An Excerpt of Fadi Zaghmout’s Speculative Novel ‘A Needle and a Thimble’

He was clearly one of those who stood in the middle ground. And, as cautious as I was in trying to avoid the bitterly cold weather outside, my hands had a different idea, and they opened the door wide, so that I faced someone I had met only in my most intimate dreams. All through my 40 years on this earth, I had never met a person of middle height. “Not so aptly named, I know.” I laughed and nodded, signaling him to go on with his story.  “As a teenager, I assumed I’ll be taller, since my height surpassed that of a short. So tea it was. It started with a confusion that tinted it throughout. “Who is it?” I ask. She left the room, walking to the kitchen and returning after a few minutes with an incense burner in one hand, walking around while muttering phrases that would presumably repel demons. Then I gave up. As a dressmaker, I’ve spent the last 20 years designing gowns that accentuate the beauty of a bulky short and that of a slender tall—never doing so for a person of middle height. Then I went back into the house, stepping into the room where we welcomed talls. An Excerpt of Fadi Zaghmout’s Speculative Novel ‘A Needle and a Thimble’ July 11, 2022July 9, 2022 by mlynxqualey The fourth novel by Jordanian author and gender activist Fadi Zaghmout is set in an alternate universe where people are divided not by gender but by height. I recounted the entire story, with all the details Tallsy had told me. She sat in front of me, gasping for breath as she listened to me. I knew that talls didn’t like it, but I asked him to do so, pointing to the door.  He politely apologized, then slowly and shamefully walked to the door and took them off.  In that moment, I stood astounded by what I saw. It’s nine thirty! She wouldn’t sympathize or accept him. And so I surrendered, opened the door as wide as possible, and said, “Hi.”  He gently replied: “Good evening.” Chapter 2 I saw more of him under the light Quickly, I replied, “Good evening to you too,” as my eyes twinkled under the moonlight. It didn’t occur to me that this was the moment I was reborn, and it didn’t occur to him, either, that my being was pouring right into his heart. Then he introduced himself: “My name is Talls.” He seemed to expect me to laugh, as the name contradicted reality. And despite my deep sympathy for him, he still confused me. If there’s any truth in it, I still don’t trust people like him, and I won’t sympathize with him.” Rocky leapt out of her seat as she looked at her watch, ignoring my look of disapproval. “Did you notice anything strange about our guest?” “Something other than his surprise visit, by himself, at an inappropriate time for the talls, and the fact that you allowed him to enter?” she asked sarcastically, thenadded, “If any of my family had done that, it would have been a disaster.” I didn’t want to argue. This made it hard for her, a depressed widow, to pay any attention to my height issue and to fix it with growth hormones. I don’t believe a word of his story. And no! I was in a hurry to discover the reason for his unplanned visit. The family sent her brother abroad in the way that wealthy families used to do, in order to escape the harsh reality and those sorts of crimes.” Millions of questions were running through my head: Is it hereditary? That is why, today, I will tell you my story in a new tongue, in a language that doesn’t concern itself with height. Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditTumblrWhatsAppPinterestTelegramPocketSkypeLike this:Like Loading… A language that embraces and celebrates sex. I am also aware that, in doing so, I’m hurting others, treating them unjustly. I was in denial, and I could only imagine how she might react if I gave such an answer. Or perhaps you prefer coffee?” I asked. “I’m still not sure,” I said, even though I knew she wouldn’t believe me. She waited for me to finish my story and then said, softly: “It’s all nonsense. This is a language more just to him and more deserving of the love story uniting the two of us. And you like him, too?” I was used to her overreactions. Is he cursed?” I hesitated over my answer, because I was afraid of her reaction, but in any case she didn’t wait for my answer, but took my silence as confirmation.  “Oh my God!” Her eyes were about to explode right there in their sockets, as if some great misfortune had befallen her. In addition to English, Wasan is proficient in Spanish and French, and has won first place in a 2005 short story contest by the Spanish Ministry of Culture. I could see her getting furious, her eyes almost popping off her face and her mouth twisting up like a pretzel. It was hard on my mother, since I was her favorite, and she repeatedly refused to shun me or send me to live abroad, as everyone around her suggested. Where have you been, birdie?” Although I am more of a T-rex than a birdie. It’s too late.” Then she raised her index finger in the air, nervously pointing at me. I know you don’t take any clients at night, but I thought I might be lucky this time. As a tall, his preference was for tea. As my eyes continued to gaze at him, it took me a while to grasp that I was in the presence of a tall who would weaken my heart, shake my knees, and soften my soul.  I would have sent him away if it weren’t for the sadness I spotted in his eyes. “What about his height?” She answered with disgust. His work has been translated to English, French and Italian. Despite that realization, I found myself telling her his story, after she’d finished her fifth circuit around the room and climbed into the stubby seat that barely held her. Although she was late for dinner with her partners, I wanted to tell her Tallsy’s tale. Back then, we lost my father, and my mother went through a period of financial unrest. You won’t welcome him into this house after today.” * Fadi Zaghmout is a Jordanian author and gender activist. There was no point in telling her that I liked him. Would you like to have some tea? He definitely stood somewhere in the middle, between those who were tall and we who were short. “Take a deep breath and calm down.” I knew that my calm might provoke her, but also that she wouldn’t go too far with me, since I was her boss. She was wide-breasted and short, with thick thighs and chunky behind, yet she managed to move around so lightly that she looked like a butterfly.  Right after Talls left the talls room, she snuck up behind me, covered my eyes with her palms, and jokingly asked, “Who am I?” I removed her hands and smiled at her before I asked, “What time is it, Rocky?” “What time is it? excitedly. I’d only heard tales about these people, whose genes had gone haywire, shoving them in with the cursed and deformed—the ones we avoid so that we won’t be afflicted by their evil spirit. Chapter 3 Something about his height made me attracted to him like a moth to the light “Please accept my apologies, I know it’s a bit awkward to visit at this hour, but it was the only time I could sneak out by myself. But for some reason, my body was done. Although Rocky was closed-minded, much like the rock she was named for, she was still witty, energetic, and fast-paced—despite her dense figure. “And   I promise you that you won’t help this Tallsy. I could imagine her fury, her disgust, and er awe at what I’d say. She wasn’t ready to consider anything that was different from her personal convictions. He has 4 published novels: The Bride of Amman, Heaven on Earth, Laila, and Ibra wa Kushtuban. We both sat down in our designated spots, me on the wide sofa and him right on the narrow chair. But I was baffled by his existence and amazed at his story. A neither-nor.  Inside, I was shivering. No answer comes. He was not a short, either. Ours is a divisive language revolving around talls and shorts, ruthlessly and irrevocably discarding all those who fall in between. I was about to fly off into a world where I dreamed of Talls.  “I know that look,” she said, ambushing me, not giving me time to consider my answer.  I kept evading until she bluntly asked if I liked him. All I want, in sharing my story with you, is to let it live and breathe in a different language—a language befitting a secret, imaginary, kind world in which my beloved is welcome. In it, a character of middling height appears and throws a short dressmaker’s life into disarray. “You’re late,” I said, teasing her back. When it came to hair, he followed the norm of his gender, and his sleek hairless head was covered by a cap. I realized I was clearly in this mid-range for good. What do you mean?” Her pupils dilated again, and she added. Yes, he was tall, but he was more of a medium height, rather than above average. I let her finish what she was doing, knowing in my heart she was a hopeless case. She knows me too well and could read all my expressions. She laughed. Here, the only thing that separates us is a door that, once it’s opened, offers us the keys to our greatest destiny: as if we were reborn anew. Not only that, I was sure she would start calling me a devil’s minion. I politely asked him to enter through the door to the right, the one designated for tall people. “I have to leave now. I took the flowers with a smile, asked him to sit down, and told myself to relax. I didn’t need all that drama. I am referring to those legendary tales of love we read about only in history books, where we find ourselves immersed in the force of love. I refuse to honor that unjust vocabulary, which denies his existence and fails to find a suitable pronoun to define him. I hesitated for a moment, but then thought, Well, if he is brazen enough not to take off his shoes, which is our custom, then I won’t be shy about asking him to do it.” I have strong views on wearing shoes indoors.  Taking off your shoes at the door keeps the house’s energy and ambiance pure and clear. I detest the structure and rules of that language with all its pronouns and verb conjugations deliberately coined to revolve around height, to celebrate it as the ultimate gift, or to denounce it as a haunting curse. “Oh no, I was waiting for you to land! “Anyhow, I don’t know what you see in him.” I didn’t want to confess to her or anyone that what attracted me most was actually his middling height. My mother had been through something like this before with her brother, who was also of middling height, and that was before the government got firmer in coming to grips with height-related killings. “But relationships with clients are a red line,” she said. He remained standing in the middle of the room, allowing me to see more of him. As he relaxed, he started to tell me his story. He holds an MA in Creative Writing and Critical Thinking from Sussex University in the UK. But she was stubborn. I knew I couldn’t ask all these questions at once. Under the light, I could see him more clearly, and I realized there was something odd about his features. Wasan Abdelhaq is a creative writer, editor and translator. He paused for a moment, pulled a bouquet of white jasmine from his jacket, and smiled in an attempt to calm me down. In 2021, Fadi was one of the finalists for UK Alumni Global Awards under the category of social impact. I wanted to kick him out and burn some sage to clear the air, but he noticed the fear in my eyes. Chapter 1 As if I were reborn anew The best love stories start with a crack in the door. With a lot of confidence and a broad smile, he reached out his hand towards me. Our family, the The Skys, helped us through this crisis, and we managed to regain our footing, financially, but my height remained the one catastrophic happening that we couldn’t fix or handle in any way. I am aware that, by using this language, I am creating for him a special world different from the one he and I inhabit. “Calm down,” I said lightly. Chapter 4 “I didn’t want to confess that a new moon had entered my orbit.” Rocky, my assistant, knew that I had feelings for Talls even before I did. So I brought the conversation back to what I’d wanted to discuss before. And he was neither thin like talls nor bulky like shorts. “Beauty is relative,” I reminded her. I was too shy to confess that a new moon had entered my orbit. She cried out, “What’s wrong with you today? And Rocky was not only my assistant, but also my best friend and my first confidant. I noticed he didn’t take his shoes off at the door. A Needle and a Thimble By Fadi Zaghmout Translated by Wasan Abdelhaq * Preamble Once   I realized my need to pour out my love for Tallsy on paper, I knew I didn’t want to write it in our spoken language. Does it affect your mental abilities? A finely drawn line of golden henna started on his forehead and moved down to where his brows meet, complementing his wide, warm hazel eyes—a clear sign of his refined background.  He wore a traditional light blue gown beneath a wool coat that allowed me to see his very thick bones. Good morning, Madam!” “Good morning, lovely!” I answered jokingly, playing along as she continued to tease me the way she did whenever she caught me lost in thought. She worked with several national and international NGO’s in Amman, and government entities in Dubai. Our love story started without either of us realizing it. “Mmm, I noticed he was neither tall nor short,” adding, “And he was a bit ugly.” “He is not!” I found myself defending him, while also knowing that what I was about to say would make him even uglier in her eyes. Typically, a curfew that applied only to talls meant that they weren’t allowed the freedom to go out at such a time by themselves. I didn’t answer. I expected her to be intrigued and ask questions, but she only heard what she wanted to hear. This unorthodox move caught me by surprise, as talls are not allowed to shake hands with us short ones, but I shook his hand, hoping none of the neighbors would see me. “Welcome. “Any shorter than he looks makes him cursed. She wouldn’t understand me. And before she could interrupt me, I said: “Actually, he’s shorter than he looks.” “Shorter than he looks? But they don’t concern me. “You’ve been through this before with your ex.”  I promised her that I’d learned my lesson well, but nothing could make her believe me. Is this a punishment from God to you and your family? Have you gone mad, welcoming one of those people into your home? The man was not even that tall! I reach for the doorknob, not knowing that that what awaits me will turn my life upside down. On the other side of the door is the other half of this love story.  I stand, puzzled, as he gives the door a heavy knock. Are you able to function like a normal human being? I hope I’m not burdening you.” He paused for a moment in an attempt to read my face.

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