In this story, "almost twenty years" probably refers to the period between 1948 and 1967, when refugees in a camp near Jericho became refugees in Jordan again.

Removing the kufiyya and iqal from his gray head, Abu el 'Abd tossed them onto the dirty blanket beside him.
He heaved a deep sigh, for the heat was unbearable and he did not dare to strip the Agency uniform off his thin body. The tent had no door, and there were girls and woman across the way. Undoing the laces of his heavy boots, he flung them into a corner; then, stretching out his legs in exhaustion, he lay on an old coat, carelessly folded under his head, resting it on the palm of his dry, chapped hand. Of necessity, he tried to rest from the weariness of the ten hours he'd spent in construction work on the neighboring mountain. Imm el 'Abd1 was at the neighbor tent, talking about the water being perpetually shut off and a life that was more than half spent.
Abu el 'Abd's hapless daughter Khadijeh was out learning to be a seamstress. But his son Hasan, a young fellow of twenty who had finally learned to curse people for no reason, was at this moment smoking and drinking tea while winning and losing at cards.
" Or he may be somewhere else. Who knows?" Abu el 'Abd yawned and wiped off the bead of sweat that hung from the tip of his nose. His ears, filled with thick hairs, picked up the sounds of a song about Jerusalem coming from a radio whose batteries seemed new. Unable to sort out his feelings about the song, he turned over onto his other side. He felt a pain like a hammer striking the sides of his head, and he said to himself, "Life be damned!" His eyes were heavy; and so, there being nothing to prevent him, he surrendered himself completely to the possibility of sleep.
Ever since leaving the Nuweimeh Camp, where he had lived for twenty long years, he had been sleepy all the time. Hasan had been born there, and there he had built a three-room house with dahlias and a white poplar tree in the courtyard. Some of the wise men in the crowd with whom he spent his evenings told him frankly that his sleepinss was an evil and unfortunate disease. Others told him frankly that it would lead him to the final sleep. What, however, should this matter to Abu el 'Abd?
Little by little, drowsiness overcame his consciousness, so he closed his eyelids while the scorching, dusty breeze played with everything in the tent. He heard the clamor of the children outside like buzzing. The air on his face made him imagine he was traveling endlessly, traveling, but never arriving at his destination. The palm of his hand under his head was soaking wet. He withdrew it. The coat was coarse, made of camel hair; he felt as though he were sleeping on thorns, alone in an unknown land, cut off from the world. The cheese and tobacco had left his mouth so dry that he could not swallow his saliva. Rising sluggishly for a drink, he looked around hopefully for the water jar, afraid that he wouldn't be able to find it. He finally discovered it near the entrance to the tent, but the water, drained almost to the bottom, was warm. Tipping the jar straight up into his mouth, he swallowed the few meager drops.
A small pebble scraped his teeth and spoiled his enjoyment of the water. He spit it out, then spit again, but the taste of dust was still in his mouth.
Once again he threw himself down on the blanket, as though he wanted to escape from some unknown thing that was lying in wait for him. He was determined that he would sleep for a long time, even if it did lead to his final sleep. However, the fatigue in his legs thwarted his desire. He tried shifting his legs around into different positions to drive away the discomfort, but all he managed to do was to annoy and exasperate himself. Convinced that his efforts were fruitless and that he was going to remain suspended between the world of awareness and the world of blissful sleep, he became depressed, fearing that this might be the beginning of some ailment that would come between him and the half dinar he earned from the owner of the building on the nearby mountain. He cursed his son Hasan, that good-for-nothing who did not look for work and was never at home. Mustapha, who'd been working in Kuwait for five years, bore them in mind only at the two feasts2, when he would send a green banknote that Hasan would get his hands on and spend in any way he liked. Then the damn fool would say he was going to get married, even though Khadijeh still didn't have a husband to provide for her yet!
Outside the tent the sun seemed to be on the verge of completing its daily journey, and he still hadn't been able to doze off for an hour or two. His mind was so weary and confused from too much thinking and remembering that he had reached the point where he would no longer think of any one thing or bring any memories back into his mind. This state made him feel better, for usually it led to deep sleep and forgetfulness.
Within a few minutes, Abu el 'Abd was in a sound sleep. His high-pitched, staccato snores sounded like an animal that had just been slaughtered. A huge, persistent fly flittered over his face, making him seem totally unwholesome.
The way from the Nuweimeh Camp to the east bank of the river is long and thorny. And when a whole family travels it on foot, in the middle of the summer, it is a much more painful hardship. There is a good chance of dying. Imm el 'Abd wanting to rest for an hour every half hour had filled him with exasperation. The way was long, and the planes had shown no mercy.
Behind them, Jericho had been engulfed in billows of smoke, and his heart had been so full of grief that he could hardly speak. O God, what a cruel world! What cursed times! How had this happened? Imm el 'Abd, on the other side of fifty, had vaguely dissatisfied questions in her eyes. Hasan, tense and high-strung, had not quite dared ask his father why they weren't staying behind like others. Khadijeh had been afraid, and the blankets on her back were heavy; when she told her mother that she had forgotten the radio turned on at home, the latter had silenced her with an angry look. "Well, did Abu Haleemeh's family leave?" Khadijeh had asked, but the weight of the blankets forced her to pay more attention to where she was stepping. Despite Abu el 'Abd's disbelief at all that had happened, it seemed, as he hurried on his way, that he had been expecting this !
Agitated and grieving, the soldiers around them were slinking off, some toward the river and others further to the east. In the fighting, life and death seemed to be the embodiment of two diverse energies that fuse into each other. The battle was not over, and the chances of dying were still strong. It left a peculiar taste in his mouth.
Abu el 'Abd had been afraid that the family might get separated, that he would lose Hasan, his youngest, or poor, sad Khadijeh, or his spouse, with whom he had fallen in love one day in Bayt Dajan. In 1948 a bullet had ended the youth of his first-born, 'Abd. For how many years had he been grieving, tormented by nightmares and attacked by misgivings.
At the foothills of Suwaylih, a tractor had given them a lift. This was very lucky; the driver had been their neighbor in the camp. As he was getting up into the trailer behind the tractor, his trousers caught on the edge of the door, and he almost stumbled. With bitterness he thought of gypsies, who never settle down in any home; he felt an instinctive sympathy for them, fearing greatly that in the end his destiny and theirs might be the same. Hot tears had risen in his eyes, but he had mastered himself as he hid them from Hasan's sight.
As the tractor bore him away, his eyes had remained fixed west. He suffered a great and agonized hatred of those men who cut down their trees. When the mountains of Amman came into view, he began imagining how his relatives would receive him. When the vehicle stopped, he jumped down and sprawled in exhaustion on the nearest sidewalk.
The shade of a towering building had given him a sense of relaxation, mingled with a longing for some obscure thing that despair had taught him he would never attain.
No one knew as Abu el 'Abd did the details of black days. Nor did anyone understand as he did the impact of the khamasin,3 and how he had wound up owning nothing but a cramped blue tent, symbolic of vagrancy and transient life.
"Hasan hasn't come yet."
"He'll come for sure."
"He may have gone to a movie. Or, he's just hanging around somewhere."
"But he was determined to come! He was the most insistent one of us all."
"He may be in the blue tent."
"I went there myself. His father's there, sound asleep."
"Only the one who is absent knows what his excuse is."
"He may be needing us."
"He may have lost his way."
"No one knows how to get here better than Hasan."
"It's been half an hour. I'm worried about him."
"My God, when is he going to come? Where can he be?"
"Anything could have happened! Who knows?"
"I say, maybe he's waiting for us now."
They talked at odds until they realized they were wasting their time. They agreed that this was no time for idle speculation. As if carrying out a prior decision the three of them disbanded, each having in his mind an idea that was simultaneously both clear and obscure, an idea as translucently radiant as a dream. For one intense moment their eyes met, the language of their eyes voicing their agreement. They went on their separate ways, filled with the sensation of a promise that they would meet again.
Abu el 'Abd awoke as if he were climbing out from the bottom of a dark well. Darkness shrouded the confines of the narrow tent also, making it difficult for his veined fingers to find the box of tobacco. The fact that the tent was deserted, that no one was there, alarmed him. This total silence made him realize that something had happened. He got up sluggishly, began searching without much hope for the lamp, stumbled over the kerosene can, and fell to the dry dirt floor.
Again he felt something unsettling about all this. Ever since going out to work that morning he had been conscious of bitterness in his mouth, and that he was depressed, not feeling like himself. Where was Imm el 'Abd? Hadn't she had her fill of talking yet? And Khadijeh - what was keeping her out until this hour? No doubt she was with her mother. As for Hasan, who could control him?
They had never left him alone before, so what was going on? A sense of stifled sorrow, its origin obscure, rose deep inside him, awakening dark apprehensions in his mind. He had to go out and ask the neighbors.
Puzzled at seeing the whole camp quiet in sleep, he became aware that it was very late, and his fears increased.
"Abu Yusuf! Abu Yusuf!"
The man rose out of his bed in alarm. After a brief exchange of greetings Abu Yusuf said, " Why did you deprive us of your presence this evening?"
"Never mind that. Where are Imm el 'Abd and Khadijeh?"
"Ah yes. I saw them looking for Hasan. Someone said he didn't see him, but someone said that he'd been seen sauntering through the camp wearing the uniform of our young fighters, with a weapon on his shoulders. Then, he went into town. Neither Imm el 'Abd nor Khadijeh believed this. Each insisted that he had had an accident God forbid. Why do you find it strange? My son is with them. Don't you understand that yours is too?"
But Abu el 'Abd did seem to find it strange. Thoughts of 'Abd his son whose youth had been cut off by a bullet and of the long years he had grieved for him came immediately into his mind. He was aware of a burning longing for 'Abd, and the contours of Bayt Dajan appeared before him as though he were in the presence of a dream. His good land, in faraway Bayt Dajan…
He was on the verge of tears, but he withdrew to his tent. This time, the overpowering darkness did not bother him for he was cut off from the place, gazing into his memories. It didn't occur to him to find out what time it was. He would sleep a long time, and morning would be near.


1. "Imm" (colloquial for umm, mother); "Abu" means father in Arabic: a common way of addressing wife and husband in reference to their firstborn child.
2. Muslims have two major feasts, 'Eid el Fitr to celebrate the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting, and the 'Eid el Adha to celebrate the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
3. Hot, southerly wind that blows usually in spring.