Elias Farkouh’s short story “A Man I Don’t Know” was among the most viscerally engaging pieces in The Common’sIssue 15 portfolio of Arabic fiction from Jordan. A prize-winning writer and translator who has earned accolades for short fiction collections and novels, Farkouh is interviewed by The Common interns Whitney Bruno, Avery Farmer, and Isabel Meyers, who discuss fear, translation, and formal construction with Farkouh. This is the second of two interviews conducted by the summer interns; the first was with Haifa’ Abul-Nadi.
We Write Our Own Past: 10 Questions with Elias Farkouh
James kept busy at the security desk now, doing the work of both men while Lincoln sat there with his stomach on his lap. He felt a sort of bond with James now, a familiar gratitude. But one gets sick and tired of saying thank you. When he was engaged to Alexis, and during their first years of marriage, his friends would also tell him how lucky he was, but this was said as a joke. Lincoln would say thank you and agree, would tell them how grateful he was for her, but this wasn’t true. He deserved her—this was what he believed, and he knew this was what his friends believed in. A man of a kind should get what he deserves, and if a man like him couldn’t get a woman like her, then something was terribly wrong with the world.
“All my life I’ve been waiting,” says my father-in-law, through the stall door. We have stopped at a rest area along the interstate, halfway between our homes. I would meet him back in the car, if only he would stop waxing poetic.
“Frank?” I face the mirror, smoothing the hair over my thinning spot. “I’ll be—”
“First for school to end,” he interrupts. “Then for my twenties, then for success. Marriage, children, et cetera. For them to leave. For their children. Then the waiting became less conspicuous. Waiting for the cry of boiled water. For the paper. For spring. It took a mighty long time to understand that what I’d been waiting for wasn’t each thing, actually, but the chance to wait for whatever came next.”
In the same way that some structures carry time on their shoulders, we too want to observe its traces. Every place, of course, has anchors that halt time as it passes by. In Europe, the huge cathedrals are mute and impotent witnesses of history. Likewise, the old sugar mills of Puerto Rico remain to remind us of an era that, while gone, is still harbored within them. These metal monsters, abandoned to their rusty luck, become sanctuaries of memory. The mill Coloso, one of the last of the dying titans, is now only a grey silhouette lost in the green and twisted landscape of the valley.
The hole is behind the headboard. We opened it some time ago. I couldn’t say exactly when we became aware of the weariness lurking around us, maybe eight years ago. It lasted for hours, sometimes for days. Then it disappeared. During those anxious periods, we didn’t know what to do. It’s a horrible feeling. You can’t stand being with that person any longer. It’s not boredom in the strict sense of the word. Intolerance, perhaps. Everything annoys you. The way they click their tongue, the unexpected smile, the wrong word said at the wrong time, the obsequious caress. Even the things that you thought were funny before seem unbearable now. It may be the cumulative effect, a friend said. A sort of allergy—you stuff yourself on your favorite food until one day your body says: Enough! You break out in red spots, itching and sweating, which only makes it worse. Just like that. Too much of a good thing, I say. One day we looked at each other and we couldn’t take it anymore—I was fed up with him, and he with me—and we searched for a solution.
“Hunger. It’s like an animal trapped inside you, Thomas thought.”—James Dashner
The flavor of those eyes continued to dance in her mouth as she savored the aftertaste with little smacks of her tongue. Just before dawn, she lifted up her gaze toward the infinite, making out only the light that was deep blue and amber. Everything is relative to day, to night, to colors, and to sustenance. When you are hungry, your steps assume an ashen color as if in a dream of incineration—somber, grayish, full of pain. We’ve all been hungry, we are hunger, yet she was alone. Especially after that early morning when nature exploded into wind and rain, leaving her home battered. That morning, three of her kittens, her only companions, drowned in her basement.
Right before Baby finished ninth grade, Jerry (Baby’s dad) announced that Baby and Carla (Baby’s older sister) would work for him that summer. Baby thought it was a great idea. She would much rather landscape for Jerry than work at one of the three pizza/sub joints in town, or at a basketball camp for kids, which was most of what of her teammates were doing.
Jerry was six-three (two inches taller than Baby) and had a thick mustache and a laugh that rattled fine china. He’d built the house they lived in. In church he sang the loudest and the most out of tune. Six nights a week he did a hundred push-ups. He never took a sick day. It was true what everyone said, that Jerry was the most hardworking, honest man in Waldo County, Maine. The other thing people said was he didn’t suffer fools, but Baby was not one hundred percent sure what this meant, so she couldn’t say if she agreed.
I was seventeen when I met David, back in 1916. Now I don’t very much care to count my age. It’s April 1972 here in Cambridge. White puffballs that must be some sort of seedpod have been floating by the window above my writing desk for days, collecting on the sidewalk like first snow.
The three of them play cards in the dining room. This is the story. Nothing else. Collectively, they’re almost three hundred years old. They drink juice and laugh. Now one of them turns on a small radio, which plays “Autumn Leaves.”