THE LIFE THAT SHARED WITH ME FOR A WHILE MY EXISTENCE?  THAT SPOKE TO ME WITH A MUTE VOICE EVERY SECOND OF MY BREATHING FOR FIVE HOLY MONTHS - A HUNDRED AND FIFTY DAYS OF LIFE AMIDST TWENTY FOUR YEARS OF DEATH?  WHY?)

 

There's a foreign choir in the square.

 

It was brought over by the Department of Culture.  The voices are sweet, and they penetrate the heat with words about the cold of snow, far away places, traditions evoked once a year, hope of peace, hope of happiness.

 

A foreign choir.

 

The foreign life in her womb used to twinkle like the living lights that snaked around the art of the illiterate artisan who made the decorations in the shop-filled street through which she walked.

 

It was a life that often startled her with the blow of the silent flash of the star on the cave in the crib.  Of the star with trembling light that she had bought for the window of her room a few hours before the red on the sheet stole the light from her heart.

 

Wearing red scarves, children in a mixed group are at a corner singing carols from old exercise books, yellowed by the sweat of a thousand fingers, and with curled edges.  The school teacher that directs them wipes perspiration off with a torn handkerchief that had seen many Christmases and which now went from one pocket to another.

But the children are sweet.  People stop to watch them.  The singing is totally out of tune, but the faces are red from the warmth of the woolen pullovers and the heat of the south wind.

 

(WHY?  PERHAPS BECAUSE MY BIRTH WAS NOT TO BE A VIRGIN ONE LIKE THE ONE SHE HAD TWO THOUSAND YEARS AGO?  BECAUSE MY LOVE WAS JUST FOR THE FRUIT AND NOT FOR THE SEED AND LESS AND LESS FOR THE GARDENER WHO SOWED IT?  WHO EVER THINKS OF THE SOWING AS HE EATS A FRUIT? AM I GUILTY BECAUSE OF THAT?  IF NOT... WHY?)

 

On a small stool there is a man with the years... ruts running across his face, wearing cotton wool instead of a beard, and for the rest decorated in white and red.  A faded red from the washing and boiling of once a year for so many years, but red nonetheless.

 

There are crowns of shining green leaves, in the way that plastic shines in light.  There are cherries of red plastic hanging there.

 

And the trees are full of artificial balls of all colours, but it is the red that meets her eyes - gobs of red, drops of red, contrasting with the snow-white background on the card printed abroad, in a foreign language, which comes for a short while, makes someone happy and is then hidden among the rubbish until it gets worn and is thrown away.

Because there is no room for the foreign here.

 

Isn't that so, oh wax baby in a manger full of synthetic straw?

 

We will greet what is foreign for a while - say, once a year, then we will pack it away among the rubbish in the attic.

 

Away from the eyes, away from the heart?

 

No...

 

Because the red winking of the light bulb does not let it be so.  The silence lullabyed by the winking of the non-understood voices of the passers-by - voices that rise and fall in a symphony that everybody understands according to his or her own background, fill the air that suffocates because of the halogen lights and the south wind.

 

Among the hubbub there is a lagoon of silence around her, but there is a lot of noise in her thoughts - a coloured and black noise, dented by the heaviness of the living memory that dressed death and found an ending at the beginning.  And a bunch of thorns in her stomach pushes bitterness up her throat - pushes the redness in front of her eyes.

 

The children's singing is moving away, and she takes the road leading the other way.  Away from there.  Far away from the materialistic cave lit by technology, hemmed by the electronic shout moaning for a consumer.

 

She wished she could touch a real tree - green, with no red balls hanging on it.  She wished to hug the life of the tree to her so as to remember what that life was that was not bought wrapped and rolled round in pretty paper.

 

She wished a happy Christmas to her barren womb - almost sterile, and decorated it with a tear winking on its way down in the light of the moon.

 

And she waited for the dawning of the morrow, the day of the twenty sixth, to celebrate Christmas.

 

 

Written in Maltese: December 11, 1999 (Published in Il-MUMENT, special Christmas edition). It also appeared in IL-MALTI, the journal of the Maltese Academy. No. LXXV, November 2001, pp. 112-114.

 

Translated: September 3, 2002

Kemm tiswa' tarbija?Novella tal-Milied  “Kemm tiswa tarbija?” Tal-ħanut baqa’ ċċassat lejha. Tfajla ħelwa. Kemmkemm safra, donnha għadha kif ħarġet minn xi marda, imma ħelwa. L-aktar xagħarha twil iswed jaqta’ mal-ġilda pallida ta’ wiċċha. “Skużi?” “Tarbija. Kemm tiswa? Tarbija. Dan mhux il-Milied? Mhux tarbija hemm fil-maxtura? Jien irrid tarbija.” “Ee, issa fhimt. Pasturi. Bambin għall-maxtura. Le, dawk ma nbiegħuhomx. Jekk tixtieq ipprova n-Knick-Knaks fil-kantuniera. Dak ikollu żgur.” Ma setax jifhimha. Lanqas dan. Ma kienx waħdu. Ma qaltlu xejn aktar u ħarġet barra mill-ħanut. Il-kesħa ma kinitx hemm. Anzi, l-għomma, donnu s-sajf ta’ San Martin ġebbidha sa Diċembru. U t-tgħakkir ta’ riħ isfel jinten li Milied f’Malta biss jaf jagħtina. Is-sena l-oħra kienet il-kesħa. Ħassitha f’daqqa x’ħin rat id-demm iqattar mal-liżar tas-sodda. Ħassitha tkexkxilha s-sinsla x’ħin intebħet li d-dabra ħamra kient ħierġa minnha. U barra kien hemm banda qed iddoqq il-Jingle Bells. Illum ma tistax tifhem kif f’dak il-mument ta’ terrur, l-unika ħaġa li għadditilha minn moħħha kienet kemm instemgħet barranija dik il-melodija... dawk il-kliem jitkellmu fuq borra li f’Malta qatt ma nbarmet ma’ l-irjiħat spissi. Barranija. Daqs it-tarbija f’ġufha. Tant barranija dik, li ma kinitx riedet tibqa’ hemm. U issa, tħares ġo tieqa mixgħula minn dwal iteptpu tegħmiża kulur, ħasset il-kesħa mill-ġdid isserrep tul is-sinsla, u l-ġilda t’għonqha, xewk xewk, tfakkarha. It-tabib kien qalilha biex ittajjar. Tehda fix-xogħol li, darba waħda, tant kien għal qalbha. U kultant kien jirnexxilha, imma mhux fil-Milied. Ma’ l-ewwel siġra tal-plastik imlibbsa x-xuxa ta’ aluminjum ileqq fil-geġwiġija tal-bozoz;ma’ l-ewwel ħjut mitluqa ta’ noti familjari li jitfarfru kull sena ma’ sbieħ Diċembru;mal-kelma “Milied” jew “Krismis” imdeffsa fir-reklami jinfilsaw irwieħhom qalb il-programmi tar-radju u t-televixin, sa ma joktru f’katina li ssensel magħha xi programm kultant;mal-wiċċ daħkan tat-tfal... ... tat-tfal... (GĦALIEX WEĠĠAJTNI DAQSHEKK? X’QATT GĦAMILT JIEN AGĦAR MINN ĦADDIEĦOR BIEX SPIĊĊAJT MIĊĦUDA MILL-ĦAJJA LI QASMET MIEGĦI GĦAL ŻMIEN L-EŻISTENZA? LI KELLMITNI B’LEĦEN MUTU KULL SEKONDA TA’ NIFSI GĦAL ĦAMES XHUR IMQADDSSA... MIJA U ĦAMSIN JUM TA’ ĦAJJA QALB ERBGĦA U GĦOXRIN SENA TA’ MEWT? GĦALIEX?) Hemm kor barrani fil-misraħ. Ġabuh tal-Kultura. L-ilħna ħlejja, u jinfdu l-għomma bi kliem dwar il-kesħa tal-borra, artijiet imbiegħda, drawwiet imqanqla darba f’sena, tama ta’ paċi, tama ta’ hena. Kor barrani. Il-ħajja barranija f’ġufha kienet itteptep bħad-dwal ħajja li serrpu tul l-arti ta’ l-artiġġjan illitterat li ħadem l-armar tat-triq mimlija ħwienet li mxiet fiha. Kienet ħajja li spiss taħsadha bid-daqqa tal-berqa ħiemda tal-istilla fuq l-għar tal-presepju. Tal-istilla b’dawl iterter li xtrat għat-tieqa ta’ kamritha ftit sigħat qabel mal-ħmura tal-liżar serqitilha d-dawl minn qalbha. Libsin xalpi ħomor, it-tfal fi grupp imħallat f’kantuniera jkantaw għanjiet minn pitazzi qodma, sofor biż-żejt tas-swaba’ u bi truf innukklati. Is-superjur tal-mużew li jmexxihom jimsaħ l-għaraq b’maktur imżarrat li ra kemm-il Milied u li issa ħareġ mill-but għal ieħor. Imma t-tfal ħelwin. In-nies jieqfu u jiggustawhom. Il-kant żgangat, imma l-uċuħ ħomor mis-sħana tal-flokkijiet tas-suf u l-għomma tax-Xlokk. (GĦALIEX? FORSI GĦAX IT-TNISSIL TIEGĦI MA KIENX VERĠNI BĦAL TA’ DIK T’ELFEJN SENA ILU? GĦAX L-IMĦABBA TIEGĦI KIENET BISS GĦALL-FROTT U MHUX GĦAŻ-ŻERRIEGĦA U ANQAS U ANQAS GĦALL-ĠARDINAR LI ĦAWWILHA? MIN JOQGĦOD JAĦSEB FIŻ-ŻARA’ HU U JIEKOL FROTTA? NAĦTI B’DAQSHEKK? GĦALHEKK TGĦID? JEKK LE... GĦALIEX?) Fuq banketta żlugata hemm raġel bil-farretti tas-snin iħaffrulu wiċċu, liebes it-tajjar flok daqna, u għall-bqija mżejjen mill-abjad u l-aħmar. Aħmar bati mill-ħasil u t-togħlija ta’ darba f’sena għal tant snin, imma aħmar xorta waħda. Hemm kuruni ta’ weraq aħdar ileqq, kif il-plastik ileqq fid-dawl. Hemm ċirasa ta’ plastik aħmar imdendlin magħhom. U s-siġar mimlijin boċċi artifiċjali ta’ kull lewn, imma l-aħmar jaħbat ma’ għajnejha... boqoq ta’ aħmar, qtar ta’ aħmar, jaqta’ mal-isfond abjad silġ tal-kartolina stampata barra, b’lingwa barranija, li tiġi għal ftit, thenni lil xi ħadd u mbagħad tinħeba qalb l-imbarazz sa ma titqatta’ u tintrema. Għax il-barrani m’hawnx postu hawn. Hux hekk, tarbija tax-xemgħa f’maxtura ta’ tiben sintetiku? Il-barrani nilqgħuh għal ftit... ngħidu aħna darba f’sena, imbagħad nippakkjawh qalb l-imbarazz tar-raff. Bogħod mill-għajn, bogħod mill-qalb? Le... Għax l-aħmar iteptep tal-bozza ma jħallihx. Is-sikta mħanna mit-teptip tal-ilħna ma jiftiehmux tan-nies għaddejja... ilħna li jogħlew u jbattu f’sinfonija li kulħadd jifhimha skond xibru, timla l-arja tifgak mid-dwal tal-ħaloġen u r-riħ isfel. Qalb l-agħa hemm laguna ta’ sikta madwarha, imma hemm l-istorbju fi ħsibijietha... storbju mlewwen u iswed, mgħattan mit-toqol tat-tifkira ħajja li xiddet il-mewt u sabet it-tmien fil-bidu. U kobba xewk fl-istonku ttella’ l-imrar f’gerżumitha, jimbotta l-ħmura quddiem għajnejha. L-għana tat-tfal miexi ’l hemm, u hi taqbad it-triq in-naħa l-oħra. ’Il barra minn hemm. ’Il bogħod mill-għar materjalistiku mixgħul mit-teknoloġija, imberfel mill-għajta elettronika tokrob għall-konsumatur. Xtaqet tmiss siġra ta’ veru... ħadra, bla boċċi ħomor magħha. Xtaqet tħaddan ħajjet is-siġra magħha biex tiftakar xi tkun il-ħajja li ma tinxtarax irrumblata u mgeżwra. Xtaqet il-Milied it-tajjeb lil ġufha għeri... kważi sterili, u żejnitu hi u nieżla b’demgħa tteptep mid-dawl ta’ qamar. U stenniet l-għada jisbaħ, jum is-sitta u għoxrin, biex tiċċelebra l-Milied.  Miktuba fil-11 ta’ Diċembru, 1999 u ppubblikata f'edizzjoni speċjali għall-Milied ta' IL-MUMENT. Kienet ippubblikata mill-ġdid f'IL-MALTI, ir-rivista ta' l-Akkademja tal-Malti, Nru. LXXV, Novembru 2001, pp. 112-114

Illustration from Avventura taħt l-Art. Bugelli Publications, 1993.

A Roaring, Silent World

 

The old man with the sad eyes sat on the makeshift stone bench, one leg gathered under him, as he rummaged in the sack for food.

 

He had not eaten since four that morning, when he had dipped hard biscuits in steaming tea before setting out on a day in the field. It was now well into the afternoon and hunger had dragged him back to the rough shack of rubble walls he called home.

 

He sniffed at the loaf of bread he’d fished out of the sack, and deeming it digestigble he proceeded to scoop out part of the soft centre. Then he spread tomato paste inside the hole that remained, stuffed it with olives and rough slices of goat cheese, and after dipping the scooped out bread in oil, he pressed it back into the loaf, and ate.

 

He sat in the doorway of his shack, which was at the edge of a cliff, under which was a vast expanse of blue, flecked by white ribbons of foam, as the never-ending muffled thunder of the waves provided the only sound, infusing the backdrop with its rhythm.

 

The sun burnt the top of his bare head. It hung like an angry cry for vengeance, searing the ground he had been working on, and giving him poor compensation only in the shape of the abstract jewels it left on the surface of the sea, glinting and dancing mischievously just out of reach.

 

The old man stared out over the void, his brown eyes dulled by the years and his smile long robbed by the loneliness of his existence. It had been weeks since he last saw anyone, and then it was only the old woman at the grocery down in the village when he went to buy what he himself could not grow. And she only ever said how much the bill came to. Never a word of greeting. Nor any other word, come to that.

 

He was not liked in the village. And he did not like the people there, so things balanced out. No, it was difficult to like the scurrying children who shouted out names at him whenever he needed to go down to get provisions. Nor could he find it in himself to give the time of day to the sullen faced strangers who turned their faces the other way when they saw him. He would get what he needed, and before long he would be back among the familiar shadows and rough edges of his life. Nothing to be happy about, but lots to be comfortable with.

 

He had dug into almost half the loaf, cutting slices out of its dark crust with the small but very sharp pen-knife he always carried for that purpose, when footsteps startled him out of his habitual, accepted ambience of silent aloneness.

 

He could just make out the shape of what seemed to be a young man, slim and sprightly, stepping out of the sun-burnt foliage of the small copse behind him.

 

He sat and watched him approach. Unperturbed, but analysing the face that got closer, and not recognising him as any one of the identity lacking beings that inhabited like intangible ghosts the streets of the village during his visits.

 

Nor had he seen him before anywhere else. Yet there was something familiar about the face. A haunting feeling of almost recognition brought an extra line to the old man’s brow. The face and the context. Both rang silent bells inside his head, like flitting shadows teasing memory but slipping away just before anything tangible could be recognised.

 

But how was that possible? The last time a young man was anywhere near where the old man sat was many, many years before. Too many. They had tumbled over each other like an avalanche of misery since that afternoon…

 

“…life is different now. There’s nothing to say that a son has to move in his father’s footsteps,” the young man had said for the thousandth time, and for the thousandth time the he that was then had rebutted this. Stubbornly. Persistently.

 

“What will you do with yourself? Hire out your strength to the highest bidder? Lift boxes at the docks or make pretty flowers grow in some rich lady’s garden?” He had said when he wasn’t so old, when fire replaced the lethargy in his veins. “What sort of a life is that?”

 

“No, what sort of a life is this?” and the retort was fiery and arrogant. “We see no-one, we meet no people, we live for the land and that’s a whimsical master. We toil for pennies and live the life of hermits. If mother were still alive she’d agree with me!”

 

“Don’t ever mention your mother like that!” he had snapped, beginning the fight that was to end that part of his world. “She was a good woman who knew and accepted her role in life. What you want to do is the opposite of all that she stood for!”

 

“She stood for whatever you told her to stand for,” and there was anger in the young man’s brown, glinting eyes. “She often cried at night. Did you know that? In spite of having lain next to her in bed all her adult life? No, of course you didn’t. You’d be fast asleep, snoring as she cried. I used to hear her from the other room, and be unable to sleep, feeling her frustration deep inside me, until the morning sun made her sobs subside!”

 

“You’re lying to get your way!”

 

“I don’t need to lie to get my way,” the voice was suddenly silent, with a hint of peril in the tone. “I shall be leaving here this evening, and I won’t return!”

 

“Over my dead body!” shouted the man.

 

His son raised his arms slowly, menacingly; his sinews, wrought to iron strength by the hard ground of winter, rippled to the rhythm of the anger in his voice. “If that is what you wish,” he said quietly.

 

The man screamed. He lifted a heavy oak chair high up in the air, and lunged at the young man, who deftly caught one leg and pulled, dropping the chair on the man’s head.

 

The man’s eyes were misted over with what might have been the last tears he ever cried as he crumpled to the ground and succumbed to darkness. When he came to his senses, his son was gone.

 

And with time the son was replaced by the hardness of the ground, the smell of the soil, and the harsh rhythmic roaring of the crashing waves.

 

With a shock he did not know he could still feel, the old man realised that the young man who fast approached him had his son’s eyes! They were muffled by an unfamiliar face, but were unmistakable and startling.

 

Now that the stranger was close enough, the old man could see that he was tall and gangling, slim, with the obvious air of the city around him. He stopped eating and waited for newcomer to speak.

 

“Hello,” said the young man, and there was a breathlessness in his voice that did not come from his climb up to the top of the cliff. “I’m so happy finally to have found you! So very happy to meet you!”

 

The old man said nothing. There was no hint of interest in his dull eyes, no movement at all on his face. He just looked fixedly at the young stranger, waiting for him to say the inevitable.

“I’m your…”

 

“Grandson,” said the old man in the hoarse voice he had not used for many years, and the words rasped out, like nails scraping metal, toneless but harsh. “You are my son’s son.” And there was an almost imperceptible sigh at the end of that.

 

“Yes,” said the young man, flustered, unsure of what to say next now that his grand entrance had been deflated like a holed overblown balloon.

 

The dull eyes said nothing.

 

“I have been wanting to come to see you … to meet you… for years. Ever since I found out you were still alive, and not dead at all, like my dad had said ever since I can remember!” The words came tumbling out, each one chasing the other. “I found out about you and where you live when the parish priest asked dad about you … and dad did not know I was listening through a half open door. You had a fight with him, didn’t you, when he wanted to come live in the city. He never spoke about you, but had to when I confronted him with the fact that I knew all about you…”

 

The young man’s voice trailed off. He had been hoping for some sort of reaction to him and his words. Any sort of reaction. But the old man just sat there, quietly eyeing him, but not moving. Not talking.

 

And the thunder of the waves took over for a brief while, as there was silence between them.

The young man broke it. “This is a great occasion,” he almost cried, “I never knew I had a granddad, and now you’re right here before me. Isn’t it wonderful?” And he made as if to move forward to touch his grandfather’s shoulder.

 

The old man lurched to his feet, dropping the half loaf and raising the pen-knife in front of him. He stretched his arm in the direction of the young man and pointed the sharp blade at him.

 

“Get off my land!” he said softly, menacingly.

 

“But… but… I came all the way here to meet you. Argued with my dad for months because he wouldn’t let me. Wanted to prove to him that you would be happy to see the grandchild you never even knew you had…!” His voice quavered as if he was close to tears. “How … how can you? I’m of your own blood…!”

 

“My blood is in the ground beneath your feet,” said the old man, his dull eyes duller than ever. “My son lost all traces of my blood when he went away and left that ground. He is not my son. You are not my grandson!”

 

The young man was openly distressed. He lifted his hands to his face and his mouth opened and closed without sound for all the world like a dying fish. “No,” he said finally, “no … this is not the way it’s supposed to be. This is not the way it is in novels, in the movies … you’re supposed to accept me. You’re supposed to let me help you heal the wound and close the rift between you and your son… you’re … you’re supposed to take me in your arms and cry with joy…”

 

The old man did not move, his arm outstretched with the blade at the end of it glinting in the raging sun. His face was inscrutable, his eyes as dull as ever, saying nothing, meaning nothing.

 

The young man’s hands dropped by his sides, limp and helpless. His eyes were red and he had no voice, but his shoulders slumped and his head hung, as if it had lost the support of his neck.

 

“This is not the way it’s supposed to be,” he whispered one last time as he turned slowly away from the standing old man and moved like a sleeper in a waking dream back towards the copse.

 

 

When he disappeared, the old man’s arm slowly relaxed, and he turned and sat again on the stone bench in front of his home.

 

And the blue waves thrust foam up the face of the cliff, and the sun sent ripples of silver dancing to nothingness.

 

And the roar of the waves engulfed his thoughts and buried them in the silence of his world.

Happiness?

 

“I can see a greening land – lit by hues that play as if they’re the small children of morning.

 

“And the sun is red, and does not burn but echoes round the rocks – its light almost a sound that is not heard, but crashes like silent waves and leaves a mark on the path followed by the eye.

 

“The flowers are alive and large and they are smiling at us, so much that we love them at once, and we embrace them because we fear that the breeze will steal the moment from us.

 

“But even the breeze is gentle, and plays with our hair because it is mischievous, and we take off our clothes and feel it kiss us – with the hairs rising on our chests and legs as we shiver softly – and it almost enters us and makes us moan with a pleasure we did not dream would belong to that moment.

 

“The water sings. It flies. There are diamonds in it that are restless. They dash here and there like the dance of a crystalline butterfly.

 

“I am seeing that the sea is beautiful and blue. The sky once more, but more alive.

 

“And its cold on our bodies, pressing us in a maternal hug, like before, like after birth.

 

“Because here we are never born. Here the earth embraces us, and the sea rocks us as in its hammock. Here there is the lullaby of enchanted insects and the patting of the orchard’s sound, voiced by the breeze that teases without hurting.

 

“Here there is you. Here there is me. You are a woman and I am a man. You are a man and I am a woman. Embracing the threshing floor that grinds out love, and sieves what the universe feels.

 

“Which is us, because it has entered us and we now feel it is a part of us, and we (all of a sudden) a part of it.”

 

He became quiet. He thought.

 

“No, that is not a dragon coming out of the cave. That is the fear of tomorrow. But tomorrow does not exist. Only the dragon exists.

 

“It draws us to it, because it too is beautiful. Perhaps more than all that is around us, but we do not embrace it because then we’d need to close our eyes and we won’t be able to see it.  And when we don’t see it we’ll be afraid.

 

“Look how large it is, and his eyes are emeralds touched by rubies. And he is blanking out the sun, because his skin is reminiscent of topaz, glinting with every step he takes towards us.

 

“And the fire which is coming out of his nostrils burns in place of the sun that did not and still does not burn. And we shiver because all at once we see in his eyes close to us, tomorrow without us, because the dragon will have destroyed us – the living Fear.

 

“No, this is not terror I am feeling rising like waves towards my throat – those are just my thoughts bringing down on the day the curtain of night.

 

“Because between today and tomorrow there is the night.”

 

He became quiet. He slept.

 

And on the morrow came the morrow, and with it came the dragon’s eyes.

 

June, 1983

 

2002 translation of “Hena (?)”, final story in the collection of "stream of consciousness" short stories, Żagħżugħ bla isem (A young man with no name), 1985

L-Għanja tal-Baħar

 

L-għanja tal-baħar mhix bħal dik tal-Milied. Jiftakar lil ommu tgħannihielu meta kien ċkejken, u hu għannieha kemm-il darba lil ibnu fil-25 ta’ Diċembru tas-sena l-oħra.

 

Kienu jkantawha wkoll fil-knisja ċkejkna tar-raħal. Kienet hi l-ewwel li ntlaqtet minn missila mmirata sew minn ajruplan li tar ‘il fuq minnhom fis-satra tal-lejl. Inqerdet għal kollox, u magħha nqered Dun Ali, bniedem ħelu li kien fetaħ daru għal dawk kollha li tagħhom spiċċat frak.

 

L-għanja tal-baħar aktar qisha għajta maħnuqa. Għajta ta’ terrur. Twerżiqa msikkta ħesrem mill-kantun tas-saqaf, milqut mill-isplużjoni. Maqlugħ minn postu u mtajjar għal fuqha.

 

Kienet tħobbu ‘l Milied. L-aktar meta twieled it-tifel u kellha f’idha bambin tad-demm u l-laħam. Kien qed jerda’ dakinhar li ndifnet ħajja taħt il-knatan tas-saqaf.

 

L-għanja tal-baħar titfi l-ilfiq tiegħu, togħla u tinżel bħall-kor tat-tfal insara li kantaw quddiem id-djar ta’ kulħadd, kienu ta’ liema reliġjon kienu. Sa ma djar aktar ma baqax fejn imorru jkantaw.

 

L-għanja tal-baħar qiegħda kultant tittappan… tiskot għal ftit, imbagħad terġa’ tisplodi f’widnejh.

 

Kif?

 

Lemaħ id-dgħajsa maqluba, imma xejn aktar. Fejn kienu? Fejn marru? Kienu mill-inqas 300. Ittamaw li l-Milied iġibilhom ir-risq u jaslu fl-art tal-ħolm.

 

Issa l-għanja tal-baħar reġgħet siktet f’daqqa, u ma reġghetx għoliet.

 

Għax fid-dlam ċappa ma tistax tismagħha l-għanja.

A tale of missing

 

...and every morning, the man with sad eyes would walk slowly through a world of greys, that had colours curled just out of sight, and cried tears of rain.

 

...and he would sit and watch the dry ground underneath his feet flake, and the rock crack and become a salty sand, shifting dangerously towards a chasm that knew no bottom.

 

...and he would dance lethargically the dance of the lost, looking for footholds in the quicksand that threatened life with the darkness he only knew in his soul when she was away.

 

...and in his dance for life, he missed the laughter of the eyes that succoured him, and gave him a reason to live and dance the sprightly dance of the living, with banging drums and woodwinds whistling, and flags a-furling, snapping in the winds of gaiety, and brass oompahing ecstasy into hearts that over-brimmed with the laughter of life worth living.

 

This was a grey world, in between life and the darkness of the chasm.

 

...and her lips would whisper life in his ear, and curl the colours round his eyes and soul, and lift his heart to clouds turned cotton, rainbowed softly through fulfilment.

 

...and every morning he would cry for love, tumbled heavily down the chasm, lost to toeholds in the shifting sand of missing.

 

... and the world would turn grey, with hardly any light to distinguish it from the darkness!

A Tale of Insignificance

 

The sea rumbles. Gigantic the clouds loom, dwarfing walls of rock that rise and push into heaven, craggy with millennia of abuse, impervious to life, as they rise huge in their death, meeting the clouds to form a union of giants, dwarfing trees that knew a younger world.

 

He lies small and broken, tiny, insignificant, at the foot of the silence, tumbled over by the roar of a nature to which he feels himself a needle in a haystack, lost and little, fragile as twigs that snap in the rush of wind that suddenly rolls the heaven in its gargantuan maw.

 

As he looks over the edge of the cliff at the bottomless drop that engulfs the world, his hands grip nervously the loose gravel that separates his frame from the chasm, and wonders what difference his crushed body would make to the rocks below, shattered and absorbed by the muddy soil as if it had never been, a leaf dropping yellow from a tree in a massive forest, lost immediately to the world among millions of identity-less entities, ineffectual and forgotten, a speck of dust on a thousand acres of desert.

 

Inconsequential. A trivial mote of dirty white in a universe of blazing colour.

 

He crawls unnoticed to a hole in the gravel, that shifts and moves, and slowly swallows him up into its void, a nothingness that barely existed and did nothing to further itself when it did.

 

And the clouds spread out across the heavens, thunderheads spearing the huge eternity of continuity, because nothing had happened.

400 Stories

 

Ġiovann dreamt a lot. Well, one of those people who remember dreams, because many dream, but in the morning not everybody remembers what is dreamt.

 

“As clear as crystal,” he told me. “As if I’m really living them.”

 

I was at his place for a glass of wine. I had not seen him for a while and he had invited me quite often, but my life is ruined by work and I could only make it that day.

 

“What do you dream?” I asked him, just to make conversation.

 

“Stories,” he said. “Sometimes horror ones, and I wake up terrified, at other times funny ones and I laugh like an idiot till evening. Once in a while there’s one that confuses me, because I don’t really understand what’s happening in it, but once I mull over it during the day I realise what it’s about.”

 

“And how long has this been happening?”

 

“Three hundred and ninty nine nights,” he said. “A new story every night, and not one has so far been like the other.” He shook his head, as if he himself could not believe what he was saying.

 

“So tonight it’s the 400th story,” I told him, half smiling as I drained the last drops from the glass and got up to go.

 

He walked me to the door and I left him. A bit up the road I looked back and got a shock! I saw a transparent Ġiovann, like a ghost disappearing before my eyes.

 

I quickly looked down at my hands to see if they were there. Yes. But my mind was working like crazy. Maybe this was Ġiovann’s four hundreth dream. I was. And the wine. And the conversation.

 

Perhaps I was the protagonist of his four hundreth story.

 

© Ġorġ Mallia 2017