Selma Dabbagh: “Trash”

15 June, 2022
Jumana Emil Abboud (Palestinian, b. 1971), “God’s Army (and other suffering loves)” (courtesy Ashkal Alwan).


Selma Dabbagh


So I guess the pattern is that you arrive with heavy bottomed bottles and leave me sprinkled with the oiled corners of condom packets. You take the bottle (now empty) and the other trash connected to your visit and this is kind  — I guess — although I know it is also because it is evidence of what happens. What happens being the filling of me, causing a stillness so complete that sometimes it’s like was a crazed puppet who had become frazzled in my wires and you made them into lace, or silk, as I am laid calm in my lace & silk & messy with you. And we get to the place where you ask me to tell you of all the times when I felt you before you were there and the many times when I wished for you and you weren’t.

Like earlier when I was held for hours trying to get out of the airport and I felt you quietening me. There were four of them holding me and going through my equipment + I thought it’s ok, it’s ok, because I was on my way to you. And then there’s the silly stuff you are so anxious to know about, like when I was 24 + in a room in Alexandria + there was the sea + I was studying lying on the bed (why did you ask about the bedcover?) + the window was open a bit + I lay there with dreams of a knuckled hand on my hip bone — a grasp of desire — which I can only describe as being you and all the decisions and choices I’ve taken to lead me to where I am, that I can only say were because I one day wanted to explain them to you. You were there when I dreamt of kisses and Hollywood endings. You were also there in the US Army bar in Baghdad when the man, the soldier with the bicepts (I can’t spell, I’m still a bit whirring and buzzed, spelling never was my thing I was always a do-er not a spell-er) and small, reckless eyes leant for me — not at all scared of the face that I have, that I have had to professionally train to be angular (so angular now I feel I am nothing but a skull growing on a stick) and prim, to portray competence, reliability + trust to be UTTERLY UNAPPROACHABLE because there shouldn’t be a single asshole out there who watches the news who hasn’t seen my perfected mug beamed into their space on their screen, but that asshole had the AUDACITY to lean in at me going on about my skinny ass & they laughed, the group. Why he got to me I don’t know, but I’d just come back from the South and had the stink of bodies + gas in my nose and the grab, grinding rush of flying over dust roads in a jeep with a tag car + a lead + even then you know I felt you were there.

And today you were really there — here — but I didn’t want to tell you about my cameraman who they’ve been going for, whose gone totally awol with his gf calling on an on, how they’re saying he’s Intelligence and I’m now the most senior (I’m not circus master, but hey I’m close) + it’s now my show y’know that I’m resp’b to get him out of there — but here we were, with my phone blipping away on the desk with like a gazillion calls, texts + emails from London, Washington, NY, Head Office blipping through + I just had to say what the fuck? You know, I needed you, because hey you might come with a dark bottle of bubbly + I can glam the whole thing up and you can turn me into lace-stringed limp loveliness and transform me back into a girl in this hotel room, so I don’t have to cope with all the shit going on out there which was insane today btw if you haven’t seen the news, but I needed you and I knew it would just be a couple of hours, because then you are back home with your wife, which is you know, the deal which I took on board from the outset + that’s cool except it’s hard when I see you like the line of constant running through my life + when you are so intent on knowing every part of it + I feel sometimes that it was easier when you existed in my life before I ever knew you.


Selma Dabbagh is a British Palestinian writer of fiction. Born in Scotland, she has lived in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, France, Egypt and the West Bank. Her work includes the novel, Out of It that was a Guardian Book of the Year. Her radio play The Brick, produced by BBC Radio 4, was nominated for an Imison Award and she has won or been nominated for various short story awards. She holds a PhD from the English and Comparative Literature Department of Goldsmiths University and has worked on a variety of scripts, for the theatre, film and TV, many of which involved research, particularly of Arab women’s histories. She has recently completed a novel set in Jerusalem in 1936. She tweets at @SelmaDabbagh.

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