Pair of the Week - Mahmoud Darwish

A common enemy

It is time for the war to have a siesta. The fighters go to their girlfriends, tired and afraid their words will be misinterpreted: 'We won because we did not die, and our enemies won because they did not die.' For defeat is a forlorn expression. But the individual fighter is not a soldier in the presence of the one he loves: 'If your eyes hadn't been aimed at my heart the bullet would have penetrated it!' Or: 'If I hadn't been so eager to avoid being killed, I wouldn't have killed anyone!' Or: 'I was afraid for you if I died, so I survived to put your mind at rest.' Or: 'Heroism is a word we only use at the graveside.' Or: 'In battle I did not think of victory but of being safe, and of the freckles on your back.' Or: 'How little difference there is between safety and peace and the room where you sleep.' Or: 'When I was thirsty I asked my enemy for water and he didn't hear me, so I spoke your name and my thirst was quenched.' Fighters on both sides say similar things in the presence of the ones they love. But the casualties on both sides don't realise until it's too late that they have a common enemy: death. So what does that mean?


trans. Catherine Cobham
courtesy of Archipelago Books