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Kiss: A Short Story (Translation)

By Beyen Haile

(translated by Huriy Ghirmai)

“Where are all my kisses?” I heard him begin. He was neither asking a question nor striking up a conversation. In the night picture, his companion looked like his shade – and shadow at the same time. She sat very close to him, listening intently; and I could see clearly their closeness was not only physical but spiritual too. As was my usual habit, I was sitting on a rock ledge alone in a place known as the Art Garden Centre – which was pervaded by the sweet aroma of Tahsess trees.

I could not say I was lonely but for a reason that remained unknown to me, I was affected by a wistful mood. A hypnoid thought was kissing my whole being while I wallowed in a half-asleep, half-awake state. I would not say I was groaning under the weight of sorrow but still, I was burdened with a sense of loss triggered by a disquieting uncertainty.

The moonlight shone unsteadily like a flimsy candle and its flickering glow brought me the memory of my darling girlfriend. I thought that maybe a man who falls in love so mysterious has many memories – but just the same, while I thought of the many kisses she had denied me despite my desires, I was missing her with a touch of self-pity.

I was taking such a pleasure in the moment that I wished I had the power to freeze time – if I did I could then arrest the passage of this transient moment, which I knew to be just as fleeting as many others before it. Although I ached with anxiety, I was also grateful for the calm surrounding – I was grateful to the Art Garden for soothing me. If there were no such a place in Asmara, I knew that my soul would have surely suffered.

My neighbours in the Art Garden, like children of a kind night, were showered in the dim light of the departing moon. Apart from knowing their humanity, I could not make out their facial expressions; however, their body language, which moved in perfect sync with the beat of every word they uttered, had the full attention of my eyes and ears.  Before I could even think of what her response would be, the girl behind the shade – the accused – replied,

“Where will you say you put them? Where did you think they’d wait for you? Do you mean those kisses that have been blown away by windstorm? Or are you thinking of those which the winds have dissipated slowly? If that’s what you mean, then, like what Shakespeare said – they are melted into air; into thin air. Maybe they’ve even reduced their essence into small particles and sought refuge in the wind?

“As for me, it’s not your kisses but a sack full of memories that I carry. Why don’t you ask me about the poems you read me? Why don’t you just remember the laughter? I can’t even count those things that kiss me – I don’t know which to keep and which to give away. Who would have a keepsake of the kisses they receive? Do you mean the kisses that we receive and give away? What about that which can’t be kept or given away? I don’t understand why I should give or take away without knowing the value of a kiss.

“I’ve searched but could never find an act more equipped than a kiss to express love or aid people to find truth. I think it’s for this reason that I mislay my kisses and can’t find them when I look. I don’t really know why.”

I was quite puzzled by what she said. But he was not surprised at all – at least that is what it looked like to me. Her long shadow formed a straight line extending all the way to my rock ledge. He seemed to smile at her – and he said,

“Do you think these winds know any kindness? Do you think they would give back kisses they’ve already scattered into the air? What about you – when is your moment of generosity? What makes you cut back on kissing? Do you console yourself with the idea of a kiss? And how do you measure love – by the giving and withholding of a kiss? Do you habitually refrain from returning a kiss?”

He bombarded her with a series of unrelated questions as if to place a blanket on which he expected her to lay her answers. I found their unique dialogue beyond belief.  I craved to hear more. I had not been privy to such refreshing conversation for some time and now, listening ever so intently, I hoped to hear more.

Lately, I had become so exasperated by conversations that duly turned into ash; I had been frustrated by talk so blunt, repetitive and lacking innovation. Now, it felt like the bell had tolled for a new trend. For a long time, philosophically and artistically, all discussion had never left the plane of everyday life issues. It was a time when, like Shakespeare’s character who said ‘a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse’, I had bemoaned the lack of art in all dialogue. Deprived of a dialogue about art, I had been lost to a lonely and quiet place lately. 

As I hoped, their talk carried truths I had never thought about before and hopes I had never thought I would hear. They highlighted signs I never believed I would see and meanings I would never have considered. Their conversation, which dug deep into their inner feelings and dreams, engulfed my surrounding with flames of truth – the warmth of life. They shared the hidden struggles and life’s mysteries with each other.

She, throwing profound questions and he, giving her some answers. In turn, she grabbed hold of his ideas while he tried to decipher the sings. He tried to explain his life’s secrets – to express the very meaning of his heart’s desires. They both did this without shame or holding back on any thought. Their talk brought about by the idea of kissing – to kiss, kiss, he kissed, she kissed, he kissed in worship, he kissed and blessed, they kissed …

To ask where one’s kisses were was a question I had never encountered before. Dazzled by these unexpected perspectives, I started to wonder if the idea of a kiss were in fact a question of a person’s basic human rights. The merging of kissing, adornment and worship was something new to me. I never knew that a kiss, like a valued prize, could be entrusted to someone for safekeeping. It was new to me too that a yet-to-be-used kiss could be deposited in advance with one’s future kisser.

“Please keep my kiss with you – store it for me.” I had never thought I would run into thinkers who uttered such thoughtful sentences in Asmara – people, who would paint, adorn, sing, and recite odes – all in the name of a kiss. I never thought there existed artists who would tend to the purity of art, or serious thinkers who deciphered signs with the idea of a kiss or delved into the deepest recesses of feelings. But like the saying, I thought that an island surrounded by a sea of ignorance could never provide knowledge. Confused by my failure to read the sound of sea waves, it seemed I had overlooked the abundance of knowledge that could be found in such little island.

I remembered the girl I loved – my love who would not kiss me. Then I consoled myself with the hope that maybe one day, she would decide that it was time – that maybe then, on one blessed day, she would give me all the kisses she had denied me for years. I assured myself that she would soon be tired of all the debt in kisses and try to compensate me in ways she saw fit. And the quietness of the Art Garden Centre did a lot to help me keep my faith. I believed that though far from reality now, there was a tiny island of knowledge somewhere. Meanwhile, I enjoyed the chat of my neighbours as if it were food for my soul.

Oblivious to the enthusiasm with which I pried, the boy and girl – or man and woman – continued their conversation. Up until then, I never thought about their age – or considered the strength of their relationship, or analysed the level or nature of their love – their conversation had engulfed me like a sea wave which erected a big wall preventing me from seeing them as physical entities.

The nature of their exchange was pushing me to visit their inner self – taking me to the threshold of their very inner being. And then, I thought I heard agitated gasps coming from the woman and the sound of indifference from the man. I thought that new love was but the remorse of past desires as the couple struggled to put the meaning of their life in words. I could not conclude whether their love – or friendship – was of now, the past or the future. It was a relationship that could not be perceived in normal measurements of time. I thought it was temporary and eternal all at the same time. It seemed to me that a force from deep within their loneliness was fighting to reach out so it could be kissed by the light of their love.

I had no proof to say the woman was concealing her heart or that the man had covered his feelings; I was merely driven by an assumption grounded on emotion. But if I were to say I had noticed the woman’s hidden fear closing the door to love, I would not care to explain. 

Was their conversation a product of the deepest spring of their longing or that of a fleeting desire which floated above ground? I could not tell. It was possible it flowed from the bottomless well of their yearning. Still, I wished that all they said was true.

I still did not know whether their relationship was that of friends, comrades or peers; I could not see whether they benefited from each other or indeed harmed one other. The seemingly desperate woman looked as if she had broken free from all sense of prosperity or neediness while the man looked intent on resisting hopelessness. Yet their lively conversation managed to infuse some energy in them as well as me. As I sat in the darkness witnessing their struggle to salvage their love, I wished them good fortune.

“Why don’t we get tired of each other?” she asked him looking ever so intently into his eyes. “You know there’re so many men who could be after me; yet, here I’m, spending eternity with you?”

“Well, I also ask myself why we don’t tire of talking about things that don’t require illumination,” he replied. “But still, I’m eternally amazed by your refusal to redeem the kisses I’d given you for safekeeping. Don’t you know that a kiss is the very signature of love? Why don’t you prove my faith with your love mark?”

Based on what I had heard so far, I tried so hard to decipher the meaning of a kiss. With all the patience I could muster, I yearned to hear more. The scent coming from the young shoots of Tahsess trees, now blooming along the foot of my rock ledge, was kissing my soul.

Then I asked myself if I could really say the Tahsess scent had kissed my soul. Again, I thought, what if a Tahsess tree said to a man, “Well, could I please have my kisses back?” I laughed at the thought. Then, I instantly realised that humans were eternally being kissed by nature – and nature by humans. I understood then that we could never take the act of veneration in a place of worship without the act of kissing.

“What is a kiss?” the woman asked after a short pause. “Why do you keep asking me to give you back your kisses?”

I awaited his reply with eager ears.

“You see ‘kiss’ is a noun – a name,” he said with a raised voice “But in our language, it’s rarely mentioned by its name. It’s always explained through a verb – the signifier of an action if you like.

“Still, I’m sure one day there’ll be artists who’ll be using the name of kiss to describe creation. They might talk about mountains and clouds kissing each other or the earth kissing the seas. People will say their souls are renewed when they see the departing rays of the sun kissing the clouds at dusk.”

“You know, we never tire of each other because our undeciphered relationship enables us to be content with our seemingly meaningless conversations,” the woman said in response. “Lest we curtail the life of our relationship, let’s not try to explain its nature. Let’s quietly enjoy our gift. In any case, what power do we have to try to explain the inexplicable? But if you’re just saying you’re short of kisses, here you are, just come closer.”

She pursed her thin lips in the shape of a pointy trumpet and planted a kiss on his lips. As if to appraise the level of his satisfaction, she silently waited for his reply afterwards.

“This is not a kiss,” he said. “In one respect, a kiss is a kiss. Even this one you just placed on my lips is a type of kiss. But at the same time, I’ve a feeling it’s not a fully fledged kiss. I worry it might lack kindness and generosity.”

Upon hearing his reply, she let out a yelp in a shrill voice. But somehow, I knew she was not angry. With the moon stealing intermittent glances at them, they happily carried on with their conversation. At times, they looked as if they were taking a break from talking but even when they fell silent, I suspected they were communicating with each other telepathically.

As a result of what I was hearing, I began to consider different ideas in my head. For instance, if some English  phrases such as ‘a thousand kisses’, ‘give me a kiss’, or ‘give her a kiss’ were translated into our language, what message would they convey?

And then another thought came to my mind. I wondered if people in ancient times ever used conjugations of action words to derive words. Then it occurred to me that maybe I was venturing into an unfamiliar world – of things I knew nothing about and stopped.

The couple ended their brief silence with a booming laughter. Their mere presence seemed to give the dark night some life. It was as if the source of their conversation were inexhaustible. The man never asked where his kisses were anymore.

On my part, knowing full well that the stars in the sky are never satisfied with any number of kisses, I gave up wondering why she was refraining from giving him back his kisses. Was she miserly or just callous? Was it lack of love? I did not know.

I was envious of their closeness in conversation. At the same time, I knew that love could never prosper without the proper giving and receiving of a kiss. Then I returned to my usual contemplation as if an invisible force pulled me to probe the mystery and nature of ‘a kiss’. At that moment, I made a mental note to make up with my lover whom I had previously decided to leave for denying me all the kisses she owed me.


Beyan Two.jpg

Beyene Haile

Dawn Of Remembrance


It crossed not my mind, not at all

Until this dawn of remembrance:

To bother myself, ah bless my soul

With the duty of giving you reassurance.

Not that I doubt for a moment

Your noble heart to cease loving

But that I happen to lament

Over lost chances meant for giving.



June 20, 1974

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