The Morning Call

The sea at Alexandria, Egypt

The fierce eyes of the forlorn hope of building a bridge between the dawn and the dusk of civilization that is the city of Alexandria cast a plaintive glance over us as we went our way through the bustling streets. Like a mother, she carries us on her bosom, looks after us and decides for us. Regardless of how whimsical her will may seem, we have no choice but to bend to it.

Every year, our company, which is based in Cairo, organizes a week-long summer trip for its employees. Transportation and accommodation are arranged for us and our families, and the destination is chosen by a majority vote. This story is the one of how Alexandria became our journey’s end.

We were sick with excitement when we jumped into the bus, especially the children. If we had only known the fate that awaited us there.

We dropped our bags off at the hotel and rushed to the beach right afterwards. There, we spent the whole afternoon running around half-naked, playing soccer and beach volleyball with the kids. A light breeze came ...Read more

Foundered Reality

Sheep in Gaza, Palestine

The power was off and the night was cold and moonless. Silence prevailed; only the sobs of children and the whistle of bullets being fired in every direction dared to punctuate it. The Angel of Death had decided to sojourn in our town for an indefinite period of time and it seemed he had only just started making himself comfortable among us. We lit some candles and formed a circle around them. Our eyes were fastened on their faint glimmer. It was the only thing we felt we could derive a feeling of safety from and we sucked on it like unweaned babies.

I didn’t understand how some had managed to fall asleep knowing that they very well might not wake up again in the morning. I switched on my portable radio, which had seen better days, and gently, started turning the tuning knob in hopes of receiving a signal, preferably a God-sent and auspicious one. I couldn’t afford to be picky, though, for my old radio was hardly in a cooperative mood. The awful screeches it emitted told me that, ...Read more

Written on the Palm of Her Hand

The Treasury, Petra, Jordan

She said, “Tell me, about your city, about the people living in it, about the beautiful girls I have to compete with for your affection. I want to know it all.”

We were sitting on a wooden bench in front of the Treasury, in Petra. She was constantly checking to make sure that her cochlear implant stayed hidden behind her hair. The sight of it certainly didn’t bother me. I thought she looked ravishing regardless. I didn’t want to risk ruining the moment by making her read my lips, especially considering that I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything to say that would live up to her expectations. Thus, I drew her hand to my lips and kissed it in an attempt to answer all her questions in one shot.

She, however, insisted, “Tell me about how this place makes you feel, with the candle lights, the plants that can be seen growing between the stones and the roar of the wind. You can’t just expect me to want to throw myself into your arms without proving that ...Read more

Burying Memories

El Shatby Historic Cemeteries, Alexandria, Egypt

A saunter around the archeological site sounded like a marvelous idea. Walking takes your mind off things and only God knew how much I needed that. It had rained the night before and the sand felt soft under my feet.

Suddenly, I saw a heap of stones that caught my eye. The collection of relics was comprised of a series of white pillars, all different heights and forming a circle around a statue resting on a rectangular stone plinth. All the pieces were numbered. The statue was of two hugging figures wearing himations. Their embrace looked sad, almost as if it had arisen from the depths of despair. These historical gems rested on a platform about a palm’s length above the ground. Its surface was covered with short perennial plants whose green had been tempted by darkness.

I resumed my stroll. Walking had proven more effective than any drug in clearing my head. Then, however, I started to feel as though something was off. It seemed to me that the statues on the site were casting ...Read more

Echoes of Nostalgia

Meniet El Morshed, Egypt

Every time I during my daily stroll landed up at Izbat Al Milh, which is on the outskirts of Meniet El Morshed, my town, my heart pounded to the beat of a funerary march.

The relics of his Serene Highness Mohamed Attieh’s humble abode marked the entrance to the precincts of the neighborhood. They told a beautiful story, that of the sanctuary that place had become in the last half-century.

The shop with the big umbrella had been reduced to ruins and what it stood for was on the brink of fading into oblivion. People used to come here to take refuge from the heat of summer and the cold of winter. Sir Mohamed liked to sit down with his clients on the porch in his white tunic that, despite the fact that he spent all day handling food, always looked pristine, and a taqiyah made of the same fabric.

He was friendly to everyone twenty-four seven, and was always wearing a sunny smile on his face. The people that clustered together around him came from all corners of ...Read more

Commentary on “At the Tea Vendor’s” by Milagros Oregui Navarrete

Mare Nostrum

I am going to analyze the story “At the Tea Vendor’s” from a psychoanalytical perspective, because that is my field of expertise. I think that this story tackles the issue of how much we can afford to challenge the norm and survive as individuals. I believe this to be an important topic because the suppression of individuality can stir up feelings of loss, which, in turn, can cause psychological pain.

I think that this story is revolutionary in that it exposes the human urges that prompt us to contravene the societal norms that we have ingrained in our minds. I understood the place where the main character sits down to drink tea as a representation of the mire of melancholy in which we are doomed to gradually sink when we feel abandoned.

This Sudanese author invites us to listen to what the undertones of our own stories are telling us, to admit the responsibility we have for the way our future plays out. It is the sense of guilt over not having done enough to become someone else and be somewhere ...Read more

Round Trip

Umm al-Qaywayn, UAE

My brother Kamal wanted me to make the most of my stay in the Emirates, so, on the very first day after landing, he took me on a trip to Sharjah. What struck me most about Sharjah was how well-behaved, culturally-aware and respectful of the Islamic traditions its residents appeared to be compared to Dubai, which is rather a cosmopolitan city that thrives on the work of those who partake in business for pleasure. Because of the position Kamal held at the paper he worked for, which was no other than Al Khaleej Times, people recognized him on the street. After spending the whole day wandering around the city, I started getting tired. My brother noticed it at once and suggested that we return home. The road to Umm al-Quwain was bumpy, and in taking it, we were ignoring the risks it posed at our own peril. One such risk was bumping into one of the herds of wild and untethered camels that traversed the inhospitable deserts, running to and fro with little warning of ...Read more

Literary Commentary on the Story “At the Tea Vendor’s”

Nel mezzo del cammin

After reading the finalists’ stories, I sat down to write my first impressions of them in order to determine which had exerted a greater impact on me. When I finished, I had a feeling that I had skipped one, and after rereading my reviews, I realized that one of the stories I had only hinted at in passing at the very beginning, mentioning that I hadn’t grasped its gist. It was the one called “At the Tea Vendor’s.” I suddenly latched onto the fact that the story had left me feeling the same way the main characters are described feeling in the story.

The characters are presented sitting in a square and availing themselves of just a few words to exchange thoughts. They aren’t exactly able to rock each others’ worlds with what they have to say to one another, but they seem to be able to successfully communicate or at least provide their respective interlocutors with a vague and fleeting impression of what they want to express, the kind of impression we ...Read more

The Shot that Came Second to Last

Aleppo, Syria

He ducked for cover behind the debris of shattered buildings. With eyes wide open, he scoped his surroundings. He had to be on alert if he wanted to survive. Luckily, he had the eyes of a hawk and could trust that nothing would slip by his senses. One was either the predator or the prey, taking their life in their own hands or leaving it in another’s. Those were the rules of the game, the game of the hunt. At the moment of truth, there wouldn’t be any time to hesitate, so he had to prepare himself in advance and focus on what was right in front of him to make it out alive.

Fortunately, he had already devised a method to that effect. He could build a mental barrier to keep his ominous thoughts from paralyzing him with fear by controlling his breathing, which he did by counting the seconds that ticked by between inhaling and exhaling.

He managed to quiet the sound of his heartbeat to the point where he couldn’t hear it any longer. “Almost as if I were ...Read more

Literary Analysis of the Story “Chaouen, 1936”, Submitted to the Literary Contest “Two Thousand Nights and Awakening”

I believe that “Chaouen, 1936” is a story that says far more than what appears on the surface. It describes ancient cities and their rich architectural heritage, and celebrates the strength of earlier generations, who built their houses with their own hands along mountain slopes. It also chronicles a life of panhandling, amid the poverty, starvation and despair of the generations that followed. It reveals the profitable business of war, the exploitation of people in despair, the seditious groups who switch sides, and the iniquity of those whose only purpose in life is to crush the dreams of others.

The author has chosen an erudite narrator to tell the story, who shifts topics fluidly. For instance, after recounting what is happening as the main character flees, he moves inside his head, without interrupting the narrative flow. The author doesn’t explain to us why the main character is being chased by two men, nor does he reveal any of their identities. He doesn’t need to, because he offers enough hints in the main character’s internal speech and in the storyline’s events ...Read more