Lock-in Limited Release: Naguib Mahfouz’s ‘The Man in the Picture’

But nothing happened. Adil Babikir
‘Eyes Shut’ by Rami Tawil, tr. She was weeping, but stopped when they seated her next to the man asleep on the bed. The puzzle of Sheikhun’s disappearance became murkier, and pessimism grew. Sorayra asked for the money her husband had loaned his brother, but her son’s uncle claimed he’d already paid his debt and that, in any case, there had never been any formal agreement between the brothers. He did not seem to hear what his son had said – it was as though he were an illusion on a distant horizon. A feeling of dread and deep sorrow charged the air. She immediately called Mahmoud Muharram, but his wife answered, saying that her husband was on his way back from a trip to the Red Sea, and that Sheikhun had not visited them in more than a week. His mother came against her will. As though irritated by sitting, his mother rose. They exchanged ideas and discussed their plans until Madame Sorayra interrupted, exclaiming, “If he were alright, he would’ve called us!”
A decision was made to inform the police, who undertook a thorough search that included police stations and hospitals. You don’t have a single piece of evidence.”
“I have my heart.”
“That isn’t enough. Always remember that I’m your uncle, just as I always remember that you’re my nephew.”
The days went on, followed by months and then years. She approached the bed until she brushed up against it. His uncle insisted that they travel to the village as a gesture of propriety, and to ask for his mother’s blessing, but the woman refused to meet any of them, exclaiming:
“This is the murderer achieving his goal. But he lived on as a memory in Madame Sorayra’s consciousness, a living memory that would not die, that never wavered, and that fed and maintained her love. She placed the picture in front of the old man’s eyes and asked her changeless question: “Can you please direct me to the man in the picture?”
———-
‘The Man in the Picture’ (صاحب الصورة) was written in the Arabic by Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz and published in his short story collection Love on the Pyramid’s Plateau   in 1979. She was confident that justice would be served, and she always told her son: “Your father demands justice, and we are the only ones who can deliver it.”
Isa took over his father’s position at the administration, and work kept him busy, as did his life and its daily delights. It will be available   online through the end of the month:
THE MAN IN THE PICTURE
By Naguib Mahfouz
Translated by Karim Zidan
Sheikhun Muharram disappeared. #
Other translations in our stay-at-home series:
Ali el-Makk’s ‘Forty-One Minarets’,   tr. A search party of friends and acquaintances, headed by Sheikhun’s brother, gathered at the family home. Whispers reverberated in her ears, delivering cryptic messages. They searched among his friends and colleagues, and in Alexandria and the farmhouse, but were met with disappointment. He is also the manager of the art estate belonging to the late Menhat Helmy, a renowned Egyptian artist and printmaking pioneer. Isa felt as though he were standing between parents he did not even know. The son thought this difficulty could be resolved when he approached Sorayra one day and said: “Mother, open your heart to the news I have to share.”
She looked at him in anger as he went on: “I have decided to marry Sameeha!”
The woman felt faint. News of her behavior reached Isa, who considered taking some action, but decided against it. You hate him.”
“Only because he hated your father.”
“I don’t agree. He disappeared on a day he usually spent at the club. The driver had waited at the club until the sun rose on the following morning, but Sheikhun had not returned. What kept you away for such a long time?”
His father did not respond. Huda Fakhreddine
Belal Fadl’s 2007 satire “Into the Tunnel,” tr. Isa married Sameeha. Isa asked again, but his father continued to ignore him, instead muttering to himself:
“The green mountains.”
“Were you abroad?” the son asked attentively. Sheikhun Muharram had disappeared as though he had never existed. Their hearts were filled with anxiety and grief, made worse by their growing doubt that they would ever find him. It was as though he did not know her, and she did not know him. An inspiring thought glowed within her; things were being born anew. She didn’t relent in her search, although years went by and time aged her. His disappearance came as a violent shock to the community, for he was a distinguished man with many financial investments, a firm and influential presence in politics, and a reputation for kindness and generosity. Yet, perhaps strangely, Mahmoud Muharram continued to honor his brother’s memory, and he even invited Isa to a private meeting at the club, where he said:
“I have plenty of reasons to be angry, but I’m determined to keep a close relationship with your family. I believe only in material evidence.”
“That means you don’t believe in anything!”
“Did you tell Father about your suspicions?”
“He had a pure nature, and so he didn’t believe me.”
“You see?”
“But he did admit they’d had a conflict in the past!”
“That’s true of all people.”
The mother was more stubborn than the son could have anticipated, and she focused her anxieties on finding the truth. Sheikhun Muharram was no more! Madame Sorayra tormented herself about the disappearance until it became a black rock, immovable under the weight of her hope. And so began a long and miserable search for Sheikhun. He pours the wealth of his victims on his offspring!”
She was tormented until pain separated her from her senses. Nashwa Gowanlock
Bushra Fadil’s ‘Phosphorus at the Bottom of a Well.’   tr. Isa’s heart pounded in anticipation. She went out with dignity, carrying a picture of Sheikhun; whenever someone crossed her path, she asked them about the picture, waiting day after day for a satisfying answer, although one never came. The old man continued his internal dialogue: “And the blue lagoons.”
“Where, Father?”
The old man sighed and said in a whisper: “In the nest of love and pain.”
Isa cried out in grief for his father, who merely whispered: “In the nest of love and pain!”
***
Isa stopped appealing to his father. When he awoke from his long sleep, Isa assumed his father had regained his vigor and asked in a loving voice: “Where were you, Father? She drowned in the loss of her beloved husband. She emerged from her torment and returned to public life. Days went by. They continued to stare into space, each plunging further into a world that had no relation to the other’s. Yet he decided to reunite his parents in the hopes of restoring their sanity. When he failed to come home, his wife Madame Sorayra and their son Isa grew distressed, for Sheikhun never deviated from his routine without first letting them know. Anxiety and astonishment overtook him, and he exclaimed: “Father!”
Isa held what remained of the old man in his arms and carried him to bed. In her distress, she began to see the calamity from new angles. Nariman Youssef
#
To support the   ongoing work of ArabLit and   ArabLit Quarterly,   consider buying an issue for yourself or a friend, or helping us out by donating through Patreonor PayPal, or, if you have one, by   asking your institution to take out a   subscription to the magazine. I could see it in his eyes. They had a great relationship.”
“It appeared that way. Haven’t you heard what they say about his victims in the countryside?”
“That’s nothing to do with this…”
“He’s a criminal by nature.”
“He loved my father, and my father loved him.”
“My heart doesn’t lie. Your uncle was close to ruin, and he would’ve had to sell his land if your father hadn’t saved him. But your uncle was a criminal. Noticing this, the son said, in great anger: “This would be a simple matter if it wasn’t for your baseless suspicions.”
She was startled, and replied: “Since you expected this reaction—expected it like the inevitability of death — then smile in the face of resentment without regret.”
With bitterness, she added: “His daughter murdered your father!”
“My uncle’s daughter?”
Bent in her seat from the depth of her pain, the woman said, sharply: “This is a permanent barrier between you and me!”
The woman left the city and moved to the village, where she lived in a small home in profound isolation. He avoided discussions with his mother whenever possible. Madam Sorayra called her husband’s friends from the club, who told her that Sheikhun had spent an hour with them before leaving to visit his brother Mahmoud Muharram at his home in Zamalek. He ran over to meet him. ***
After a lonely period
Isa was seated in the sélamlique one evening when he saw an old man moving toward the house with the aid of a walking stick. They searched in all his favorite places. The uncle, Mahmoud Muharram, conducted his own thorough investigation, and while that brought no change in the case, it led to an incident that shook the foundations on which the family tree stood. One day, exercised by his response, she shouted: “Haven’t you noticed that I have not, until this moment, shed a single tear?”
He replied as gently as he could manage. Instead, he assigned one of his men in the village to watch over her from afar. The problem is you’ve never liked him. The family driver later confirmed that Sheikhun had left the club, ordering him to wait behind while he continued on foot. Her belief in the crime faded, and her depression and despair evaporated. Then came an official enquiry, although it brought no new leads, for Sheikhun had no enemies nor suspicious activities that would have put him at risk of being the victim of crime. Her skin went yellow and she began to tremble. Why do you hate him?”
“My heart—don’t you believe the hadith about the heart?”
“No. The couple did not exchange a look, whether of blame, happiness, or sorrow. It was as though the man were a scent that had evaporated into the sky. He was jealous of your father’s wealth and success.”
“My uncle isn’t poor.”
“But there’s a secret you don’t know. This didn’t dissuade her, but rather added to her misgivings. Overcome with despair, Madame Sorayra told her son, “I didn’t share everything I knew during the investigation!”
Astonished by this revelation, the boy asked, “There’s something else?”
“I said that your father had no enemies.”
“That’s true…”
“No…” she said, before adding adamantly: “Your uncle.”
“No, no. He called for a doctor, who concluded that the man was frail and senile. It was there that she fell into her obsession, such that her voice could be heard as she debated with herself without interruption. Karim Zidan is a journalist, fiction writer, and translator with bylines at The Guardian, Foreign Policy, HBO, World Literature Today, and VOX Media. He saved him without a contract—you know how noble your father is — but religion has its own rules, and your uncle shouldn’t ignore them.’
Frustrated, the boy said: “The thing is that you have a bad opinion of my uncle.”
“The thing is that you insist on having a good opinion of him.”
“Because I respect him.”
“The last thing we heard about your father was that he was going to visit your uncle!”
“And then we found out that my uncle was on a trip with a friend.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time your uncle killed an innocent without being near the scene of the crime.”
“These are accusations without proof. “That’s how the wise warn of disaster.”
“Do you think I’m crazy?”
“Mother!”
“You didn’t inherit anything but his property,” she said, sorrowfully. She did not grow tired of repeating the question, nor was she discouraged by the responses. Mustafa Adam
‘A Street in the Pandemic’ & Other Poems by Jawdat Fakhreddine, tr. Lock-in Limited Release: Naguib Mahfouz’s ‘The Man in the Picture’

This lock-in Monday, as part of our ongoing series of stay-at-home literature, a short story by Naguib Mahfouz, which appeared in English — in Karim Zidan’s translation — in the EYE issue of   ArabLit Quarterly. He did not leave the bed until he’d regained his strength, at which point he was transformed into a different person.