By Ameer Hamad
Translated by Osama Hammad
His father told him that the building committee had held a meeting, and that they’d decided to forbid the children from playing in front of the building. The boy was afraid of his father. If his mother had given him the news, he would have screamed until morning. But now, he acted as if the matter didn’t concern him.
–I’m all grown up now, he said. I don’t like playing in the alley anymore.
He pretended to doze off, and then he crept off to his room. Under the covers, he poured his father’s words into his tears. If his mother had seen this, she would’ve thought he’d gone back to wetting the bed.
He had promised his friends that they’d go on a trip to the nearby forest, to investigate the clothes they’d found on the ground, which they’d thought belonged to a family who had been offed by a roving serial killer. When he was tired of crying, he surrendered to sleep amid his tears, like a small boat pushed along by the winds of his dreams.
In his dream, the serial killer started to chase the children, because they’d discovered his hiding spot. He ran and ran all night until he found a cave and hid inside. There, an angel revealed itself, taking the shape of an image he’d seen in a storybook, when he was younger, back when his mother read him stories about angels.
–What do you want, my friend? the angel asked.
–I want to go back to playing, he said.
The angel plucked a feather from his back and stuck it to the boy’s.
–If you behave, the angel said, then the feather will grow into a wing, and you will be able to fly. And you will have other things, which you will have to discover on your own.
What followed was the calmest week of his life. When he spoke, he sounded like an art-collecting prince. He began his requests with “please” and ended his sentences with “thank you very much” and “have a nice day.” He could feel the feather growing on his back, like the lentil seed that was growing in the dish in his science-class experiment.
His mother thought he was sick, and that he was staying indoors because of his health, since his immune system had always been affected by his mood.
And although it meant more laundry, she wanted to break the ban on children playing in the street.
She talked to her husband; he was proud that it had been his decision to protect the children from the street, and to allow the neighbors a little peace.
–See how my decision turned your naughty son into a child who seems to have been raised in a palace, and who plays the piano, in just a week.
Finally, when the boy woke, his wings were fully grown. When he tried them out, he found he was already used to flying, since he had been practicing every night in his sleep.
He howled the way he had in the amusement park, when the rollercoaster rushed over the metal rails. The noise woke his mother, who rushed to his room and flung open the door. At just that moment, the wings quickly shrank away, and it seemed as if he were jumping on the bed.
–Do you know what time it is?
–No, it’s five in the morning! And it’s a day off, so why are you up so early? Is there something wrong?
–I dreamed I was flying, and then, when I was jumping on the bed, I imagined I really was.
Fear surged inside her; she hugged her son and said that she would take him and his cousins to the amusement park.
Every day, he was the first one home. His mother worked as a teacher in a school far from home, and his father worked until evening at his shop.
The house became his playground, and he would enlarge it as he wished. His wings gave him the power to shrink, and to bring objects to life. It was enough for him to pluck a feather and touch a toy with it for it to start moving and talking to him. He would go on trips into the jungle, taming the dinosaurs he had resurrected from extinction. He would fly above a castle made of Legos, attacking its heavily armed soldiers and freeing the imprisoned princes. He would slip in through the lip of a balloon, blowing in air with his wings, and then he’d look at the house as though through colored lenses. When his mother got home, he would show her the places that needed dusting, where someone of his short stature couldn’t reach.
He spent more and more time in the solitude of his room. And, as both his daytime silence and nighttime rumbling increased, his mother grew worried, and she urged his father to let the children play.
The director of the boy’s school summoned his mother to tell her that he was “scaring” the younger children with his stories about demons, and that he wasn’t interacting with his peers. He was always distracted, and he didn’t pay attention to what the teacher was saying.
–It’s not appropriate for his age, the director said. These are fantasies for kindergartners.
She gave the mother the number for a psychiatrist.
–You had better take him to a sheikh, she whispered.
On their way back, he grew suspicious—there was his mother’s gaze and her strange questions, which seemed like an interrogation. They fought when they got home, and, in the heat of the moment, she threatened to tell his father if he didn’t stop acting up.
He went to his room and called up the chase scene in his dream, and how he’d escaped through the mouth of the cave, where he saw the angel.
The window in his room was open, so he opened his wings and flew. He was attacked by the neighborhood birds; they had never seen a bird so pale before. They drove him down toward the ground, to the field where he used to play with his friends.
When he woke up at the hospital, he heard the doctors telling his mother that he had been permanently injured in the fall and would suffer for the rest of his life. It would be hard in the beginning, but they would have to support him. His mother was gazing down at him, her tears falling. She didn’t know that he was only pretending to be asleep when she noticed a feather-light hair, carving its way in silence.
Ameer Hamad was born in Jerusalem in 1992. He holds a degree in computer science from Birzeit University. In 2019, he was awarded the Al-Qattan prize in two categories for his first two books: Gigi and Ali’s Rabbit, a collection of short stories, and I Searched for Their Keys in the Locks., a collection of poetry.
Osama Hammad (@osama_alsebaey) is an emerging literary translator.