New Short Fiction by Salah H. Ahmed: ‘Chicken Stew’

By Salah H. Ahmed

Translated by Eiman Abbas El-Nour and Adil Babikir

In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful, and peace and blessings be on the most honourable of messengers, our master Prophet Muhammad.

Our dear son Faysal,

Assalamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatu Allah wa barakatuhu. May this letter reach you and find you in good health, with no complaint of anything. As for us, praise be to Allah, we are fine and in good health—not complaining of anything. The only thing we miss is seeing your precious face. The children are all well. Your aunt Amna is fine. She sends her greetings and is not complaining of anything. Your uncle at-Toum is fine, thank God. He has travelled with his wife Fatima to visit their son-in-law Othman who has fractured his leg and is now wearing a cast. We pray for his speedy recovery. Your grandmother Dar el-Salam is fine. Sometimes she complains of being bloated when she eats mulokhiya for dinner, but this doesn’t happen when she eats it for lunch. The goats are fine and peaceful, and we have a new kid now, only a week-old. The chickens decreased in number, as we ate one last week because your father invited Sheikh al-Raddi for dinner, saying that he is a good man who deserves this generosity. We slaughtered the hen and made it into a stew with a lot of garlic and cardamon. The truth is, we didn’t taste it, because the tray came back with nothing on it except the bones—even the sauce had vanished. Your father swore he took onlytwo bites while Sheikh al-Raddi finished the rest. May it give him stomach pain.

Dar al-Manasir. Copyright: 2005 David Haberlah (david@haberlah.com)

Furthermore:

Your father did not go to work for three days last month because he ran out of blood pressure medication; it gave him a headache, and we could not find his tablets in the clinic in Om Dukail. The medical assistant told us that blood-pressure medicine is not available, even at the main hospital, but he said we could try and see. We took a lorry to the main hospital, but we could not find the tablets that your father uses. And he kept complaining of headaches all the time. I made him karkadeh, the hibiscus drink, which is good for blood pressure. In effect, his blood pressure disappeared, and his headache also disappeared, without any tablets, and he returned to work. I am always telling them that karkadeh is better than these expensive tablets, but your father keeps saying that the doctor ordered him to stay on the tablets. Because of this, your father missed three days of work, which means he lost three days’ pay. Can we afford that?

Furthermore:

Your father is saying he wants to marry a new wife, maintaining that it’s halal for him to marry four women; God bless him that he kept me as his only wife until now. You know the girl he wants to marry? It’s Suad, the daughter of Sheikh al-Raddi. This means the chicken dinner he consumed last year was because of Suad. This girl, Suad, is the same age as Maymouna, your aunt Amna’s daughter. One of them is older than the other by a year or two, but both are young girls. And your father intends to marry her.  You have to come home immediately to reason with your father and tell him this is unbecoming for an old, respectable man. Guide him back to his sanity, which was stolen by Suad, daughter of al-Raddi, may she not receive the blessings of Allah. Neither she nor her father, especially after the chicken stew, which he devoured except for the bones. You must return to the village and tell him, My mother lived with you for 25 years, and when you asked her to cook okra, she would cook okra, and when you asked her to cook tagalliyah, she cooked tagaliyah, and she never begrudged you a thing. Her house is clean and tidy. She did you no wrong. We are waiting for you impatiently. This letter is written by your brother Omaar because it contains family secrets, and we don’t want anyone to see it. Your brother is very good in Arabic and writing letters (and arithmetic and geography and history and religious studies). Your brother Omar is really upset, but he is a young boy and cannot reproach your father. So it’s imperative that you come as soon as you can.

Your mother, Nafisa bit al-Joukh

P.S. from your brother Omar:

My dear brother Faysal

Assalamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatu Allah wa barakatuhu. May this letter reach you and find you in good health, with no complaint of anything. As for us, praise be to Allah, we are fine and in good health—we are not complaining of anything. The only thing we miss is seeing your precious face. I am really furious that our father wants to marry another woman besides our dear mother, and you too should be furious, because she is also your dear mother. I overheard our father talking to his friend, uncle Dirwish, saying that he needs viagra. Uncle Dirwish told him that these tablets are only available in the pharmacies in Khartoum and Madani. I pretended not to understand and asked my father about Viagra, and he said it is for high blood pressure. So if father sent you a letter saying that he needs these tablets to treat his blood pressure, this is not true. These tablets are bought by old men who marry young girls. If you buy it for him, he will go and marry Suad, daughter of Sheikh al-Raddi. But if you tell him it is no longer available, he will not be able to marry Suad, so you must never buy it for him.

Assalam alaikum,

Your brother Omar

*

The story below appeared in Salah Hassan Ahmed’s latest collection of short stories, entitled Store of Dreams, recently published by Dar al-Musawarat Publishing House, Khartoum. 

*

Salah H. Ahmed is a Sudanese-British journalist, writer and translator who lives in London. He studied English and French at Khartoum University and is a serious amateur photographer, painter and musician. His published works include two novels in Arabic: Sinnal Ghazaal (The Gazelle’s Tooth) and Abul Kalaam.

Eiman El-Nour is Associate Professor in English Literature at Neelain University and Ahfad University. She is also Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge. She specialises in teaching African Literature and her main research themes include African women’s writing, Sudanese literature and Sudanese orality.

Adil Babikir is a Sudanese translator and writer, living now in Abu Dhabi, UAE. He is the author of Modern Sudanese Poetry: an Anthology (University of Nebraska Press, 2019).His translation of Tayeb Salih’s Mansi: A Rare Man in his Own Way, (Banipal Books, 2020) won the 2020 Sheikh Hamad Translation Award. 

Leave a Reply