A short mirror tale from Egypt to accompany our Spring 2022 MIRRORS issue:
By Taha Sewedy
Translated by Nema Alaraby
He gazed at his trembling index finger. A droplet of blood made its way across his skin, spreading, then bursting, followed by more and more drops that tinted his finger red. He wiped his index on his pajama bottoms, wrapped it in the first piece of toilet paper he could find, and leaned back heavily to collect the splinters as a thick cloud enveloped his vision. The splinters stung his hands repeatedly, though he couldn’t worry about the damage to his skin. On the freezing cold bathroom floor, he crouched on his knees, collecting the remains of his precious friend and pondering a new—trivial, yet devastating—loss. The pain in his knees forced him to get up. Staggering, he leaned on the sink for support, struggling to regain his balance. He turned on the hot water tap, scalding his hands, perhaps punishing them for always shivering and costing him his precious friend. Or maybe he had burned them as punishment for everything they had done in his life. Sitting at the edge of the tub, he buried his pain, contemplating the remains of his broken mirror.
In the not-too-distant past, more or less thirty autumns ago, his mother had given him the mirror, which she named The Moon’s Face. Its face was round, adorned with sleek ornaments, like a lucid dream, supported by agile metal legs that had bent with youthful elegance, but now squeaked and groaned with old age. The memory of that distant day was more deeply engraved in his heart than his own name. His mother had stuffed the mirror in his suitcase, wrapping it with a radiant smile and a warm prayer. She had closed the suitcase and was about to carry it to the waiting car of eternal separation, but he had scolded her, telling her he was now a grown man capable of carrying his own bags. He had been overjoyed with the rumbling of the suitcase, its wheels racing him wherever he went. During the lost years that followed, he had thought he would travel the world—his own imagined world—with his suitcase and on the wings of naivety, grasping every opportunity of which his small village had deprived him. He had rebuked his mother for her tears, seeing his travel as an adventure and guaranteed success.
Today, he did nothing new. He had a light breakfast, swallowed his pills, and decided to comb his grey hair before leaving for his daily exercise, longing for a short reprieve from the excruciating pain of his damaged knees. He switched on the boiler and took a long shower until nothing but steam could be seen in the bathroom. With trembling steps, he went up to the sink, looked at the mirror resting on the shelf, and gently picked it up, staring at the rust that covered its ornaments and metal frame. The rust bore witness to his departure that day, after he’d kissed his mother’s forehead. He had not travelled to a vast, open world. Instead, he had carried his suitcase alone, asleep or awake, and he was still running. He loathed the rust and nearly scratched it off but stopped short. He saw in it a loyalty to a mirror that his mother had given him, and which had been his constant companion. It stood in solidarity with his grey hair and his worn-out body. Staring at the mirror, he wished for a brief visit to a past long gone. He stared and stared until he thought he’d seen an unpleasant memory. His hands trembled and smashed the mirror.
Two days later, he went stealthily into his bedroom, taking advantage of his wife’s absence, and opened his only drawer. He touched the fragments of The Moon’s Face in its white shroud. Its stinging splinters crushed his hope that it had been just another bad dream. He chewed on his lacerated fingers. “Did you mean to drop it? Or was it the shock that did it?” he asked himself. “I smashed it, just as I’ve smashed every meaningful memory… I destroyed all meaning, Mother!” As he scolded himself, his voice broke.
The night before, just before sleep had swallowed them as death swallows the soul, his wife had mocked him when he’d told her he hadn’t seen his face when looking into The Moon’s Face before it broke; he had seen only fog. For the next two mornings, he had continued to look and found nothing but fog. “Do mirrors age? Or does sight become impaired? Does the insight fade?” he had asked his wife. Yawning, she’d told him to go to sleep and get his eyes tested. That night she snored in her sleep, but he spent it lying awake all night, with clouded eyes that poured with rain.
Taha Sewedy is a UK-based Egyptian-born writer and doctor who published two books. His first book is a collection of short stories entitled “Choices” and was published in 2016. His second book is a novel entitled “The Feast” and was published in 2020. His articles appeared on several online platforms, including Ida2at and Alketaba. He also won Alaraby Magazine Award for short stories.
Nema Alaraby is an Arabic-English translator, editor, and writer. She works in the fields of literature, medicine, and media. Further, she published two books of her own, an Arabic collection of prose and short stories, and an English poetry collection. She is currently working on her first full-length novel translation from Arabic.