Sunday, June 05, 2011

The Peg by Shawgi Badri (translated from Arabic)

The Peg
by Shawgi Badri
Translated from Arabic by
Mustafa Mudathir

Close to Midan Elrabie square in Omdurman, there existed in an area confined between the square and Elarbaeen Street, a small quarter consisting of two streets and a few lanes.
So many blind people lived in this quarter that it was known as Fareeg Amaiyah or the blinds’ quarter.
The houses in this quarter were simple, built with mud and some of them had Lalobe trees in their middle yards.
These blind people lived on beggary. Some kids would lead them in the early mornings to the city centre where they occupied strategic spots to practise their job. One kid might lead ten blind people with each of them clinging to the walking stick carried by the person ahead of him.

On the south western corner of the square there lay the small building of the Rabie Sports Club which lent its name to the square. It was built with mud, had a low fence and a wooden gate with a faded sign over it on which was written the club’s name and 1927 as its founding year.
The club had always remained in the second class rating of sports clubs, and yet its members seemed comfortable with this rating as if they never found a convincing reason to ascend to the first class.
That day, despite it being a Friday, the quarter appeared quite busy even in the intense heat of midday and the stillness in the air which made the trees look as though they were part of a badly painted picture.
Under one of the small Neem trees planted in the square and enclosed by bamboo canes to ward off the goats that wandered around in search of anything green but often ended up eating paper or rags. Under that small tree stood this adolescent boy whose age it was hard to guess.
He wore a not- so-clean Jalabiya and put his feet in some sponge sandals which became complimentary to the current attire of people in this part of the world.
This lean boy had a big head and intelligent unsettling eyes. Because of his black skin and huge head, compared to his body, he was nicknamed Dhakar Namil*.

Dhakar Namil liked to break fights regardless of the outcome. He counted very much on this bad reputation for initiating fights to force his opinions and demands on those he felt himself stronger than them. People either wanted to stay away from trouble or they knew he had never settled for just one single fight. Besides, they thought he might be as lucky as to hit them with his deadly big head.
Suddenly Dhakar Namil spotted Mamoun, the boy from that quarter which lay beyond the asphalt road of Elarbaeen Street. Mamoun, then, was out of his territory. And his looks recalled the good food that he must have been fed. His clothes were clean and his complexion light as wheat.
Mamoun was a quite boy but not a coward. He could easily fling Dhakar Namil to the ground.
But Dhakar Namil was bent on proving his existence and defending his reputation especially that he was acting on his own ground, his own territory.
So he began provoking the intruder by demanding an explanation from him as to how he dared to tread on Dhakar Namil’s grounds. He also called him a coward. Mamoun ignored him and turned his back on him. As he did so, Dhakar Namil filled his fist with dust and threw it to land on Mamoun’s hair and back. Mamoun swiftly turned in readiness for action and Dhakar Namil took a stance for fighting. Mamoun shouted his question upon deciding to reach out:
- Are you crazy? What’s the problem? What do you want?
And before his hand could grab his adversary by his jalabiya which had been washed that morning, Mamoun froze and a great surprise showed on his face.
Dhakar Namil had to quickly repeat what he had just uttered as Mamoun did not seem to have grasped his words:
-I need a peg. A laundry peg. A strong one!
Relief and disbelief took turns on Mamoun’s face. He knew Dhakar Namil would not find a peg in his house because people of his quarter did not have much clothes to wash and most of the time did not wait for clothes to dry. If they washed them, at all!
Mamoun told Dhakar Namil that he was sent in a mission by his mother who was receiving some
guests, to buy two pairs of pigeons from Dhakar Namil’s relatives who sold pigeons (not because they didn’t like to eat them, but because they needed the money to buy ochre to make their favourite weka)
Dhakar Namil appeared to have found a solution to many of his problems.
He offered to help buy the pigeons at a price that would allow the two of them to spare and split some of the money. He explained to Mamoun that to avoid paying fifteen piastres for a pair of the bird, they could buy single pigeons. He knew that, often times, when one of the pair died the remaining single pigeon would sell for less than seven piastres and yet was usually fatter and fleshier. He knew all the people in his quarter to deal with in this matter.
It took them half an hour to buy two good pairs for Mamoun’s mother and save three piastres
Dhakar Namil accepted to take only one piastre although Mamoun was ready to give him all the three piastres saved.
Dhakar namil walked besides Mamoun in a friendly manner holding the pigeons in both hands.
He talked meekly to Mamoun who appeared happy with this new friendship.
Dhakar Namil didn’t mind being seen by people of his quarter walking side by side with someone from that other quarter behind the asphalt street whom he always called for boycotting and ridiculing them and always described them as lacking in manliness.
At Mamoun’s house, he drank a glass of ice-cold water, pocketed a clothes peg of the strong type and went back to his quarter with a bright lustre shining from his eyes.
The door to Kaltoum’s house was open. This beautiful lady who had moved here recently, sold her customers asaliya and provided them with lighted cooking stoves to barbecue the meat they brought with them. She sometimes sat to some selected customers. Her laughter rang like a bell and she wrapped her tobe tightly around her body but left her head uncovered to show tens of tiny braids of hair. She had a tattoo on her cheek that resembled a letter of the English language. Her lower lip was full of life and also had this mysterious green-colored tattoo on it that appeared to have been there since childhood.
The cart was standing in front of the house while the horse that pulled it was lazily nibbling on the fodder under the lalob tree. Elkhair, the cart owner, sat inside the house, sipping his asaliyah from a beautifully engraved pumpkin bowl. His huge moustache plunged into the drink. The other customers drank from plain non-ornamented bowls. The lady of the house favoured Elkhair by her laughter and by sitting beside him. When laughing, Elkhair flexed his strong muscles and shrugged his broad shoulders. He looked as if all the luck in the world had smiled at him. But suddenly, he dropped his drinking bowl to smash on the ground and ran outside of the house. His horse seemed to have suddenly lost his mind. Apart from giving out those sharp neighs, the horse in his frenzy, pulled the cart, then paused to kick it with his hind legs then went off again storming through the open square and destroying two Neem trees and their bamboo fences.
At the iron bridge overriding the broad bed of the creek that lay flooded by the rains behind ElAarda cinema house, humbly stood the horse. One of the wheels of the cart had come off and the dashboard where Elkhair rested his feet was broken. The leather collar that wrapped around the horse’s neck was torn. The iron hook that kept one of the wooden cranks in place was pulled away. The straw that stuffed the collar dangled out of the torn leather in long threads.
Some people started to advance their theories about why the horse went crazy. Their most reasonable theory was that he was stung by a fly or a wasp. No one thought that the horse only stopped because the laundry peg had fallen off his testicles!
Standing at one corner, Dhakar Namil proudly stuck up his body with a victorious smile on his face. A long cigarette, for which he had paid one piastre, was burning between his fingers and his eyes were sending amorous glances to Kaltoum.

The End

Translator's Notes:
- Original text is one of a collection of short stories in Arabic here:
(page 123)
- Italicized words are names of places, trees or streets.
*Dhakar Namil (or the authors Dhakarannamil) means literally the male ant.

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