The Stuff Nightmares are Made of

Dawood Hotel in Sanaa, Yemen

Sanaa’s lights could be seen twinkling from above. The plane was about to land. I was very excited about returning home.

After picking up our luggage, we hailed a taxi and told the driver to take us to the Dawood Hotel, which is a historic hotel lying in the old city center. Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised to find that its sign was written in three different languages. That told me our choice of accommodation was a happy one. My German friend and I had booked two adjacent rooms. He had read a lot about the old walled city and was eagerly looking forward to discovering it.

Hence, the next day we started our visit to the city early in the morning. At noon, the call to prayer started blaring from the mosques’ minarets, all the shops closed down and everyone trooped to the nearest mosque.

At some point, my friend pointed at one of the small rectangular containers that could be seen attached to the building walls and asked me if I knew what purpose they served. I told him they constituted the upper part of pipes, meant to collect rainwater and channel it down to the fields, to which he responded, “Wow, this city is even weirder than what I’d imagined it would be according to what I’d read.” His strong accent made me smile.

On our way back to the hotel, we came across a well that caught my friend’s attention. As we drew closer to it, I got the eerie feeling of having been there before. I tried for a while to put my finger on what it was that was daunting me, but all my efforts were rendered moot. The men pulling water from it seemed like they could use a couple more hands, so we offered to help them. As we started pulling, we realized the bucket weighed a lot more than expected. It took us a while, but together and by dint of sheer brawn, we managed to haul it up. Once it had reached the surface, we immediately understood why it had felt so heavy. The sight of the beautiful girl that emerged from the well’s bottom rattled me beyond expression! I could hardly believe my eyes!

“Muhammad!”, she sounded immensely sad.

My friend turned to me and asked, “Do you know her?”

“Yes, her name is Hafsa.” I said, my voice shaking uncontrollably, “She is the reason I fled to Germany more than fifteen years ago. But it can’t be that she is now standing in front of me, because I saw her die! We were merely kids when it all went down. While playing some game where I was supposed to chase her and she had to avoid being caught, we were surprised by her brother, who, seeing that I was running towards her while beaming with excitement at having found her, thought that I had dishonored her and threw her into the well behind which she had been hiding so as to salvage his family’s reputation. Her body was recovered from the bottom of the well later on that same day and I was held responsible for her death. I barely escaped a dreadful fate back then!”

Hafsa’s ghost replied after hearing my version of the story, “You don’t have to feel bad about it anymore, though. I am here to prove to you that I didn’t die that day!”

She then went down on her knees and whispered, “Don’t tell them you’ve seen me, I beg you. They’ll slut-shame me. I have been hiding here all this time, waiting for you to find me. Please, don’t leave me again. I wouldn’t be able to stand the pain.”

Next, she burst into tears. I hugged her, trying to console her, but also wishing she would just disappear once again. For a moment, it seemed as if her ranting and raving would never stop. Then, as if by magic, she started shrinking in size, until, eventually, vanishing completely.

I looked at my friend. He too seemed stumped. I tried to hold back the tears, but they wound up streaming down my cheeks and building a small puddle at my feet. Silence reigned. Night had fallen.

I woke up soaking wet, for I had accidentally hit the glass of water I had left on my bedside table while sleeping and spilled its contents all over me. I stood up and went to the window. A gentle rain was falling over Frankfurt. I was drenched in sweat.


Written by Bakr Alwan.