We do not see the hut when the lights first come up, and then we see it. Its inhabitants are not interested in us, perhaps because their problems do not concern us. These women spend their days waiting for a man, and they know that one day he will come. Lights shine upstage from the front of the stage, illuminating a door in the back wall. Neither fully open nor quite shut, it swings gently on its hinges, creaking intermittently, as though the fitful wind outside the hut is knocking to make its presence known within. Then the light sweeps downstage and to the right: we see a flight of stairs rising to the princess’s room, mirrored by a flight on the left leading down to their larder. Centre stage is an old-fashioned, rectangular dining table—or rather, it is simply old: it has no identifiable fashion. Around this table there are four chairs, the back of one slightly higher than the rest. The chairs are not neatly arranged but are scattered about as though hastily vacated. Between them wend the backs of two women dressed in black, cleaning the shabby furnishings and complaining.
Before a river stands a peasant.
Earlier he had the simple objective of traveling to another village. He was a man of plain speech, for him to be “overwhelmed by a river” simply meant drowning, but there he is, standing, stunned, gaping at a river, overwhelmed by some ineffable attribute.
He passed other rivers before, never had he stopped and felt so enthralled by one. “Only booze can make it any better,” he thought, so he camped near the river bank.
That night he drank to excess: he accumulates hubris and greed in his inebriation, and merely observing the river was not enough for him now. So he waded through the river. Then he realizes what he has done when the water slushes his jaw; he has grimed the river, he couldn’t bring but filth to it, he panicked. At first, he thought drowning would be the only resort from the overbearing remorse that awaits him. But that would only defile it more, leaving a decaying bloated corpse for the river to deal with. He floundered helplessly out of the water, and ran as far as he can before trembling and perching in his place.
He slept. And the next morning he couldn’t resist going back to the river, this time making a pact with the gods: “O gods I shall only observe.” But this can only last for a week before he misjudges his capacity to control the urge to drink, and he falls for it again, and he staggers in panic out of the river again. Only this time he tries to cripple himself by jumping off a cliff nearby, and that only added blood to the filth he brought to the river after.
The peasant wondered why the river seemed so inviting, he’s so certain it was only his imagination when he’s sober, looking at all the filth he brought and is still bringing. “Only if the river stopped me,” he consoles himself.
Now the peasant keeps wading through the river begging it to rebuff him.
And verily We had empowered them with that wherewith We have not empowered you, and had assigned them ears and eyes and hearts—Quran, xlvi, 26
My instructions are to deliver the corpse to Nastassja Kinsky. We are to meet at nine tomorrow morning in the lobby of the Cecil Hotel, just off the seashore in downtown Alexandria. The corpse is a lightweight microelectronic bolt that looks like a miniature coffin; Nastassja Kinsky is an agent of the Plant. If I revealed what the Plant is, I would die.
“What do you reckon that is?” Abu Imad said, tapping the scope. He looked at me, rubbing his bushy beard thoughtfully. He wanted me to make the two-meter journey to take a look.
“I’m all right here to be honest,” I said, looking at Abu Imad’s powerful frame. In my experience, God creates two types who stay on for the long haul. Either the rugby player variety or the wiry knife wielding sort, used to taking down bigger opponents. Abu Imad belonged to the former.
“Come,” he insisted, “come.”
I didn’t really feel like giving him my opinion. I didn’t want to entertain the mad shit bouncing around his head. What’s it going to be? Either some mountain goat or a hardy plant that has somehow emerged out of this cruel valley where we’d been stuck for years. What new excitement could this brother show me? We hadn’t progressed against the enemy, not because we were weak but because the commanders were arguing sometimes over strategy, sometimes over tactics, most of the time over honour and on rare occasions about God. In spite of them, we held this crag. We were mountain lions in courage and mountain goats in stubbornness.
“Come,” he pleaded, “check it.”
Nourhan Tewfik reviews Ebola ’76 by Amir Tag Elsir, translated by Charis Bredin and Emily Danby
As Lewis entered, Ebola was all around. It hovered inches from him, anticipating its moment to pounce. The virus had already claimed the bodies of most of the people he encountered there. It coursed through the blood of the old, sunken-cheeked beggar woman as she silently extended her hand towards Lewis to receive his half franc. It had infiltrated the veins of the stern guard, who now leant against his battered old rifle, his gaze flitting between the visitors as they came and went through the main gates. It inhabited the many mourners who passed before Lewis’s distracted gaze. Even as he knelt in tears beside the grave of his lover, who had died just two days previously, the virus was there, lurking in her corpse beneath the soil.
In his short novel Ebola ‘76, a Darf Publishers title translated by Charis Bredin and Emily Danby, the Sudanese writer Amir Tag Elsir moulds a fictionalised account of the 1976 Ebola outbreak in South Sudan and Congo.
(This is the complete version. The sentences which have been shamelessly deleted by the cowardly editors of the Revue d’Etudes palestiniennes in Paris, in its number 6 published in 1983, have been restored here. The missing sentences, visible here in TT (typewriter police) have been published in the footnotes of the text in the posthumous volume called L’Ennemi déclaré, Gallimard, 1991, p. 408. The English translation has been done by Daniel R. Dupecher and Martha Perrigaud.)
“Goyim kill goyim, and they come to hang the Jews.”
Menachem Begin (Knesset, September 1982)
No one, nothing, no narrative technique, can put into words the six months, and especially the first weeks, which the fedayeen spent in the mountains of jerash and Ajloun in Jordan. As for relating the events, establishing the chronology, the successes and failures of the PLO, that has been done by others. The feeling in the air, the color of the sky, of the earth, of the trees, these can be told; but never the faint intoxication, the lightness of footsteps barely touching the earth, the sparkle in the eyes, the openness of relationships not only between the fedayeen but also between them and their leaders. Under the trees, everything, everyone was aquiver, laughing, filled with wonder at this life, so new for all, and in these vibrations there was something strangely immovable, watchful, reserved, protected like someone praying.