Who Turned on the Tap?

The Egyptian Forensic Medicine Authority in Cairo, Egypt

What is that sound? It seems to be that of running water. However, I just went through the whole building to check that all the taps were turned off. It should be just me and the deceased in here. I strain my ears to identify the direction the sound is coming from. The autopsy room seems to be the source. I know it can’t be, because I was just in there, all the taps were turned off and nobody would have been able to enter the room since. I could swear I left it locked. Regardless, I go to the autopsy room once again and, to my surprise, find out that there is in fact a tap that has been left running. How can it be? There is no one there, other than the dead bloke lying on the examination table. He had been hit in the head by a stray bullet. Maybe it is his spirit, trying to drive me crazy. Perhaps he is trying to dissuade me from meddling in his affairs.

Cairo’s morgue is ...Read more

My Dear Friend, Samson

Man leaned over green container, Directorate of Tourism, Latakia, Siria.jpg

When did I first see Samson? I can’t say for sure, for the lines that ran horizontally on his forehead have melded with those of the window of my room, which has been my favorite place to stare at while brooding over the subject of life for as long as I can remember. Every morning, I take some time to drink a glass of milk and cast a glance through the window at the the scarcely-populated street and its passersby, those early birds who most often are students, street cleaners loading the trailers they tow behind their crappy bikes with empty plastic bottles, and joggers, who seem to possess a gift for standing in the way of those rushing to the office.

Before leaving the house in the afternoon, I brush my hair, make a few phone calls and drink a cup of coffee. He was always there when I stepped out into the street, sitting on the pavement close to the garbage bin and dressed in the same old rags. We had ...Read more

Life on Earth Should Come First

Entrance to the walled city, Oujda, Morocco

Leila was just over forty and her husband was still madly in love with her. He had never stopped feeling attracted to her, even though her body (having gone through three childbirths) didn’t look exactly the same as it had when they first got married. He made sure she knew how much he appreciated her by showering her with compliments on a regular basis. All things considered, one could say Leila had no reason whatsoever to complain about life, considering she had a doting prince-charming-like husband by her side. That is why, when she began to flinch from his touch every time he tried to show her affection, became squeamish about enjoying life for the sake of it, began to pray often and intensely, and eventually to shun human contact, he suspected something had gone terribly wrong.

Leila’s strange behavior began after she decided it was about time she learned to read and write. She started attending classes at an institute with adult education programs designed to combat illiteracy among the female population. There, once a week, women ...Read more

Rewriting the History of Al-Anbariyin

Kadhimiya, Baghdad, Irak

We are born with two feet, one to sustain balance and the other to venture into the unknown.

I yelled rather rowdily when entering this world, for I was being born not quite gently into a neighborhood of Baghdad that was just a little bigger than the size of a pea called Al-Anbariyin. I was beautifully bred and grew up looking forward to leaping into the future. I spent my childhood and somewhat belligerent youth amid the historical walls of the wooden houses with stained-glass windows and mashrabiyas embellished with carvings overlooking the street. To this day, the smell of those narrow alleys follows me wherever I go. It’s a place that has been loosely portrayed in several sagas, of those which get to be passed down generation to generation, as cloaked in mystery under a magic cloud formed by the smoke the chimney of each house belches in the afternoon, the steam rising from the bath houses to where Queen Alia used to take her son Faisal II, the former king of Iraq, ...Read more

Oud Fragrance

House interior in Kuwait

The family, consisting of the father, the mother and the two girls, Nur and Zeinab, joined the grandmother, Mariam, around the dinner table. The exquisite fragrance of the spinach pies on the table made Nur’s mouth water. She knew her grandmother had baked them with her in mind. As soon as everyone was seated, she lunged over the table to claim a slice of the pie. She didn’t, however, gauge her impetus and hit the plate, which landed on the ground and broke into pieces. Her father got his dander up because he knew how precious that specific plate with a design of golden flowers was to his mother, for it had been handed down to her by her own mother. It was the plate on which she always served the spinach pies. He raised his arm to strike the one he deemed responsible for his rage, and she dove for cover to the feet of her grandmother. Nur sank her head in her grandmother’s lap and started crying. Her grandmother then got mad at her own son ...Read more

A Reminder in the Barren Wilderness

Merzouga, Morocco

Tears trickle down his cheeks and fall on the ground, where they build a small puddle, around which birds gather to dip bread crumbs. No single water-resembling drop goes to waste here.

She says: “Men don’t cry.”

He says: “Like the sky. Perhaps we are all too proud for our own good.”

She says: “I will be gone forever, don’t expect me to return.”

They have grown up together. Something happened between them on his thirtieth birthday. He doesn’t know whether she still remembers. Now it feels like a distant dream, of the same nature as the blurred lines things have over here, with the same silky texture of the sand dunes engulfing Merzouga and the aftertaste of a sun that makes one squint.

He lights up a cigarette and sits down on one of the wooden chairs spread around the garden. Two days ago his old pal passed away, he has just learnt. It had been a long time since he had seen him last. He only came by when in need of help. Still, it hurt.

He stands up. He has decided to go ...Read more

The Room

TV in room

Every time I sit down to write, my hand reaches for the remote. I can’t help it, it is almost an instinctive reaction I have to blank pages awaiting eagerly to be filled with words. I wish I knew what it was that drives me to turn on that annoying TV. Although, on second thought, it seems only reasonable to expect that the straight and stiff lines on the paper might have a hard time competing for my attention against the lively images on the screen. But even when I try and force myself to turn my gaze away from the screen and back to the paper, I am faced with mutiny by the muscles of my neck.

I recently bought a larger TV screen to enjoy the cinematic experience at home. The problem is that now movie plots feel so real that I can’t watch anything even slightly upsetting if I want to be able to sleep at night. Writing is the only thing that helps when I have trouble distinguishing what is real from what is not.

I mostly ...Read more

The Road to Conviction

Al Ammar Al Kubra, Al Qalyubia Governorate, Egypt

Only the stern of the ship, the prow of the plane, and in between, the long strip plastered with her guilt over what she had not been able to see back then remain visible. The rest she has been able to scrub off the wall over time, by rubbing the surface with her shoulders.

“Stop! God help you if you don’t!”

She doesn’t heed the warning, puts the bin with henna sticks on the ground and searches for the keys to open the entrance door.

“What’s wrong with you? You either don’t see me as a threat or don’t value your life.”

The thick soles of her bare feet hit the ground with gritty determination and cool composure, and behind her every step drags the tail of her black outer garment, which engulfs her in every respect. She could wear her habit inside out and nobody would notice, for it had been sweeping dirt off the streets for ages. She put on a blank mask to face the world every morning and forgot to take it off on the rare ...Read more

A Replica on Earth

Alexandria, Egypt

Every step I have taken so far has been towards the Occident, ever since I won a scholarship to continue my studies in France. I wept for joy when I learnt the news, because I had finally been offered an opportunity to see the outside world. I was determined to make a difference abroad and make my country proud of its people. I even took to picturing myself receiving a Nobel prize!

Now, after all these years, I have come to terms with what I will achieve in life in view of what I have achieved so far and think it’s time I returned back home. I want to leave the work of tiptoeing carefully across a white hall filled with sterilized equipment and glassware with highly reactive substances behind in the lab and try spending some time in the country that conceived me, nurtured me and equipped me for what the future might have had in store for me.

Hence, I book flights for me and my whole family. The day before our departure, my son Omar comes running to me while I am lounging on a rocking chair reading the ...Read more

Where a City Gets to Shine

Seven Fountains Roundabout Manbij, Syria

Our history teacher once told us that a city’s roundabouts represent death and my brother, the poet, has always said that there is no better way to know a city than through its roundabouts. The first time I saw a dead body was at the Seven Fountains Roundabout. It was a young man sprawled on the road next to his motorcycle. I then recalled the words of my history teacher and thought that the government should have built traffic lights to regulate the flow of traffic entering the square.

The square receives its name from the seven-spout fountain located in its center. Its water-pumping mechanism is only rarely working properly. This is just one of the various ways my city tries to emulate cities like Damascus or Aleppo, where there are also fountains carrying this name. What it doesn’t seem to be taking into consideration is that there is more to a name than what one can simply copy. And, unlike in Damascus or Aleppo, in this city there are no private nor governmental institutions fighting to acquire ...Read more