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

The Earthquake Patio

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

The places we build our lives around get stuck inside us. They are the backdrops of our recollections, the ones in charge of projecting the image that will linger in our minds long after everything else has faded away. No matter how hard we try to avoid it, there is always something of ourselves we leave behind when we depart from them. And when we finally get to return to them, we cannot but feel betrayed when we realize that they haven’t stayed frozen in time and aren’t exactly the way we remembered them.

I shot a look at the patio and thanked God for having allowed my grandparents to leave the country before the war erupted. The whole patio lay in ruins, coated with a thick layer of dust and ashes. Everything within sight had been drained of color and rendered gray. Suddenly, I recalled the graffiti a friend of mine had sprayed on one of the walls enclosing the patio to profess his love for his neighbor, and my heart sank. It ...Read more

Chaouen, 1936

Second prize holder of the “Two Thousand Nights and Awakening” literary contest

He ran, barefoot, chased by two. His rather poor strategy to shake them off involved turning arbitrarily at every fork in the road. The walls and doors of the houses around him were painted sapphire blue. He feared he was running in circles. After all, he knew that although the city might seem blue from a street-level perspective, it looked white if contemplated from above.

The founders of the city were probably fugitives as well. That would explain why they built the city pressed between two mountains, instead of down by the river, in the valley bellow. If he were to venture a wild guess, he’d say they were in all likelihood hot on security measures. Alter all, they didn’t know whether those who made them pick up the habit of running in the first place would chase them all the way to their new homes. The horrors they must have been trying to escape from in order to choose the plight of the wandering foreigners who have to be constantly wading ...Read more

Homecoming

Helwan, Egypt

How many days had gone by since her return? She had spent the last fifteen years abroad and had only distant memories from back when she used to call this place home. She used to be a timorous little girl who wore her hair in braids. She had not only left the country on account of the area’s political and social unrest but also because she had needed to gain insight on how to deal with the world’s contradictions.

She never had the chance to break free from her mother’s vigilant eye back then, save for when she sprinted. Her mother chose to deck her out in short Sunday dresses so that it would look like she hadn’t gotten any older; she wanted her to come to the realization that she had become a woman as late as possible. Was her mother concerned about her welfare or maybe afraid of what she would actually become? That was yet another question she didn’t really want to know the answer to. She had her sanity to thank for the fact that she could come to terms with leaving questions such as those provisionally unanswered. ...Read more