Ali Al-Kasimi: The gazelle
by Ali Al-Kasimi
Translated by Hassane Darir (Professor of Translation and Terminology, Cadi Ayyad University, Marrakech) and revised by W Richard Oakes Jr. (PhD-University of Edinburgh, Independent Scholar)
While the moon was at its fullest, I found myself staring at it from a gap in the tent erected in the open. It returned my gaze and increased its glow and closeness to the earth, until it touched the horizon with its circular edge. I found myself, while the silence of the desert was sharpening my senses, seeking to discover its silver color and meditating on its golden blush, as my pupils turned as it did along with it. My eyes immersed in it, dove deep into its depth, and merged into it. I became addicted to its rays swaying towards me, gently washing my face, bathing my body, pouring into my eyes, and seeping from them into the depths of my being, so that the strands of light radiated through my joints without a sound or a groan. I was stunned by its brightness and numbed by its light, as it penetrated softly and melted into me like a sugar block in warm water. I felt a calmness in my senses, a relaxation that rocked my body, like a child about to sleep in its swinging cradle.
At first, I thought I was staring at a flat, radiant surface, but little by little I began to discern terrain and shadows like tattoos on the face of the moon. Then, in the middle of the moon or in front of it, I saw an animal moving a little bit, and then halting. I did not really know whether that animal was in the moon itself, or whether it was standing on the earth’s horizon. That animal started moving towards me. I could discern a beautiful head, topped with two small horns, and wide eyes in the middle. Attached to it was a shriveled body with thin legs. It was a gazelle slowly and hesitantly moving towards me. The moon was framing it from behind, until it covered most of it. It began approaching me little by little, then it stopped in front of my tent, looking at me. Our eyes met in silence.
For three days I had not tasted any significant food in that vast barren desert, which is devoid of any plant, animal, or anything else except for sand dunes that spread as far as the eye could see like high waves on the surface of the sea. My food has run out and the water is running out too. I had only consumed drops from time to time, to keep my lips wet but hardly reaching my tongue. My car was no longer worth a grain of salt, after it stopped moving because it ran our o fuel. My tent, which was erected in the middle of the desert, as a mourning folded flag, was not able to protect me from the scorching sun that melted everything under it, turning it into powdered sand. Thus, anxiety swooped down on me like an eagle plucking the frightened birds of hope in me. The venom of fear began to creep in my limbs.
Deep within me blew the wind of nostalgia for the city, its streets, cafes, gardens, and fountains. I wondered to myself how, every now and then, I was bored with the hustle and bustle of the city and yearned for the silence and vastness of the desert. This is how I have always been. My whole life is a continuous series of contradictions. I feed the cup of desire with longing, then in one moment I spill it on the carpet of boredom; I soar on the wings of hope to the heights of joy, then soon fall in shards to the slopes of misery; I sing the sweetest love songs, and suddenly cry bitterly out of abandonment and deprivation.
The hours ran slow and heavy like a frightened shrunken turtle. My eyes got tired from staring at the desert that surrounded me in all directions, its sand dunes acting like impenetrable fortresses. Under the weight of a hunger that was biting me fiercely, and a thirst that was drying me up like a piece of beef jerky, my mind wandered in a mirage of premonitions and visions. I ruminated my fear and chewed on my anxiety. From a small grave-like sandy knoll, my father's ghost rose with his white shroud, riding his black horse and wearing his rifle, as if on his way to hunting. Instead of his spoiled hawk, a black owl settled on my father's shoulder. His greyhound limped with one of its amputated legs, as it turned toward the horse, whose eyes had been scooped out. When my father approached me, he stopped his horse, bent down on me, extended his hand to me, lifted me up from the ground and seated me behind him on the horse, just as he used to do when I was young, then he returned from where he had come. His horse started diving into that sandy grave. I felt the sand particles enter my nose and choke my breath.
I looked at the gazelle standing in front of me. Her beautiful eyes remind me of my beloved's dark eyes. They both have the meanings of love and sympathy. And it has the same neck gesture as well. However, this gazelle is my only hope of holding out for a while until some help arrives or a caravan passes. I shyly stared at her in bewilderment. Oh my God, how much I need her blood to quench my thirst! And how delicious her flesh is! I turned to the rifle lying on the floor of the tent. I remembered that it, too, was not worth a grain of salt, as it had become just a piece of hard wood and cold iron after I ran out of ammunition, because of my repeated, unsuccessful attempts to hit that damned lizard. It was passing me by like lightning and then disappearing into one of its many burrows in the heart of the dunes. I kept shooting like crazy at the sand. In every attempt, I got nothing but a huge thunder that was quickly absorbed by the sand. I kept repeating in a loud, tense voice: “My situation is a real bear.”
I glanced anxiously at the upright gazelle in front of me. I fancied that some invisible force had led it to save me. I looked at her again with a look of disappointment and apology. I felt my taut dagger on my empty belly. I have to catch her first. I slowly extended my hand toward her mouth, as if I was offering her something to eat. It must have been hunger that drove her towards my tent. It brought her head close to my hand smelling my empty palm. I got up cautiously, she flinched, backed away briskly, and then stopped. I slowly stepped forward towards her. I approached her, extending my hand towards her. She retreated again and I followed her until we were far away from the tent and in the middle of the open.
Our eyes met once more. I only saw its eyes this time. There came to my attention an intense redness, covering them, and hiding that broken, tender look. Instead, I perceived a hard, suspicious look. My eyes slid from its eyes to the rest of its face. I was surprised and frightened at the same time by the sight of sharp fangs revealing the jaws. Soon, a faint, intermittent howl came forth, warning of evil. Before I could gather my confused thoughts, I felt sharp claws digging into my chest and stomach, and voracious fangs extending to my face. In the flood of terror that swept through me by surprise, things got mixed up in my mind. The only thing that was certain to me, however, was that I fell to the ground on my back, and on top of me was a ferocious wolf about to rip my face apart with its sharp fangs. I let out a shriek of terror that tore apart the silence of the night, after which the wolf retreated a little, getting ready to pounce on me in a new decisive attack.
In the midst of my turmoil, my trembling fingers stretched out to my dagger. I grabbed it from its sheath, and then I held it with both hands, and I propped it on my chest, as if I were sheltering in it. In that moment, the wolf swooped in on me, with a huge leap, and the dagger blade sank into its chest. I was in a state of rage, screaming, as I plunged the dagger, more and more, into its body. Hot blood poured out of it, covering my entire face, bursting into my mouth, and quenching my thirst.