Palestinian writer Suhail Matar speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about his story “Granada,” translated by Amika Fendi. The story appears in The Common’s new spring issue, in a special portfolio of Arabic fiction from Palestine. Suhail talks about the inspiration and process behind the story, which explores the complex ways in which Palestinians connect when they meet and interact abroad. Suhail also discusses the difficulties of translation, the history and modern realities of Palestinians living within Israel’s current borders, and his PhD work exploring how the brain processes and reacts to language.
Abeer Khshiboon’s short story, “The Stranger” is featured in Issue 23’s portfolio of stories from Palestine. Here, Abeer and translator Nashwa Gowanlock discuss the story’s inspiration and the context in which its events unfold.
Words We Use to Talk About Home: An Interview with Abeer Khshiboon, author of “The Stranger”
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.
Farah was struggling to keep her balance in the heaving crowd near the locked gate. Despite how long she would have to wait to get into the hall at Amman University—where she’d already been standing for more than an hour—she remained both calm and cheerful. She was even humming a song—the last one she’d listened to on the way from the border crossing to a modest hotel in the Jordanian capital where she was sharing a room with the university friend joining her for the Fairouz concert.
It was raining nonstop, and the flowing stream of rainwater collected anything it met along the dirt track. As if this apocalyptic scene weren’t savage enough for God, the rain brought with it thunderstorms and gales that threatened to uproot the streetlamp and thin cypress trees dotting the neighborhood.
It was freezing cold, and my grandmother crouched in a corner of the house near the dakhoon, which no one had lit, shivering under her black woollen shawl. From time to time, she muttered, “Oh, Mary, mother of Jesus, protect us!”
I was leaving El Rafidayn supermarket in Ramallah. I had bought coffee, wet wipes, and two cans of tuna. One of the Israeli occupation’s patrols was parked at El Rafidayn roundabout. I was alone in the area, and the hour was approaching midnight. The patrol blew its impudent horn. I ignored it and kept my course due home. But a soldier opened the window and called out, “Come over here, monkey.”
He stormed out of the house, yelling and cursing. His belly, hemmed in and taunted by high-waisted underpants (which had once been white), flopped over his waistband as if trying to flee from his too-short pants. He cursed those raucous kids; cursed their parents, those bastards; cursed the father who spawned those wretched creatures. As for his other neighbors: in a matter of seconds they were at the black iron railings, gripping onto the bars that surrounded the high windows to stop reckless children from falling yet still allow the adults to enjoy the view over the city. Meanwhile, the Syrian characters of the soap opera were left to discuss amongst themselves the various methods of smuggling weapons and prisoners, and how to free themselves from the yoke of the French colonizer.
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.
Slowly, we raised our heads as hellish cries echoed in our ears, and we looked up in awe and fear. The sky was a summery blue with no trace of a cloud, and the sun had spread out, occupying every corner. We lowered our gazes, licking our bluish lips as we exchanged panicked glances. Our cracked feet were rooted to the furrowed mud, as if our slightest movement might stir up the screeching. We chewed over our terror for a few minutes, our parted lips emitting silence. Our mounts were as terrified as we were, and they scattered around the courtyard at the inn, fear spurring them to shake off the torpor of the midday heat.