from The Teeth of the Comb & Other Storiesby Osama Alomar, translated from the Arabic by Osama Alomar and C. J. Collins, out now from New Directions
The Star Messenger
A very cold night. The time is close to one in the morning. The sun goes about his work in another part of the world. The sky is clear. The stars shimmer in nervous rhythms. A killing frost lies heavy on the city — and on the body of a child who has no family, in torn clothes, six years old. It seems like he has just now emerged from the womb of tragedy that is fertile in every time and place. The cold mocks him, laughing cruelly inside his tender body. He shivers. Hunger and fear form with the cold a deadly triangle. The tatters of his clothes entwine with the tatters of his life. The streets are nearly deserted. He walks like a demagnetized compass. When hunger bites at his small body, he starts looking through bags of garbage for something to eat. Catching a crust of blackened bread in his hand, he eats it greedily. Tears flow down his cheeks without him feeling it. The cats watch their small competitor with care. And his deadly triangle watches him with utter contempt.
He sits on the ground and begins to blow on his blackened hands. He looks at the sky and sees the stars shimmering anxiously. With amazement, he says to himself, “The stars too are suffering from hunger and cold and fear . . . I wish I could climb up to them to keep them company in their sadness and forget my own. How many of them there are. And how many wretched people in this world!”
A hot tear runs down his cheek . . . the cold freezes it.
After a little while, as he contemplates the sky, he sees a comet fall to earth, landing far away. “The stars have sent a messenger to carry me to them,” he says in a voice rising up on wings of happiness. “They definitely heard me . . . but the star messenger doesn’t know exactly where I am. I’ll go look for him right now.”
The little one stands up, struggling to overcome the deadly triangle. He sets out with quick short strides, searching for the star messenger. He walks here and there through streets and alleys. His face overflows with innocence and childlike wonder. After about an hour, despair creeps into his small heart. “Where are you, star messenger? Where are you?”
The weight of tiredness throws him to the ground. Tears flow from his eyes. With his tiny lips, he repeats the words “Oh my god” in a soft voice.
In the early morning, while a garbage man is picking up bags of garbage, he notices a small body crumpled in a corner. He comes closer and sees it is the body of a child who has surrendered to a deadly triangle.
When the Sparrow Was Imprisoned
The moment they locked up the Sparrow, Freedom felt his pulse weaken and lose strength. Tears ran down his cheeks and carried away with them all his happiness. The Cage, however, at the very same moment, was buoyed up by an overwhelming feeling of joy: he had found meaning in his life at last.
When I saw the suffering of the tortoise who had accidentally turned over on her back in my neighbor’s garden, I knew that protection is a form of disability.
After years of continuous bleeding covered in question marks, I discovered that I had been leaning on the sharp corner of life.
She loved him intensely but her love was not reciprocated. She tried hard to infiltrate his heartbeats . . . but without success. And so her soul filled with black holes that prevented her inner light from escaping. Stricken and emotionally starved, she began to swallow the light of any love that passed near her. Little by little she became a universe of light that no one could see.
From among the bushes, a lioness noticed a large gazelle grazing on the wide plain. She froze in place watching him, her eyes overflowing with predator instinct and a ferocious hunger that rose up from her depths. Then she began to move toward him with great care, her head lowered. Every now and again, fear jabbed at the gazelle, and he would suddenly lift his head, his weakness laid bare before the fangs of the unknown. He didn’t notice the lioness until she had come within a few meters of him. Then a lightning bolt of terror lifted him into the air and sent him running like the wind. The lioness took off with utmost speed after his fresh warm meat, saliva pouring from the corners of her mouth. The gazelle moved in long, graceful leaps, changing his direction suddenly, yielding to panic and death’s ringing. The survival instinct was the common denominator of beast and victim.
The image of her hungry cubs pulsed in the mind of the lioness and increased her persistence and determination to capture the rich meal that was now leaping wildly in front of her. She felt additional strength flow through her limbs and took off with great speed, wrapping her movements around her victim’s provocative maneuvers until she finally caught him in a whirlwind of dust. She sank her fangs into the neck of the gazelle and her claws into his body, which flapped and flailed in every direction. The instinct for survival reached its climax in killer and victim alike. The lioness clamped down with her jaws on the tender neck with all the strength she could muster, waiting for the final silencing of the pulse.
Her cubs, who had been watching from afar, ran to her, rejoicing in the great victory. They circled around the rich and greasy meal, inhaling its appetizing odor. The hungry family began to tear apart the gazelle and devour his flesh. But then something unexpected happened. A huge male lion appeared from between the trees, saw the feast, and rushed toward them roaring. As soon as the lioness noticed him coming, she stood up preparing to defend her cubs and her spoils. The roaring of the two beasts mixed and the creatures of the forest trembled in fear. But the lioness felt her weakness before this huge, enraged male. She began to retreat, fearing that her little ones would be harmed, leaving behind the spoils upon which the lion now pounced. He dragged the gazelle easily away in his massive jaws to devour among the trees far from prying eyes.
The lioness watched him eat her torn prey, unable to do anything. The cubs looked at the scene in horror, having drawn themselves tighter against their mother. One of them turned to her and asked in a weak voice, “Mother, aren’t you strong?” She answered him brokenly, “I’m very strong, my little one . . . but there is someone stronger than me.”
Syrian-American poet and short story writer Osama Alomar has lived in exile in Chicago since '08. He spends most of his time when he is not writing behind the wheel of his cab.