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"Death" by Abdulrazzaq Muttalibi, Translation from Arabic by Khaloud Muttalibi
Deviating from the main road, he was pushed by a mysterious force towards the surface of the river. He imagined it to be sparkling teeth or a mythological creature with open arms, or an open cave for him to disappear into. He neither felt his hurried steps nor heard the old slipper banging against the paved road. He was not paying attention to the numerous pits, here and there. The night was dark and the dim street lights provided him with a secretive atmosphere, blending in with its mysterious layers. He imagined himself in a universe that is big enough for only him. He was walking with short fast leaps.
The river’s banks were lower than the ground, and seemed, to his fixed eyes, like a place of comfort and serenity that would take him where he can forget what he had seen and heard over the past few days because everything will end. His hurried steps towards the river and his paleness, which made his face as rectangular as a thin horse’s, drew the attention of a night guard who glanced between him and the river before he carried on walking, using his whistle from time to time. The man continued his walk towards the river. There was no one around at that time besides himself looking at its waves and the dim twinkling light scattered here and there.
I will not stop, he thought to himself. He would not look right or left and would continue until he reaches the edge of the bank, then he will stretch his hands before him and throw himself in the darkness of the water which will quietly enclose him. It will pull the cover of its waves over him and regain its calm.
The glitter of the disturbed waves will quieten and he will be at peace lying on the sands of its affectionate and kind bed and he...
“Ah, who is it?’’
“Ismael Al- Mania? Amazing that you come here to this place through your own free will, knowing I have been waiting a while to kill you and end the nightmare of my life.”
Ismael did not seem to have heard him or heard but did not understand him, avoiding him by going ever so quickly to the edge of the river bank. The second man was astonished and turned quickly as he saw Ismael at the edge of the river, realizing what he was about to do. He saw him stretch his hand out in front of him and bent his body forward, so he shouted “No!”
As he shrieked, Ismael rush to catch him; however, he could not care less about the startled man’s shouts as the man stood looking puzzled, staring at the rippling black water and at the bank below him.
If only the place was not so dark, he would have been able to see with his own eyes as they enlarge in the body of the water beneath him. The man stood for a long time, looking anxious and worried as he imagined Ismael throwing himself into the water, listening to the echoes of his fall and what it would mean to him.
The second man immediately threw himself into the water from the same place and in the same direction. His dive lasted seconds before he reached the bottom where he felt Ismael’s body laying quietly on the sands at the bed of the river.
He took hold of him, trying to pull him up but Ismael’s hand pushed him away. He tried again with both hands to pull him but again he was pushed away. The man could not believe how anybody can lay on the river bed comfortably as if he was sleeping in his own bed. Would you believe that someone could sleep like Ismael, refusing any outstretched hand as if he did not want anybody to interrupt his slumber and solitude. The man did not leave Ismael laying there. He was racing with his breathlessness and rushed to pull him with both hands, holding Ismael’s head and struggling against his resistance. At last the man successfully brought Ismael to the shore where he held his hands, turned him on his back and gave him mouth to mouth resuscitation.
“A man cannot experience death twice and cannot repeat his life. If you die now you will deprive me of the opportunity to live.’’
“What do you want me to do in order for you to kill me?’’
“Cherish your life and go to the howling bitch, live your life with her and plan for your future so I can prevent you from living and… “
Ismael laughed. This angered the man, who shouted with rage ”Are you laughing?’’
“Aren’t you happy to see me laugh? Isn’t laughing an evidence of life, one which might be prolonged?’’
“Do not mock me.”
“I am not mocking you or myself, if I was able to do that I would not have decided to die.’’
“Go back to your home please, ” the man begged Ismael.
Ismael laughed again and said, “Please let me laugh, I advice you to kill me while I am laughing; you will not find me more lively than at a moment of laughter.”
“OK, go back to her.’’
“She is no longer…”
“She is not there for me to go back to, or for her to come to me.”
“Do not make me madder tonight than I already am.”
“Her existence in my house is a delusion you made and believed and then spread amongst the people.”
Ismael sat while the man retreated back, looked at the darkness and said,
“She did not come to me. I did not even meet her once and she does not even know where my house as she has not seen it.
It was a story you made up from your own delusion and people believed you. You kept chasing me, yet I have never seen her face. I do not know the colour of her eyes, the shape of her nose or mouth. I do not know if she is black, white or… you created everything and went on hounding me.”
The man shouted involuntarily, “I created all this?” “Yes,’’ Ismael replied.
When the man became silent, Ismael said to him “Do you know why?’’
The tired man leaned against his hands, stretched into the dry sand and asked why?
“Because I look like you.”
“You look like me?”
“Yes. Have you forgotten how people kept mistaking us for the same person, thinking that you were me and I was you?’’
Both the man and Ismael were silent; both of them avoided looking at each other's face. The pitch black night descended with all its darkness upon them, the river and on everything, hiding their world. The dim lights had vanished. At that moment, while the two terrified men were on their own in the dark night, the river was overflowing, its water rising higher and higher, blending with the dark waves. They did not feel the strange water flowing beneath them, taking them to a distant mysterious place. During these moments, Ismael stood up and got a large blade from beneath his clothes and said “You are right, my look alike, one of us must die and I have decided that I want to live!”
In the morning, people hurried towards the river bank shouting in horror at seeing Ishmael’s body lying on the beach in the middle of a big pool of blood, slaughtered by the big knife that was found nearby. They knew that it was Ismael’s knife.
The man was astonished at himself for being upset at the thought of Ismael committing suicide, the same Ismael who he felt was the nightmare of his life all these past months and could not get him out of his mind. Wasn’t it he who lured his wife to his home like a hungry fish? The people heard her swear and curse him, then go to the mayor’s house, asking for a divorce. Soon after the separation, she married Ismael in front of everyone. Some told the man to leave her as she did not deserve him. His family told him “You are lucky, you did not stay with an adulterous wife,” and he thought to himself, “I will kill Ismael.”
Since then, a silent chase began. If one of them was seen in a place then the other one would disappear as if the air had secret doors that he would go through. He circled Ismael’s house five times, twice during the day and three times at night but did not find him. Instead he saw her, and spat at her then left her. Like the previous nights he felt the despair of not finding Ismael and felt the pain of disappointment. He swore that he would not return to his home, neither at night nor day, until he caught Ismael and now he just had. How could he let him get away by dying in the river?
If he dies this way, he would feel like a failure forever, and people would look down on him. He wanted to laugh at him and make a joke of him to show people how he was finished with all his haughtiness and ridicule.
After a while, Ismael opened his eyes and saw the man who inhabited his soul and mind; he felt like a pursued old man, but did not care. He put his head back on the sand, shut his eyes and went back to sleep.
The night tightened on the man, something was raging and almost exploding in his chest. He held Ismael by the shoulders and started to shake him forcefully to wake him up but Ismael said, carelessly and faintly,
“Leave me alone.”
“How can I, after the days and nights I had to climb walls and walk roads to get you.”
“Please leave me.”
“How can I let you kill me and not be able to kill you. “
“Please let me sleep!”
“Do you want to sleep Ismael? What a remote idea. Do you really want to sleep? That is amazing. I do not want to finish with you and go to sleep until I wake up and see that there is no longer a shadow in my place or a cloud hanging over me.”
“Ah,’’ said Ismael closing his eyes. The man shouted at him, “I will kill you tonight to begin my life tomorrow.’’
Ismael did not answer him, he shut his eyes and went back to sleep as if he was numb or unconscious so the man continued shaking him and shouting ‘‘Pay attention, wake up, do not die, you have no right to die unless I kill you myself. You have killed me so let me kill you since you have decided to die, let me kill you. Give me the opportunity to kill you in order to kill the rage of my soul.”
Ismael opened his eyes and peered at him, and with a faint smile said, “Here I am, what are you waiting for? Kill me.’’
“Regain your life so I can kill you.’’
“But how can I kill a dead or a nearly dead man.’’
“Ok I will sit with vigour.’’
“But you wanted to die. You are urging me to kill you now, so achieve your goal through me.”
“What is the difference?” Ismael said.
Abdulrazzaq Al-Muttalibi is a novelist, children’s writer and critic, born in Missan, Iraq (1943). His works include The Thirsty (novel) (1967), A Hole in the Rusty Wall (novel) (1968), The Thirsty (film) (1972), The Trees and the Wind (novel) (1997), The Tree of the Distances (a collection of stories) (1979), Night Creatures (a collection of stories) (1983), The Possessed (novel) (1986), The Sword and the Flower (a collection of stories) (1988), It Always Happens at Night (a collection of stories), Steps in a Mirror (a collection of stories) (2004), and The Right of Children to Recreation and their Right to Education (2007).
Al-Muttalibi's children’s books include Alf, Baa, Taa (a series of fourteen kids tales), The Bird’s Revolution (children’s fiction) (1971), The Nightingale with the Blue Feather (1971), The Tears of the Blue Flower, Zaid, the Friend of the Butterflies, My House, the Most Beautiful, The Merry Needle, The Wooden Apple, The Amazing Tale of the Boy Maher, Tales from the Small Forest, The Friend’s Wood, My Friend the Star, The Fox and the Rooster, Who Won the Prize?, The Fox and the Carrot, Count and Colour (a series of ten books), Learn and Colour (a series of twenty nine books), The Tales of the Boy Hammad and Princess Moon, the Daughter of the Ruler of the Country (a series of ten books), The Adventures of the Boy Hassan and Skilled Rider Juman (a series of twelve books), The Tales of the Smurfs, United Arab Emirates(a series of nineteen books), The Cleverest of Islam (a series of five books), The Cleverest of the Heritage (a series of eight books), Arab Geniuses (a series of eight books), I Draw and Colour my Work (a series of eight Books).
Al-Mutallibi resides in Baghdad, Iraq.
Khaloud Al-Muttalibi is a poet and translator. She resides in the United Kingdom.
Much of her work has been translated into Romanian, Punjabi, Spanish, English and Arabic. Her poetry has been published in a vast array of worldwide literary magazines and journals, both in print and online. She has appeared in several books and anthologies.
Her published works include Psalms under a London Sky (a collection of poetry) (2010), Under an Icy Sky
(a collection of poetry )(2010), A Portrait of Uruk (an anthology of poems and stories) (2011) and The Contemporary Iraqi Poetry Movement (an anthologyof poems) (2011).
She has translated Arabic poems into English, for poets from various Arab countries such as Algeria, Morocco,
Palestine and Syria. Khaloud has participated in The Anthology of Contemporary Arabic Poetry as a poet and as a
translator, published by the Artgate Association in Romania. Khaloud has translated a series of classic English poems
and commentaries by Professor IanLancashire (University of Toronto), Canada. In May 2012 she translated and edited, a special issue of Contemporary Iraqi poetry for Ygdrasil literary journal.