Lit & Found: Omar Khalifah’s ‘As If I Were Me’

The latest issue of the Shuddhashar FreeVoice magazine — established in 1990 at the advent of the little magazine movement in Bangladesh — is focused on the art of the short story, and includes stories translated from Bangla, Urdu, Gujarati, French, Korean, Marathi, and Arabic, as well as overviews of the state of the short story in Greek and Arabic.

In this issue, Shuddhashar’s thirty-second, Omar Khalifah’s “As If I Were Me” is translated by Addie Leak. The story opens:

I was standing on the sidewalk when a car started slowing down in front of me. I saw the driver look at me quizzically, and as he kept staring, it was obvious he was going to speak to me. I recognized him right off and realized he was trying to place me, to remember me, but I didn’t want to be the one who started the conversation. The street wasn’t busy, which meant the driver could slow down as much as he wanted. When he reached the point of having to either move on or speak, he stuck his head out of the car window and asked me about the nearby mosque he was looking for. I answered, knowing he was going to ask another question. Or did I really know that? I have no idea. It might just have been wishful thinking. I tried to predict the question. A few options came to mind:

“You’re X?”

“Aren’t you X?”

“Do you know X?”

“You look like X!”

Before I finished predicting, his question spilled out:

“Aren’t you X’s brother?”

I hesitated for a moment. The weird thing was he remembered our family name, too. I wanted to know if he really thought it was me, or if he thought I was my brother. I was afraid he’d start investigating the twenty-year gap in which he hadn’t seen me, and I really wasn’t in the mood. Still, I didn’t answer with a lie. Honestly, it was nice proof that this place and its people were still capable of noticing me. I looked him in the eyes again, then answered:

“I’m X.” (Really? I was wondering myself.)

Read the complete story at Shuddhashar magazine.

There’s also an interview with translator Addie Leak if you scroll all the way to the bottom, in which she says, among other things, that one of her favorite reads in the past couple years was the Syrian author Shahla Ujayli’s A Bed for the King’s Daughter (2021, University of Texas Press), translated by Sawad Hussain.