Issue 19

Flash

By LEMYA SHAMMAT
Translated by ELISABETH JAQUETTE

 

1. Theater

He spotted her slender body, whipped by the hot air, on the verge of being flattened by the wheels of the racing cars. Without hesitation, he decided to save her. He glanced around, then rushed to launch himself deftly into the air, while behind him fluttered the hems of his tattered rags and the rope he had cinched around his waist in place of a belt to hold the threadbare rags against his thin, feeble body. For an instant everything was still; for a moment his mind went numb. Then bodies leaned, necks elongated, eyes widened, breaths quickened, and a panicked cry of warning escaped: Hey, watch out!

The entire scene instantly transformed into a boisterous one-man show, a masterful performance. He just managed to reach out and grab the edge of the empty cardboard box before roughly colliding with the asphalt. He looked around for an instant, then lightly stood, clutching the box, astonishing bystanders and causing drivers to gasp and swerve to avoid running him over.

Amid the chaos, shouting, laughter, and exclamations of Thank God!, some people were awestruck by how terribly wrong things could have gone in that astounding moment. Meanwhile, mouths began to quicklyand freelyrecount what had just occurred, adding some details, analysis, and a few imaginative embellishments to the life of the former high school teacher, who had ended up the skinniest and dustiest man with the most protruding ribs, absentmindedly wandering the open-air museum of Omdurman’s city streets.

Flash
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The Opening Ceremony

By BUSHRA ELFADIL
Translated by ELISABETH JAQUETTE

 

Every Friday morning, all the residents in the simmering neighborhood of Wilat in this drab African city waited for the General to appear, to officially open the narrow street that passed between their houses. They had paid for the street’s construction themselves. And they could have used the road without any fuss, but neighborhood authorities had informed them, six months earlier, that His Eminence would be arriving to open the street himself. These authorities, and several other authorities, had ordered the residents to line up in the early morning on the first Friday of the month, but the General did not arrive, and so they repeated this scene on Fridays for months, in hopes of greeting him. Then an order was issued that forbade residents from driving their cars on the new street before it was officially opened. The residents kept lining up as usual for this tiresome wait, whispering and murmuring, but the opening did not happen. Many cursed the day on which the idea arose to build this now-postponed street, and after a long wait, they eventually dispersed in time for prayers, without having been cheered by the sight of His Eminence cutting the ribbon. That act was expected to last only seconds, at which point the neglected street would become well-known, and the media would add the street to a list of the government’s accomplishments. Really, any local official could do the job.

The Opening Ceremony
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Modern Gods

By JOHN FREEMAN

 

Backlit by the glow
from a small passageway,
he kneels into the fog
of yellow light,
head kissing the carpet.
I step around him,
respecting his privacy, when 
the mat becomes not prayer 
rug but builder’s tool,
a black piece of tarmac, laid down
before the bank so he could
peer close, fix the dead 
motion sensor so that people 
with money could 
be seen, all doors opening
for them.

Modern Gods
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Mehret, or Sakina, as She Calls Herself

By BWADER BASHEER 
Translated by ROBIN MOGER

 

Mehret, 

Your father died. We buried him yesterday in the new cemetery by the cliff. The priest spoke about him in Amharic and the imam spoke in Arabic and then we all prayed, each in our own language and religion. And in the evening Debrezeyt thronged with your father’s gypsy friends. They sang and danced until morning broke over them. 

How can I console you when you’re so far away? But nor do I wish you to come home. Everything has changed. Debrezeyt is not as you left it. So much has happened, and in no time at all. The town exploded, became so crowded you cannot breathe, and we are no longer able to walk here in safety.  

On every corner there’s a tourist grinning like an idiot and taking photographs of our lives, like our lives are something remarkable. The town’s lost the soul we loved.  

Mehret, or Sakina, as She Calls Herself
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The Warehouse

By OSMAN AL-HOURI

Translated by JONATHAN WRIGHT

 

In the not-so-early morning, the beach enjoyed a calm troubled only by the swishing of the waves and the murmur of the sea against a rocky spit that extended into the water. At the foot of the white bakery, the waves broke in a monotonous sequence. The Nile Valley café, next to the bakery, shared in the morning calm—Abdul Farraj was snoozing lazily, and the waiter was having a temporary rest from his labors. Everything was calm. The sun crept slowly up the sky and poured light onto the surface of the sea and the roofs of the wooden houses, while a kite squawked on the minaret of the Askala mosque. On the western side of the horizon, the mountains lay in their blue calm, and between the sea and the mountains lay the city.

The Warehouse
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Joint Account

By THORAYA EL-RAYYES

 

1

sighing, she wraps the fifth layer of white cloth over the body, folding the corner of each sheet away from the stiffened face. “alhamdulillah, like a rose” the corpsewasher says to the windowless room of sullen women as she runs her broad hand over the cold cheek. the last few beads of water drip from the washing table onto the tiled floor and slide toward a large silver drain.

Joint Account
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