Ali Al-Kasimi: The Dog Lieber is Dying
by Ali Al-Kasimi
Translated by Hassane Darir (Professor of Translation and Terminology, Cadi Ayyad University, Marrakech) and revised by W Richard Oakes Jr. (PhD-University of Edinburgh, Independent Scholar)
The sick dog's breaths resonate, rise, escalate, and blend with a rattle, dislodging the faltering sleep from the lashes of Samir's eyes. For seven consecutive nights, the dog Lieber has been laying dying in the adjacent room where the homeowner sleeps. The cardboard wall could not prevent the dog's anguish or the repeated expressions of sympathy of its French owner from penetrating Samir's ears, and depriving him of sleep.
How many times the idea of getting rid of the dog flirted with him, insisted on him, reminded him of the past. They used to do this in his small village, relieving a rabid or tubercular dog, and by the same token, relieving themselves. But there is no way to do this. Reaching the moon is easier than being alone with the dog Lieber these days. Madame Dupon never leaves him, she nurses him, comforts him with her touches, whispers, and sad looks, all day long. So, when will the dog Lieber die, relieving himself and everybody else?
In the morning, before going to his university, he had to help Madame Dupon carry this dog in a rug, and take him down to the ground floor, so that the dog could relieve himself in the adjacent street, as had been his habit. Then he would carry him with her, and ascend the long stairs, to reach the fourth floor, trying to conceal his panting, and control his breathing. How he wished that this lady had chosen a dog that was smaller and lighter than this huge dachshund, or that this old building had been attached to French technology in the form of an electric elevator.
- “Let's rest a little here, my dear!”
- “As you like, madam!”
- "Imagine, my dear Samir, that the second veterinarian to whom I showed Lieber for his treatment also, insolently, suggested giving him a (lethal) injection. What a horrible brutality!”
- “Maybe the veterinarian wanted to put an end to Lieber's pain and suffering, ma'am!”
- “We, French people, have lost, today, the high decency and kindness we used to have.1 I am sure, my dear Samir, that you would not be satisfied with that; You Arabs belong to an ancient civilization. My great-grandfather was one of the archaeologists who accompanied Napoleon to Egypt, and my mother could read Arabic, and I know a lot about your civilization. You consider the dog to be a living being like a human being, so his feelings must be taken into consideration.”
There is no doubt that this old woman is raving about what she does not know. Ah, if she had seen the stray dogs in the town next to his village, when the police chased them from time to time, and shot them dead. He remembers it well, and saw it with his own eyes when he was young. His older brother would joke with him sometimes, saying:
- “Don't go out, Samir, this morning, the police are hunting dogs today, and I'm afraid they will mistake you for one.”
Even in his village, where dogs are used as guards, no peasant allows his dog to enter the cottage or approach the communal council. All dogs are unclean. But here, in France, they hand-feed dogs, wash them in their baths, and do everything for them. Even the big grocers are full of delicacies for dogs.
He will not forget when he once bought himself, on the first day of his stay in Paris, some inexpensive canned goods from a large grocer. He brought them back to the house, and when Madame Dupon saw them, her face cheered up and she said:
- “Thank you, dear Samir, for your kind gift. Lieber must appreciate your gesture after eating these delicious foods. Now I know you really like me. The English proverb says, "Whoever loves me, loves my dog." You may not know that I studied English and traveled to..."
As of today, Lieber has not been able to eat for seven days. Madame Dupon has been bringing him his food on time, putting it in front of him, bringing it close to him, calling him sympathetically. He turns gently to her, and looks at her with fading sorrowin his eyes, as if he is apologizing for the annoyance and sadness, he causes her.
- “See, dear Samir? Lieber can no longer eat his food, and I'm scared, really scared this time. Oh my God, what would I do if I lose him?”
She closed her tired eyes, as if praying for Lieber. She closed her eyes for a long time, and images of her long, happy time with Lieber passed through her mind. For fifteen years Lieber has been her companion in her solitude, and her friend in her loneliness. He sits with her in the evening when darkness covers the sleeping city, and the rain gently washes her windows, and the wind caresses the branches of the trees of her surrendered gardens. Lieber puts his warm head on her thigh, and she falls asleep. In the morning, when she is getting ready to go out, she addresses him:
- “Lieber, where did you put the keys? Lieber, didn't you see my white bag? Stay here until I come back. Be wise.”
In the afternoon, he goes out with her to the nearby garden, jumping here and there. She throws the ball to him; he catches it, and quickly returns to her. On the way home, Lieber meets another dog, and he stands as if to exchange greetings with him, and she also exchanges words of courtesy with the lady who owns the other dog, if she has not met her before. And if she was one of her acquaintances, the conversation diverged.
- “Oh my God, what would I do if Lieber left me?”
The breathing of the dog Lieber increases and subsides, mixes with a sad rattle, mixes with a faint wailing, then fades little by little, leaving only the intermittent, painful wailing of the widow.
* Lieber is a German word meaning dear, darling or beloved. Lieben means love.
1- This short story is a translation of : (الكلب ليبر يموت) by Ali Al-Kasimi.
It first appeared in the short story collection Time to Leave (أوان الرحيل, under translation) and is also available as part of a study under this link: https://www.almothaqaf.com/readings-5/965329