CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
translated from the Arabic by the author and C. J. Collins
Tears without Fire
The candle was astounded to see the widow as she wept for her recently deceased husband. “How is it,” she asked herself, “that her tears are pouring down but she has no fire on her head?”
Samir, a child not yet seven years old, was completely astounded at the behavior of his father, the famous writer. His father was sitting at his desk writing in a yellow notebook, the marks of annoyance written plainly on his face. Every now and again he would tear the pages angrily and throw them into the wastepaper basket. This gesture was repeated many times until, unable to take it any longer, he threw the notebook far away and went off to sleep, muttering unintelligibly. Samir immediately tiptoed from the living room to the office where the wastepaper basket was. He pulled from it a piece of paper and uncrumpled it. He saw lines of barbed wire and massacred words from which blood flowed like rivers. The survivors writhed about letting forth terrible, nightmarish cries of anguish. The child stood shocked. He threw the paper to the ground and ran to his room. He hid beneath the blanket trembling at the terrible volcano that had erupted in his face.
Since that day he feels great compassion for words and only inscribes them on paper completely free of barbed wire.
The Light and the Iris
The unrestrained light said resentfully to the Iris, “You are such a coward!”
The Iris quietly replied, “I have enough room for fools.”
He returned from work late at night carrying bags full of fruits and vegetables and weaving from exhaustion and fatigue. When he opened the door to the bedroom he was shocked to find his wife making love with insane ardor to a friend of her son. She looked up at him with scorn and derision. He rubbed his eyes well and opened them to find her humbly performing her prayers. He rubbed his eyes again, this time with furious intensity, and opened them to see her dancing completely naked before a window that faced the house of their young neighbor. He closed his eyes in horror, rubbing them with two hands like tornadoes. When he opened them, his wife was there, inviting him to share breakfast in bed, her eyes brimming with love and tenderness.
He knew then that his eyes’ allotted time had expired. He went to the most famous eye doctor in the country to have two new ones, special-ordered fresh from the factory, implanted. Since that day he sees his wife just the way he wants to.
Sa’id walked out of the public garden with a newspaper under his arm to use as protection from the scorching rays of the sun. His face was a battlefield of hundreds of contradictory emotions and electrifying questions … caught between the present and the future. He hung his head as if to hide the events of the crushing battle.
On the sidewalk outside the garden a homeless person passed before him with torn clothes, a terrible smell emanating from him. All of a sudden Sa’id became a big-bellied capitalist smoking a cigar, striding haughtily, and thinking about the profits from his last deal. He couldn’t see the homeless person who stretched out his hand, wishing him success and long life.
A little later a luxury automobile passed in front of him driven by a high functionary. Sa’id became a shorn sheep in a polar storm that threatened to kill him. And when he arrived in one of the fanciest hotels of the city he became an ant born without legs, about to be crushed.
A few meters from his dilapidated house he returned to his natural state: a low-level civil servant in a government agency; but as soon as he was face to face with his wife and children he became all of them.
The number seven looked at zero standing to his left and said to him “O Nothing! O Nobody, you are like the beggars and the bums among the humans. Nothing good or profitable can come from you!” But zero went along calmly until he came to the right side of seven. Seven was struck with surprise and looked at zero with great respect.
“Will you remain as my guest forever?” he asked in a voice flooded with flattery, “And what would be nicer than if you invited the greatest possible number of your equals from among the zeros to join you!”
An Unusual Gathering
The group sat at a rectangular table. The child sat facing the moment. The adolescent faced the minute. The young man faced the hour. The man faced the day. The middle-aged man faced the month. The old man faced the year.
“I’m tired of this. I want to get up!” the child said to the moment with agitation.
“So am I!” said the moment excitedly, “I’m leaving.”
The two of them leaped up from their chairs joyfully.
“I’m starting to feel bored,” the adolescent said to the minute with enthusiasm. “Life is beautiful and I want to enjoy it to the last drop.”
The minute agreed with him and the two of them jumped up laughing from their chairs.
“Life is a captivating woman,” the young man said to the hour happily. “I won’t let her pass me by.”
When the hour had passed, the two of them took off.
“Life is work and struggle,” the man said to the day, “there must be time to rest.”
After the day had finished its twenty-fourth hour, the two of them got up and left.
“Life is tedious and tiresome,” the middle-aged man said to the month, “let’s sit a while before we go.”
In a month’s time the two of them left.
The old man said to the year in despair, “Life has worn me down and destroyed me. We’ve almost ceased to exist.”
The year answered him with scorn, “ How stupid you are.”
He wrapped him in a white sheet and went with him quietly through a halo of fog to a land of magical purity.
Thread of Light
I kept my head held high with pride before the locked door of life. Because of that I didn’t see the thread of light creeping beneath the door until old age had bent my back.
The White Flag
While they wandered through one of the markets of the city utterly destroyed by the civil war, Wasim pointed to a white flag waving on a building riddled by bullets, and asked his grandfather:
“What is that, Grandpa?”
“That’s a flag to show that those who raised it want to stop the war and establish peace,” said the grandfather, sighing sadly.
Pointing to the his grandfather’s long white comb-over raised high by the wind, Wasim shouted with enthusiasm:
“I love you so much, Grandpa, because you are passionate about peace!”
The two interrogators had left their prisoner curled in a corner of the room, bleeding profusely and shaking in terror. Soon the corner itself administered a kick that sent him tumbling across the room. In this way the four corners went on kicking him back and forth until the roof collapsed on him and finished the job.
The Shining Idea
From the invisible world the child who has not yet been born looks at this life with burning desire. He contemplates the children playing in the public garden. Among the shouts and laughter of their families they swing on the swing set and slide down the slide until they are covered in dust. He wishes that he could be one of those children chided by their families so that they won’t hurt themselves, finally held in big warm hands pulsing with love and compassion, rocked late in the night by a gentle voice flooding him with spring, speaking to his age, no older than the age of flowers, reading a fairy tale so he will sleep a little later like an angel.
He observes the plains and the mountains and the forests and the seas. He speaks in a tearful voice heard only by him: “How beautiful is life!” He turns to his father who has not yet dared to marry and says to him, “I beg you to get married, Father. I want to come to life to enjoy it like other children. I want to play and learn in the oasis of yours and Mom’s tender love. I want to grow up and work and get married and have children and raise them well. I want to live, Dad.”
His father lives in a basement. He appears like sunken sorrows and answers him with sadness:
“My son, life is filled with frustration and pain and tears. You should be happy that you haven’t known it. Many people wish they had not been born. It’s a world full of struggle and vengeance and envy and dishonorable competition. Believe me, little one, your situation now is better than ours by far.”
His son answers him with ardor:
“On the contrary, Father, everything is perfectly clear to me. From the thick transparent boundary that separates me from you I see life as exciting and full of pleasure. It’s a world loud with movement and activity and success—to say nothing of the loving-kindness that floods the earth with its brilliant light. The world is a blank page.”
The father answers with bitterness:
“What is this loving-kindness you are talking about, Son? The world bows its head beneath the blows of malice and hate and all kinds of pollution. Every day the hell of war succeeds in swallowing new lands from the garden of loving-kindness and harmony. Failure swallows the happiness of old and young alike. The snake’s hiss of idleness is heard everywhere. What should I speak to you about? About the children who search for their daily meal in garbage bins until their blank pages are polluted with black of squalor? They grow up armed with all the weapons of deadly resentment. Should I speak to you about the girls who take up prostitution when not yet ten years old because of poverty and disintegration of the family? Should I speak to you about the black defeat that stoops the many for reasons that would be unimaginable even to a devil?”
His son answers him, begging:
“Please listen to me, Dad. I see the children that you are speaking of playing in parks and playgrounds. They laugh and shout in extreme happiness. I want to join them. The transparent boundary that separates me from your world is very thick. You are the only one, with the help of Mom, who can destroy this barrier. Search for Mom, Dad. I beg you. Search for her. How much do I look with sorrow at the mothers who feed their young from their breasts? I look with sorrow and I weep. I’m hungry for tenderness and life. The world is a page entirely blank.”
His father answers him with bitterness:
“No: the world is a page completely black. It seems that you won’t understand my point of view.”
The father got up from the shredded couch and got dressed very slowly. He headed for the door of the narrow room that for long years had contained him and the mountains of his sadness. He opened it with a trembling hand and went out into the street steered by a brain filled with thick black smoke. The son followed him begging and imploring, tears pouring from his eyes … in vain. He stopped wounded in the middle of the road, looking at his father who with a look of farewell had refused to have him . He began to circle the earth, a shining idea looking for a father and a mother to be his gate to cross into this world.
Syrian writer Osama Alomar is a prominent practitioner of the Arabic “very short story” (al-qisa al-qasira jiddan). Previous English translations of his work have appeared in NOON, and he has published three fiction collections in Arabic: Ayuha al-insaan (O Man), Rabtat Lisaan (Tongue Tie) , and Jami’ al-huquq ghayr mahfuza (All Rights Not Reserved) , as well as one volume of poetry, Qaala insaan al’ asir al hadith (Man Said the Modern World). The 2007 winner of Egypt’s Najlaa Muharam Short Story Contest, his work is regularly heard on the BBC Arabic Service and he is a regular contributor to various newspapers and journals in Syria and the Arab community, including Tishrin, an-Nur, Spot Light, al-Halil, Adab wa Naqd, and al-Ghad. Alomar currently lives in Chicago, where he drives a cab.
C.J. Collins is a student of Arabic and an aspiring librarian currently based in Queens, New York.