From Ahmed Atallah’s ‘Mariam: A True Story’

At that time, my family talked with me about the necessity of being in a relationship with someone. When I was in the faculty of engineering, she was in her final year of school, and she was working at a shop right beside the entrance of my building. That wasn’t a problem either. When I bought things at the shop, I felt that I was special, although this wasn’t because I was her neighbor, since there were a lot of neighbors who visited the shop. All my neighbors are like brothers to me. I thought and thought, until I reached an answer:
The one for whom my heart bore feelings. But who should I be in a relationship with? But she was also silent, also voiceless. From Ahmed Atallah’s ‘Mariam: A True Story’

Poet, novelist, and documentary filmmaker Ahmed Atallah was born in Qena, in Upper Egypt, and he started out by publishing colloquial poetry. That was simply because—well, as I understood it back then—things wouldn’t work out. My relationship with God, like that of any other human, is apparently normal. No… She sometimes kept them waiting until she finished something. They were always with me, whether I was at work, in the neighborhood, at the coffee shop… There’s a cross tattooed on my hand, thus I am Christian. His popular   Mariam: A True Story   was published in 2013:  
Most recently, Attalah won   Egypt’s State Incentive Award   for 2020 for his novel غَرّبْ مَالْ. She’d been a friend of my sister Yvonne. She was like Yvonne… Back then, I began to admire her, but I never said anything. And they talked to me. And love. Mohammad Younis, Eng. #
Ahmed Attalah is the author of a number of books of poetry and prose, winner of this year’s State   Incentive Prize in the novel category. We finish and then we meet up. Lovecraft’s novella The Whisper in Darkness was on the bestselling list of many bookstores. Lots of Christian girls were around, here and there. We have lunch and go to any coffee shop. And she is my neighbor… I would only live once. I sin, but you forgive.”
Today I’m 44 years old. She would leave everything to get me whatever I wanted, and with a warm smile. It was normal. I work all day and, when I get home at night, I pray before I sleep: “Dear Lord, I’m not an angel. This traveling—and the work—made me notice that foreign women might easily marry Egyptian men. She was never like Yvonne. I worked doing installations in tourist villages. So I shouldn’t marry just because it was an obligation. Mostafa Mahmoud, Mohammad Ali, Hany Ismail. They went to the same school in both primary and secondary. Mostly, I specialized in boilers and washing machines, and I mostly worked in Hurghada, Sharm El-Shiekh, Marsa Alam and Safaga. All these years passed while I was surrounded by friends: Eng. Some visited our house and sat with Yvonne for hours. I installed washing machines, kitchens equipment, central air conditioning systems, and hot-water boilers. I got an exemption from the military service and started off my career as an engineer. I used to greet her whenever I went in and out. But that never happened with me. They both went to a lawyer, signed a contract, and they were married. everywhere. The next day, everyone goes to work. We usually meet on Fridays after the communal prayers. I knew she felt comfortable when I was around. He also has his own poetry collection, titled Fragments of My Mind, and two upcoming translations. Mohammad prays at the mosque while I’m at church. But, in secondary, she went to a public school while my sister Yvonne went to a private one. Mariam: A True Story   was   written mostly in Egyptian colloquial Arabic, detailing the quiet love between a young Egyptian Christian man and an Egyptian Muslim woman turned into a taboo by the society around them. We spend the whole day there, and then everyone heads home at one or two the next morning. It was normal. Some of them are gorgeous. It wasn’t normal. But none of them drew my attention. By Ahmed Atallah
Translated by Omar Ibrahim
I am a mechanical engineer. She might travel with him back to her country and stay there, no problem, or he might stay in Egypt and she’d visit him once a year, stay for a month or so, and then return home. I also needed friendliness, kindness, and respect. Then she’d notarize the contract in her country. ***
I’m from Giza. He translated Mahmoud Morsi’s collection of poems It’s Time I Confess into English, and his Arabic translation of H. I travelled continuously because of work. A foreign woman got into a relationship with an Egyptian man. P. Every time I searched inside my heart, I found nothing but Mariam’s image… Omar Ibrahim is an Egyptian literary translator, poet and essayist. * * *
I graduated in 1991. Omar Ibrahim has translated a selection for ArabLit. I admired her silently, voicelessly. Whether in my building or in the buildings around me, I have many of them: Moustafa, Sherif, Awad, Sameh, Mahmoud.