New Fiction in Translation: ‘The Cats’ by Mohamed El-Makhzangi

Another cat story, in the wake of our fall issue:

The Cats

By Mohamed El-Makhzangi

Translated by Omar Ibrahim

Cats were howling in the middle of a winter night while I was wrapped in my blanket. Through its pores, I was reading a few pages of a book. The cats leapt against doors, scratched, and called out in mournful meows.

At first, their voices had made me feel pessimistic, because they suggested someone was going to die in the morning. When they kept on howling nonstop through all the winter nights, with not one person dying, I realized that they were cold and hungry because all the trash cans, at all the houses, were empty of leftovers.

“For myself, cats, I have only one loaf of bread in front of me,” I said. “And I’ll eat anything with it so I can fall asleep on this cold night.”

Still, they produced the same sad meowing, and they went on scratching. I went on shooing them off with my words: “Shhh! Go on! Go!” And whenever they slipped past my door, I’d throw a folded-up piece of paper at them or, to make them panic, I’d pretend I was about to throw my book. They’d vanish into thin air . . . then come back howling and meowling!

One morning, I noticed that the cats had lost one of their treasured old habits. They were no longer keen on cleanliness like before. Maybe something had struck them in the gut while they were in the hall, the kitchen, on the staircase, or at the entrance to the street.

I made a club from an old broomstick.

It seemed that, when night fell, I would be a cat murderer!

Also by Makhzangi:

Water Buffalo,” translated by Chip Rossetti

Rhythmic Exercise,” translated by Yasmeen Hanoosh

An excerpt from Memories of Chernobyltranslated by Samah Selim

Books by Makhzangi:

Memories of Chernobyltranslated by Selim