From ‘One Room is Not Enough’: New Emirati Fiction

Was I knocked out cold with a blow to the head then brought here like in the movies? I go back to peering through the hole; no one’s in the room. I press the zero button and wait to be transferred to the operator, but that also proves futile. I return to the bed. “I’ll turn off my cellphone as it’ll be redundant during my time off,” I had told them. I remember now that I didn’t carry my cell when I went out walking that night. I’ve got to find a way to get out of here. I pick up the book. Did someone bring me here after I fainted for some other reason? I turn right and left searching for something, anything to help me execute my plan. She’s also an Arabic translator and litterateur who holds a MA in Modern Arabic Literature from the School of Oriental and African Studies. This person looks like him, behaves like him and has the same hobbies, but he is unable to communicate with him. I take it out and place it next to the book. Ignore it. I scrutinize his features intently. I have to calm down. Translated by Sawad Hussain. I close it and put it back where I found it, pondering, I’ve become the author of a book that has only one paragraph, an odd and funny paragraph at that. I walk towards the door to the right of the bed. Translation Copyright: 2017. On the wall facing me is a painting of a black top hat with a black tie underneath. When did I come here? Where is it? I sit on its edge. They won’t notice my absence, and won’t ask any questions for two weeks at least. I, whose writing attempts don’t venture past drafting stories that I’m too shy to publish, find my name printed on the cover of a book. I remember how scared I was to read it. I try opening the door again, jiggling the knob forcefully, but my doppelgänger doesn’t bat an eyelid, as if he hasn’t heard anything. She even knew the phone number of my room in the hotel. “What am I doing here? Will she notice that I’ve not got in touch with her? The amount in there could last a person an entire week. It’s going to reek in here quickly. (1)
In a room that’s not my own, and that I don’t know, I open my eyes as I wake up, surprised to find myself all alone. How did that happen? And who brought me? Fear floods me. He must be preoccupied with something or other. What on earth is that doing there? It contains a strange introduction, but the remaining pages are blank. The walls of the room are a sky-blue color, my favorite. I need to be alone, to clean myself of the residue of everything. *   *    *
Excerpt by Sultan Al Ameemi, trans. In the room he finds a book entitled Sole Choices, with his name on the cover as the author. Below the crow painting is a midsized fridge. The bathroom, now that I’m in it, is tiny, with only a sink and a toilet, and no exhaust fan. In any case, waking up from this dream confirms that my being here in this room now is a reality, and not a dream as I previously imagined. The ringing stops and then starts again. After the cover is a page that also has my name below the title, all in an elegant script. “I’ll be staying somewhere secluded. In an attempt to escape his isolation, he fills the blank pages with the peculiar history of his family, followed by the account of his experiences in the room and what he sees as he spies upon his neighbor through the keyhole. What was I doing before I found myself in this place? The floor is very chilly. Was I avoiding it because I had been afraid of what might be written inside? I try to call my cell, but the line goes dead after I punch in the third number. I get up and go towards it. I try to guess what could have befallen me. All I remember is that we’re in the month of January…maybe in the middle of it.  
(3)
I wake up alarmed. What a joke! I turn to the page after it, only to find that it’s blank! I was walking in the middle of the night on a back street behind the hotel that I was staying in for my annual vacation, and then…I don’t recall what happened next. I call him by my name and stare at him through the keyhole, but he doesn’t even turn towards the sound of my voice. I riffle through the remaining pages, and what do you know, they’re all blank! I notice my feet; they are bare. I think about knives. I lie down on the bed, wrap myself in the duvet and fall into a deep sleep, running away from everything. I’m trying to remember more of what happened that night but some black hole in my memory has swallowed up what happened next. Where am I? Is she thinking of me right now? I sit. I pick up the phone receiver, which has a dial tone, meaning I can call from it. I sit. Had I been drugged? I dreamed that I was driving my car for a long distance to attend an important meeting with some bigwigs in a building outside of the capital. He doesn’t know how he got there and there is no way out. I press the number 9, as you would when you’re in a hotel and you want to make an external call, but the line immediately dies again. I open it. Advertisements

Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditGoogleTumblrPinterestPocketLike this:Like Loading…‹ On the Challenges of Translating Ibn Qutaybah, and His Central Place in Western ScholarshipCategories: International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), United Arab Emirates She is passionate about all things related to Arab culture, history, and literature. I think of my family. There is another room, and in the room there’s a person. I exit the bathroom. After I got out of the car I found that I’d forgotten to wear my sandals. There is no mirror or towel, meaning it’ll be difficult to wash up, and impossible for a person to see his own face and check on his appearance. The paragraph reads: In a small room in an unknown place, there was a person who spied through a keyhole on another person who was spying on someone else in the room next to him. Okay. I turn to the handset next to me, but realize that the sound isn’t coming from there. He doesn’t seem to sense my presence as I turn the doorknob. I don’t know, because there’s no way for me to know the time or even today’s date. On the next page is a sole paragraph in the middle, headed by the word Introduction. It makes me feel great inner peace, and reconciled with my soul, and even though we’re in the middle of winter, the temperature of the room feels moderate. I crouch down to the level of the keyhole and look through to discover what lies behind it. I go back to peering through the keyhole. I find it full of pop-top cans, water bottles, high-quality juices, and fruits that don’t need to be cut with a knife. She’s a movie star whose films I follow devotedly, but this film she’s in seems strange, and I’ve never seen it before. What’s behind the door? The TV’s volume isn’t that high; in fact it is low enough for him to hear me. Don’t go near it, a voice inside me says. Beside the phone I find a book, its cover gray, without any picture or design. Maybe I’m dreaming. I press it and the room is plunged into pitch-black darkness. My eyes settle on the book beside the bed. I remember the room next to me where I saw my doppelgänger. It should be in my pocket. I don’t dare to leaf through the book. I try to remember. I wonder, where’s my phone? I shut my eyes. I peek through. I had asked them to do so before I set off on vacation. Through the keyhole of the door, he discovers someone else is living a normal life in the adjoining room. I feel an intense fatigue in my muscles, like someone who’s exerted a great amount of effort playing a sport after a long break from it. Yes, that’s it, I must be dreaming. The tie is decorated with red crows, some of which fly off and soar in circles, their color morphing into black. I go towards the bed. I put the receiver back in its place. Then, before he sits down, he turns so that his face is directly in my line of vision. Ah, maybe it’s a hotel room line! I’m not there; I mean he’s not there! I get up and make my way to the keyhole. But he’s silent, unmoving. I feel the back of my head, but I don’t find any evidence of injury. I was in a bad predicament, and I couldn’t control or resolve the situation. My body double still isn’t back. I try to go back to sleep, but the phone rings. I figure it’s a new release, deducing this from her appearance, which looks anything but young.  
(2)
That other me is wearing the pajamas that I usually wear when I travel, and is sitting on a chair facing the television screen showing a foreign film starring Meryl Streep. I need to rest. How long have I been asleep? I press it again and the room lights up once more by means of a neon light in the center of the ceiling. I remember Mahra; she’s the only one I told where I was spending this vacation. The ringing is coming from in there and it’s still going on. I go back to the bed. I don’t know this book; I’ve never heard of it. I bend down. If I find one in here, maybe that’ll help me escape somehow, either by breaking the lock or using it to slowly bore into the wall to create an escape route like I’ve seen in a number of movies. They   were all constantly spying on each other, and did nothing else!”
I cannot fathom what is meant by this odd introduction. There’s no sign of my shoes. I try to stand. I remember my cellphone. In the past few days I haven’t been interested in knowing the date because I was on my annual vacation and had decided that I wouldn’t be mindful of the time, or how many hours I slept, or wake up to my alarm as usual. And this fatigue is still weighing down on my body. There’s a power button on the wall above the small table on the right-hand side of the bed. I open it. It’s impossible that he’s deaf or hard of hearing; I mean he’s watching TV! The title is Sole Choices; my name is on it as the author. I discover that the door only has a handle on the inside. I have no idea. Sawad Hussain is ArabLit’s Cambridge-based better half. I stretch my hand down and try to feel it with my fingers, but I don’t find it in the strange nightgown that I’m wearing, made from one continuous piece of cloth, except for the one pocket on my left side, which contains a red ballpoint pen. I remember! I notice that the lock has a keyhole that allows one to look through it. He’s standing, putting books away on the shelves of his library, which kind of looks like mine at home. But my memory betrays me. In the wall on my left is an open door leading to a small bathroom. Will she care that I’m missing? I go in to investigate. Will she call the hotel to ask about me? I turn the knob to open it, but it’s locked. I turn to the right to find a black phone on a small, drawer- less table next to the big bed with a blue duvet, big enough for two, which I’m sprawled out on right now. I stand up. I have to get up. Sultan Al Ameemi’s   One Room is Not Enough   was longlisted for the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, the first Emirati-authored novel to make the lists of the Emirates-sponsored prize:
By Sawad Hussain
One Room Is Not Enough sees the hero of the novel wake alone in a strange room. I straighten up and sit. I haven’t seen one like this for years, and I haven’t used a key that would fit in here – a long one with teeth that jut out at the front – probably since we moved from our old house. Wait, that’s me! I try to remember. “HEY YOU!” I call out in a raised voice. My eyes survey the room. And what is my carbon copy doing in the room next door?” I wonder aloud. Sawad Hussain. I concentrate.