On January 7, 2012, the great Egyptian writer Ibrahim Aslan left us, after entering the hospital with heart trouble:
This month, Aslan would’ve been eighty. His final novel, Hagretayn w Sala (2009), or loosely Two-bedroom Apartment, was received great fondness and acclaim, yet surprisingly few prizes and translations. Indeed, for Aslan’s great gifts and influence, he was relatively little-laureled.
Mona Elnamoury here translates a brief section from Two-bedroom Apartment: A Domestic Series.
“The Other Room”
By Ibrahim Aslan
Trans. Mona Elnamoury
While he was passing by the open door of the children’s dim room, he found her still asleep in the room’s furthest corner. She was completely covered, a pillow over her head. Her body was small and indistinct, but he could tell she was under the covers.
Since their eldest had gotten married and moved away, and their youngest had done the same, she always slept in their room. She opened the big window, aired out the room and made up each bed and mini-wardrobe. From time to time, he would see her check on what they had left of their home clothes, putting some in the washing machine or sending some to the cleaner’s. He blamed her because, when it became late, she would stand in front of one of her sons and his wife, asking them to stay for the night:
“Why don’t you stay for tonight Seliman (or Ashraf). I will bring Hoda (or Samia) something to wear. As for your laundry, it’s clean and ironed!” And she would stretch out her hands with the clothes while Seliman or Ashraf said: “We’d rather go home, mum.”
After the kids left, he would say to her: “I think you shouldn’t ask them to stay again. Whoever wants to stay for the night, that’s fine. Whoever doesn’t want to, that’s fine.”
“As if I’d hung onto their necks! If they want to spend the night, fine. If not, fine. As if I care!”
And so it went. If she slept Saturdays in the elder son’s bed, she would do Sundays in the younger one’s. But today she had slept longer than usual, which she rarely did. He stepped into the room and leaned over her to see the frequency of her breaths from under the covers. Though he stared long at where her belly was supposed to be, which should be going up and down with her breathing, he noticed no movement. He whispered to himself: “Oh dear God! Is she dead?”
He left the room and went through the adjoining hall to the kitchen. On his way, he had a glimpse at the TV, which was on. He put the kettle on the stove, poured tea in a glass, and returned to the hall. He approached the room once more and peered from afar — she might have turned onto her back or to her other side. But she was exactly as he had left her.
If something happened, he would call the children right away. But what would he say? He thought that the best thing to do was to pull himself together and calmly say to his son, “Son, where are you?” The boy would say, “I am in such-and-such a place” or “Is there anything wrong?” Then he would say: “No, but your mother isn’t feeling well.” And he would hang up.
Then what? Neither he nor his sons knew what to do. He would call her brother or ask one of her brother’s boys what to do. He was their uncle after all. He realized that he didn’t have his brother-in-law’s phone number. He thought that he should get it and write it down in the small notebook which they kept on the small side table. Then he remembered her when she was young and cheerful. She never stopped giggling and went everywhere with him in her velvet trousers. He felt deep pity for her. He felt great sadness for her. He almost cried for her. “Oh, poor Ihsan!”
Then he went to the other room, dressed in pants and a shirt and thought of going out to get his pension money from the nearby ATM machine and returning. If he found her still asleep, he would shake her himself. He finished his tea, fastened his shoes, and heard her voice from afar.
“Are you going out?”
“Yes, I’ll get the pension.”
Then she headed to the kitchen and he to the door.
Dr. Mona Elnamoury is a lecturer at the faculty of Arts, English Dept., Tanta University. She also teaches at the MSA in the faculty of Languages and Translation, and has translated Ursula LeGuin into Arabic and is part of the Seshat continous creative writing workshop and storytelling project. She also writes.
Other translations of Aslan’s work:
“Training,” trans. Maya Abu-Deeb