My Enchanting Sereeb

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Shopkeeper from Misrata

 An extract from my story: The Shopkeeper from Misrata 
Grandpa Miftah occupied a room in the outer men’s quarter of the huge derelict house. The house was divided into two quarters, the outer one known as the men’s quarter and the inner one known as the women’s quarter. Men and women did not mix in that household. Grandpa Miftah’s room was small and dark, as it had no windows. The dim daylight was provided by the small front door. Its walls were painted white and a huge antique clock hung on one of the walls. Grandpa Miftah depended on that clock to tell him the time. The timber beams of the ceiling were decaying from leaking rainwater. They also hosted a nest of swallows, which Grandpa Miftah refused to be taken down. His white iron bed, which Hajj Salim sourced from the Grand Hospital in Benghazi, was set against the front wall that faced the small door. A tiny hard-grained and chipped table nestled between the bed and a leather armchair. The table hosted his radio and a spittoon, which Laila emptied every morning. The room opened into a semi-dark vestibule that led to the old market.
Grandpa Miftah never left his room or his bed or even sat in the leather armchair, which was permanently occupied by Sidi Hamad, a dear friend, companion, and neighbour.  He left his room only on Fridays. Laila would bathe him in the small bright bathroom in the men’s quarter and after the bath she would put a small charcoal brazier burning with frankincense under a chair where his Libyan costume was carefully folded. When the bath was over, she would sprinkle him with rose water, adjust his dark glasses, hand him his mahogany stick, and lead him by the hand to the outer vestibule where Uncle Hassan would be waiting to take him to the mosque for the Friday prayer.
Outside in the market, Uncle Hassan would lead Grandpa Miftah trying to avoid the heaps of rotten vegetables, broken boxes and the animal droppings that littered the street. Unlike his sullen son, Grandpa Miftah always wore a cheerful countenance and greeted the shopkeepers with a smile and a gentle ‘Marhibtain my brother’. He particularly showed great affinity towards Musbah, a shopkeeper from Misrata. Grandpa Miftah, a Misrati himself, felt the need to show his support for Musbah, who was harassed and bullied by the other shopkeepers. The main cause of the bullying was the fact that Musbah was from Misrata, whose inhabitants  were renowned for their selling andm buying skills. He was viewed by the shopkeepers, who called themselves the Berqawis, as a stingy fat leech from Misrata, who didn’t belong to this part of the land. The other cause was the fact that Musbah’s business was thriving. Grandpa Miftah tried his best to console the injured Musbah and calm down the belligerent shopkeepers. He was immensely liked and highly respected by all the shopkeepers. They listened to him and admired his knowledge and wisdom. They also feared his reproach and power, despite his blindness........................... to be continued 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Qamra: A Short Story

Here is an extract from a short story I wrote: Qamra

--------------------“So you named him Yusuf because he was as handsome as the Prophet Yusuf. But what about me? Why did you call me Qamra?”
“Because you had a fat face that resembled a freshly baked nan bread that was mistaken for a full moon,” teased Yusuf.
Qamra grabbed a ringlet of his blonde hair and pulled it hard and Yusuf let out a soft ‘aw’. Their mother interrupted their childish scuffle.
“Because you had a radiant face that looked like a full moon.”
Yusuf sniggered and Qamra slapped him gently on the head.

“You were born on the fifth night of the month of Ramadan. It was winter and in that night we had a raging storm. Trees were uprooted and flew in the sky like leaves. Houses crumpled into the ground like mounds of sand. Sheets of corrugated iron flew in the sky like kites. A man’s head was chopped off by one of them that night. Your dad was away on a business trip and I was alone with your grandma Salma. We had no electricity then. Kerosene lamps provided a dim sallow light. Your grandma knocked at the neighbours’ door and Hajj Abdallah Elbahi sent his son Adam to summon the midwife,” Hannia narrated.

“Adam!” gasped Qamra.
“Yea, Adam. He was about nine years old. His mother Hamida came in later on and brought with her a freshly baked Nan bread and a pot of hot tomato soup with fenugreek seeds.”
“Hasa! Yummy,” said Yusuf.

“The midwife came in just on time. And when she pulled you out, cries of ‘Mashallah’ filled the room. In that dimly lit room your face shown like a full moon. You didn’t cry or whimper; you were calm and serene like a moonlit night. Hamida, Adam’s mother, suggested to name you Qamra and we all agreed that the name suited you perfectly.”
“Eh! So Adam’s mother named her Qamra and fed her Hasa!” mocked Yusuf.
“She did not feed me Hasa. Babies don’t eat such food.”
“Well, she fed your mother and you must’ve got it in the milk. And I’m sure she fed it to her son Adam as well because every time he sees me he asks me if we are having Hasa for supper or not! I tell you, the guy would marry a pot of Hasa if he could.”

Qamra blushed at the mention of Adam’s name and the over familiarity with which her brother talked about him. She knew he was fond of Hasa and her and that he wouldn’t marry anyone else but her. That was what he told her the night before, whispering into her ear in the dark in the granary.

The Elbahi family and the Salheen family were neighbours. They lived in Bazzar Street in Benghazi for more than forty years, way before Qamra’s mother, Hannia, and father, Hameed Salheen, were married. They were more of one family than neighbours. Children moved freely between the two houses, playing games and eating in both houses as they pleased. Men met everyday in the Souk and gathered in the night in one of the houses’ setting rooms, playing cards and drinking copious amount of bitter black tea. The women didn’t meet as often, as they were forbidden from leaving their houses during daytime. They visited only during the night, when the streets were deserted from the passersby or during funerals. During funerals women left their houses hastily, sometimes unveiled and often barefooted.

And it was during a funeral that Adam got a chance to see Qamra as a blossoming seventeen year old girl. He had not seen her since the day she turned twelve and was taken out of school, shrouded in a big shapeless garment, and forbidden from leaving the house. At the age of twelve everyone thought of her as a woman and no strange man would lay eyes on her. The family counsel -her father, her uncles and her paternal grandmother- decided that she should not be either seen or heard and that she would’t be leaving the house until the day she got married.

“Women in our household leave the house only twice: the first, from their homes to their grooms’ houses. The second, from their husbands’ homes to their graves,” her grandmother sealed off the meeting.

On the day Hajj Abdallah Elbahi, Adam’s father, died, Qamra and her mother left their house unveiled and barefooted, screaming like two frightened pigs about to be slaughtered in the Italian abattoir in Tree Square in Benghazi. Hajj Abdallah Elbahi, a respectful and rich man, was killed in an accident. He had fallen off his horse and broken his neck. Death was instantaneous. At once the house was full of people gathered from all over Benghazi. Hoards of children gathered from other streets as far away as Hasheesh Street. Horse and mule driven carts deposited tens of frantic women. They too were unveiled and barefooted. The minute the cart entered Bazzar Street, they would trundle from the cart and run towards the house of the deceased, flaying their faces and tearing off their clothes.

When Qamra and her mother Hannia darted through the door of the Elbahi family, they found Hamida, Adam’s mother, methodically flaying her cheeks from top to bottom. She and her five daughters were covered from head to toe in ash, their clothes were reduced into mere shreds and were stained with blood that oozed and dropped from their cheeks. They moved in a circle hitting a huge wooden table, which settled in the middle, with sticks and their bare hands.  Their jeremiad shook the house and penetrated the thick walls. A hired female weeper took the lead:
“Girls, a calamity had befallen upon you. The Lord of the house is dead. Your protector, provider and saviour has gone. Weep girls weep and lament your jinxed luck.”

A cacophony of shrieks followed each jeremiad and Qamra and her mother joined in, delicately flaying their cheeks. They had to show support but at the same time didn’t want to leave everlasting scars on their faces.
 ------------------------------------------------------------------- to be continued 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Featured :)

Two of my stories were featured recently by Diana Elvira, an Italian  academic. You can go here, then click on Elvira Diana - Libyan Narrative in the New Millennium: Features of Literature on Change. You will find the stuff about me on the following pages: 9, 26, 37, 38, 39. Maybe there are more mentions. 

Oh yea, and she mentioned the fact that I am an environmentalist :)

And no, I do not live in the UK; I'm a hippie Sawa7a, minus the hallucinogenic drugs, ha ha.

Monday, May 27, 2013

A published story

Here is a story I published on 2007. I found that they finally put the whole issue online. The story is called A handsome Encounter and it is on page 31 or 32. Click here to read it. 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

here and there

Literary updates will be posted here and everyday life stories will be posted on my other webpage. An updated  link was posted few days ago. I hope you can follow both :)

Monday, May 02, 2011

Shall I stretch a hand or bother not!

An extract from my collection of short stories: The Scent of Cloves.

The scent of the fragrant cloves exuded in all directions
Shall I stretch a hand or bother not!

I had no idea what that meant but I had heard the men in the Souq sing it many times during their games of Siza, winking at each other and laughing loudly. I even heard auntie Salmeen hum it during the couscous-making days.

I sang louder, unable to stop myself.

“You are going to get a good Libyan beating,” my mother shouted from the kitchen. “That filth you picked up!” She came out of the kitchen shaking a large wooden ladder in her hand. “Shame on you,” she said waving the ladder in her hand. I picked up my sandals and fled the house.

I sat on the doorsteps of our house, trying to put on my sandals. Opposite our house was the Jahmas’ house, empty and derelict. The house had remained empty since the day the Jahma family moved to Benghazi many years ago. To the right of the Jahmas’ house stood Hajj Faytouri’s with its shiny front door. To the left, there was the house of Burnia family – the young widow Fathia’s family. This house was smaller than the other houses but looked more presentable with its newly painted white walls and shiny blue door and windows. The front door was open and a crowd of shabby-looking kids were peeping through and giggling. A cacophony of sounds seeped though. A mixture of female chattering, the feeble singing of an old lady, occasional and feverish outbursts of drum-playing, and a muffled ululation, now and then.

The scent of the fragrant cloves exuded in all directions

I hummed the words tenderly, then loudly, testing the forbidden words. “But why are they forbidden! Where is the filth!” I tried to understand. I liked the scent of cloves very much, especially the ones my mother used mixed with sandalwood, musk, and attar of roses and put on her hair, hours before my father’s arrival from his weekly business trips to Benghazi. Could it be the stretching of the hand! I stretched my both hands and hummed the words again.

Shall I stretch a hand or bother not!

My mother’s hand grabbed my arm from behind the partly open door and pulled me inside the house.

“Take this to Hajja Gernas and tell her my mother sends her greetings and this parcel for Fathia. Tell the Hajja my mum can’t attend the wedding because my father isn’t here and she can’t leave the house without his permission.”

My mother never left our house without permission from my father, or during daytime. All her visits took place at night. She handed me a big yellow parcel. “And don’t lurk there like the offspring of the riffraff or I’ll send your brother Abdullah after you to mince you up!” She opened the door slightly and pushed me out. “Hurry up, I have thousands of things to tend to,” she whispered through the door and closed it quickly.

I hugged the large bundle my mother had wrapped up in a red headscarf and crossed the street towards the house of Burnia family. I passed the group of children, still peering through the door, and entered the house. The vestibule was dark. I staggered a little, blinded by the strong daylight in the street and the sudden darkness of the vestibule. I opened my eyes and proceeded towards the courtyard; the strong light in the open yard hurt my eyes again and I closed them.

“What do you want?” a voice startled me. I opened my eyes and there was Little Mas’oud, wearing a new white suit and holding a yellow rubber duck in his hand.

“Where is Aunt Gernas?” I stared at the duck.

“She is in there,” he pointed at a pale blue door with one hand and squeezed the duck with the other.

“I’m having a new dad and tons of toys. We are moving to Benghazi,” Little Mas’oud pulled out his tiny tongue and squinted his eyes.  Then he fled into the other part of the courtyard and disappeared into one of the rooms. I walked towards the pale blue door, pushed it gently and stepped in. It was dark again.

“Who is it?” a feeble voice asked. “Isawda? Is that you Mas’oud?”
Aunt Gernas, Fathia’s mother, was sitting in the corner of the dark room surrounded by many bright-coloured cushions. She was wearing a grey Libyan Reda - a piece of garment wrapped up around the body and tied up with a long red string called Shemla- and a multi-coloured chiffon shirt underneath. She had a yellow and green scarf tied around her head and tufts of bright orange, henna-dyed hair stuck out from both sides. She wore three huge silver ring earrings on each ear. Her face was covered in tattoos. A thick zigzag line travelled from beneath her chin and disappeared inside her bottom lip. Three medium-sized dots decorated both temples. A hocked-cross that resembled the swastika nestled between her eyebrows. Her hands were busy knitting something, while her eyes were closed. She was blind.

“It is me, Fatima, the daughter of the Ferjani family. My mother sends her greetings and this for Fathia.”

“Ah! Fatima! Come darling.”

She put the knitting needles aside and I landed the bundle on her lap.

“She shouldn’t have troubled herself,” Aunt Gernas stretched her hand and touched my face. Her hand was decorated with henna and the smell of henna nauseated me. Her hand travelled to my head and stroked my hair. Then, her other hand caught one of my hands and lifted it to her lips and kissed it tenderly.

“May Allah protect you from the evil eye. May your mother see you a bride. Take the parcel to Fathia. She is in the eastern room with the other women.” 

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Yes We Can

Today the world rejoices the death of an evil man and his twisted ideology, Osama Ben Laden. This man and his evil ideology brought so much suffering and pain to everyone. Today the sun will shine on a world free from one evil man.