Sayed Kashua had a brilliant idea; he just can't remember it
The problem with brilliant thoughts is that you have to remember them.
Last Friday morning, I met a senior professor at a cafe in town. It was our first meeting, and the conversation was most interesting. So inspiring, in fact, that during the course of our talk I came up with a brilliant idea for this week’s column.
After the meeting I was ecstatic, and on the way home I realized that instead of hanging out with the usual crowd of drunken good-for-nothings, I should start building ties with Jerusalem’s intellectual elite. Then I won’t have to go through such torture every week trying to find a topic for the column. So simple − a one-hour get-together and the working week is finished before it starts.
“You won’t believe it,” I said, with a huge grin, to my wife when I got home. “I’ve got a brilliant idea!”
“So soon?” She was stunned. “You mean that this week you won’t drive us all crazy whining about how you have nothing to write about?”
“No,” I told her. “And you know what I’ve decided? That’s it! From now on, I’m going to try to be a civilized chap. I’ll go sit in cafes, I’ll order a cappuccino and a croissant, and I’ll only speak with intelligent, educated people.”
“And they’ll agree to this?” She was referring to the intelligent and educated people.
“You bet they’ll agree!” I said. “Don’t forget − I’m an Arab.”
“Fine,” she said, making a face. “So what are you going to write about?”
The grin quickly faded and anxiety took over as I desperately tried to remember the brilliant idea that had come to me just a little while before. It was no use. There was nothing there. My brain was empty. I couldn’t come up with the slightest trace of an idea about the idea that had occurred to me as I was sitting with the professor. For God’s sake, I thought, even on mornings after a night of partying my memory is better than this.
“So what was this brilliant idea?” my wife asked again.
“Forget it,” I replied testily. “You’re confusing me, you see? You’re not letting me concentrate and think.”
“Wow,” I heard her say as I walked into my study frustrated to the point of tears, “really intellectual.”
I lit a cigarette and tried to reconstruct the conversation with the professor. We’d talked about affiliation, assimilation, the Ottomans, Israeli society, European Jewry ... it was hopeless. Not the merest wisp remained of the brilliant idea that was supposed to save me this week.
“Where am I going to get an idea now?” The thought kept echoing in my head the entire weekend.
“You know that idea I told you about?” I said to my wife.
“Yeah, with the professor. What about it?”
“Actually, it’s too complicated for a newspaper, I think. It’s more of a research topic.”
“If you tell me what the idea is, maybe I can help you.”
“Forget it,” I told her. “It’s too complicated, and you need to have read a lot of philosophy for it. Basically, I need a new idea.”
“Maybe you could write about the baby,” she said. “And language. You like writing about language.”
For a while now, we’ve been trying to teach the baby to say a word, anything. Nada. He doesn’t respond. At this age, his siblings could already say a few words. Now I’ve started to suspect that every third child really is an Arab.
For months we’ve been trying to teach him to say “light” in Arabic (“dor”), pointing at the lamp, and so on. Twice I almost got electrocuted trying to explain to him what light is. And not a peep from him. Then this week my wife turned on the light and he said “light” in Hebrew (“or”).
With that Jewish pronunciation of the resh, too. Before long, it hit us that the baby, who goes to a preschool in the neighborhood, already speaks a few words in Hebrew. “Auto” (car); “aba” (dad); “delet” (door). Up to then we’d thought they were just random syllables. “It’s because of the nursery school,” my wife said. “Here I was so worried, and it turns out that he just speaks Hebrew.”
“The main thing is that he’s speaking,” I said, quite aware that this idea was nothing close to the genius of the idea I had at the meeting with the professor.
“Now all we need is for him to sleep through the night. His crying is driving me crazy,” she said.
“How’s he supposed to sleep? As far as this Hebrew baby is concerned, there are two Arabs with him in a dark room.”
I called my mother in search of a story and she told me something about a girl from Tira who was stabbed to death by her brother. “Thanks,” I said, knowing there was no column in it.
At the start of the week, at the production company, there was talk of cutbacks. On the radio they were talking about VAT, about the war and about the torching of some church or mosque. The newspapers were talking about the country’s economic woes and expected layoffs. And in the south, once again there were dead in Gaza and rockets falling in Netivot. Meanwhile, all I can think about is that meeting with the professor and that elusive idea. With each passing day, the more fervent grew my belief that it was an idea that could save the world.
Two hours before the deadline for submitting the column, I broke down and, in a tearful voice, admitted to my wife that the idea had completely vanished from my mind and that I couldn’t think of anything else. Nothing.
“Call him,” she said. “Call the professor. You told me how pleased he was when you brought up the idea, right?”
“Yes,” I replied, “but it’s awkward. What am I going to say to him? ‘Do you remember my idea?’ He’s a big professor and it’s embarrassing.”
“Look at you,” she said. “You’re a wreck. Your eyes are all puffy. You’d rather just suffer? Call him already!”
“Hello, professor?” I said hesitantly on the phone. But the professor’s cheerful tone of voice upon hearing it was me managed to calm me down. “I was just about to call you,” he said. “It was truly a pleasure to meet with you.”
“Thank you very much,” I answered. “For me, too. Our talk really was very inspiring.”
“Indeed,” he said. “What do you say we arrange to meet again next Friday?”
“Sure, gladly. Friday, that’s the day the column will be published.”
“I know,” said the professor gleefully. “I can’t wait to see how you put that excellent idea of yours on paper. I’ve already told all my colleagues in the department about it. Everyone’s eager to see it.”
“Yes, but ... I’m not sure, actually, that I’m going to write about that idea at all.”
“Why not?” The disappointment in the professor’s voice was evident. “It’s such a brilliant idea. Just magnificent!”