By Alhassan Bakri
Translated by Nassir al-Sayeid al-Nour
We were all naughty and talkative as kids, except Idris: he was extremely quiet. He mastered an incredible range of abilities, including fishing, crafting bird traps, peeling acacia tree bark for swings, and blacksmithing trucks and trains out of empty powdered-milk tins. He could climb trees with the agility of a monkey and run as fast as a bull calf. He could milk stray goats and turn that into instant yogurt by adding solanum. He contrived catapults for shooting sparrows and tamed wild donkeys. He had tons of other skills, too. He tried to teach us, but we were lazy and helpless. We were content to be admirers of his tricks.
As adults, we lost our sociable natures, and we grew unused to chatting and meeting up. Idris, on the other hand, began writing poems, delivering speeches, and entering political debates. He played the lute, organized excursions, raised funds, and led demonstrations and strikes. He had developed a seemingly limitless supply of capabilities and talents. He tried to entice us into his new world, but all we could do was stare at him in wonder.
Later, when we went to university, we performed admirably enough in our studies, as did Idris; but he voted for the Communist Party, while we selected the Islamists. He spent most of his time at the library, and, when he wasn’t there, he engaged in other cultural and political activities. We divided our time between the library, the mosque, and football games. Despite his endless attempts to instruct us, we spent our university years firmly rooted in a simple, rural life.
During our many long hours at university, we saw lovers employ the same tactics Idris used in flirtation and romance. They must have learned these strategies from friends, just like the son of the far west of the country. But we were all typical rural boys: shy and scared.
Idris once said, “All women are lovely.”
We disagreed with him. “Really?”
He advised us not to raise our voices in the company of women.
“By Allah?” we questioned.
“Only whisper to them,” he said.
We used to yell at them as if we were a pack of bulls.
He went on to say, “Smile into their faces.”
We asked him if we should go all the way.
“Yes,” he said. “All the way.”
We were so shy that we grimaced instead of smiling. Idris always mocked us, saying that we were useless. “Utterly useless.”
Alhassan Bakri is an acclaimed Sudanese novelist, short-story writer, literary critic, essayist, and translator born 1954 in Wadsulfab, Central Sudan. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from the University of Khartoum in 1979 and did an MSc. in English language studies, analysis, learning, and teaching skills at Aston University, Birmingham, UK. His novel Ahwal Almuharib Algadeem the Ancient Warrior, was awarded the prestigious Tayeb Saleh Prize for Best Novel of the Year in 2013, and he has published many other successful novels being warmly praised and welcomed by critics domestically and regionally. His literary contributions range from novels to political essays to public dialogue inside and outside Sudan. He has taught English language and translation at several institutes and universities in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, where he currently lives.
Nassir A-Sayeid Al-Nour is a critic, author, and translator.