Aida NASRALLAH is the pen name of Mahammeed Nasra. She teaches at the High School for the Arts in Naamat, and organized and ran a weekly salon for women poets and writers, serving as mentor for Arab women in Israel who wish to experiment with poetry and fiction. She has published over 40 short stories and 60 poems in various Arabic publications in Israel.

Below is a letter Aida sent in mid-October of this year when she heard that a memorial evening was planned here on campus to mark the passing of Edward Said. Though she wrote it as part of our ongoing correspondence, I asked her permission to read it on that occasion, because it casts a light on the increasingly difficult situation Palestinian women find themselves in—and so heightens the stakes of Aida’s story “Massage.”

Dear Natasha

It is a surprise that your memorial lecture at the same day and time that we will have here on Tuesday. It is my sorrow that people haven’t respected and understood Said’s ideas when he was alive. Only after his death have people here started to speak about him. Many people here criticized him because of his ideas. I think that not many people have understood his open mind, his call to "open the eyes to our fear and the fear of the Other.”

Edward Said was the first to open the discussion of the dilemma of what a homeland means, yet in inviting the question of what is the meaning of "understanding the other” was actually very loyal to his people. He was the first to call for talking to “the Other” . because understanding must be built on closeness and not on statements fluttering in air. How near this was to my thinking, to my heart, to my feeling when he said "I feel I do not belong to anything." I feel now the same thing when I see that nobody says no to the falsehoods, nobody in my city says no to the lying that is practiced in the name of religion. I am frustrated because I feel myself alone in the yard, like a horse in the desert. We have elections to the municipality, and this is the first time that my city has only one party, without any opposition. It is a dictatorship that is starting here. It is amazing that people see the wrongs and the mistakes and yet keep silence, like awkward sheep. All they care about is whether someone dresses in a scarf or not. A hundred times a day I face the same question: why you don’t dress in a scarf, you are an old woman, are you not ashamed of yourself? You can imagine the situation. I don’t dare to publish my novel and my poems here since all it deals with is the language of women.


I am at the University, sitting in the corridor, and suddenly, I see him. He has probably also been invited to the lecture and to the workshop that followed. I watch him from afar. A tall blonde woman walks next to him; her clothes look as though she chose them to express delicacy. A white shirt, beige slacks. It’s the first time I notice her here. I am positive she is a foreigner, from abroad. He is deep in conversation with her.

I don’t budge from my place. I have my “all’s normal” mask on, though under it I feel a warm wave washing to the surface. I look around. The adjacent hall is packed. Suddenly he seems a stranger. Enthusiastically he introduces the woman to the students, and I recognize the origin of the heat wave that surfaced. He sits at the far side of the hall. I start studying the woman with that surrepetitious, penetrating look. Her mouth moves oddly. Her face is not beautiful; you could say “a nice face.” Her body is OK, normal. All in all, she looks nice. I listen to her delivering her lecture, stealing, from time to time, my gaze over to the man totally engrossed by her.

Maybe he is in love with her? I could see it in his eyes. I am filled with jealousy. What does this man mean to me? It’s true, we have been working together in the same institute for quite some time, and it’s true that a slow and pleasant friendship has bloomed comfortably between us. Yet each time I see him I am submerged in a hot flood of wetness. For a year now, I keep asking myself what it means, this feeling that drags me so violently and leaves me nowhere, with such a disrupted void in my heart. Is this love? Maybe. I do keep inventing excuses for loving him, and when that gets too demanding, too difficult, I indulge in inventing reasons not to love him. I fail in both cases.

He is definitely not a prince of beauty; not in the classical sense, nor either in the renaissance sense. Modern artists will not find him irreststible. His blue eyes are trapped behind spectacles. He has a large, generous nose, his bald crown is fighting to emerge from unorganized tufts of stray hair, yet his voice can carry you to the top of the mountain and land you there softly. His smile has this canny way of penetrating straight into your heart. Yet, a great voice and a magic smile cannot be reason enough for falling in love.

Last year, I listened to him chatting with one of the girls, and I knew: that’s the man.

“You are a woman who walks a dangerous line, you are no longer a kid. You should be ashamed of yourself. You have a charming lover with an Adonis-shaped body, a sportsman and brilliant in company, eloquent and witty. What is it with this man? His skin is so different from yours; his tongue is so strange to your ears. His hopes don’t dwell in the region of your dreams, even his fears are different from yours. What do you want with him? You have a man who drinks from your rivers. What else are you looking for?”

Nothing. I just love him.

I drown in my ruminations. All of a sudden, the man gets up and leaves in the middle of the lecture, and, handing a hand-written note to the blonde woman, walks out. The woman keeps talking as though nothing has happened, mentioning his name every couple of sentences. She says, “A.S. * said,” meaning my man. The heat from my toes creeps all the way up to my hair. Now I am sure they are lovers. Yet still I am determined to love him. In my head, a series of the smart sentences get ready to talk sense into me: Hey, woman, what do you think you are going to get out of all this? What do you think he will take you for? A dumb woman who still insists on courting him?

NO I don’t court him. I don’t call him. I avoid meeting him as much as I can. But he definitely feels it. HE knows how to deal with me, with women who feel like I do. Yes, he knows what is happening inside me, though he plays at feeling nothing. He is perfectly nice, courteous, a master of the technique. He must have had hundreds of those experiences, knows how to deal with them, how to put on the distancing mask…

The blonde woman kept the lecture going for another ninety minutes. I find myself strangely mesmerized by her words, though my mind is floating.. Most everyone in the hall is navigating through different phases of slumber, some still tearing their eyes open, some yielding completely, their heads heavy on their breasts.

And then the man is standing there, as if conjured out of the space in front of me.

“You seem very tense. Let me massage you.” he says.


I go home. I have a completely different massage on my mind. Maybe his was just something that escaped his lips, without meaning anything? And maybe not. All of a sudden I feel his fingers, fleetingly caressing my back, his touch penetrates my spirit, the heat from his body pours into every cell in my body, each immediately turning into an open mouth. The tensions he was supposed to relieve has moved elsewhere. My open mouth emits groans I didn’t know dwelt within me. He must have unearthed a treasure trove. He glides down; following his tiny fleeting kisses which delicately and insistently trace my body, all the way to my feet.

All the banal daily phrases that bore and tire me so, flow out and are gone: “Madame, could you tie up my shoes?” “Madame, could you tie my belt?” “Madame, Saoussan says my painting is ugly” “Madame, I lost my eraser!” “Madame…”

My head is emptied of all sounds; all the music is in my body. A light tremolo dances through my fingers, and I find it is all right to bite him, ever so slightly, on his chest. I turn my body to him and with the tips of my fingers I touch the gray hair on the chest I have dreamt about for years. I curl myself up on its wide surface, and push against his belly. I take his hand and put it on my grapes. His open mouth floods them with his honey spittle. A soft fire starts licking its flame up my body, until we are both growling and sinking into the sea. My growl wakes me up.


Just this one word sent me roaming the far plains of my desire. I am waiting for a word that will turn into a sea. I don’t care that our skins are different; I don’t care about any of our differences. I penetrate the dark cells of my imagination, knowing that some will forever be soiled in darkness, never washed by light. Yet how can I assuage the flame that consumes me all of sudden?

I look around me; the walls, the cupboard, my papers, my pen and even the computer are engulfed in a sudden chill. I am wordless in front of the mirror, hugging my trembling body, coming ever closer to the glass. My face clings to the mirror. The glass is cold. Just one sentence lights the screen in my mind:

“Let me massage you.”