Translated by Phoebe Bay Carter.
Chapter 14: Brave New World
Days passed, followed by nights. Weeks turned into months until nearly three months had gone by since that summer day when Jawad was struck by the curse. It is afternoon now. The father is at the mosque. The mother has taken the bread dough to the neighborhood oven. The sister is cleaning the living room. Kneeling on the floor, her house dress tucked up around her thighs, she scrubs vigorously as she sings a soft French song in her gentle voice. Jawad has been sleeping through all this.
Once upon a time there was, or there wasn’t, a kindhearted young man named Jawad who was struck by a curse that turned him into a creature whose presence no one could bear. He spent three months locked in his room, waking only for a few hours in the morning before surrendering to sleep once more for the rest of the day and all of the night, or so he believed.
That afternoon, all the hair on his body stood on end, sensing a disturbance in the air’s electricity. His sister’s song made its way into his ears just as his nose picked up an unfamiliar masculine scent pervading the air. Jawad’s eyes flew open and, acting on pure instinct, he jumped out of bed, burst through the door, and crashed straight into the French tourist, the one who was renting the spare room, just as he was about to straddle Hind’s back.
Hind screamed and so did the Frenchman, Emanuel, frightened by the monkey who had burst in on him.
The front door was flung open and in came the father, who had heard the scream from the stairwell, followed by his wife. He saw his daughter kneeling in one corner, and the young Frenchman in the other, screaming hysterically and pointing at Jawad, who was crouched on all fours as though about to pounce.
The father saw red. He demanded to know what was going on. The Frenchman kept pointing at Jawad and blathered a few words, from which the father understood that the monster had left his room and attacked the poor Frenchman, who had been carrying a bucket of water to help his honorable daughter with the cleaning. Jawad snarled but couldn’t form a single word. The father turned first to the mother and let a few words of blame escape through his teeth for leaving their daughter alone in the house with a strange man. Then he turned to Hind to ask her. She remained silent for a moment as she looked back and forth from the Frenchman to her brother, then confirmed the Frenchman’s story.
The Frenchman couldn’t understand Hind’s words, but understood from her gestures that she had corroborated his tale.
Jawad snarled again and looked like he was about to pounce on the Frenchman, but the father began beating him with the broomstick and pushing him back into his room, while trying to explain the inexplicable to the Frenchman and apologizing for the disturbance.
Little Amal giggled when Jawad passed by her. His heart broke when he realized he hadn’t played with her, or even gone near her, for three months. He reached his hand toward her on his way to his room, and his fingertips brushed her delicate hand. He froze for a moment before withdrawing his hand quickly, but it was too late. Dark images flowed from the child’s fingertips into his consciousness like arrows in the army’s burlap practice targets. His wife was showering and his father praying the afternoon prayer. His mother and sister had gone to the market. The wife stepped out of the shower wrapped only in a towel, forgetting or pretending to forget that she was not alone. The towel caught on the corner of the TV stand and slipped open. The father stood and folded up his prayer rug. His eyes were fixed on the houri that had descended to him from heaven. She hesitated for a moment, gasped, and ran out. His eyes followed the curve of her buttocks as she hurried out and his saliva caught in his throat. He coughed until he nearly choked. Then he rose, puffed up his chest, and strode towards her room. At first there was silent protest, then playful reluctance, then yielding acquiescence, and nine months later, there was Amal.
Jawad turned to his father, and his father could see in his son’s eyes what he had seen. His shoulders slumped and his back drooped and he turned his gaze to the ground. Jawad returned to his room and the foreigner to his, and the family sunk into a silence, which the mother broke with a fit of sobs followed by a prayer that Allah take her son’s soul and relieve him and his family from their suffering. Hind followed her mother’s prayer with an Amen. The father raised his eyes to look at them but remained in silent thought.
Jawad heard everything, and this time let the tears flow from his eyes. He remembered that Saturday morning before the Monday of his metamorphosis, when he had gone to the medical testing lab to pick up the results that confirmed his suspicions. He was infertile and had no possibility whatsoever of fathering a child. He froze when he saw the results. He couldn’t believe it. He slept peacefully that night, but the news awoke with him on Sunday morning and kept running through his veins like poison until he flung the results into the sewer by Malabatta Beach.
Jawad closed his eyes, never to open them again.
The mother and her daughter would awaken at dawn to the sound of the father reciting Surat Yasin in a trembling voice. The mother emerged from her room hand over her heart, and the daughter emerged from hers and went straight to look in on the monster, but no one was there. They waited anxiously until the father finished his recitation and told them, before they had time to ask, that Jawad had passed away. He had already gotten rid of the monster’s putrid, deformed corpse. The mother sat and sobbed silently and a smile passed fleetingly over the sister’s face before she had time to hide it.
Chapter 15: The Days (3)
Tuesday, November 29th: Is he really dead? Could it be that his heart stopped from grief? Or, I wonder, did he kill himself on purpose? I wouldn’t be surprised if our dear father dealt the final blow, after the scandal he caused with our French guest, and finished him off. But does it really matter? No. No. It doesn’t matter.
Friday, December 2nd: Today I got my passport back with my Schengen visa inside. Emanuel set up a scholarship for me through one of his friends, at a yearlong artists’ residency for Arab women writers so I can write my first novel. But I’m not planning to come back. I’m going to put a final dot at the end of these lines, pick up my suitcase, and go far away from this miserable place. My darling Emanuel is waiting for me at the port. Goodbye, Mama. Goodbye, Tangier.
* * *
Tangier, October 2018
Notes from the translator:
And there you have it, dear readers. The end of Jawad’s story which is, in a way, the beginning of Hind’s (or was this Hind’s story all along?). What do make of the ending? How did you expect or hope it might end? And what questions remain with you?
Though this is the last installment in our serialized novel-in-translation, this is not quite the end of the project. As promised, I will now be revising this initial draft in order to deliver to you all a complete and edited e-book of Kafka in Tangier, taking into account the many thoughtful comments and suggestions I have received from you.
My aim is to send out the e-book in late May. I will be taking a break from Kafka for the coming month in order to prepare for my oral examinations in Comparative Literature, which take place in early May and for which I have spent the past year reading approximately 80 books (several of which feature metamorphoses of one form or another and one of which was composed in Tangier). Please wish me luck! Once that is behind me, I will return to the world of Hjiouij’s Tangier with fresh (and hopefully not too tired) eyes. I hope this break will give a chance to readers to catch up on any missed chapters, reflect on the novel now that you’ve reached the end, and send any further thoughts and suggestions before I begin revisions.
The interactions I’ve had with all of you, whether through comments, emails, texts, or conversations, have provided insight, motivation, and inspiration for what can often be a lonely process. I send you all a profound thank you for being a part of this experiment. And my utmost gratitude to Mohammed for entrusting me with his novel and for coming up with the idea of publishing a serialized translation –this project has realized my dream, in quite an unexpected way, of being able to translate in the company of friends and readers willing to puzzle through the problems of translation together.
Phoebe Bay Carter
Somerville, MA, March 22, 2022
Thank you Phoebe and Mohammed for offering the reader the opportunity to join you on this translation journey. I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Best of luck for your exams! @Phoebe