Eid Through the Eyes of Sonallah Ibrahim

Well, all right, these aren’t exactly Sonallah Ibrahim’s Eid memories, as his novel Stealth (2010, Aflame) is fiction. However, the novel was based in part on Ibrahim’s childhood, in part on research he did about the post-WWII era in Egypt, and of course part is pure imagination.

So, كل سنة وأنتم جميعاً طيبين, and the following passage is from the beautiful, spare Stealth, which I reviewed for The Believer earlier this year:

He drags the desk chair out to the balcony. Lights a cigarette. He asks me to look for a paper and something to write with. I bring him my homework notebook and my pencil. He takes out a sheet of paper. I stand next to him, watching him as he writes: “Eid, O Eid, you have come back anew. Remind us of old Eids or new ones preview.” He looks out at the alley, thinking. I can tell that he is trying to write new lines to finish the famous poem like he does each Eid. I say: “Well, aren’t we going out?” He doesn’t answer. After a second, he stands up in a huff. He gets out his shaving kit and puts it on the table. I bring him a cup of water. He gets his brush wet and then rubs it on the soap.

I get my new shirt. I pull up its collar and press a stiffener into the slots for it. I put on the trousers from my new suit. The material is heavy and rough. He tells me to just wear the trousers and shirt because it is very hot. I give in, but I don’t really want to. I make sure that my lucky Quran verses are rolled up in my back trouser pocket. I can hear the noise of the children in the alley. I rush to the balcony. They are all wearing their new clothes for the Eid. The girls have bows in their hair. They’re shouting all in the same breath: “Open up those coin sacks, hand us our gifts back, O halu!” They let off firecrackers. Samir has astrip of “Italian War” brand. Its pellets hit the ground and light up.

Read the rest of the book.

From Al Masry Al Youm, a poem for the holiday, by Fouad Haddad. Translated into English by Aisha El-Awady.