One of the most popular film pitches from the BILA HUDOOD festival was James Scanlan’s pitch of Muhamad A. Jamal’s Flying:
By Muhamad A. Jamal
Translated by James Scanlan
In the beginning was the Will to Exist. And by its existence, time began; which was on a Tuesday.
The world was empty. No form nor place. Nothing, not even space. There was only the Will to Exist, and Time, which was still in its first day. Then the Will to Exist created the first being, itself, in the body of a vast cosmic female seagull.
Mother Gull, the Will to Exist, laid an egg, and She incubated the egg for six days then slept. And on the seventh day the egg hatched.
The shell split in two, with one half becoming the sky, its constellations, planets and stars; and the other became the earth, with the white and the yolk as the oceans that filled the world between them.
After three hundred thousand years, on another Tuesday, the Mother awoke to find herself in a cave atop a high mountain in the middle of an island. The island was the only patch of dry land in an ocean that stretched to the horizon where the sky clung to the earth.
To Her it was a strange scene, She had no memory of creating this world nor of desiring its creation. She squawked and the world replied with Her squawk’s echo, and this was the first sound. She resolved to build the world again and set off towards the horizon to tear the sky from the earth, traversing the two to that original void whence She could create the universe anew.
She walked on Her immense legs until Her feet touched water for the first time. She was alarmed to find herself sinking and returned to the shore where she made for herself wings and flew. This was the first flight.
The Mother flew in a straight line over the oceans into a horizon that never drew near. From time to time she grew tired and created an island where she could land and rest, and from these islands the continents formed. After a week of flying, She reached the point where She had first begun. Astonished, She said: “What is this strange world that I have created? It’s like a maze!” And these were the first words to be spoken in the world.
All of a sudden, She felt it would be nice to have someone to reply to Her words, to say: “Indeed, it is a strange world”, or: “No, it is an ordinary world”, or merely someone to spout vague noises, to show they had heard even though they did not understand. She was conscious that the world was unbearably silent; unjustifiably, painfully sad. And thus, the Mother unwittingly created depression and loneliness.
Motivated by Her loneliness, She created life. She created trees, grass and flowers; birds, fish and tigers. She created that which walks and that which runs, that which slithers, flies and swims. She created beings of all shapes: the beautiful and the ugly, the simple and the complex, the intelligent and the dim. She created all beings, apart from two, and placed in each a part of Her, of the Will to Exist itself. The world rapidly became full of commotion. Loneliness had gone but Her head was now full of pain, and thus She had created headaches.
Her creations gathered around Her, and from their unbridled love and appreciation for their Creator, they worshipped Her. She was amazed by their bizarre actions but their kind-heartedness pleased Her. And when She needed to sleep again She made for them seagulls in Her image, to receive, on Her behalf, the worship and love of Her creations. And, on another Tuesday, Mother Gull, the Will to Exist, returned to Her cave and slept.
Thereafter, the seagulls watched peacefully over the world’s skies. Passing birds would extend greetings to them and to the Lady of the World, and so too would the wild beasts, the fish and even the plants. The seagulls would nod their heads in courteous reply, before each going on their way. The seagulls demanded no special treatment, no sacrifices, prayers or elaborate worship of any sort. They knew they were not the Mother, the Will to Exist, merely a symbol for Her. They were kindly and modest birds. They loved all and were loved by all, except, that is, for the chickens….
James Scanlan is a translator from the UK based in Cairo. For rights to this novel and more, you can get in touch with him via his ProZ page.
Muhamad A. Jamal is a novelist and translator from Alexandria, Egypt. His published works include a novel, The Book of Disappointment, winner of the 2017 Akhbar Al-Adab prize for literature, and a number of translations from English, including Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.’
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