Friday Finds: ‘Don’t Put Your Elephant In Your Luggage’

The new issue of Newfound has fiction by acclaimed Iraqi author Mortada Gzar, translated by Katharine Halls:

The story, which is posted in both the Arabic original and English translation, opens:

At arrivals at O’Hare, a man opened his bag at customs, and a large black elephant stepped out.

I wrote that sentence as I stood in line waiting to show my passport to the border official. The queue was endless, and the only way to pass the time was by writing. I got as far as the elephant before getting stuck. I was thinking about sketching it out—I could decorate the elephant, make it red or baby blue, maybe—but at that moment my stomach gave a noise like a foghorn. The last thing I’d eaten was a small triangle of pizza at Heathrow, crammed into my mouth as I hurried to my gate, neck-and-neck with a Syrian lady dragging two children and three bags behind her, who kept up a fluent stream of Levantine invective into her phone as she trotted along. I could feel the expletives sticking to my pizza and slipping down my gullet, so I abruptly stopped, put my bag down, and let her overtake me. I took out my notebook and jotted down: rude pizza.

I’ll return to the rude pizza story at some point, once I’ve finished with the elephant I left terrorising the guards and passengers at the airport—I left it colourless, sizeless, and tuskless—say, does an elephant that has just materialised from an immigrant’s suitcase even need tusks? They’d make it look aggressive. I wanted it to be gentle, cheerful, innocent; tiptoeing carefully so as not to squash the passengers and security officers, but failing comically, sending people flying when it nudged them with its enormous rump. If I made it too gentle, though, it would start to resemble Ganesh, and I didn’t want readers’ minds to go down that line of thought. I’m from southern Iraq, after all, so I toyed with making it a truck-sized black water buffalo—but then the thing would look like a promo video for the Mesopotamian Marshes and their native buffalo population, which have just made it onto the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

Keep reading at Newfound.