Fayoum 2010

by Nariman Youssef

I have finished my last cigarette, have stretched my arm to where a white marble ashtray lies on a low wooden table, have slowly brought the burning tip close to the ash-trodden heart and pressed.

The ashtray doesn’t seem to mind or suffer. It seems to accept everything with grace. And so my mind is made up. I’m becoming an ashtray.

I slowly lower myself to the floor. I bend my knees, curl myself around them, arms clasped around my legs, my neck stretched and my head pulled towards my belly. Lying on my side, I breathe slowly into the new shape, limbs relax and lose their heat, stiffness and intention. I don’t want to move and I do not try, so it doesn’t matter that the boundary between arms and legs is becoming blurry and mercurial.

The nakedness of this body is natural and unplanned, as are the pores that open on its skin revealing bubbles of still soft clay. My inner clay is reddish brown. It oozes out across the uneven circle that I am, and into the space of air in the middle, filling, closing, spreading, until it fully claims me, engulfs me, and hardens.

I’m a clay ashtray, the size of an average human hand, the shape of a woman lying curled on her side, her features, limbs, hair, bones and heart all merged in grainy mellowness. I’m rooted to my place on this earth, finally becoming the heaviness that has always burdened me.

I’m picked up and placed on the low wooden table, where I will have to stay, pondering the purpose of this new life.