Short Story by Ali Elmak*
Translated by MM
Getting off the tram, he slipped. Was it the right or the left foot that skidded?
It did not matter!
All that mattered really, all that he cared for at that hour, at that moment, was that he fell and soiled his pants. those characteristically beautiful white pants which he had preserved for Thursday evenings; for the soiree gatherings which started by hanging around in the market; loitering for short or long periods; then to the cinema house; any film and peace be upon him. Then, was this bad luck or what? Did he really need to take the tram for such a short distance? “That was a fair reward for your laziness” he said to himself. As for those pants, they were turned into a dusty colored thing. The more he shook those tiny particles off, the closer they became attached to the pants.
Oh what a gloomy evening for you!
"Is this what concerned you?" thought he.
The posters of Alan Ladd and Van Heflin still stood their, at the cinema entrance. The tram, this damned thing, did not heed him. It went and came back, arrived and departed and the people who gathered around him when he fell, dismissed themselves.
There were small groups of people many of whom were student like him, popping dark seeds (tasali) and laughing. “What are they laughing at? did they not slacken when we called on them to join our demonstration and shout with us ‘down with colonialism’. Then he stopped thinking about them.
"What have you done? Really who knew the leader, the sole sloganeer? Who sensed your unwavering spirit, your perseverance? At school you went into a hunger strike; you led the school demonstration. Sir, hunger is an infidel and a murderous one. You were warned and threatened dismissal or imprisonment and torture. Was this enough to make the colonialists depart?"
" Why get upset that your pants were dirtied?"
Talkative to himself, continuously dialoguing with it.Scarcely doing so with others.
Alan Ladd, Van Heflin, Jack Palance, Jean Arthur, Brandon de Wilde. Shane! Come back. Please, I implore you to come back, Shane!
He stuck out his incessantly begging hand. A kid with a bulging belly not from indigestion that followed fullness but from illness. His mind was too astray to sense his presence. When he turned to him, the kid was looking at him with pleading eyes.
- Uncle. For God’s sake.
- God’s sake?
His pocket was inflated with change. Piasters, shillings, riyals. Three pound bills sharp-edged as razors. Each pound rubbed the other.
- I am hungry, uncle.
- Is it time to eat?
- I have not eaten since morning.
- I know the story to its very end. Your brothers are blind. Your mother is blind. Your father has died. I know all this and I am fed up with these stories.
“Why did you ask him? Did you forget that your clothes were soiled? That the defeatist students were snacking on black roasted seeds at the edge of the square? That you fell off the tram and people gathered around you? That this is a Thursday evening?” He interviewed himself. Tormented his soul. A kid with a bulging belly not from indigestion that followed fullness but from illness. His legs were shrunk, his chest bones protruded and above that he covered his sick body in rags. A huge forehead, a large head, a thin neck and a hand incessantly stuck out.
Tat. Teet. Wag!
- Uncle. For God’s sake.
Van Heflin, Jack Palance, Jean Arthur!
That Thursday evening was lost after his clothes were stained with dirt.
Shane! Come back. I beseech you to please come back!
|Brandon de Wilde (1942-1972)|
Commentary by MM:
While Shane was hailed by such prestigious filmmakers like Sergio Leone and Woody Allen as a masterpiece , Ali Elmak's invocation of its basic idea of the need for a savior has passed without notice by critics of his collection of short stories which included it, as it is indeed the least mentioned in any review of that book. The catchphrase "Come back, Shane" has been thought of as a means by which Elmak was trying to boast living in a semi-metropole where jargon was a virtue and cinema was a source of that jargon! But Elmak was simply tackling the unrest in the presence of colonial administrative power. He cleverly employed this wide-spread positive reception of the catchphrase which sounded like Ya Aboumreuwa يا أبو مروة, to put it in a common Sudanese term. He was criticizing the weakness of the struggle against the British colonial rule of his country and the two faces of the bourgeois.Read the original story in Arabic here
* From his collection "Up to the downtown"