Jamal He monitors movement with the count of his breath and the deaths that precede and follow it.

His mother sat silently and watched him pack
Looking on at her son with a questioning eye
She saw him still as only 3 feet tall and wet behind the ear
She remembering a time where he belonged only to her

A son birthed to the one that is to keep record
Daftar—a son mothered to an enlightened city
Second holiest only to the first place be once belonged
A son of both Medina and Constantinople
A wanderer whose heart she knows has no lasting domicile

She wonders, his mother, where he will leave to this time
Probably to a far-gone and desolate place
She contemplates coffin colours and eulogies like he does
Friends of his she never knew existed
And lovers whom he never dared mentioned to her

He’s too grown now and doesn’t look the same, she thinks
Akin more to a giant, a thing that cannot be housed or have a home
There’s something written on his face that hints at “premature departure”
You can see it if you closely, it’s in the twitch of his left eye
And in the dent that characterises his half missing smile

The expression on his old man face is blue and cold
Almost aloof-looking, similar to those slave to the Kingdom
Like that fashioned in famished men hinged on scaffolding
A grief that is set to last equally long during life and death
A terror to be endured by those he kept meeting in the in-between

“He has no fixed name anymore,” she decries
“His name is given to him by the places he visits,” she laments
“Today he is called “collateral damage,” she whispers to herself

“Collateral damage” she launders in her mind
In aggressive loops of nauseating suspicion
“Collateral damage” she says to herself again
‘Something that is in the way of something else’
‘A mindless object blocking a more powerful things means and way’
‘At the wrong place at the wrong time’
Always a ‘ready victim of circumstance’

He is almost done packing.
“What is he taking with him this time?” she draws cold
She sees him take solemnly and with a tempered stoicism
A Quran that has as many particles of dust in it
As it does words as laid out in its four books
He carries a miniature replica of a totem pole

A watch that doesn’t tick anymore
Time has always been immaterial to him
He monitors movement with the count of his breath
And the deaths that precede and follow it

She, his mother, swallows an anxiety attack and kills it in her mind
If for the sake of saving her son, she thinks
“Now it’s Gods turn to be swallowed by the world”
For God dare not harm Him, her son. She shouts silently inward
Fatigued by always coming to Allah in pleadings and beginnings
With no guarantees of absolution
Still, she thinks: “This is my son.”

One that she would give her melting bones for

He has to leave she knows though
Through the same door he came in 59 years ago

An unsuspecting martyr
For people whose faces she can only fathom
In far away places
With far away fears
And far away dreams

But for now, her son is near her
And so she takes a hug from him
Like the far-away places take him

His haste towards the truth
Letting him surrender only a few seconds
To reaffirm her of something they both aren’t sure of
His return
So she takes a hug
And nothing more

She understands, but she also cries
For her Son.

Keith Vries is a Namibian poet, writer, and performer. For the past decade he has performed poetry and has been part of productions that seek to create awareness about and around the 1904-1908 genocide that took place in Namibia during the Second Reich. As a genocide activist his works and writings have been staged and featured in Namibia, Tanzania, Cameroon, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Cover Image: Erik McLean on Pexels.