Friday Finds: Muhammad El-Hajj’s ‘Two O’Clock on a Tuesday Afternoon’

Egyptian author Muhammad El-Hajj is an award-winning short-story writer:

His collection Nobody Mourns the City’s Cats won a Sawiris Prize in 2019, and the brilliant title story originally appeared in ArabLit Quarterly’s Summer 2019 issue, in Yasmine Zohdi’s translation, and also appeared online as part of our lock-in literature series.

Now, Mada Masr has published a new story by El-Hajj, also in Zohdi’s punch-for-punch translation.

The story appears as part of Mada’s “In Other Words” series, which features translated excerpts from contemporary Arabic literary works, by emerging or established authors, which are being published in English for the first time. They write, of the series:

By offering translated glimpses of works that we believe are significant — in their language, format, or thematic resonance — we are attempting, at least in part, to perhaps effect that selection process by bringing more attention to stories that we think deserve to travel far and wide. We hope to create more space for diverse voices from the region to be heard elsewhere, not for what they “represent,” but for the unique, singular vision each of them provides.

Previous “In Other Words” features include excerpts of Adel Esmat’s The Commandments, Ahmed Awny’s Prizes for Heroes, and Shady Lewis’s The Ways of the Lord.

The story, “Two O’Clock on a Tuesday Afternoon,” opens:

Her mother’s old saying swung in her head like a pendulum: “Life is an unfortunate mess.”

She settled back into the backseat of the rundown black and white taxi, the only one that would take her to Haram on that spring morning. Sometimes, when she listened to her comments about life, she felt that her mother harbored a strange kind of faith within her. A faith entirely founded on the belief that life was a perfectly-sealed cage; a trap, and the only way to pull through was to reconcile oneself to its cruelties.

Keep reading the story at Mada Masr.