By MOHAMMAD IBRAHIM NAWAYA
Translated by ROBIN MOGER
I sprinted towards them as they battered away. Tried, but could not open the bolted door. I shouted out, called at the top of my voice for those around me to help, but to no avail. And when at last I despaired, and turned my back to come away, my head knocked against the wall of a water tank, greater still, shut fast against me.
Against history, the commander retreated to the rear to avoid the enemy’s assaults. We asked him, How can you guide us when we are in your van? He unhitched his whip and began to flay.
He took his heavy staff and started to beat the chair before him with all his strength, angrily upbraiding it: With all that has happened, you just sit there on your four legs, and watch.
All eyes on the bird, which started to peck at his great statue. He did not seem to sense it. Did not bat an eye. But most there swore that it was a test, that he might tell apart those who had faith.
The definite article
From his pocket he took a piece of paper and began to set down the numbers that mattered. Having noted the numbers of his identity card, his passport, his cell phone, then his employment number, his civil registration number, his national record number, the number of the refugee identity certificate that gives him access to aid, and his prison number, he knew for sure how pointless it was that he have a name at all.
He hailed him through the bullhorn: Stop! Don’t kill yourself. Life is beautiful and deserves to be lived. Calm yourself. Think a little. Slowly, he climbed the wall towards him, to persuade him. After a long conversation had passed between the two, another man down below cried out in terror: Stop! Don’t kill yourselves!
They led him in chains to the courtroom, and when the judge saw him, he called to the guards: Good. Now, bring me the man he slew. They took him away, then brought him back in.
Too busy to attend the anniversary celebrations, the president sent them his portrait instead. They propped it on his chair, and every time it moved with the breeze, thunderous applause swelled and swelled.
An injured man was brought in. In a weary voice he started describing the horror of what had happened. His fear plain to see, he gave us a warning: The occupation forces are swallowing up one city after another. We listened carefully to all he had to say, and were much moved. In order to help him, we decided that we should all burst out weeping.
He talks to them a lot. Is struck by their ability to stand upright for so long. Envies their endurance. He holds his head high. His body is like a pillar rising from the ground, unmoving. He becomes like one of the them—one of the walls.
I couldn’t find her, because each of them had cut away the piece of her they liked and were claiming that they alone possessed her. Now, I must gather them all together for the truth to be made whole.
He began by drawing a circle all around himself, and just as he came to complete it, a strange feeling came over him.
From the lip of a steep cliff I threw out my hand to save him. He smiled and pulled me higher.
Mohammad Ibrahim Nawaya is a Syrian short story writer based in Khartoum, Sudan. He has two published collections: To Walk on Your Hands and As a Homeland.
Robin Moger is a translator of Arabic prose and poetry based in Cape Town, South Africa.