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

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

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

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