A reporter who died from obesity
Late in the sixties of the last century, many wonderful things used to happen. People lived with big dreams and believed in what they dreamed. The Beatles imagined, and a whole young generation shared that dream – even Prince Ali, as we used to call him, felt a touch of that common dream. He spent year after year carrying a small transistor radio close to his right ear, which unspooled fairy tales deep into his mind.
About me, the narrator, who spent his moments of relaxation watching others, there is nothing worth saying, just that I was then a student, a school student, at a secondary school, in a poor part of my city. I lived not far from the school. The narrow street where I lived was dirty, in summer dusty and in winter muddy. To its left there was a shop where neighbours exchanged news and views, as well as looks, before they made their purchases.
They always used to arrive in the shop all together, as if they were coming to share their rumours, and not to buy whatever they could afford. You could sometimes tell from their looks what they were swapping, and you could even guess the phrases they were whispering in low voices, as if they were sharing highly guarded secrets. Something was about to happen or going to happen, at least they believed so, and were waiting for it. Even the sudden surges of the late autumn wind, whirling dust and yellow leaves on the street, seemed to be tipping them off that something was around the corner.
There, waiting was the main drive to live.
‘Surely God doesn’t forget those who humbly follow him
– be patient and God will reward you.’
It was the most uttered phrase on this street.
Prince Ali had spent his days wondering why this life didn’t want him around its table, and why it was pushing him away from its shops.
These questions were tussling in his small head, and might even have exploded it. But before that could happen, just as in the old fairy tales, a miracle occurred.
One day while he was strolling alongside the road which passes not far from this place and connecting Syria with Turkey, a car, yes a car stopped by him. A woman opened the car door and addressed him, smiling, in a language different from his. She tried to explain to him with words and gestures what she wanted. Prince Ali caught the word ‘Turkey’. He was very happy to have understood this unknown- for him- language. He lifted his own hand high pointing northward, and shouted in his own language:
‘Turkey… yes in this direction…’
Before the car disappeared in the direction, which Prince Ali pointed, the woman with short hair and blue eyes gave him a small transistor or a talking machine, as he used to call it, and a bunch of strange brown fingers. Everything was beyond him; he was totally bewildered by what the road had brought to him.
His way back was different from his way there, only a few hours before. He felt excited. A woman – with a car! – had spoken to him in a different tongue and he had understood what she wanted… She had given him all these things just because he knew what she wanted… he was not so useless, after all.
Half way back to his dusty street, after he had used most of his senses on the brown fingers without discovering what they were for, he decided to bite one of them. When his gappy teeth bit into one of them, It crushed easily and melted away with a flash of sweetness filling his mouth.
That was a big day for him. He dreamt that night of a big world full of that brown sweet stuff, and hundreds of beautiful women giving it away to everybody, as much as everybody wanted …
The next day Prince Ali was waiting for me at the end of our street as I came back from school. He showed me the radio. I was a schoolboy, a student, so I should know everything, at least he thought so. For me, as well, it was something new. However, after a few minutes of fiddling with it, sounds came out of it. Prince Ali was transfixed, and before he took it back from me he muttered some holy verses to keep all possible genii and evil spirits away from all around the place.
Then every new day brought some curious neighbours to him asking him the latest from his radio. Through this magic box prince Ali became a focal point on this street. Soon he found his useful place among his neighbours.
Prince Ali was always on the alert, waiting, his mouth half opened and his transistor pressed to his ear as if he wanted to minimise the distance the news would have to travel between the radio and it. He was trying to make sure that he would hear the latest from the “BBC Arabic Service” before anybody else. Or maybe he just wanted to squeeze the last drop of news from his magic box.
Our reporter was short. His legs were slim and one was shorter than the other was. I always wondered how they carried his small body so quickly. Nobody knew his exact age. Even he had no idea about it. They told him that he was born when his mother was collecting olives the year after drought and famine struck the whole region. However, he looked middle-aged. His face was circular and his cheeks were sunken, his clothes shabby and his hair scruffy. However, what was most striking about him was his rounded, reddish frightened eyes, which always reacted to the news coming from the radio pressed against his ear.
He had nobody waiting for him. No job to do, no family to care for, no money, so he was happy to become the community’s sentinel. Waiting not on the top of the hill but at the furthest end of the street, dying to break all kinds of news to the customers in the shop. As soon as he heard anything, you would see his bowed legs snatching nervously at the road between his listening-post and the shop, on his face a grimace or a smile, according to his evaluation of what he heard. At the shop there were always some customers, and they never failed to see Prince Ali coming. He loved the BBC; it was his source of news. Words coming from nowhere, and even tradable. At the shop! And for food! All this began to be reflected in his demeanour and self-confidence.
Since he had got his transistor, he enjoyed a new kind of life. People needed him. He was happy to notice how others started to listen to him – something that had never happened before – every time he broke the news. He was happy with all of that and even happier when someone would ask him for some details regarding some event far away from their small world.
He would never forget that day when he told them that the Russians had sent Yuri around the earth. And all of the shoppers asked him: ‘Who is this Yuri?’ His answer was full of confidence: Yuri Gagarin, Russian astronaut. He was brief and curt, as if this Yuri was one of Prince Ali’s good friends, and astronauting was something the prince did every day. The shoppers were impressed, but divided in their reactions and everybody had an opinion.
But they were more divided on the day Prince Ali broke the shoe news:
‘Khrushchev banged with his shoe on the desk in the United Nations!’
‘Khrushchev banged with his shoe on the desk in the United Nations!’
Prince Ali started to learn the secrets of his food-rewarded career.
He had begun rephrasing the news and holding back some detail that he would then be asked to explain, so he could get more and tastier food as well a higher status among his growing audience.
This particular news was a big event for him. Everybody wanted to know who were this Khrushchev, United Nations, and the shoe…
Prince Ali explained everything to them; they were impressed by all of it, from Prince Ali himself to the United Nations, to Khrushchev, and most of all by the Shoe…
Our reporter Prince Ali got more respect and food, even sweets, for this life-changing news, but not before some heated discussions about Khrushchev’s shoe. First, every one of them had a look at his own shoe and then at the others’. Most of them were in awe of Khrushchev’s brave act, but others were not happy with it. It is not good, they argued, to put a shoe, no matter how new it is, on a table. After all, maybe the shoe was dirty! But Prince Ali was quick to answer that Khrushchev’s Shoe could not be in any way like theirs:
‘It’s clean and expensive…’he said with clear voice.
‘Did you see it?’ one asked him.
‘No, but Khrushchev is President, he can buy a new Shoe every year, not like you, or me, every ten years if we’re lucky’ prince Ali answered stressing on words `you or me`.
‘Look, my shoe is new, I bought it not last summer but the one before, but if it were me I would never put it on a table… just imagine how much dust would fly off it… No, no I would not do it…’one man said.
After Khrushchev, or let us say with the Shoe Effect, Prince Ali became the most sought-after man in his community. Even some women there started to look at him with different way. He felt it. Before they glanced at him with some kind of sympathy mixed with indifference. Now their looks were more fixed and more mysterious. All that filled him with more energy. Some men began to feel jealous of him. A certain level of danger brings respect. He felt it. However, he had no more difficulties selling his news and getting better rewards for them, and he began re-shaping or even adding some flavour to his news, to please his audience. The more he did this, the more food and respect he got.
It was exciting for him, he began to toy with it more, and this community of waiting-people was hungry, from its part, for more and more news…
They were still waiting for something to happen. For Some big event. They did not know what it was exactly, but they felt it would be a big event. Why should it be big? They didn’t know, but they had spent their lives in waiting for something to happen. The more, and more often, the news came, the more they were excited, and nurtured an amorphous feeling that what they were really waiting for was ever more imminent.
Sometimes Prince Ali found no major news in this world, no surprises, and no big disasters, no matter how hard he pressed his transistor to his right ear – which became gradually flatter than the left one as a result.
What to do? His reputation was at stake!
Having worked so hard in his career as a reporter, he had got to know what kind of news would please his public gathered in the shop, and he was aware how generous they were when they were pleased. Therefore, in the fallow periods of the news market, Prince Ali began to bring more flying saucers to the earth and more signs of salvation for believers in God. He found his audiences were delighted and reassured by such news, and his rewards were accordingly better.
With a stomach stuffed all the time, our reporter discovered gradually the pleasure of leading others by the nose, even of using or misusing the power of his knowledge to control the main tap… and of asserting his superiority with an uncontrolled secret desire of revenge. Especially towards those who had until recently talked down to him as hungry, dirty and useless.
Along with this new pleasure he savoured another one, that of his self-transformation from just a reporter of the news, to its pudgy creator. He was selling his neighbours hope to keep them alive for another day, and giving them an opportunity to pass on the virtues of waiting to their offspring.
The wind still whirls the dust and papers there, where our reporter Prince Ali died long ago from obesity, leaving room for more sophisticated newsmongers.