Three Short Stories by Osama Alomar

by  translated from the Arabic by C.J. Collins with the author  /  May 1, 2017  / Comments Off on Three Short Stories by Osama Alomar

Dream 75, 2014, acrylic on canvas. Artist: Safwan Dahoul.

Love Letter

DEAR MINERVA:

I don’t know how it happened. All I know is that the flowers of my feelings blossomed in the spring of your beauty with its powers of birth and its shining radiance in all parts of the globe all at once. Do you remember how we met each other at a performance of Waiting for Godot? I was holding the playbill. You were carrying a stack of books. You seemed like a serious university student. I didn’t feel like taking the initiative to talk to you, despite your captivating beauty. But, when you sat next to me by total coincidence just before the performance began, and asked in a voice made of silk if you could take a look at my playbill, I felt the frost begin to turn into drops of dew at the dawn of something mysterious and enchanting. I was annoyed by the beating of my heart, which seemed like the heart of a teenage boy speaking to a girl for the first time in his life: Be quiet, heart… don’t expose my emotions before the throne of beauty… Be quiet, heart… I won’t let the hot coals of your crazy pulsing or the lava of your volcanoes block my way to this charming woman!

That night I felt like I would finally get out of the pit of my loneliness full of gloomy insects and poisonous creeping reptiles. When you talked about Beckett with enthusiasm, I felt a hidden happiness… I felt a thin, shining thread among many other threads begin to join us together. When you spoke about literature, I climbed on board a mythical ship making its way on a magic ocean always shining under the spring sun.

We started going to films and the theater together. Sometimes you would be more than an hour late for our meetings, provoking in me anger mixed with worry. You would offer excuses and I would always forgive you because the sight of you coming from far away seemed to me like a long-awaited dawn.

  1. Osama Alomar
  2. Syrian writer Osama Alomar has received wide recognition for his mastery of the very short story. Prior to leaving Damascus for the United States, his collections of short stories were well known in his home country. For the last eight years, he has worked as a cab driver in Chicago while continuing to write and translate his work. Some of his short stories have appeared in publications like The New Yorker, Vice and Noon. His first collection to be published in English, Fullblood Arabian, was published by New Directions in 2014. His second collection, The Teeth of the Comb and Other Stories, was also published by New Directions in 2017. Osama Alomar arrived as writer-in-residence of City of Asylum in February 2017, where he is working on rewriting his first novel, which was lost in the Syrian Civil War.

When you talked, I couldn’t concentrate on your words because I would get lost in the rich forests of your green eyes, dazzled by their enchanting creatures.

Little by little, I understood that our souls had become two harmonious melodies inside a single song.

After six months of meeting regularly, we decided to get engaged. I was possessed by a wonderful feeling that i had never felt before. I bought a beautiful bouquet of flowers and put on my best clothes. I went to your family’s house, propelled by an enormous burst of energy, even though I knew that you had had serious disagreements with your mother.

I remember how she opened the door for me with a coldness that let something of winter shiver into my soul. I remember how your father remained throughout the meeting not saying a word, sipping his tea in little sips. When your mother found out that I was a third-level government functionary, her face became an arctic frown blowing an icy wind around me. She asked me in a strong voice, “Do you think that you will be able to provide for my daughter with your meager salary?” She refused me, because for the crime of poverty the court of society had sentenced me to hard labor. After a short conversation where we couldn’t hear each other at all, I started shivering from the terrible cold. As I went down the steps of your house, I could hear you and her fighting. You were a spring breeze swallowed within seconds by winter’s savagery.

The strange thing was that our meetings became more intimate and more tender after that visit… How much I love you… you who presses my heart in the contractions of your pupils!

But a new idea began to obsess me day and night: emigration—moving to a very faraway place. This thought threw me into a bitter struggle with the weight of your love. What cut me most was your total rejection of the idea.

In the end reason won a bloody battle over the heart.

Just before I climbed the steps up to the airplane, you sent me a last text message. It said, “Wherever you go… my spirit will be with you, guarding you and protecting you from bad people.”

Since that day, my soul is more filled with yours than ever before.

We stayed in constant communication by e-mail. I told you about my exile, and you told me about yours, at home among the people closest to you. Thousands of miles separate us, but the scent of your perfume fills the huge city where I live. The rich forests of your green eyes surround me with their magic.

When the revolution began, my heart lit up with a fire unlike any I had known before… a special kind of fire, a revolution against oppression and slavery… I swam in an ocean of happiness, drinking its strong, sweet water. Now the flowers of freedom had finally blossomed in the minds and hearts of the people.

But little by little the revolution against tyranny and oppression became something else… The tyrant who had been sleeping in the depths of the ordinary citizen began to wake up, baring his fangs. The country entered through the widest gate the hell of sectarian and civil war. The nation’s severed limbs were mixed up with the severed limbs and heads of its humans. I watched the events, not believing what was happening. When the situation had gone so far down the road of destructive chaos and insanity, I came to understand that the that the enslavement of humans to deadly and destructive notions and ideas is far more angerous than the enslavement of humans to other humans, and the road to the paradise of freedom and human dignity is spread with tongues of hell.

Oh my love… since news from you stopped coming I am looking for you everywhere, asking our common friends… in vain. In what direction have the claws of insane war thrown you? I watch the great ship of humanity steered by oppression, that terrifying black savagery that never gets tired… The world has enough room for all the dead… but not for the living. Scientific progress serves human backwardness. High technology is in the hands of cavemen.

I look for you everywhere. I look for my soul. I will send you this message for the hundredth time… Should I send it by maild or e-mail… or put it in a bottle and throw it into the sea? All I know is that I will continue writing my letters to you until I find my soul.


Emptying Out Sorrows

I emptied out my sorrows into a glass and it melted… into a wooden cup and it caught fire… into the furnace of a man blinded by hatred and he died that instant… into the mouth of an insane volcano and the crater was blown into the highest heavens… into the depths of an enlightened revolution and the hearts of the people from every class of society took flame.

I returned my sorrows to my own heart… and a smile appeared on my face.


Soul Ash

In a café looking out over the shore of a sea of pedestrians swelling with heads and bodies of different shapes and sizes, he looked at the ash of his cigarette in the ashtray and wondered with anguish about a way to flick the ash of his burned soul when the need arose, and how to find the appropriate ashtray for such a task.

Clouds of hot steam rose in his flushed skies. He turned toward the group of pedestrians on the sidewalk next to the café, heads rising and falling like the undulation of waves far out at sea, brains swaying with life… with the rising and falling.

He considered their faces, seared by the fire of melancholy and the hell of privation. He considered the old people, their backs bowed by time, getting ready to release the arrows of their souls into the next world.

Suddenly the brightly colored flag of her image fluttered in his autumn skies, and spring was born. His life opened with joy, he kissed it with tenderness… with tenderness. He inhaled deeply, its perfume still burning, a flag made from the light of angels, moved by the breeze of her scent. “Where is she now?” he asked himself again and again. “She must be married with children.” But he steeled himself and looked at his memories with a cold gaze before they could continue their harrowing narrative. He felt for his pillbox in his coat pocket. He looked at the deep wound of his life resembling the crater of a volcano exhausted by eruptions and extinguished despite itself.

He felt around for the ash of his soul, wondering how to extract it and scatter it beneath the iron-wheeled vehicle of life.

These stories were published with permission from New Directions. All three appear in The Teeth of the Comb and Other Stories, the latest collection by Osama Alomar.

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