New Short Fiction: ‘The Awakened Memory’ by Salima Saleh

She continued dancing even after the drums had stopped. Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditTumblrWhatsAppPinterestTelegramPocketSkypeLike this:Like Loading… I still see that house in my dreams, that heavy, sliding lock of the door to the room, that has to be pushed all the way in during winter nights. * The Awakened Memory By Salima Saleh Translated by Hend Saeed I turned to find a huge hill behind me, obscuring everything on the other side. The song hadn’t lost its glory, reaching the souls of those who heard it, and tugging at their heartstrings. And the peace of my mother’s presence, as if she were a mythical being who could defend us from harm and protect us from danger. Needing to head out to the grocery shop for something, I reluctantly left the drawing pad. When I returned, I saw that my drawing had been finished off by my brother, who thought he could help. I see it in my awakened memory exposing itself to the light; unaffected by time or destruction. I wait and I grow weary but it never tires. There is a secret hanging in the horizon; whenever I try to catch it, it escapes.     * Salma Saleh is an Iraqi short story writer and translator who was born in Mosul, Iraq, in 1942. My mother knitted wool in front of the burning coal of the brazier. At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening to the woman. I remember another waterfall—how we left the dirt road and walked down towards the shore. The small café where the falling water meets the ground is full of tourists eating and drinking as they chat about the previous year’s trip.    I had witnessed this trance once before when I was a child but I didn’t comprehend it then. The girls organize themselves into a dancing circle. Famous waterfalls like Kali Ali Beck don’t have the same effect. She is also a mindfulness consultant and curator of mindfulness writing programs. A cave within the mountainous rock that can’t be reached by chance, or without searching for it:  “Here is where the tailor’s son took refuge, and in this hole, he placed his inkwell.” It is almost nighttime and the green hill is surrounded by plains. The hill was covered in grass, its color a pure springtime shade of green. “They’ve buried their dead.’ I wished my mother had let us take a different route and allowed me to climb that hill. From Wikicommons. I can’t remember who I was with or when that was; time had no meaning for me yet. A person might encounter a number of forgotten waterfalls somewhere in the deep valleys and forking pathways of the mountains, where the ground tires from extending horizontally. Some of them stood up and started dancing along to the music, moving faster and faster until they grew tired and stopped. I had seen its houses from below; in horizontal rows one above the other, making them seem like one joined-up white mass on the mountainside. The southeastern desert isn’t a place for dreaming; it is an emptiness a person can become lost in as they search in vain for any recognizable sign. The only escape from this feeling is at night when darkness engulfs the endless parched land and the sky seems closer, forming a tent of stars. Sleep my son, and live an honorable life. I had initially thought it was some form of entertainment, but then I became scared when I realized that she wasn’t performing. They check their watches and wonder whether it’s time to return to the vehicles they arrived in, with their experienced drivers at the wheel—drivers who are accustomed to the narrow roads winding through forks in the mountain that can be seen from the road, which extends a little further until it disappears behind the mountain. In these first few minutes of being so close to the waterfall, I was overcome by an intense feeling of awakening. There was a smattering of people walking down. Finding these small, forgotten waterfalls constitutes a new discovery. I jump over the rivulet and head toward the city that hasn’t revealed its secrets to me yet. We memorized it later at school, and even though we chanted it many times, it remained magical and continued to excite us. Where was that? Then slowly the sound of the water sent me into a meditative transcendent state—a state that I had once felt when I was feverish, when the body becomes sluggish, the senses give out, so that the inner voice that had been locked up, emerges. The uproar of the water doesn’t have the same impact as the sound of the drums. We climbed three steps up to a square plateau that resembled a theater. In the deep silence of the mountain, only the rushing water could be heard. We stopped at a waterfall in one of the northern villages then continued for a few more meters towards the flowing water. She has published and translated novels, short story collections and non-fiction books, including The Year of Cancer (2017), The Flower of the Prophet (1994), and The Transformations (1974). I want to watch it as it crawls away. My mind’s capacity for forming memories hadn’t quite developed enough so as to place and frame each image accurately. It is part of our ongoing “In Focus: Iraq” section, which you can find at arablit.org/iraq. The memories took up residence outside of any time period and remained there; nothing could change that, neither the passage of time nor the change in circumstance that followed. Before the crossroads near the famous church clock, a long line of large vehicles carrying soldiers was parked, some of them seated and others standing and chanting in unison: Oh Mother, dry your tears and wait for me to return. The fear of darkness, of burglars, angels and Jinn, all in equal measure. It becomes a barrier,  blocking the painful reality of the world until it vanishes and tosses you to the edge of the dream. We used my father’s fur as a cover, hiding under it, running our fingers through its white, warm wool, or using it to build a den. The other women tried to calm her down but failed, and even after they managed to grab hold of her and sit her down on the floor, she still didn’t stop. By now, the waterfall was very close, gently spraying our faces as its rumble turned into a roar. No voice can be heard apart from this person’s own. It stops, unaware of my surprise and my eyes staring at it. All this clamor impacts the solitude of the place, spoiling this symphony that reaches its peak with the water’s rumble. We found ourselves cautiously climbing over and around large rocks, their sharp edges scraping our bare, pained feet. A clump of houses in rows makes me lose track of the narrow streets that we had passed through a short while ago. We began to hear the rumble of the waterfall more clearly as we walked on, until we could no longer proceed without undertaking a great risk. It’s not a sense of oneness with the place that the silence of the desert promotes, but a loneliness. I sneak to the edge of the hill where the sky is close to the plains land and I am in the middle, happy with this absence, like a drop of water adrift in the ocean. I was mesmerized by the awe of it. I followed the swaying movements of one woman that became more chaotic until it resembled something close to madness. Now I’m more familiar with this ecstatic and revelatory state. They won’t attempt to protect the silence of the desert but will try to break it, for the desert’s silence may awaken the soul but it doesn’t always encourage a deep state of reflection. I try to jump over a rivulet; a piece of orange peel beneath the water shines through, along with a furry salamander that I’ve never seen before outside of books. The mass of white froth fell vertically and then formed a bubbling foam that eventually calmed and flowed into the river. Clear water flowing over the pebbles deepened in the middle of the river, so that leaving the shore became an adventure, and made the small island packed with trees appear distant, despite how close it actually was. We continued to walk against the tide on the shore that gradually grew rugged until there was no clear path to tread. Other songs formed the heritage that taught children aspirational values, that faith in the future. ‘They’re coming back,” my mother said. Her most recent novel, The City Painter ( رسام المدينة أو اليرقد) , was published in 2021 .Hend Saeed is an Arabic literature and Culture Consultant and Adviser, a literary agent, a literature and cultural event curator, translator, writer, moderator, and Editor-at-Large & contributor to Arablit.org. A group of women had sat in a circle and started swinging their bodies to the rhythm of the drums. I feel it filling the horizon but I can’t reach it. New Short Fiction: ‘The Awakened Memory’ by Salima Saleh June 17, 2022June 16, 2022 by nashwagowanlock This is an excerpt from “The Awakened Memory,” a short story featured in Salima Saleh’s collection The Flower of the Prophet. I asked my mother to tear out the page so I could start drawing it from scratch. The water flows gently over it. From the top of the hill, the village seems closer and smaller. But this was one of the first images that had begun to assemble into one larger vision: the homeland. By now, she was moving less violently but remained in her tranced state.

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