KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - The following short story "Abdel Qayyoum’s Retaliatory Campaign" is written by the Sudanese outstanding writer Bushra Alfadil and translated by Adil Babikir. Alfadil had won the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing in 2017:
Halt! Jets of the red fluid are gushing out of all entrances and exits – as well as from the dented abdomen. Have you ever squeezed a piece of tomato onto the eyes of your neighbor in a public restaurant? This was how the body of Abdel Qayyoum looked after an ill-omened moment had caught him on the road – on foot, although he had been a constant rider throughout his life. While everyone else, as they say, screams three times during the course of his whole life, Abdel Qayyoum’s screams were countless: at demonstrations, at fights, and one last time when a dark-colored truck hit him the evening he died.
As a child, every morning his mother would send him to the souk on errands and he would come back loaded with oil, sugar and dreams of travelling to destinations far away. The sound of cars was music to his ears.
Trnn rnn trnnn trnn.. rnn..
He would approach his favourite car and sing her praises more erotically than the Arabian poet Omar Ibn abi Rabieea had done in his romantic poems in praise of his beloved women.
Abdel Qayyoum was not particularly interested in wheat, like the sons of Hajj Eltoum, or in beans cultivation, like the sons of Zakiyah. Nor had he a passion for swimming like Khalifa, son of Hasabllah. He was rather captivated by the fancy world of trucks.
One day, a truck, loaded and ready to take off, invited him and he couldn’t resist the temptation. He approached the driver and a deal was struck; the driver would allow Abdel Qayyoum to travel with him free of charge. The only thing Abdel Qayyoum would need to do in return was to place metal sheets under the truck’s tyres whenever they got stuck in a sea of sand.
“How can you elect to work in this iron business, son? Can’t you see it’s unsafe? May Allah give you guidance.”
“If you want what’s best for me, father, just give me your consent and pray for me. Look how many are working in this business. Nothing has happened to them.”
He was determined, and nothing could have deterred him; that was not unusual at a time of fading patriarchal authority. His father’s farewell words sounded as if they were coming out of a deep well. His mother bid him farewell with a plateful of food for the road and a plateful of tears. And they both returned to a house that not many mice would care to call home. For months, Abdel Qayyoum kept going and coming, like a bull hooked to a waterwheel, except that he would make the round in three days rather than three minutes. Yet the tears, the prayers and the plates of food never stopped.
During one of his visits, he informed his parents that he had learned enough to get a permanent job. This time, he announced, would be the last of the weekly shuttle trips. Work opportunities were abundant in Khartoum and he was determined to take advantage of that. No response except tears and prayers from heavy hearts.
A month later, Abdel Qayyoum sent three pounds to his family. Two months later, he sent two and a half pounds. Thus the amount kept diminishing the more he adapted to his new life in the city. Yet, the devout prayers of his parents never waned.
Then came that day when the truck hit him. Passersby gathered around his body. The perplexed driver who took refuge inside the truck cabinet looked, behind the windshield, like a mannequin on display at a store window. People yelled and spat at him. He was trembling, venting out the exasperation of the crowd through his chattering teeth.
Yusif Siddig said, “Abdel Qayyoum’s wife came down howling, woe on me! O, my partner! Who will take care of Nayla and Saad after you? O, my eye vision, my life pillar! Woe is me!”
Bakheet said, “Police came and covered the body. After taking measurements at the scene, they ordered the truck driver to follow them to the police station.”
“People are saying he will not be charged,” Bakheet said. “He will soon be acquitted.”
Funeral rituals in this city were performed as dispassionately as any routine job, and Abdel Qayyoum’s burial was no exception. As a young boy, he was expert at designing models of small boats which he offered free of charge to his close friends and for five piasters to the rest of the village boys. He would spend the entire day making them. While others spent their leisure time swimming from bank to bank or reading, Abdel Qayyoum’s enduring fascination was with one particular metal: iron.
At the khalwa, the sheikh of the Quranic preschool would charge him with fetching water for the donkeys, climbing the palm trees to bring him ripe dates, or saddling the donkeys for guests. So, while the khalwa experience was perfectly pleasant for the sons of Hasaballah and the others, it was awfully painful for Abdel Qayyoum who alone had to endure its ordeals. Abdel Qayyoum was a victim, just like the dog of the Companions of the Cave, which had been made to fall into an unusually long sleep that carried no particular benefit for it. His period at the khalwa ended with a scream from a blazing whip. And Abdel Qayyoum’s screams were beyond count.
He lent a hand to his father working as a farm labourer on land that was not theirs. In other instances, he tainted the exterior walls of houses with dung and instead of being punished, he was rewarded, although the payment was always too tiny to bundle in the tip of his jallabiyah.
When boys his age were lured by girls with beautiful eyes, his sole source of captivation was the eyes of one particular car:
“The Bedford, man! Allah Kareem.. Allah kareem!” he would intone with clumsy rhythm and in the tone of one who had long submitted to destitution.
While in the city, his mother once sent him a parcel of dates. He was as relieved as a passerby who had been unexpectedly pardoned by a ravenous dog. He opened it and smelled the content. And when he rubbed it with his palm, he burst into tears. His nostalgia drove him back home where he got married to Sakina, a woman who was the direct opposite of the meaning of her name, which stood for serenity. While still in her wedding dress, she started to play havoc with his life. Her ambitions were unquenchable and she was belligerent, but she nevertheless loved him, albeit in a very strange and outlandish way.
She was a captivating narrator. Her neighbours would abandon their favourite TV programmes and come down to listen to her. When she narrated, the moon would come out, and the domestic animals and climbing plants would chuckle in delight. Her tales would send her neighbours into successive fits of rowdy giggles. They would go back home only upon hearing Abdel Qayyoum’s familiar, exhausted knocks on the door. Sakina would open the door and would devote herself to him for the rest of the night. She gave birth to Nayla and Hassan. Hassan died shortly after birth, though. Then came Saad. And there was one more on the way.
One day, after Abdel Qayyoum’s death, there was a bulldozer whose driver was taking it back to the company’s yard after a long day of hard work. The driver stepped on the accelerator; the bulldozer moaned and groaned. Another push; the bulldozer threw out all the gasoline it held in its stomach just as a drunkard spews his drink. The driver put it in the reverse gear. It moved. He put it again in the forward gear. It baulked. The infuriated driver pushed it backward at high speed and drove into a cemetery and hit a grave. The terrified driver dismounted and took to his heels, leaving behind the deaf-mute machine. As crickets and frogs were alternating as musical entertainers for the dead, there seemed to be some motion inside the perforated grave.
A skull peeped out of the grave opening, looked around, and then quietly retracted its head. The skull peeked out again. It didn’t see the burglar who was hiding his catch in a nearby grave. Nor did it catch the dawn breeze or hear the sound of the azan calling to prayers in an Egyptian accent. The skull was perforated on the forehead, exactly where the gold crescent pendant would be attached to the forehead of a bridegroom. Like the bone of a tilapia fish, the skull neatly pulled itself out of the grave, followed by the remains of the skeleton of a creature once known as Abdel Qayyoum. Causing an inevitable noise, the skeleton walked – trakh.. trakh – toward the bulldozer.
Abdel Qayyoum was fuming with rage, and when he mounted the huge bulldozer, the opening in his forehead yowled, waoooa.. wooa.. waa!, as polluted air and rage mixed inside.
The djinn said, “Go ahead, o bulldozer.”
The light said, “Hurry up, o bulldozer.”
Abdel Qayyoum said, “I am coming, o streets.”
The weird machine moved at the first signal from Abdel Qayyoum, who had woken up before Resurrection Day.
There was heavy traffic that morning and the streets were packed with cars: yellow, red, green, no-car cars, and non-black cars. The veteran driver Abdel Qayyoum was astonished to see all traffic running on the right side of the road. The traffic police were no less astonished to see a bulldozer being driven by a skeleton. Too late to escape! Here was a bull on the loose and everything in sight was a target for its imminent raid.
Abdel Qayyoum was fuming. Why hadn’t someone cared to tell him of developments on this globe?
Wa wooowa.. wa..
He went about running over the human potatoes packed inside cars trapped in the traffic jam. Those at the end of the queue were reluctant to abandon their fancy Mercedes cars and so their reluctance cost them their lives.
Abdel Qayyoum spent the whole day mashing and crushing, and the ghostly bulldozer kept cruising, unhindered by barricades, gunshots and tank shells. Nor did it run out of petrol, and the bullets failed to penetrate Abdel Qayyoum’s mummified body fuming with open-sided rage, immortal and infinite rage.
Craning her head over the perimeter wall overlooking the street, Galeelah was too terrified to notice as the child she was holding to her waist slid down to the ground.
“Bismillahi, My sheikh, I implore you to come to our rescue,” she screamed.
From his position on the minaret, Sheikh Habeeballah watched the scene. He shouted on the microphone, “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah. O Muslims, repent to Allah! The Antichrist has appeared!”
“This must be Don Quixote, waging another fight against windmills,” a man wearing woody glasses said to his friend as they walked – both had narrow beady eyes.
Abdel Qayyoum fumed with rage, like a victim of the Tel al-Zaatar massacre. “Bastards! How could you kill me before I had time to enjoy my life? You are going to regret it!”
At the peak of his rage, Abdel Qayyoum stepped on the accelerator, maneuvering his vehicle at astronomical speed, and after wiping out all the houses and buildings along the way, he turned eastward to vent his anger at the Nile.
As always, the Nile was warm and hospitable, all accommodating, and a soothing source for everyone. The bulldozer and its driver sank deep and a finless fish told her friends about a perforated skull uttering a bugh bugh bugh sound. She claimed that when she went inside, she couldn’t find any flesh that would help her develop fins. Her friends laughed and went with her down to see for themselves. They made an exhaustive search around, underneath, over and upon the bulldozer and its driver. But only bubbles of anger kept coming out of the two bodies that were now fused together intimately.
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Note from the author: This short story is translated to my satisfaction by the translator Adil Babikir. It was the first short story that I wrote in 1978. It was published in the Sudanese culture magazine (Althaqafa) on November 1978 edition. My name is Bushra el-Fadil since that time I published 4 collections of short stories, a novel, two serials for TV and a collection of poetry. Great work and a well done job by Adil Baibiker. Adil’s creativity is clearly noted in the way he dealt with the complicated symbolic structure of the story. He succeeded in selecting the most expressive and matching terminology.