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

The Price of Happiness

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

Amman, Jordan

He felt tired and it would take him forever to walk all the way back home, so he thought about spending the last dinar he had left after his excursion to the bakery on catching a shared taxi. It shouldn’t be hard to find one. He was, after all, in East Amman, where the high chances of finding a shared taxi around every corner to take anyone anywhere else were what made a visit to that crappy part of town worth while.

However, the warmth of the sun on his back felt glorious, more so given how terribly cold the past few days had been. Thus, at the last minute, he decided to hoof it.

He passed by the house where he had stayed for a few days a long time ago. He felt guilty that he didn’t remember exactly which of his relatives it belonged to, but, to be fair, he had a big family—14 members!—and, as mentioned earlier, it had been a really long time ago. Memories have this annoying ...Read more

At the Tea Vendor’s

Winner of the “Two Thousand Nights and Awakening” literary contest

Khartoum, Sudan

I sighed with relief, having made certain that I had not mislaid any of my bags, and then sat down to enjoy a well-earned cup of tea. After all, I had been strolling up and down the vegetable market for hours. The place was swarming with tea vendors. The smell of mint and cloves hung in the air, tantalizing the passers-by. The clientele was rather scarce considering the crowds the place usually attracts. Other than that, nothing seemed out of the ordinary, nothing qualified as visually entertaining. The day had barely begun and I didn’t want to return home just yet, given that, as an unemployed man, the alternative was to twiddle my thumbs at home all day. Thus, I decided to kill time by trying to memorize the messages printed on billboards and other commercial signs. I let my eyes bounce from the ill-looking people who dragged their feet to the pharmacy to the tea vendors, who seemed to be involved in a lively discussion, on which I decided to barge ...Read more

The City that Shares the Fate of Saada

Finalist of the “Two Thousand Nights and Awakening” literary contest

Idlib, a city located in the North of Syria, was once famous for its thriving ceramics and olive industries. However, since it got caught up in the maelstrom of war, it is constantly threatened by air strikes.

The door stands ajar and through it a small chink of light streams into the otherwise dark room I find myself in. Suddenly, I realize that I need to believe that there is still a faint hope that the story of my city won’t end like Saada’s story, to wit, tragically and mysteriously.

Saada was an almost sixty-year old woman of unknown origin who had become a reference point for the people of Idlib. The skin of her face was as pitted as the moon’s surface. A few strands of gray hair that looked as if they had never met a brush before peeked out of the dark piece of cloth with which she covered her head. She cared for over fifty cats, while all she owned was the shanty she lived in. When she got lucky ...Read more

Nippur’s Virgin

Finalist of the “Two Thousand Nights and Awakening” literary contest

Doubts over my gender nag and niggle at the back of my mind, driving me to a state verging on despair. In spite of being painfully conscious of how I choose my words and style my narrative to tell it, the story never gets to shine as bright and sound as salacious as the sequence of events it celebrates. And I am left to hark back to the poetaster mistakes I made when delivering the report, the biggest being lying by omission to my readers and thus depriving them of the pleasure of assessing the relevance to the story of the noise the night makes when locking its jaws on the sleeping townsfolk.

I may throw up later. Who knows? The entire world, perhaps? From where I stand, that seems pretty damn likely! People around here seem to be constantly monitoring everyone else’s every move. There was a time when the night kept secret the wishes people made to the stars, until someone recognized the value of being plugged into what people lost ...Read more