#WiTMonth Fiction: ‘The Sharp Bend at Al-Bakur’

She watched as her brothers carefully skirted the edges of boulders, searching for her. All of this coincided with the outbreak of war in Benghazi and the army announcing the need for people to evacuate their homes. A cloud of dust filled the air. She was caught up in her daydreaming – after having applied the paste – of youthful, blemish-free skin, radiant enough to prompt Saint John’s sixteenth-century cavalry to invade Libya once more. Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditTumblrWhatsAppPinterestTelegramPocketSkypeLike this:Like Loading… Her mother began to lament her misfortune: just recently she had lost her son Mohammed – better known as ‘Khobza’, the stale bread collector – and here she was today losing her daughter. He slapped her face, rupturing one of the nearly healed pustules from the day before. Khadija prayed to God for a safe journey, that He would grant her a way out soon, and free her from her many prisons. It wasn’t a simple dream: to be beautiful, a handsome man by her side; so she committed it to God and fell asleep. “Go on, try and walk!” Khadija tried to take a step like any other baby would, but she quickly fell over and needed a hand. By God, when it rained, it poured! As usual, when one is happy, or even sad, the day starts early. “Stop yelling. Where are you, my girl?” “Over here, Mother! It was so close that she could read the MADE IN RUSSIA 2013 on its underside. Her fate? Instead of finding five-foot, five-inch Khadija under the covers, she found a small baby staring up at her, bawling, begging for help. The chasm between her mind and her body was too much for her to bridge. She fell into the large wooden bowl of a shepherd eating bean stew; a shepherd who believed that Khadija’s appearance was one of the harbingers of the end of time, perhaps because he had been pondering Judgment Day at that very moment. To age once more, pimples and all. The missile cast its fleeting shadow over her, the stew, the sheep, the dog and the gallon of strawberry juice before she heard the blast. Not knowing what to do with this newfound freedom, she glanced around, waiting for someone to overturn the bowl and tip her out. Khadija looked on and agonized, sobbing over what had happened to her and what was befalling them, all the while being blamed and berated by everyone who came to know of her new condition. And because people in such situations act before thinking, he fled, leaving behind his sheep, his radio, and a gallon of strawberry juice. A gust knocked Khadija over, and she rolled down the mountain, tumbling to the bottom of the valley. All the while, Khadija was either in the bowl or covered by it, drifting in and out of consciousness for days at a time, then months and finally years, before opening her eyes in the distant Al-Heesha hospital in western Libya, the sole survivor of a family that had been completely massacred. Khadija! Stuck in this tabeekha!” Just then, a missile roared past overhead, gleaming like the underbelly of a desert lizard. Not a cracked bowl or a spilled drop; the darkness could testify to this, just as it could testify that she had taken too much from one bottle and not enough from the other. East, West, West, East, South, East, South, West. It was Khadija herself, simply younger than she had wished to look – a testament to the potency of the paste. Her mother passed by, calling out, “Khadija! Trying to estimate the quantities based on the last thing she had seen, she calmly stretched out her hand to pour the bottles without so much as a drop splashing outside the bowl. The pace of departure picked up as the missiles began to rain down on their homes, breeding chaos. When Khadija was late for her usual chore of crumbling up sundried stale bread – collected from others’ garbage – her mother went to her bedside, convinced that her daughter must be suffering from menstrual cramps. Especially when all of a sudden the lights went out midway through. Leaning over her, the sheep sniffed Khadija, and the dog with black and white patches licked the stew from her legs. * By Najwa Bin Shatwan Translated by Sawad Hussain It appears that Khadija wasn’t precise enough with measuring ingredients when mixing together powders for her rejuvenating paste. Growing impatient, she had no choice but to bite the nose of her brother, whom her mother had asked to hold Khadijah while they made their way to their uncles’ home in Al-Awayliyah. We re-run it this year as part of Women in Translation Month. “What’s this? She thought she had succeeded. Take me to the bathroom, and I’ll tell you!” Picking her up from the bed with tremulous hands, her mother placed her on the floor. When morning broke, Khadija couldn’t get up from her bed to go to the bathroom or carry out her daily chores. Their mother intervened, replacing the children in her lap with Khadija. Out oozed blood. She then managed to put them back; not a single thing fell off the table. “Was now really the time to do a face mask?” “Wallah, I never thought something like this would happen with a war on!” “How can we be in the middle of a war, and you’re thinking about your skin, wanting to look younger?” “Okay, so you’re younger now. Sawad Hussain. #WiTMonth Fiction: ‘The Sharp Bend at Al-Bakur’ August 29, 2022August 28, 2022 by mlynxqualey This story, from Najwa Binshatwan’s acclaimed   2019 collection,   An Ongoing Coincidence,   won the ArabLit Story Prize that same year in Sawad Hussain’s translation. She saw the sky above, open and wide, no walls hemming her in. The craters in her skin had been treated, no longer potholed like the streets of Sirte and Al-Mhashi. In bed, she discovered just how efficient her age-defying paste had been, a paste most often plagued by accusations of being a waste of time, akin to buying a delusion. What’s the point in a dead country like ours?” “You’ll just grow older again, have the same life, nothing will change.” “She just wanted to get a husband.” Everyone who picked her up lectured her at length; the only end in sight for Khadija was Al-Hawari cemetery. The hysterical sheep ran helter-skelter, trampling the bowl as they charged west, flipping it over as they returned east, only for it to end up as it had been before. They were forced to stop in the middle of the road to sort themselves out after having traversed the hairpin mountain turn known as Al-Bakur Bend. She tried to call out to them, but they were in too much of a hurry. * Also read: Bin Shatwan’s collection Catalogue of a Private Life, tr. What’s happened to you?” her mother gasped in alarm upon seeing her daughter, now a baby, unable to get up on her own. On this occasion though, the paste surprisingly worked as advertised, with Khadija being the first exception! It was as if praying from the top of the majestic Jebel al-Akhdar drew her closer to the heavens, making it more likely that her desire would be fulfilled. With the terrorists massing in the densely populated areas, the fear was that residents would be taken hostage. At long last, Khadija found herself liberated!

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