They say that, sometime at the end of the nineteenth century, a woman came on a wooden ship from Najd, married a wealthy man from the island, and, when she didn’t conceive, had a maqam built on the ruins of a pagan temple near the cliffs of the shore. Having had a dream where a man holding a staff spoke to her, the woman then named the maqam after the mystic Al-Khidr.
We were happy children. Fear didn’t stop us from doing what we wanted whenever we wanted. The clock had no place in our daily lives, as long as we were armed by play and by the secret weapon of Allah y-saʿdak, that Iraqi phrase that we used as a password to keep the soldiers at bay.
But when it came to rescuing me from the claws of a heart sickness that sent me to the hospital, twenty-nine years after the invasion, the password didn’t work. In truth, I don’t know what struck me. It seemed that my heart could no longer contain the force of all the memories of the days of the invasion, when I was a nine-year-old who spent most of his time playing football or riding a bicycle. The stream of images pushed my heart rate to over 160 irregular beats per minute. As doctors struggled to figure out the reason, I myself was certain of it.
The village had many corners, of which the far western side, leading to the bus terminal, was the bleakest. Om Saber sat on the clean plastic bench installed by the village’s youth committee and waited for the first microbus to take her to the city. With an anxious movement, she reached into her bra to check on the piece of paper she had placed there. Abu Hosny, the old taxi driver, had written down for her all the instructions that she needed to get to her destination: Shatta Prison, where the sweetest part of her now resided, which made distance and time nothing but an illusion. A large cat rubbed its dewy fur on the hem of her black dress. Om Saber smiled and tried to stay still so as not to disturb the cat. She smiled again when she found the paper in its fold.
The pores of life are clogged in this room. Making it difficult to breathe. There’s a hanging smell of death that’s impossible to miss. Visitors are unnerved by it. Except those visitors whose nerves have been hardened by the tedium of their dutiful weekly visits to the woman at the far end of the room: boredom and emptiness compressed into no more than half an hour.
Abdelghaffar, owner of the tallest building in the quarter—built by the sweat of his brow, as he reportedly doesn’t tire of saying—is pacing up and down his rooftop, stressed about the stray dogs that have been disturbing the neighborhood’s sleep with their nonstop barking every night—Abdelghaffar’s sleep is more affected than anyone’s, his home being the highest in the neighborhood and receiving the noise from all directions at once.
Latifa Baqa’s gripping stream of consciousness short story “Adam’s Apple” is a highlight of Issue 21’s portfolio of fiction from Morocco. A feminist, human rights activist, and award-winning author, Baqa is interviewed by The Common interns Sofia Belimova, Olive Amdur, Adaku Nwokiwu, and Eliza Brewer. They discuss editing, the devil in the details, and countering the traditional expectation of the male gaze. Nariman Youssef translated the interview, as well as the original story. This is the first of two interviews conducted by the summer interns with Issue 21 contributors; the second will be with Abdelmajid Haouasse.
TC interns (TC): What inspired “Adam’s Apple?” Can you describe your process of writing and revising it?
Latifa Baqa (LB): The idea behind “Adam’s Apple,” like pretty much all ideas you may find in any of my fictional texts, began with a sentence. Meaning that one sentence preceded the idea, in a way not unlike how one note might resonate in a musician’s head before the rest of the tune. This is how it often happens: before I begin writing, a lone sentence rises up in my thoughts, for no obvious reason. I remember how this one stuck in my head for days: “We shouldn’t lay bare what we carry within us more than once.” The rest of the story followed from that sentence, beginning with a minor character who barely features in the narrative: Alzamourie, the neighborhood’s baker, who was a real person in the working class neighborhood where I was born and raised. To be more precise, one element that started making its way into the story was Alzamourie’s teeth. I just could never forget his teeth. It seems almost absurd, but I find more reassurance in the foggy arbitrariness of memory than in the clarity of conventional reality.
I Will Be in the Place You Least Expect to Find Me: 10 Questions with Latifa Baqa
Nariman Youssef speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about her work translating three short stories from Arabic for The Common’s portfolio of fiction from Morocco, in thespring issue. In this conversation, Nariman talks about the conscious and unconscious decisions a translator makes through many drafts, including the choice to preserve some features of the language, sound, and cadence that may not sound very familiar to English readers. She also discusses her thoughts on how the translation world has changed over the years, and her exciting work as Arabic Translation Manager at the British Library.
Podcast: Nariman Youssef on Arabic Translations from Morocco
I know a man whose heart is instructed in Bedouin life. He knows the desert and its moods, and has learned early on that it doesn’t like to be challenged. I know him walking without pause, teaching his feet and his heart the ways, walking slowly and deliberately, the trails trembling beneath him. Aimlessly he digs into the sand of the earth and settles nowhere, for his early existence taught him that a real Bedouin doesn’t settle except in death. He may pause, but if he does, life sneaks up on him with its poison. With every pause comes an ache. The trick is not to overcome life’s problems, but to understand its laws.
I looked at my wristwatch. Was it time for a surprise trip, or nearing an appointment? I approached one of the coffee shop’s customers and peered at the cup of black coffee and the glass of water—at the time, it would’ve cost the Ministry of Interior Affairs forty billion to quench the citizens’ thirst. This was therefore the most expensive glass of water I never drank!
I walk in and find the women there in the large hall. I can hear their soft, melodious voices, which means there is no man around. (More accurately: there is no man doing all the talking.) I instinctively head toward them, like an animal finally encountering its species. I take a seat and wait for my turn. Before I came up to the therapist’s clinic, I had run into Fast Lubna—with the hazel eyes, the kohl always smudged, and the newly blonde hair—outside the entrance. She was on the phone. She was dressed in black leather pants and a black leather jacket. I thought she smiled at me, but she didn’t move the phone slightly away from her ear to give me a warm hug as she would have usually done. She used to dress more normally, less severely, before she adopted this style and dyed her long hair blonde. She surprised me. The transformation of the vast majority of women I know since the eighties of the last century has been toward the hijab and extreme modesty, away from modern clothes.