Doves flying on a horizon of signs and metaphors. I can never hear the word “doves,” nor think of it unexpectedly, without picturing them flying as if they were the horizon’s capricious whim, their movements vexing me every time I approached from a distance. Their exact number did not live long in my memory. I used to count the doves hovering in pairs, like married couples, over the playground that I cut across on my way home from school. I only felt the playground’s vastness when I walked through with empty pockets, having spent my last penny on sunflower seeds or ice cream and then hit the road in the company of my friends.
In my memory, these doves circle two by two in the regions of metaphor.
The blue Adidas school bag pants breathlessly on my back as I run after the doves which have fanned out in the radiant skies. Their wings shear the wind and the dream from an earthly corner. I once built an aviary in the eastern corner of our small yard. One of my friends had an aviary as well, and I saw how he threw corn and sunflower seeds onto the birds’ small perch. I remember how enchanting it was to watch the dove couples flying all around him.
“I want doves!” I yelled.
The following morning, as we were sitting around the tea stove deep in a morning chat, I shocked my mother with this request. The surprise seemed to move through her whole body. I trilled: “Doves! I’ll make myself an aviary over theeeeere!”
I wove through street vendors in the crowded alleyways between the Omdurman Post Office and the meat and vegetable markets until I reached the bird market: hens and other feathered fowl, and the doves whose cooing had so enchanted me, in cages made of palm wood, as if they were the voice of freedom sounding to its very horizons, unfolding in the eye, self and dreams. I mean, rather, illusions. My short stature and school uniform and blue slippers caught the old bird seller’s eye.
“I want a pair of doves,” I said.
“Local birds?” he asked.
I would throw corn and sunflower seeds in the small space around the aviary, the birds themselves ascending and descending around me from all sides such that deep within I felt the universe spreading out, along with language and the vestigial signs of the murmurings of the dormant self.
The word “dove” is a variant, a synonym for a nonexistent word that captures the unattainable peace of the self. It is so because a horizon is only made possible when it is conceived on dove’s wings. “Dove” also means the multitude that is constantly nourished by a solitary horizon. Then, in freedom’s eye and heart, the solitary would be turned into multitude, and the dove and its cooing will be the metaphor for the belief in possibility, the certitude about potentials transformed into an eye, the eye of the one within whom the universe has grown verdant.
I bought doves from the Omdurman market until a friend pointed me to the Umdafasu market, not far from our house. In my memory were images of all the doves which circled around the colorful horizon of my life. As they fly over the market’s signs, the images keep following me from a recess in my existence to a recess in dove’s existence, right before my eyes and before the passionate silences. I get to know The Ring of the Dove by Ibnu Hazm, and The Pigeon by Patrick Süskind, as well as the doves that live between the lines of many other books. And the famous pair of doves of the Prophet Muhammed. But I most loved how the poet Mahmoud Darwish said, “doves rise and doves descend…and so on.” Always the plural; never the singular. Pairs of doves. I don’t favor the singular because it lacks for a partner, that is, it lacks for a horizon since the word “doves” is about sharing the existence and the horizon which wings lament.
On Friday mornings I used to go to the Umdafasu market to buy—and later on to sell—doves. Umdafasu is a typical Sudanese market with no merits other than the crowding, narrow alleyways between the rakoubas, the women selling peanut butter, and the boys selling small nylon bags.
Once upon a time I slaughtered a couple of doves because my younger brother Ahmed was sick with malaria. I crouched down and folded the wings under my foot just as my mother told me to do, holding the neck with my left hand, the knife with my right hand, and attacked the life lying beneath me with terror.
“I cut it off!” I said.
As the dove was struggling to free itself from my grip, I hesitated to slaughter it, to slaughter the disease of my brother who had been watching from his bed like a starving cat. I suddenly detached the head, cutting through the neck while its blood splashed over my clothes and my fingers, already stained with haze and uncertainties.
I cut it off.
Yes, I cut across the tense distance toward a desert heejleej tree around which our neighbors’ children usually sit in a circle. They had just trapped a clutch of birds: seven collard doves and six sparrows.
On the traps laid ahead a bleeding imagination sobs. The only trap I ever owned was stolen from our neighbor’s little boy, but I didn’t catch anything except one hungry rat that happened to lose its way home. Doves are not caught with traps but rather through more clever means. For example, putting sugar in a water basin, or confining the dove for some time with another dove in a cage or tweezing its wing feathers until it gets used to the place, etc., something like restoring the symbols buried inside one’s own self.
Doves fly ahead to a girl chased by two people who had plotted to do that thing to her. In this cinematic scene, I can sense the terror of her wings as she flies higher and higher. Yet, fascinating cinematic doves do exist as well in some movies. They would be scattered along green squares, bemusing the eye with intimate touching under a fountain. One day, as I was chatting with a friend at my family’s place, we saw my brother Ahmed putting the final touches on a new aviary laid by the southeastern corner of our yard. I was quite puzzled by his excitement when he surprised us with the request to breed doves, infinite doves. “I want doves!” he yelled.
Without delay he opted for a colorful couple of doves that he set inside the cage next to two empty gallon containers and the remnants of our old water pot. I saw his joy as he watched his doves from behind the small holes of the wondrous aviary:
“Ahmed, what are you up to?” I asked.
“My doves! I came straight from school to my doves,” he answered.
On the way home from school I used to walk through the vast playground, where in my mind there are always a pair of doves flying ahead of my playful steps as I run after them. President Nimeiry’s military vehicles were crossing over the playground of doves. They fled in pairs like married couples and were dispersed in a vacuum, in the absence of skies. I was watching their wings marking a horizon lost between time and dream.