Adonis Diaries

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John O’Lantern

I bought a piece of land from a Maronite convent in order to build a summer cottage.  This land was called “3awdeh” because people used to grow blackberry trees in order to raise silk worms by feeding them the leaves.

In one corner of the land was a stone room called “cabo” where a family lived to maintain the silkworms.  John O’Lantern, also known as Hanna Fanouss, was the surviving member and refused to vacate the cabo.

John wore a threadbare overall called “gumbaz” and carried an extinguished lantern (fanous) when he wanted to send a message to any person that he is behaving as a “blind” person.

John never bought oil for his lantern since his mother died:  John had no money or refused to handle money and he bartered for his daily necessities.  John would raise his lantern early in the morning facing the sun to recharge its light.

The head cleric of the convent showed me around the land and introduced me to my neighbor John, living in my land:  The convent never managed to force John vacate “his cabo”.

John stepped out and pushed his extinguished lantern in my face and then turned it to the head cleric face and said: “So the convent sold you this land? Lands are the property of no one.  Show me the signature of God, his son Jesus, or the Holy Ghost and I will recognize you as owner” and he re-entered his stone room.

I am a judge and it was not difficult to incarcerate John in an asylum.  As the cottage was finished, I threw a party to celebrate my new acquisition.  Just then I saw John sitting on the steps of the front porch.  John had fled the asylum and I was pretty upset.  The clerics in the convent were laughing under their thick beard saying: “Before the asylum, John stuck his lantern in faces, but now he discovered that people are also  blind in their asses:  John is turning his lantern in the back side.”

John began: “Congratulation on this lovely cottage.  I must also thank you for the free ticket where you sent me.  I discovered new friends who were not blind at all.  I decided to come back among the blind people:  They need me more.

I ended up having a deal with John.  John would guard my cottage and maintain the apple trees in exchange of paying off what he borrows from the small shops in the village.  John vehemently refused any liquid money, and rebuffing me he said: “Are you blind again?”

I once asked John why he hangs his extinguished lantern outside his cellar. H replied: “I wait for my many friends who visit me every night.”  I said: “I never saw anyone coming close to your cabo”.  He said: “All my friends are the dead ones and they come and talk to me.”

The village has many stories to tell about John’s antic behaviors.  The son of the mayor was leading a group of youth harassing John when John occasionally visited the village.  John confronted the boy’s mother who threw his lantern away and John out the door.

Next morning, people saw John on the roof of the mayor’s house raising and lowering his lantern in the sun.  When asked, John said: “I was warning the mayor that his wife is growing horns on the mayor’s head (cheating on him) and these horns have been piercing the roof.”

John is very literate and has books in his cellar and can write.

I read to John the story of the Greek philosopher Diogenes who demanded from Alexander to step aside because he was blocking the sun.  I told John that Diogenes lived in a barrel.  John said: “Your Diogenes was searching for men.  Show me any great man who was not blind and thought that being a king and all-powerful he was permitted to crush people.  If you are alluding that I can as well live in a barrel and vacate my cabo then let me tell you that John is not one to live in any barrel for refuse.

I once asked John: “Why don’t you marry?  Lesser men than you did marry.” He replied: “All married people are blind.  You have to thank me for not bringing commotion to my cellar and preventing you from good sleep with a woman sharing my room.”

I said: “John, don’t you like kids?”  He replied: “I like seeing kids playing on church yard.  I wouldn’t like them shouting in my room and then ending up fighting for inheritance.”

I said: “So, I think you hate women.”  He smiled and said: “I love all women to spike you.  I love all of them save one woman:  The one I might marry.  This woman will get into her head to rob me from my right to love all other women and smash the lantern over my head.  Listen, I fear no one at all:  I just fear a wife destroying my lantern.”

Before election, the bishop honored a candidate deputy by celebrating a mass. After communion, the congregation saw John emerging from behind the bishop and pushing his lantern toward his ass.  John was locked in prison and beaten savagely by the guard.  As John was freed, he said: “I didn’t mean to disrespect the bishop.  I wanted to warn the bishop that the deputy did not confess his many capital sins before receiving the Eucharist.”

I was surprised, one winter visit to my summer cottage as I missed the antics of John, to find a sheet of paper attached to the key hidden under the mat.  The note read: “Bye. Do not rent the cabo.  You may raise pigs in the cabo if you wish.

People informed me that John married Daloula, the baker’s daughter.  Daloula used to visit her aunt in Beirut, frequently.  The village innuendos related that Daloula worked in a hotel.

I entered John’s cellar for any indices and for the lantern.  The lantern was gone; I found broken glasses outside the door.  Most probably, John decided to break his lantern and not wait for his wife doing the job over his head.

Note:  This Lebanese short story is an abridged translation of  Toufic Youssef Awad


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

July 2020
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