This novel was published by Takween and is available through their website.
Part One: Wednesday
By Eman Assad
Translated by the author
Ghassan strolled behind the PE teacher, head held high, proud of the swift victory he was about to achieve. Much swifter than he could ever have guessed. He had expected his victory to materialize in a couple of days, at most a week; but never had he expected victory before he even set a foot on the school grounds. Well, all credit went to his friend Ayman the Frightened and the senile bus driver.
And oh, he was so ready to see the look on his uncle’s face once he realized his magic wand had betrayed him. Once he realized that Ghassan’s revolution would not die out, that it would go on feeding off the ashes of his body. The fire burning up his heart would rain hell on his uncle and his mother and everyone on this fucking mortal plane.
And everyone would know he was a Palestinian because he would shamelessly act like one. Like Ghassan, each word would leave his mouth with an unshakable confidence. He would see how the entire world conspires against him, and yet he was the only one with enough brains to detect the webs being woven around his neck. He would smoke heavily like him…he would curse his God and Prophet like him. He’d throw pebbles at giants in idiotic futility. And, as a delusional fool, he would celebrate each fake victory before the real defeat slapped him hard on the face and even then…even then…he would see in that slap an honorable victory that should be commemorated in songs and poems…
Exactly like him.
He would push himself to the edge of Death in his land and the Other’s land.
He would fall madly and desperately in love,
and betray his beloved for the lowest price,
Exactly…exactly like him.
And in the end
Death would come to him as a bullet between the eyes
and like a stray dog
he’d be shot to the ground.
He had already prepared his speech, anticipating his uncle’s arrival. His mother, who was his actual guardian, wouldn’t bother to show up. And Ya Allah, Ya Allah, what a joy it would be to watch his uncle helplessly attempting to justify his nephew’s behavior, his raving talk about how it was his divine right as a Palestinian to sit on the front row. He imagined him babbling, sweating, retreating in the presence of the headmaster. Because how could it be that a man of his wealth and social status was incapable of patching that rotten crack in his sister’s house – that traitor’s widow? And for a while, Ghassan’s heart would be at ease… for a while.
Yet there was one thing that clouded his victory: He was taking advantage of that little boy. Ghassan wished he didn’t have to. The thought came to him as he stepped onto the bus, as he looked at the front mirror and saw the reflection of the drivers’ worried eyes glancing at the kid sitting behind him. The old guy must care about him. It was his grandson maybe, or a relative of some sort.
What happened to that kid later forced Ghassan to abort his plan. He didn’t testify against the driver, or claim that he’d been beaten by him for no reason. Instead, he found himself agreeing with that story that the Kuwaiti boy made up on the spur of the moment. How lousy his tale had sounded to the emergency staff! He claimed that Ghassan’s fall on the bus steps had been nothing but an unfortunate accident. The driver suddenly put on the brakes after some kid vomited, and, unaware Ghassan had leapt away from that kid, then tripped over a tossed-off Kleenex box, lost his balance, and fell right on his head. The moment he ended that story everyone knew it was a blatant lie, a stupid lie. But it was a lie that was easy to believe, and there was no other choice but to believe, if one wanted to avert the dire consequences of truth.
Now here it was, the headmaster’s office door. The PE teacher raised his hand, stopping him from taking another step, and pointed to the black leather chair in the corner of the waiting room. As he sat, Ghassan’s eyes fell immediately on the pack of books thrown in the wastebasket — his books. A good omen.
He lifted his head and met the secretary’s nervous glance as he sat behind his desk. The secretary turned away and stood up from his chair. He leaned against the headmaster’s door, hoping to catch a couple of words. Oh, he would catch more than a couple of words once Ghassan got in. He’d even make sure to raise his voice for the secretary’s sake.
Because here it came, the moment he would slap his uncle in the face, a moment worthy of the excruciating pain, searing his eyes and splitting his head.
The sound of a severe cough, a smoker’s cough similar to his father’s, reached him from behind that door, and, for a split of a second, Ghassan believed it was his father coughing inside, waiting for his son to come in.
The door opened. The PE teacher glared at the secretary and sprang toward the hallway. Alarmed, the secretary gestured at Ghassan to enter. Ghassan rose out of the leather chair with a smug smile on his face.
And just before he crossed the threshold, Ghassan realized with dread that the slap he had intended for his uncle was about to be thrown back at him, a thousandfold.
Eman Assad is a Jordanian literary translator and author residing in Kuwait and the editor @thmanyah. Assad has a Master’s Degree in American Studies from the University of Jordan (2005). She is translator of books by Graham Swift, Margaret Atwood, Claire Messud, Ian McEwan, Virginia Woolf, James Agee, and Octavia Butler, and is author of Zainab and the Golden Thread (2014) and No Sun in the Closed Room (2021).