Yesterday, the 2015 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature went to Lebanese writer Hassan Daoud for his No Road to Paradise. Today, five in translation by the author:
Although twenty years have gone by since my arrival in Zahraniyya, where I still live, it’s as though I’ve realised only now that there’s no cemetery here. It dawned on me suddenly, cutting short the unruly flow of thoughts that compete for attention when we’re trying our cunning best to dodge insomnia. That is to say, I had no warning at all, no inkling, no thoughts in my head leading in that direction. I guess it just detached itself from the crowded jumble of fancies and images, coming forward like a passing word, like a sentence some fellow said to me in the course of my day, a string of words I didn’t hear properly at the time and so the phrase hung there, waiting for the right moment to release its full impact on me. When it did, it flipped me over onto my back. I would go to sleep in that position now, and not on my stomach or either side. My eyes were open wide, trying to make out how much light, or darkness, surrounded me in this room.
The old mirror they lugged here for me from our old home: why did they not hang it some other way, not like this, so very high above? In that room housing my bed and wardrobe, I had to step back from the mirror—back and further back, just to see my face. Not for very long, since all I needed to do while standing at that distance was to trace the part in my hair with my comb and go over it more firmly, pulling the hair away from the comb’s path and smoothing it above and below. I still comb it this way, parting it from the roots as I first learned to do, or perhaps as I grew accustomed to doing, since I don’t remember my hair looking any other way than this, with a part. In my room, here in our new home, where I both read and sleep, I can peer into the mirror from a normal distance but only if I stand on the bed and hoist myself to match its height. My part is still there, just as it has always been, marching the same route; but the closer I bring my head to the mirror, the more desiccated it looks: the skin is so dry that it is flaking. The hairs around that part have grown coarse, their ends crinkling and frizzing so that from another angle of my head they give the appearance of a thick raised pad.
From my window the sand made lustrous by the moonlight is clear and close as if its surface has risen toward me. The light of the moon carries the sand almost to meet me. Or perhaps that light simply strengthens my vision as I look at the sand, shining so brilliantly and at the same time appearing so brazen that it very soon repels my gaze. Sitting on the balcony, we catch the sound of the approaching breeze as it shimmies upward from below—that faraway below where the old city lies. The moonlight gives us the city too but as nothing more than skeletal outlines of buildings, ash-gray with age and remoteness. We send our gazes there, to perch at the margins of its wide ringed expanse, to know that something of us remains there.
For years, I did this every day, alone, by myself, without Jaber, who never stopped berating me. That was my daily path. It used to tire me out, or to be more precise, it tired my feet while I remained relaxed above them, always expecting something to come of that small hope. She would surely come, that day, she would come, for wasn’t her house the one over there, to my right as I continued on my way down?
My father laughed when he heard that the government had declared that all bread-makers had to wear white overalls, imagining his workers standing there like patissiers. Next they’d be introducing metal tongs, he said, for handling the dough. The image of his employees dressed like women jarred with his belief that work in a bakery was tough, man’s work.