This lock-in Monday, as part of our ongoing series of stay-at-home literature, a short story by Syrian writer Zakaria Tamer that appeared, in Marllyn Hacker’s translation, in our first issue of ArabLit Quarterly:
By Zakaria Tamer
Translated by Marilyn Hacker
There was a skinny roughened hand buried in the dirt. It yearned for sun and rain, for the blue sky and the wind, and for years it crept slowly upward. It took on the color of its own spilt blood, and for a long time it was ravaged by fierce pain, but it never abandoned its effort until it was able to burst from the dust like a sudden small explosion. It staggered, a strange pallid plant, drunk with light, air and voices, impatient to forget the darkness underground. Its trembling fingers groped along the earth’s surface and grew solid the moment they touched and held a flower. A strange, impetuous tenderness suffused the hand and desire breathed through its veins, calling out to a breast that had been the most beautiful white flower. The call mixed with a cry unloosed one day in the throat of a man who had been thrown to the ground, his chest and his mouth stained with blood.
The hand’s call and the man’s cry ran down the noisy streets, searching all the houses, house by house, then they disappeared, ashamed.
The skinny roughened hand remembered the woman who had a body made of ever-trembling white stars.
The woman had laughed, and whispered gaily: We’ll do what we like, and let my family say what they will!
The man had laughed, and said: We’ll live as we please, and we won’t pay attention to anyone.
They pressed their bodies together, green grass and red roses, fire and blood, but the knives appeared quickly beside them. The man tried to protect his body with his skinny roughened hands, but the knives pursued him, attacked him till he fell like a dry leaf from a tree. He was buried in a green thicket. His torn bloody flesh was absorbed bit by bit in the earth, but the rough, skinny, desiring hand stayed alive.
The hand’s strength weakened and its fingers almost lost their grip on the flower, but they held on to it stubbornly.
At that moment, five men arrived, accompanied by a woman and a girl not more than ten years old. They sat down on a carpet spread near the rough, skinny hand.
The woman exclaimed, feigning protest: There are five of you! What will I do with you? You’ll exhaust me!
One of the men said: What do you suggest?
The woman said: That my daughter help me.
The man said: But she’s a child.
The little girl cried out, fierce and determined: Put me to the test! And you’ll see that I’m better than my mother, and you’ll pay me more than you pay her!
The rough skinny hand shuddered. It dropped the flower and retreated back to the darkness under the earth.
Zakaria Tamer is a Syrian author who has published eleven short story collections, two collections of satirical articles, and numerous children’s books. His works have been translated into many languages, with three collections in English: Tigers on the Tenth Day, The Hedgehog, and Breaking Knees. He was awarded the Sultan Bin Ali Al Owais Cultural Award in literature, the Cairo Award for the Arabic Short Story, and the Mahmoud Darwish Award for Literature.
Marilyn Hacker is the author of more than a dozen books. Her translations of French and Francophone poets include books by Vénus Khoury-Ghata, Habib Tengour and Rachida Madani. Her translations from Arabic (of Zakaria Tamer, Golan Haji, Fadwa Suleiman and Yasser Khanjer) have appeared in PN Review, Agni, Prairie Schooner Modern Poetry in Translation, The Paris Review, Words Without Borders, POEM, Critical Muslim, ArabLit Quarterly, and A Public Space. Her awards include the National Book Award, the 2009 American PEN award for poetry in translation, and the international Argana Prize for Poetry from the Beit as-Sh’ir/ House of Poetry in Morocco in 2011. She lives in Paris.
Other translations in our stay-at-home series:
Lock-in Limited Release: Naguib Mahfouz’s ‘The Man in the Picture’, tr. Karim Zidan
Ali el-Makk’s ‘Forty-One Minarets’, tr. Adil Babikir
‘Eyes Shut’ by Rami Tawil, tr. Nashwa Gowanlock
Bushra Fadil’s ‘Phosphorus at the Bottom of a Well.’ tr. Mustafa Adam
‘A Street in the Pandemic’ & Other Poems by Jawdat Fakhreddine, tr. Huda Fakhreddine
Belal Fadl’s 2007 satire “Into the Tunnel,” tr. Nariman Youssef
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