Books That Inspire, Into the Trenches

Dark As Watchmaker

This blog post, a couple of years old, is a tribute to Alan Moore’s genius story-telling technique in the graphic novel, The Watchmen, and its contemplation of  fate, lost time, perception, and the question of who makes the world.

It’s all written in the present tense, mainly because time, past, present and future, run parallel to each other as they do in one of the character’s head, Dr Manhattan’s, so ‘tense’ becomes obsolete. What was is still is and still will be.

The post was previously password-protected but now I’m ready to publish it.


The cell phone is in my hand.

It’s ringing, he’s calling me, I’m in Beirut, it’s a cold evening in early February 2010.

In twelve seconds time, I answer the phone. I already picked up twelve seconds into the future. Ten seconds now.

The phone is in my hand.

I rediscovered this memory a night earlier, eyes landing on my phone as it lay quietly on the desk, while I was sitting in bed, having trouble sleeping, staring at a glaring laptop screen, sixteen hours ago.

It’s still there, sixteen hours into the past, on the desk, in my room. I’m still there looking at it.

The phone is in my hand. His name, followed by the word “Sweetheart”, appears on the screen, it’s ringing. Seven seconds now.

It’s 14 June 2010, I’m in Cairo. It’s February 2010, I’m in Beirut. Four seconds. Three. I’m tired of looking at his name as the phone rings. I press the “Yes” button to take the call. The memory fades.

I’m now looking at his photograph, the one taken in Siwa, beneath the stars. The stars are so far away, and their light takes so long to reach us. All we ever see of stars are their old photographs.

I’m two hundred and twenty-seven million kilometers from the sun. Its light is already ten minutes old. It will not reach Pluto for another two hours. Two hours into my future, I’m watching a movie with friends, thinking about my lost dreams and tomorrow’s work deadline. Twelve seconds into my past, I’m looking at his photograph, taken beneath the stars.

My father didn’t repair watches. No one in my family did. If anyone had done, we would perhaps appreciate precision, found in clockwork, in the sky. In the year 2000, I sit in the American University in Cairo’s library, fascinated by a psychology book I’m reading. I’m 19 years old.

It is 2010. I’m in my house. I’m 29 years old.

His photograph is in my hand, he sits beneath the stars. He liked watching the stars admiring their complex trajectories, through space, through time.

As if he was trying to give a name to the force that set them in motion

It’s the fall of 2000, it’s cold in the library, and I’m holding a book, “Theories of Personality”, a classmate stops to say hello. A conversation ensues, and he sits down. He complains about English class, then asks for help in brainstorming for his next essay. I offer help but we end up talking, not about his essay, but religion, martial arts, horseback riding, my dream of flying planes on my own and his philosophy of life. I note his dark skin, his ripped arms bronze and glowing, his eyes dark brown. Two months after that encounter, I start falling in love with him. Two months before I fall in love, it starts raining in downtown, on the American University in Cairo, I can see the raindrops through the library glass as I talk to him. Ten years ago.

One hundred and fifteen minutes into the future, the sun starts setting and it’s still scorching hot. In 2010 I’m at Guildhall in London throwing my cap in the air, celebrating my graduation. Anna’s father flashes his camera to capture the moment. In 2000, I’m at the American University in Cairo, in the library.

The rain is falling.


I’m 28 years old. It’s October 2009. I sit with him talking, about religion, atheism, God, the desert, dentists, Lord of the Rings, Communism, British comedies and the joys of living in Europe. My head is crowded with things to say. The conversation flows like a river, fascinating me one drop at a time. There’s a sudden sensation of Deja Vu: I’ve had this conversation before … except that I was innocent back then, and there was rain pouring on the glass windows of the library, in downtown AUC. The illusion vanishes, almost before it has registered.

It’s February 2010, we buy a Fairouz CD and as we reach for the CD player our fingers touch. It’s January 2010, and I’m sleeping as he’s driving around with his car around Maadi. He didn’t want to wake me up, he says I looked so peaceful as I slept. He says he was happy watching me sleep.

It’s March 2010, he’s holding my hands tightly, consoling me, after an argument, our tenderness in direct proportion to its violence. It’s late January 2010, we’re in the desert, he’s climbing a mountain, higher and higher up and I couldn’t follow; I was too afraid. I wish I did. It’s June 2010, I’m tearful as I write him an email saying it’s over, that even our friendship cannot be saved. I’m thinking perhaps I will find no one as good, or perhaps I’ll die of heartbreak.

Two years later I genuinely wonder why he ever caught my attention in the first place. And why the love was gone.

It’s December 2010, I’m swearing I’m not the same person he loved and lost a few years back. I’m promising him, “I’m a different person now. I’ve changed. And I will never cut you off again.” It’s May 2010, a Saturday, my phone is ringing and I’m not answering his calls.

It’s February 2010, he’s telling me of big plans that may make him travel for months and I worry because life will be hard without him. Again. It’s March 2010, and I’m sobbing on the phone as I tell him I’m lonely even when he’s around, that he doesn’t know how to make me happy. It’s January 2010, and I joked that if he leaves, “I’ll just cry my eyes out continuously for a couple of months, then die of depression a few years later.”

He laughs. And as he does, I can hear him shouting at me in April 2010, pressing his foot on the accelerator as he drove, threatening, “you want to go home and end it now? Fine. I’ll take you home. And it’s over” as I weep. In February 2010, I confess to him that I love him.


It’s 2000, and it’s the first time we tell each other we have feelings, confess that we’re more than just friends. Our fingers interlock. Three years later he marries another woman, and smiles beautifully for the wedding pictures as he holds her hands. In 2000, he told me we will live on his farm together, forever. In 2003, I kissed his forehead, during his wedding party, smiled big and told him, “Don’t worry. I have moved on too.” Forget me, I said then walked away.

In 2006, I still hadn’t moved on. 2007. 2008. 2009.


It’s 14 June 2010.

My fingers are frozen.

His photograph, in Siwa, taken beneath the stars, is in my hands.

And I was gone. Gone back to my lonely world. Gone to the desert. Gone to a place without clocks, without seasons, without hour glasses, to trap the shifting golden sands. Below me, in the sand, the secret shape of my creation is concealed, buried in the sand’s future. My mind rises into thin air.

A world grows up around me. Am I shaping it, or do its predetermined contours guide my hand?

In 2000, love was blossoming in my heart for the first time, the rain was falling on downtown carelessly … In 2010, I’m looking at his photograph, in Siwa, taken beneath the stars, wishing we could be friends again.

Or that we’d never met.


Without me, things would have been different. If I hadn’t told him about my psychology book “Theories of Personality” and asked him to elaborate more on his dream of setting up a farm, if I hadn’t randomly asked him if he wanted to borrow my filmmaking books on Twitter 10 years later.

Am I to blame then? Or him? Or the Psychology Book, “Theories of Personality”? Or Twitter for brining us together?

Which of us is responsible?

Who makes the world?

Perhaps the world is not made. Perhaps nothing is made. Perhaps it simply is, has been, will always be there. I’m sitting at my computer, typing, as a glass of milk rests on the desk nearby.

The light of two hours past will just be reaching Pluto

If they have strong telescopes there, they can see me. The photograph, taken beneath the stars, in Siwa, in my hand.

It’s February 2010, I’m standing in a hotel room in Beirut, answering the phone, but I let it ring for too long, he has hung up, I have no credit to call him back. I want to hear his voice. But it’s too late, always has been, always will be too late.

Above the Gilf El Kebir, jewels in a makerless mechanism, the first stars are starting to fall.


Listening to: No Cars Go, Maxence Cyrin,
and parts of the The Fountain soundtrack
and Society, Eddie Vedder
and Une Chanson pour tout dire, Eli et Pappilon
and Time after Time, Eva Cassidy
Mood:  indifferent, a little nostalgic, calm 

**Note: This is inspired by the graphic novel The Watchmen, and takes many of its words from Chapter IV titled Watchmaker, where Dr Manhattan meditates on time, and memory. Some of those lines are copied word by word from the book. Some are made up or altered to fit my story. It’s a tribute to Alain Moore’s genius story-telling techniques and to Watchmen’s contemplation of fate, lost time, and the question of “who makes the world?” And what makes things as they are. It is all written in the present tense, mainly because time, past, present and future, run parallel to each other in Dr Manhattan’s head, so tense is obsolete. What was is still is and still will be. Moore jumps between years in the telling, and in my case, I’m jumping back and forth between months and years, so I go from February to March, back to January again, jumping next to May, on and so forth. I hope it’s not confusing to the reader (and perhaps it should be confusing … as time is, as memories are). Hope you enjoyed it! Beware of one thing though, Dr Manhattan writes this as he sits on Mars, not Earth, so the time calculations of how many hours it takes for light of sun to reach us, and all that, reflects his position in space not mine.