An Excerpt from Ibrahim Nasrallah’s IPAF-winning ‘Dog War II’: ‘Fangs and Claws’

‘You were going to ask…?’
‘Right…’ Rashid went quiet again. The side mirror next to the driver was the same, turned downward. The One used to want everyone to be the same, to be exactly like him, to think exactly like him, to behave exactly like him, but now, please, take a look around you, they are all like him, but what does he do, has he embraced them, no, he is killing them one by one!’
‘Is there…’ Rashid was about to say something, but he did not finish his sentence, knowing that he would be interrupted. Would you have, Sir?’
‘Well, really…’
‘This is exactly what I want to say. I’m just thinking about my ideas too, which, I feel, have suddenly matured, and I think it has something to do with talking to my car all the time. It was turned upward. Thank you. Electronic checkpoints and traffic lights were now programmed to stop any other moving object. I once read a novel in which the author predicted the Dog War. When I tried to collect the pieces I realized some went missing.’
‘Pieces went missing? Within five minutes Rashid knew this for sure. Rashid was fond of talking to the working class. ‘Please, forgive me, but I didn’t hear the rest of your question!’
‘Right, I was going to say is there…’
‘Sure, of course, there’s a solution. What can I do in the dark but talk to my car? Of course I refused. I don’t want to know.’
Rashid acquiesced. They heard it in schools. But he was always careful not to waste his time getting into discussions with them. Some surprise was waiting for me.’
‘No, God forbid, did you find…’
‘No, nothing like that happened! He then raised his head to look at the rear view mirror in the car. She is the author of Literary Criticism in Medieval Arabic-Islamic Culture: The Making of a Tradition (1997), Poetics of Love in the Arabic Novel (2012) and Politics of Nostalgia in the Arabic Novel (2013). I was about to break down the door when she said, see, your look alike did exactly what you’re doing now.’
‘She said that?’
‘And more! No automobiles, except for ambulances and police cars, were allowed in the streets. The driver, very surprised, asked, ‘what, what happened, Mr. But tell me, did you see your wife today? There’s something else that must be taken care of as well. We simply didn’t notice, as if we had no eyes or brains. People should be forbidden to go out during the very few daylight hours, and the state should prohibit any use of lighting at night.’
‘But that will…’
‘No, it’s not like what you think. Go home after you take me to my house. The worst thing for people to do today is to look at themselves in the mirror.’
Rashid was about to turn around to look at the face of the driver, but darkness got in the way. He picked up this habit when he was young. ‘They go for the jugular right away?’
‘Yes, they go for the kill. ‘What is right?’
‘From…?’
‘Please finish what you were going to say.’
‘Where do these profound thoughts come from?’
‘Are you surprised by what I said? But I’ve been so afraid of looking into the mirror since mid morning. It is reproduced with permission. They are not interested in just hurting who they fight.’ The driver said. ‘But how did we come to this, and so fast? We can use instead night goggles from old times that will allow us to see what is in front of our nose but not the features of anything in great detail. He was talking about an epilepsy epidemic that hit everyone and turned them all into wild animals, fangs, claws and all, and they started attacking each other for the silliest reasons.’
‘I think that…’
‘Precisely. If you will allow me, let me say that this is a natural outcome of the Dog War. ‘Let’s then drive around the other neighbourhoods. He suddenly heard himself shouting, ‘I will kill him!’
‘Exactly what I thought, I will kill him,’ the driver said. He was in front of the hospital within ten minutes. He did not believe any discussion with them would yield important results. News of the curfew had just reached him. I had told my wife, as I told you, not to open the door to anyone who looked like me.’
‘Don’t say she…’
‘Precisely. Rashid! I worry about more important things. Mr Rashid, it’s mind boggling how much a housewife knows about what goes on outside.’
The driver went quiet for a while then asked, ‘Do you think there’ll be another war?’
‘No, I don’t think so.’
‘You’re not sure then?’
‘I don’t think there’ll be another war. I don’t think there is a need for us to drive around any more. It’s a rare luxury that we have this kind of quiet in the city.’
‘Do you know, Sir, that this quiet is the only thing that will make one smile in this terrible tragedy.’
‘But…’ Rashid went quiet as soon as he uttered the word. The driver felt it and said, ‘Please, don’t look at me. They asked me to buy them little mirrors. This is what I don’t understand’. Rashid?’
‘Let me off here, right now!’
Wen-chin Ouyang is   Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at   SOAS University of London. Advertisements

Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditGoogleTumblrWhatsAppPinterestTelegramPocketSkypeLike this:Like Loading…‹ Five Things You Need to Know About 11th IPAF Winner ‘Dog War II’Categories: International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), Palestine The deafening silence brought back memories of the Dog War. This excerpt from Ibrahim Nasrallah’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF)-winning   Dog War II   was translated by   Wen-chin Ouyang for Nasrallah’s book launch in London last year. The War ignited it and after that it just mushroomed. She also said if I had to choose I would choose someone exactly like you, because I love your handsome looks, but he has to be a company manager, or an artist, or a sensitive writer, or an astronaut, who will take me and my children to another planet away from all this. Not till now anyway. Go home and rest.’
‘You’re a kind man, Mr. She said there were compelling rumours that likeness was not limited to looks but extended to memories, habits, and thoughts in addition to fingerprints, voice, and eyes. ‘I noticed today that people kill when they fight. It’s like they’ve made a pact on going straight from the boxing ring to the grave’. He used to love listening to them. I think they’re trying to reduce the number of people who look exactly like them, their clones, just like the way they tried to get rid of those who looked different’. As for the Castle, and I trust you so I’ll say what I’m going to say, it has no problems whatsoever. What do you think happened?’
Rashid remembered the weatherman who came to look like him. What worries me most is not that people are all beginning to look alike. Rashid, that I’m very pleased I lived the time when cars talked back when you asked them questions and discussed things.’
The driver went quiet for a bit then added:
‘There’s a rumour—but I don’t like to take this kind of fantastic fib seriously, even though we have to expect anything—and the rumour says that if a man gazes long at himself in the mirror he’ll keep his looks. Some families spent an entire week surrounding themselves with mirrors, and even when they went to sleep they made sure their faces were turned towards mirrors.’
‘I heard children repeating something like this. I don’t really want to think any more about it unless it becomes a reality. ‘Absolutely,’ The driver interrupted him, saying, ‘Pardon me, but I am one of those people who have spent three quarters of their life on the street and I can say I have seen practically everything.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘Exactly. They are now everywhere’. He looked at the side mirror next to him. Only ambulances and police cars could be seen. She has written extensively on classical and modern Arabic narrative and literary criticism. All the streets were empty. I’m as surprised as you are. He suddenly understood that his silence was what made the driver give him the right to speak. People don’t necessarily have to turn into our look-likes, you know, and we could easily turn into the look-alikes of other people.’
The driver turned around to look at Rashid, and Rashid turned around to look at the driver the same moment, and Rashid screamed, ‘No, no, this can’t be happening!’
The driver looked exactly like him. Things were getting serious,’ the driver commented. Since 11 look-alikes have been sprouting like mushrooms after rain. ‘Without dropping by the hospital first?’
‘Without making a stop at the hospital’. The army, the security and the intelligence all have telepathic powers, as they say, that only owls possess.’
‘This thinking is…’
‘Good, isn’t it? All the mirrors must be confiscated and any use must be subject to severe punishment by law. ‘Let’s all go home. Has it ever occurred to you that we’re only mirrors of the mirrors into which we’re looking?’
Rashid shook his head in wonder. ‘You mean how they broke the mirror?’ Rashid asked him. ‘Believing in fantastic fibs, even though I thought sometimes, and really I only think on occasions, for there is no need for anyone to think all the time, but on the occasions when I thought, I would say if any one had told me a fantastic fib like this, that people would all begin to look alike, I would not have believed it. ‘Nobody knows. I mean did you see her face?’
‘I already told you, Sir, that she spoke to me from behind the door.’
‘Did you ever think that she might have turned into another woman, and that your children now look like other children? They claimed it was an accident. I called my wife early in the evening and told her not to open the door to anyone who looked like me. Work can continue, our work can continue. ‘What did you say?’
‘Me? I have to confess that I took advantage of the quiet, snuck off work earlier, and dropped by my house. Read it with Nora Parr’s Five Things You Need to Know About 11th IPAF Winner ‘Dog War II’:
Fangs and Claws
By Ibrahim Nasrallah, translated by   Wen-chin Ouyang
Rashid called the driver of one of the two ambulances he owned. ‘Since 11?’
‘Yes, since 11.’
‘And you, have you seen anyone who looks exactly like you?’
‘Not yet. A native speaker of Arabic and Chinese, she has been working towards Arabic-Chinese comparative literary and cultural studies, including Silk Road Studies. ‘Are they trying to cut the cost of treatment?’
‘I don’t think so. People hurt each other badly, and for what reason? She refused to open the door even to me. Even disagreements on any issue. She then said to me ‘Did you know that we are on the verge of Dog War II?’ She refused to tell me about her sources! I have to confess to you, Mr. After a long silence, the driver said:
‘I think we deserve this. This one was turned downward. I’m really afraid of finding out that I have come to look like someone else. I tried to prove to her that I was I. I didn’t say anything,’ the driver replied. They broke a mirror.