ترجمات أدبية

Ali Al-Kasimi: Fear


للدكتور علي القاسمي

ترجمة: د. حسن دلير

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) 


I left the hustle and bustle of the city behind me and sought the spaciousness and serenity of the sea. Earlier that afternoon, as I was roaming the city’s streets looking for work, I felt that its roads had narrowed, and its high-rise buildings were closing in on me from both sides. I had a hard time breathing and felt something in my chest, causing me an agonizing pain that added to my headache. I stretched my neck for a breath of air, and gazed up to the blue sky.  I glimpsed only the tall buildings, approaching one another, until they almost met like the two sides of a mighty pyramid. I tried to take a deep breath, but it became difficult, as if the air had become a heavy, solid substance that could not pass through my nose.

I stood on the side of the road and looked around. It appeared to me that buildings were spinning around about me, and the earth was passing under my feet. Soon, beads of sweat streamed down my forehead, and then covered my whole feverish body. I turned around, but I saw only cars speeding along the street, honking their loud horns, and puffing black smoke from their exhaust pipes. It appeared to me that as that smoke rose, it met the black smoke from the factory chimneys, to gather in the form of a great cloud that enshrouded the whole city, limiting the movement of air, and blocking the sunlight from the sticky alleys. After passing through its treeless backstreets, its wretched neighborhoods lined with filthy secret brothels, and its stinking rubbish heaps and dog droppings, I found myself outside the city and racing towards the sea.

I sat on a hillock in the middle of a field overlooking the sea. My eyes moved from the surrounding green valleys to the blue sea stretching to the horizon, where the fragments of the setting sun spread, as it left to another world, escorted by a few dark clouds. My mind returned to the city’s present condition and to my father’s childhood stories and memories about it, when it used to be an extension of those flowering fields and fresh orchards, where only the tweets of birds and the psalms of shepherds could be heard. However, the shovels of sweeping expansion assassinated their trees, mercilessly uprooted their plants from the depths, so the greenery withered, the birds disappeared, and the clouds no longer rained over them, but they passed quickly without stopping there.

There was nothing to disturb the peace of that evening. The breeze was fine, the sea calm, and its waves gently flowing to embrace the soft sand of the beach. So my eyes began to stray into the ether, and bathe comfortably in the blue water. Thanks to the sea, waves of relief and tranquility gradually swept over my innermost being bringing harmony from its faint roar . The evening enveloped me with its refreshing breezes while its passing clouds brought me company. Little by little I felt refreshed, and my dizziness departed.

In that spacious empty space, I found myself alone on my high, remote hill away from the city, elevated above the sea, immersed in the calm of the evening. I couldn't explain the strange feeling that made me jump and turn my head back in apprehension, much like a startled horse neighs when it senses an approaching earthquake miles away. I stared into the void. The images of the city's buildings were still there, although their colors have faded due to the shifts of daylight. The noise of its factories had been lessened by the distance between me and them, and I can only see their ever-rising smoke in the distance. Nonetheless, I saw four men coming from the city and rushing hurriedly towards the sea. At first glance, I thought they merely taking a stroll on the beach. The first of them had his hands behind his back. They attracted my attention so that my eyes involuntarily followed them.  As they approached, their figures became clearer and clearer to me. I realized that the man walking in the front was dressed in civilian clothes with his hands tied behind his back, while the other three, surrounding him, were in khaki uniforms. I couldn't help but notice that the man with bound hands was leaning backward and walking in a staggered manner, as if the other three were pushing him forward, compelling him to continue walking.

Their faces were sharp-cut, hardened, and turned forward towards the sea. The first man, whose hands were bound, was looking left and right, as if searching for someone or something. Thus, the features of his face became clear to me: a bright forehead, eyes that radiate light, and features whose sweetness was not diminished by hardship, nor was their magnificence obscured by affliction. A bright, beloved face. I thought to myself: This is a face that I know, a face that I have been familiar with since my childhood, but at that moment I couldn't remember his name. I used to meet him in the village where I grew up, run into him in the school where I was educated, and come across him in the city where I worked. But, no longer could I remember his name. His affectionate face appealed to me in my childhood, and I still love him in my old age. His face is close to my heart, dear to my soul. It has the taste of dates and the sweetness of Euphrates water. I have often told my children about him, and they loved him as I did. But I don't remember his name. Help me, my weary memory! Help me with the name of the prisoner! Having failed to remember his name, I thought to myself: "What matters is not the name but the named; the origin is not the word but the self. Let his name be what it is. The same man is in distress today." A perplexing question kept flogging me: "Why are they tying this man's hands?" And where are they taking him, I wonder?"

After a while they came to the shore, waded their feet into the water, took a few steps, and then stopped him in front of them. They stared at him, hatred radiating from their eyes. One of them violently placed his hands on the man's jaws, forcing him to open his mouth. The second pulled something that I could not discern from the open mouth, and the third pulled out a dagger, and cut that thing and threw it into the water. I saw with my own eyes a red thread stretching from that speck of water to the horizon, fusing with the scattered remnants of the sun there, and rising to the sky like a fountain of blood. Then the three men began bowing the captive man's head, pushing it into the water, in an apparent attempt to drown him. The man resisted stiffly, occasionally raising his head upwards and backwards. Meanwhile, he looked at me from afar, or so it seemed to me.  It seemed to me that his eyes were begging me, urging me to move, to shout at them, to do something, to call out to the peasants in the nearby fields, to appeal to the workers in the city's factories, to do anything to save him, not out of pity for him, but out of necessity, human duty, and what his love dictates to me. But I stayed frozen in my place. Fear seeped into the pores of my skin and permeated them, so I felt a shiver running through my body, and from it to my veins and arteries. A stinging coldness prevailed in them, blood froze inside them, and sweat poured from my feverish forehead. The terror emanating from the drawn blades of their daggers paralyzed me, and fear made me crippled and motionless, so I could no longer feel my legs. I was stunned as I was overwhelmed by a flood of apprehension and obsessions. I thought about running towards them, attacking them, but I never moved: I did not raise my head, nor did I open my mouth, stretch out my hand, or move my feet. It occurred to me that doing so would inevitably cost my life, and that I would return this evening to my children, carried in a coffin, instead of bringing them the good news that I got a job.  I would  be like someone who went out in the desert to hunt food for his starving family, but was hunted by a lion. With some bitterness and shame, I admitted in my heart that I was not combative by nature. From my dark, forgotten memories, I remembered how, in my childhood, my fellow students used to wrestle competitively, while I usually stepped aside to read a book.

Therefore, I will turn a blind eye, I will turn my face away from the sea, I will pretend that I did not see anything. I will convince myself that what I have seen was nothing more than a kind of hallucination or a kind of blurred vision. But what will I tell my children after today? Shall I tell them that I preferred the safety of returning to them over risking my life in order to save someone I loved and I still love, and someone they loved and still love? Can I justify my cowardly inaction to them? Even if I concealed the incident from them and covered it up with silence and secrecy, does that mean that what happened did not happen? We cannot manipulate facts with our mouths or distort them with our pens. Even if no one sees my cowardice and defeat, I will live like a broken man inside me, like a palm tree whose trunk has been stabbed with a crushing axe. The sight of that captive man will haunt me like a shadow, wherever I go. My weakness and cowardice will haunt me, and I will no longer be in harmony with myself, which will corrode me from within and cause me to collapse. This defeat will destroy what remains of the bridges that unite me with myself, and connect me to the people of my town, who trust me and also love that man.

I thought to myself: "Since I love this man, I must do something to save him. I must act now, before they amputate his limbs, dismember him, and finish him off." But instead of moving forward, I found myself trembling, and dragging my lame legs backwards. In my spiral of fear, I missed the fact that I, too, was committing a prescribed crime, the crime of failing to assist a person in danger.


  This short story is a translation of الخوف  by Ali Al-Kasimi. It first appeared in the short story collection Time to Leave (أوان الرحيل, under translation) and is also available under this link:


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