One of the film pitches featured during the opening night of the BILA HUDOOD: Arabic Literature Everywhere” festival was Layla AlAmmar’s pitch of Laila AlOthman’s classic Wasmiya Comes Out of the Sea, with art by Zahra Marwan:

You can — and should — watch AlAmmar’s video pitch on our YouTube channel, along with others from the festival’s first and second nights. You can also read the excerpt from the award-winning Wasmiya Comes Out of the Sea below.

From Wasmiya Comes Out of the Sea

By Laila AlOthman

Translated by Layla AlAmmar

Look to the darkened sky… The absent moon…

A star there glistens, like a woman in ecstasy. Grey clouds scatter like lovers who, though they may quarrel, yet desire closeness.

A cool breeze blows… Spring has come after the heat and dust storms.

The mighty sea stretches before him. The waves dance. Seafoam spits as they churn.

He is alone in the boat… A beastly longing chokes him, and depression’s embrace is sticky.

*

Loneliness expands within him, then radiates outwards. It becomes an aura, caging him in like the embrace of a sorceress.

He moves his arms, trying to break through, so that the aura may fall into the sea, to fade away with the waves, and he may find respite from this siege. He turns left and right, eyes scanning the water, coming to rest on the red buoy that points to where his net is sunk.

Will there be a bounty tonight? he wonders. The forecast called for high tide at three in the morning. Is it to be believed, or will it fail him, as the sea often does?

            The song claws its way out from deep inside him… from the snare of a soul trapped in time, assassinated joys, and he remains, diligent, in pursuit of the sea. It embraces him each time as though it were the first. This longing, burning embers, that no boredom or repetition can erase.

            He stops when no fish emerge to dance. He thinks perhaps his voice has not penetrated. He is silent, watchful. But he knows very well that silence means despair and despair is evil when it grips a man. Shaking it off, he continues to sing. The notes slide through his chest, their tender echoes move around him. He tears the aura surrounding him, and the music spills forth until the waves break into a dance—serpentine, harmonious.

            His song swims, reverberates, plays its part in shaking the sleeping fish and toying with the bobbing buoy. And love, like a bird, cheers inside his breast.

            The buoy rocks harder, and he feels the fish flock to the net as though they would burrow into his heart to share this rhapsody and sorrow, to hear his cries and soothe him. Akh… Tomorrow he will return for the net. His heart will trill as he draws in his bounty. He will sniff the mouth of each fish for that aroma he adores. Perhaps the fish will bring him treasures from the depths. Her ring. Her necklace. Some trinket or keepsake.

            But what if the net is barren, catching only rocks and seaweed? He will feel the fish have abandoned him, and his joy will recede like a tide in his chest, dreams crumbling. He shudders and flings the thought away, He loathes despair, and he knows this sea, while mighty, is yet giving.

            He must be obstinate in the face of his loving sea and swallow his song and leave his net until morning. Perhaps he’ll see a familiar look in the eyes of the fish, or in their bodies a hue he knows, or in their mouths a scent he adores. He will embrace each fish as though it were his darling.

Watch the film:

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