I have a knife in my kitchen. I’ve never been an aggressive person, but if this disgusting old man goes on jabbering away I’m seriously thinking of finding a new use for that knife. I’ll cut his tongue out, and some other organ if necessary. I’m out of cigarettes, the weather’s so miserable it makes you aggressive and, on top of all that, he’s giving me good reason to finish him off. Removing someone from the land of the living might be a reasonable solution, even for someone like me who has only trivial reasons for doing so. This Uncle Mubarak, as everyone calls him, is an uncle to everyone, not an uncle to anyone in particular. He’s public property, vulgar and delusional. He likes to hear people say things that suggest he’s respected, though he doesn’t deserve any respect. That’s what I learned in his café when I had the impression he deserved a certain respect in deference to his gray hair. It was my mistake from the beginning – when I opened the door and let him into this den of mine, and earlier when I let him break down the barrier I had set up between myself and others. Being alone is bad, but having to deal with other people is worse. I haven’t spoken to anyone for days. I’ve sold my phone. I don’t have anyone to call or anyone to call me. Throughout the past year, Mubarak is the only person I’ve spoken to for more than five minutes.
He’s still nattering away. I turn on the television, which has served no purpose since I came to live here. He’s trying to prove to me that somehow he understands everything that’s happening in the world. The Jews are the cause of all the misfortunes and intrigues that have befallen us, he told me. This is his second visit to me. It’s close to nine o’clock in the evening. I have a little balcony that looks out on a square that’s surrounded by buildings and frequented at night by lecherous dogs and cats. I often sit there and stay up till dawn. Silence is wisdom, he says in summation.
I’ll spit in his face or take my clothes off and sit down naked with him so that he goes off and leaves me. My suspicions tell me that that’s what he wants. He deprives me of my only outlet-sitting on the balcony and observing the banality of the world when it’s shrouded in darkness, or reading by a low light that doesn’t draw the attention of my neighbors. I do that after midnight and sometimes I even worry that the glow at the end of my cigarette might give me away. Living on the top floor is a special privilege. Mubarak doesn’t seem to have any family. He. comes from far away and doesn’t tell anyone where. I’m sure that behind his forced smile this old man is hiding a dark history and even darker intentions. It’s clear from what he says that he loves money and nothing else.
Where are you from? he asks me. Why aren’t you married? what do you do? Where are your family?
I’ve become one of those people who doesn’t care about anything, however important, but Mubarak’s questions make me angry. I don’t understand why he’s so inanely inquisitive about me. I went out on the balcony and left him. He stared at the woman presenting the news, adjusting his glasses on his nose and sighing. Finally he shut up for a while and stopped talking bullshit to me.
Mubarak came up to me the first time I went into the café he owns. Welcome amongst us, he said, You’re like a son to me. He said that and other things that sounded like cheap attempts to ingratiate himself. We agreed I could order drinks on account and pay at the end of the month. After that there was nothing said between us. The only regulars at the café are some retirees and a few has-beens on whom life has turned its back. The café’s very close to the apartment so I’m not thinking of going to any other one. Sometimes I pick up a cup of coffee and bring it back to the apartment. He’s morbidly inquisitive and sticks his nose into the asses of those around him without good cause. I try to ignore the looks he gives me – he and the insolent people around him. I go in and pore over a newspaper, though I have no desire to read any of the stories. One day one of them followed me to the bus stop and I managed to shake him off. I gathered from their conversations that he was an informer or a lackey for some government agency. Mubarak is the only one who’s dared to knock on my door so far. How did he know which apartment it was? He said that, since I was alone and out of work, he was offering to let me be his partner in some project he didn’t disclose. If we succeed in it (he said “we,” plural), you’ll be a king, he said. As for himself, he claimed he had so little time left to live that he didn’t have any such aspirations. What he said didn’t make me curious to find out what it was he thought would make me a king. He’s a big talker, probably suspect, and I should be wary of him. A king? In practice that goes way beyond my aspirations, which are absurdly limited, for which I deserve a special dose of pity. Anyway, I’m a filthy slave that no one knows or cares for, and that suits me fine. That creature finally tired of me, turned off the television and left. He did say goodbye, but I didn’t respond. I saw him limp into the square. He stopped a while and then walked off, full of confidence. I didn’t ask him why he was limping, but I’m pretty sure that his glasses are just part of a disguise. Everything about him is suspicious, even his smile.
In the building opposite me a teenage girl often looks out at me in my long night sessions. She looks at me, waves her hand, and holds up her phone, suggesting that I give her my number and that she’s alone and available. Sometimes I ignore her and sometimes I respond with a smile that goes to waste in the darkness. I couldn’t possibly make the foolish mistake of seducing an immature girl like her, but I’m reluctant to claim any virtue, even to myself. I want to live invisibly, unseeable even as a reflection. Her balcony is closed and I’m still waiting. I don’t know what draws me to her. I’m not so hungry that I’m going to break my long and voluntary abstinence from women with any old piece of meat that invites in anyone who comes up to her. Yet I do find myself inquisitive, even intrigued. Aren’t I cured of being interested in anything? I’ll get sick again. The balcony that l’ve been interested in recently seems dark and. unpromising. Why the hell am I so stubborn? A few days ago she threw a piece of paper off her balcony. I interrupted my seclusion and slowly went down to pick it up. My heart was racing. It was a small piece of paper, folded and scented, and her phone number was written on it in pink ink. I took it home, even more interested in her balcony. When she watched me pick up the piece of paper, I didn’t sign to her that I didn’t have a phone. A phone’s a luxury I can do without and, besides, I can’t afford to buy another one just so that our heartbeats can meet halfway between one ring and another. I’m as broke as a gambler who’s lost his shirt. Is she in love with me? I avoid asking myself this question.