Hilal Chouman’s ‘World of Dogs’

It feels as if he is stuck in a closed space that ends at the beginning and begins at the end. He is the author of four novels in Arabic: Stories of Sleep (2008), Napolitana (2010), Limbo Beirut (2012), and Once Upon a Time, Tomorrow (2016). As they approach, his fear grows. Anna Ziajka Stanton’s English translation of Limbo Beirut (2016) was longlisted for the PEN Translation Prize (2017) and shortlisted for the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize (2017). Hilal Chouman’s ‘World of Dogs’

The short story ‘World of Dogs’ was originally written in Arabic, by celebrated Lebanese author Hilal Chouman   (Limbo Beirut), and adapted into English by the author, with editorial support. Had she found his scribbles? But in the nights that followed, the scene recurred with the same elements: buildings, rubble, garbage, dogs, and no trace of people. This was the first step, he thought. He can hear his heartbeats pulse louder. He didn’t consider his dream a nightmare. “This is a nightmare,” he said. Another idea haunts him: that this world is made up of small units that repeat around a never-ending road. Failing to reach any conclusion, he returned the notebook to the drawer, only to look up and see her at the bathroom door, smiling. Then the dream ended. He pointed to the TV and answered that he’d seen this happening in his dream. He could hear the sound of rushing water from the shower as he re-made the bed. He picked up a notebook from his bedside drawer, lay back in the bed, and wrote:

Buildings – Rubble – Garbage

He stared at the words, trying find a link between them. Chouman currently lives between Dubai and Toronto, and works as a software architect.  He added two more words: “Me” to the left, and “dogs” to the right, and circled them. She lifted her head, and their eyes met. As for his heartrate, he attributed its increase to mere excitement. There was a big pile of dirty dishes from yesterday’s dinner, and he immersed himself in washing them, unaware of his surroundings. There was no way out, and he couldn’t think clearly. The feeling grew, yet he was unable to go forward or retreat. As if their relationship was reaching a dead end. Careful not to show fear, he continues his slow pace. Running might attract their attention. The streets of Beirut were flooded with mounds of garbage. He was confident he would never have it again. Carefully, without a move, he would look at her, until the continuance of this act absorbed the memory of the dream and quietened his heartbeat, leaving no one and nothing else in the room but them. He would wake up in his bed and look to his side to find her asleep. He decided to do something to kill his thoughts and assuage his irritation. And while his feelings varied from one dream to the next, his thoughts remained the same, as did the moment when he lost the dogs. He saw her disappearance as part of the dream’s transformation. With editing assistance from Yasmine Zohdi, Bekriah Mawasi, Ziad Dallal, and M Lynx Qualey. As he mused about the dream and tried to interpret it, he would stay in bed. Even more irritating was seeing his dream cross into this world without inspiring any meaning. Next, the piles of rubble would appear, and the people would vanish, leaving the buildings deserted. He watched closely, waiting to see the street from his dream, but it didn’t appear. 

“Is everything okay?” She asked, noticing his distraction. “I’m done!” he said, after placing the last plate on the drying rack. The night before his dream came true, he saw a new ending. Suddenly, when he looks ahead, he doesn’t find the dogs. I made them disappear because I was too preoccupied with my thoughts. “This is a nightmare.”

Rolling to his side, he was surprised to find she wasn’t there. The next day, he was watching a livestream on television when he saw his dream on the screen. In the dream, which came to him often, he walks aimlessly down one of the city’s streets, empty of people, the buildings on either side drowning in rubble and garbage. For him, nightmares, unlike dreams, made him sweat in bed. The buildings, rubble, and garbage around him duplicate and multiply. He called out her name, but she didn’t answer. If he were in a loop, the dogs would reappear, approach, and sidestep him again. He ended up in the kitchen. Is it because he’s an outsider in this world, the world of dogs? It was suffocating. Only the dogs walk near him. But the animals prove him wrong. As if time had got stuck in the night. Yet the dogs pass as if they can’t see him. He returned with a fitted sheet of the same colour. As if he was unable to skip things. He could tell he knew something, but he couldn’t define it in any way. This was disturbing — not the loss itself, but his persistent lack of understanding. Next time, I’ll be more focused. He took off his t-shirt, picked up a nearby towel, dried his sweat, and removed the damp bedsheet. This doesn’t happen. He walked toward the bedroom to find her holding his notebook, open. They should feel I’m at one with them, and, for that to happen, I have to keep moving at a steady pace. He keeps walking. This time, after the disappearance of the dogs, he was met by an open range where there was nothing: no buildings, no rubble, no garbage. His sleep was always smooth, he never made a sound, and she—a light sleeper—was never woken by him. He stayed there, standing, for an immeasurable amount of time before he finally woke up crying, drenched in sweat. At that moment, he was certain she understood what he could not. He laughed with her and decided not to disclose his new theory: He’d lost the dream because it had come true. He then moved to the kitchen and threw everything in the washing machine. Hilal Chouman is a Lebanese novelist born in Beirut in 1982. “You’d better dream about winning the lottery next time.” She laughed. It first appeared in English translation on ArabLit in July 2019:

By Hilal Chouman

Ousama Baalbaki / Fire, Works (2018)

He couldn’t believe his dream was happening right before his eyes. His thoughts, accompanied by his rapid breathing, were interrupted by the sound of the toilet’s flush. Although this reasoning wasn’t particularly solid, something within assured him he was right. The dogs are way ahead of him, so that he has to hurry to keep up.