These 10 vivid short stories, from Sudanese and South Sudanese writers, are in honor of the Northern Hemisphere’s shortest day:
Ibrahim El-Salahi. Untitled from Prison Notebook. 1976
1. “Birth,” Abdelaziz Baraka Sakin, trans. Nancy Roberts
It was her panting that drew me over. I was exhausted, as the new work regime had been sucking every last drop of life out of us. But my misreading of the situation (what with the cries, groans, and stifled moans) put some life back into me, and I shot over to her like an arrow.
2. “The Route Through Purgatory” by Omayma Abdullah, translated by Nassir al-Sayed al-Nour
The sands lolled and swam in the sun’s blazing rays all day, then when darkness fell, they patiently waited for the sun to rise. As far as the eye could see, the sands swelled in every direction, wild and silent. It even felt like they were stealthily watching us. Everyone except the leader and I slept like the dead. We had walked barefoot the whole day, but the journey ahead was still long. The sun had hollowed faces and etched deep lines; lips were painted the color of ash.
3. “The Rally of the Sixth of April,” by Stella Gaitano, translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid, Salah Mohamed El Hassan Osman, and Abed Haddad
This was no normal morning…. The air was heavy with a confounding silence. It was a situation that could be described as a lying in wait, as a cautious staring between predator and prey, each waiting for the right moment to leap. Hussam was busy finding the right nooks to shoot the perfect photo. He stood behind a small window in a cramped room on the sixth floor of a building in the Souk Arabi district. Carefully, he began to adjust his equipment, training his camera over the heart of Khartoum, which was now abuzz with heightened security. The arrests began at 10 am, just over three hours before the start of the march. Many citizens were forced to leave the city center: to prevent gatherings, police and masked security men began to beat and disperse the people.
4. “Doors,” by Rania Mamoun, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette
He woke up early, unusual for him, and got out of bed with cheerful enthusiasm.
He headed to the tap to wash his face and freshen his breath with minty toothpaste but discovered the water had been shut off. God! When had they come? Did they never sleep!
Then he remembered that he hadn’t paid the utility.
5. “The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away,” by Bushra al-Fadil, translated by Max Shmookler
There I was, cutting through a strange market crowd – not just people shopping for their salad greens, but beggars and butchers and thieves, prancers and Prophet-praisers and soft-sided soldiers, the newly-arrived and the just-retired, the flabby and the flimsy, sellers roaming and street kids groaning, god-damners, bus-waiters and white-robed traders, elegant and fumbling. And there in the midst, our elected representatives, chasing women with their eyes and handsand whole bodies, with those who couldn’t give chase keeping pace with an indiscrete andsensual attention, or lost in a daydream.
6. “A Handful of Dates,” by Tayeb Salih, translated by Denys Johnson-Davies
I must have been very young at the time. While I don’t remember exactly how old I was, I do remember that when people saw me with my grandfather they would pat me on the head and give my cheek a pinch – things they didn’t do to my grandfather. The strange thing was that I never used to go out with my father, rather it was my grandfather who would take me with him wherever he went, except for the mornings, when I would go to the mosque to learn the Koran. The mosque, the river, and the fields – these were the landmarks in our life. While most of the children of my age grumbled at having to go to the mosque to learn the Koran, I used to love it. The reason was, no doubt, that I was quick at learning by heart and the Sheik always asked me to stand up and recite the Chapter of the Merciful whenever we had visitors, who would pat me on my head and cheek just as people did when they saw me with my grandfather.
We all headed to Helmy’s house covered in sweat and dust.
8. “Isolation,” by Sabah Babiker Ibraheem Sanhouri, translated by Najlaa Othman and Max Shmookler
It’s hot, hot enough to suffocate. There is nothing except this table upon which I sleep, a rectangular hall with four doors and twelve windows. On each side a door. On the shorter sides, two windows, each with a door between them, and on the longer sides, two windows to the left of the door and two to the right.
9. “Conjunctions,” by Nagi Al-Badawi, translated by Max Shmookler and by Najlaa Eltom
Doves flying on a horizon of signs and metaphors. I can never hear the word “doves,” nor think of it unexpectedly, without picturing them flying as if they were the horizon’s capricious whim, their movements vexing me every time I approached from a distance. Their exact number did not live long in my memory. I used to count the doves hovering in pairs, like married couples, over the playground that I cut across on my way home from school. I only felt the playground’s vastness when I walked through with empty pockets, having spent my last penny on sunflower seeds or ice cream and then hit the road in the company of my friends.
10. “A Condition,” by Adil al-Qassas, translated by Max Shmookler and by Najlaa Eltom
You’re certain that nothing will dissuade you now. Nothing. Not your neighbors’ invitation to the luncheon to celebrate their boys’ circumcision. Not the kind old lady’s pleading to help her write a letter to her faraway son who never visits. Not the laughter of your three-year-old boy (whose laughter—you would say—sounds like a gurgling stomach). Not the mischievous way he clung to the collar of your jallebeya when you saw him outside just a few moments ago with his mother (who was—as always—chomping away on a stick of gum) on their way to visit the neighbors. Nothing. Nothing will dissuade you.
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