Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Ambiflextrous : Write... Edit... Publish... April 2017

Hello folks!

My A-Z post is at P is for… just in case you're here from the A-Z Challenge.

WEPers! I tried to combine the A-Z and WEP into one post, but totally didn’t manage to – massive fail! But this post does fit into my overall A-Z theme  - Arabiana, and it's a response to both "Peace and Love" and "Despair and hope may meet within one heart" - at least to the idea that two completely opposite elements can be present simultaneously within the same thing.

So...I'm back with the last part of Heba’s story, an epilogue really. Her story starts sometime after 2011 March and ends on the morning of November 9th, 2016. This final excerpt opens eight years down the line, and Heba is on the move again, but this time it's a happy move, not traumatic.  

(For those who'd like to refresh the background, the earlier parts can be found here and here)


The room was in disarray, piles of books and papers on the table, a heap of cushions on the floor with a rolled up rug. Unmade, flat cartons rested against the far wall. Heba paused in the doorway, her mood suddenly clouded by a sense of déjà vu – hadn’t she done this before? No, of course not.  That other was a hurried departure, without any leave taking, without closure.  This was entirely different – her family settled, Zouhra and Bassem taken up with their respective academic lives, Malak a teenager, Eissa to be married in a few months. Married! How could this move compare even?

Eight years is a long time but still, it had gone faster than Heba had expected. She had thought she heartily disliked it all, this house, this home of homelessness, without Saeed, without her happiness.  But the crisis with Eissa changed her. Now that they were moving - not enough room here anymore, she found tendrils of attachment grown unawares, to this house, to the neighbourhood itself. Uprooting again meant a small but surprising pang.

Malak sat on the couch, surfing. Snatches of sounds and images flashed across the TV screen on the periphery of Heba’s attention. The face of a likely presidential candidate filled up the screen for a few seconds. There were women in the election again - this time from both the parties. 

Malak switched off the TV and threw down the remote. “Not a single thing worth watching. Are you going to pack up here, Mama?” She stood up and stretched, running a hand through her mop of curls. “Shall I help you?”

“That will be good.” Heba replied, thankful for the change that eight years had wrought in Malak. 

The young girl spoke fluently - her Arabic was halting, but her English was as slangy as any teen, the words tumbling freely from her lips, with no trace of the distress that had once silenced her. She had transformed from a traumatised little child to a well-adjusted teenager, with the same frank blue eyes as her lost brother, the same wide open smile.

For a long time, too long, Malak and Saeed had claimed all Heba’s attention, the first and the last born, one present but silent, and the other absent. The middle children had suffered – Zouhra and Bassem had escaped into the routine of classrooms and lessons, but Eissa being too old for school, had fallen through the gap. She had almost lost him. She had to come close to losing him to realise it and snatch him back, finding herself too, in the process. Finding a peace that had eluded her for years. Forging a tighter bond with her children. Her obsessive love for Saeed had somehow quietened down, her grief sublimated into a deep tenderness for Eissa, the most overlooked of her children.

Malak meanwhile, had picked up a carton from the corner, “Where do you want me to start, Mother?”

“At the dresser, please, habibty*,” Heba pulled up a low stool and sat next to it. She opened out the bottom drawer completely and laid it on the floor. “You can take the top one, some important stuff in there, be careful.  There’ll be lots to sort in the others, I don’t think we’ve cleared them out since we came.”

They worked for some time without speaking.  Heba fished out old magazines, two sales catalogues, miscellaneous bills, pamphlets from local charities, old school yearbooks, a broken plastic toy, a cruet set – the clutter of years. She put the yearbooks into a carton and threw the rest into a garbage bag.

“Look, Mama,” Malak was holding the flipbook. “My brother Saeed’s, isn’t it?”

She slowly flipped the pages from left to right and then the opposite way. Malak had seen it before, she knew what it was – a poignant reminder of her brother who foreshadowed his own death through his art.

“See, when it's flipped left to right, it makes the man go away.  But when I do it the other way, he gets closer.  Maybe Saeed meant the book to be seen the English way, not Arabic? Maybe he wanted to draw his audience closer, not pull away. At any rate, it works both ways. Wow! he was so clever, Mama!”

Heba sat stunned for a heartbeat, then reached for the flipbook. In all these years, she had never flipped the book back to front, why would she? Left to right was the most natural way to turn a page, why would she do otherwise?  But now she looked at the book afresh, and indeed Saeed had drawn on each side of every page.  So that if she flipped it right to left, the figure did appear to get larger instead of smaller. It had taken Malak, the only one of her children who had learned English before her mother tongue, to discover it.  A series of sketches meant to draw the viewer and artist closer, not apart. What Heba had always assumed was a departure, was instead a coming together.

“You know my angel, you’re right.” Heba’s voice was unsteady, her emotions suddenly at a high pitch. So much of a picture, of a situation even, depended on the interpretation, on not just the doer, but also the one done to.  New meanings surfacing from an old, much thumbed flipbook, a cherished keepsake of a lost loved one. She inhaled deeply and collected herself before she spoke again. “You’re a smart girl, Malak.”

Heba leaned to kiss her daughter, and put the flipbook back into her hands. The young teen  gave her mother a radiant smile and Heba felt calmed as suddenly as she had felt shaken. Malak flipped the pages slowly once again, bringing the figure in the book closer to them.


WC - 965

*Habibty is a term of endearment - my love, my darling - addressed to a girl/woman. Arabic is a gender specific language, like French. 

It is also read from right to left, and pages would be flipped from left to right- exact opposite of English. 

Ambiflextrous is a coined word of course, I wanted to convey the essential nature of the flipbook which works both ways. Does it make sense?

Thanks a bunch for reading and your feedback.

Read the other entries here, and/or join in with your own:


  1. Tears. Happy tears. And awe.
    And ambiflextrous makes perfect sense.

  2. I think you've done very well with this post.
    Combinning the two couldn't have been easy.
    I thoroughly enjoyed the read.


  3. Hi Nila. I loved this continuation of a gripping story. Really loved the word 'ambiflextrous' and it does, indeed make sense for reading the book both ways. I love the growth of Malak.
    On a writerly tone, I was enchanted by: 'tendrils of attachment grown unawares...' I want to bottle that. Thank you.

    And even though it must have been difficult writing 2 posts today, thank you. No wonder you were still up at 2am!

    Denise :-)

    1. Thanks Denise! I did try ways to integrate the two, but totally couldn't figure how to insert a fictional post into a factual mishmash series. This just made more sense, although it was more work too :) Thanks for hosting, as always

  4. Nice! I love it that Heba has reached her happy ending at last, however tinged with sadness. She deserved some peace.

  5. Hi Nila - this is brilliant - I'll be back as really it's way too much at the moment to think too clearly during A-Zing - as with all your Arabiana posts ... I want to savour them, and understand better.

    I love this Heba story line ... and moving - don't mention that ... but I want to absorb all your writings ... I'll be back - cheers Hilary

  6. Ambiflextrous is a perfect fit indeed. Sure can sense the growth within.

  7. I think this entire story is wonderful, sad and brave of you to pen. Well done.

  8. It's a lovely word - Ambiflextrous! And your story, it touchS the heart with an understanding on many levels. Beautifully done!
    Thank you for participating in the challenge! Your work on the A to Z is so enthralling, so informative. I know the time you've put into it! Amazing! THANK YOU!

    1. Thanks Yolanda! I have enjoyed writing both, though have to admit am a bit relieved that Heba's story is over :) The A-Z is a labour of love, which is no labour at all, in fact all writing is, isn't it? No labour, just love...slightly different when it comes to the editing of course, never mind... :) Thank you for hosting! in the middle of such a hugely busy month

  9. How interesting. We never think of things in terms of another culture. Nice to see that Heba has remembered her other children, and come to terms with the loss of Saeed. Beautiful imagery Nila.

  10. Thanks all WEPers for your comments and feedback!

  11. Lovely writing, drawing the reader in to the family situation with ease.

  12. This is a lovely story, such a nice ending.

  13. It totally makes sense, Nila (the new word you coined) I like it and I totally loved the continuation of you story. My hubs has very old comic books called Big Little books and some of the older ones had a corner at the top with extra drawings. If you flipped them, the character in the drawing seemed to move, too. Your story reminded me of these little books. Your writing seems to always touch my heart.

    1. That is a phenomenal compliment, DG!! Thank you! You have brightened my morning and my mood.

      The name Big Little Books, and the format you describe feels familiar somehow. I think I have read some of those, borrowed from a Canadian friend as a kid...

  14. Thank you to all those who have stopped by and for your feedback, truly appreciated!

  15. I love your coined word - ambiflextrous. It works well.

    "So much of a picture, of a situation even, depended on the interpretation, on not just the doer, but also the one done to."
    Yes, so true. I love the universality of this sentiment which is so fitting for this theme. It's a thought-provoking statement, and one we can all relate to.

    Beautiful writing, Nila!

  16. A post for the heart. Very well written. Thanks for sharing this.