ترجمات أدبية

Ali Al-Kasimi: The Danger

by Ali Al-Kasimi

Translated by Abdeladim Hinda (Professor of Literature & Related Fields, Abdelmalek Essaadi University, Tetouan) and revised by Hassane Darir (Professor of Translation and Terminology - Cadi Ayyad University, Marrakech)


The news was on everybody’s lips. It flashed like lightening through the town of Al-Areeqa with incredible speed, much like fire spreads through dry and frittered straw, to quote Dr. Abdulhakim, the town's sole doctor. He noticed people rushing frantically from alley to alley and from house to house to inform their relatives, friends, and acquaintances, and urge them to be cautious, and take their precautions. This commotion resulted in a climate of mass trepidation and hysteria among the locals, with numerous cases of fainting, especially among women, girls and children, as mentioned by Mr. Abdul Mu'in, the infirmary supervisor, who complained about the inadequacy of medicines and the low stock of ammonia gas, usually used to treat fainting cases. Mr. Abdul Shafi, the infirmary’s only nurse, was reported to have been forced to work all day and into late hours at night without any time for meals or rest.

In Al-Amani Café, which is situated on a hill overlooking the town, a group of friends gathered in the evening around one of the tables on which domino pieces were laid out without anyone touching them, nor did they even touch the tea that the waiter, Abdul Wadud, had placed in front of them for quite some time. Abdul Wadud mentioned that their main concern was to discuss the looming danger facing the town. One of them, named Abdul Razzaq, a grocer in the market, spoke of a significant increase in food sales because many people prefer to stock up on provisions in anticipation of being confined to their homes until the danger is gone. He added, somewhat cynically, that it's better for a person to die full than to die hungry. Abdul Latif, the school gatekeeper, seemed dismayed that many parents refrained from sending their children to school after the news spread. However, Abdul Razzaq supported the parents' stance, and argued that they prefer their children to live in ignorance rather than to die educated. Abdul Latif disagreed, echoing the phrase "knowledge means life, ignorance means death," a saying coined by the Arabic language teacher at the town's school, as Abdul Samee informed them. He instructed students endowed with good handwriting to write this saying on pieces of cardboard and hang them on the walls of the school. This teacher used to stand in front of one of these pieces, and gaze at it dazzled, expressing his admiration for  its eloquent wisdom and philosophical depth, as would some mischievous students reportedly banter and poke fun at him.

It was reported that Abdelzaki, one of the teachers at the school, stated that Teacher Abdel Aleem, the school principal, ordered the three students, who first spread the rumor, be brought to his office for interrogation in the presence of all the teachers. The student, Abdel Jabbar, who is in the sixth grade and about twelve years old, told the principal that he was he was taking a walk with his friends, Abdel Qawi and Abdel Rahman, when they saw the monster on the riverbank (which is seven miles away from the town). The principal wanted to know the exact size and shape of the monster, so Abdel Jabbar informed him that it was about three meters tall (while his friend Abdel Rahman insisted that it was much taller and had a bulky body as well). He said it was crawling quickly like an invading soldier, with a round shield on its back (Abdel Rahman interrupted again, insisting that it wasn't exactly round but looked solid like a piece of steel). Abdel Jabbar continued, saying that it lifted its head from under the shield, then stretched its neck about a meter or two upward in the air, turned towards them, and headed their way. Abdel Qawi, who was waiting for an opportunity to say something, added: "We ran for our lives, and we were out of breath before we reached the town." According to Abdel Wahab, the senior teacher in the school who was in the principal's office with the other teachers at that time, fear was evident in the students' eyes, their faces were pale, and their hands were trembling as they recounted what they had witnessed. It was undeniable that they were telling the truth.

Those who recounted the events of that interrogation said that Teacher Abdelzaki wanted to know whether the monster they saw emerged from the river or came from another direction, but the students did not know exactly where it came from. Abdeljabbar hastened to say, "We first saw it lying on the bank of the river, and it didn't move until it sensed our presence. Then it raised its head from under its shield, turned it towards us, directed its gaze at us, and headed towards us." At this point, Teacher Abdelwahab questioned the utility of the inquiry, saying, "It doesn't matter which direction it came from, east or west, north or south. What matters is its presence there on the bank of the river, which is only a few miles away from the town. It might be now on its outskirts as we speak of it." Teacher Abdelzaki responded, "Of course, Teacher Abdelwahab, there's a big difference between whether the monster belongs to wild animals or marine creatures, and whether it entered the river swimming against the current for some reason or another.” But Abdelqader, the science teacher, who remained silent all the time, raised his head at that moment and said, emphasizing his words and stressing the intonation: “I believe, or rather I’m firmly convinced, that what the three students saw is neither terrestrial, nor aquatic, nor amphibian as initially assumed. It is rather  an extraterrestrial being. It is very likely that it descended in a flying saucer or a spacecraft that the students mistook due to their astonishment. It might have been cunningly and deceitfully concealed in the neighboring woods It's possible that this creature they saw is not alone, but is supported by a number of similar beings, hidden from sight, through some concealment mechanism, such as a cap of invisibility, for example.” It was reported that after a moment of hesitation, the school principal asked Teacher Abdelqader whether he thought that the long neck of that creature, which emerged from under the shield, could be like the barrel of a heavy cannon that could direct its fire towards the town and destroy it. However, according to the three students, who were still in the principal's office when this conversation took place, Teacher Abdelqader refrained from answering, saying that he couldn't conjecture the behavior of beings coming from other planets, for there aren't sufficient scientific studies about the nature of those beings and their aggressiveness towards the inhabitants of the Earth; one of them might smile and greet you, then blow a gust of wind that turns you into scattered ashes; another might growl angrily, then extend its hand from under its cloak to offer you a bouquet of flowers.

It seems that the events of this hearing in the school principal's office have spread in the town through the families of the three students and the teachers who participated in it. Now people are no longer talking of a ferocious beast, but rather of a terrifying creature from other planets. Uncle Abdelhafiz, a town guard, mentioned that he saw several people leaving the town at night towards the city located forty miles to the northwest, either riding their animals or riding with their families and domestic animals in carts pulled by donkeys, bulls and horses. His companion, Abdelsattar, who was with him  in the town’s café, commented on that news, saying, "Haven't you heard of the famous saying, 'Defeat is tantamount to half of the spoils of victory'?" Their friend, Mr. Abdelmohaimen, who works as a doorkeeper in the town’s police station, said that the four policemen openly stated that they couldn't do anything without clear and specific orders from their chief. However, the latter, who holds the rank of a police commissioner and who was in charge of the station, was not present in the town at that time because he was enjoying his annual leave for an indefinite period (about five weeks, as weekends weren't counted as part of the annual leave). He was spending his vacation with his parents in their city located northeast of the country, and he had taken his spouse and children with him. According to Abdelmohaimen's account, one of these four policemen had been disciplined by his chief once by cutting off three days' wages from his salary because he acted on his own initiative without orders from his superiors when he stopped a ram that attacked and butted a passerby. His chief had warned him of the necessity to conduct an investigation with the ram and issue a detention warrant against it by the judge before its detention, in respect of the animal rights stipulated in the Animal Welfare Society's regulations, which had been closed down for many years now.

Some prayer-performers recounted that Sheikh Abdelmu'min, who has  recently been appointed as the Imam of the town’s mosque by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and has been promoted after two weeks of his appointment, dedicated his Friday sermon to the calamity that was  about to befall the town and destroy it. He emphasized in his sermon that it was a kind of divine punishment after corruption has spread among the people in the country, and after Lucifer made disobedience to the Creator Almighty and those in authority among them seem attractive. One prayer-performer, who preferred not to mention his name, asserted that it was undeniable that the Imam was alluding  to what was said about some of the village’ youth who don't bow when passing by the statues of the ruler scattered  in the  village’s alleys in numbers greater than the number of passers-by. They only do so, of course, when they are sure that no one is there to see them.

According to Abdelwadie, the town elders met that night, after it became evident to them that the town would be invaded by that creature coming from some other planet. In the meeting, Abdelhadi proposed a mass migration for the village's inhabitants to preserve their lives, properties and dignity. Abdelqahar objected to this idea, pointing out the practical difficulties in its implementation, while Abdelrafie said, "We must question the purpose of this extraterrestrial creature coming to our village; what does it want from us? Once we know the reason, the solution becomes easier." Abdelraouf replied, "What does it want from us other than our wealth and possessions? This is very obvious." Abdelrafie responded with a tone of relief, "So, let's give it everything, even delegate the village's affairs to it to save our lives." At this point, Abdelghani, the village’s mayor, spoke up and earned the approval of the elders with his opinion when he said, "This creature will be pleased if we offer it obedience and allegiance, and all the wealth and treasures it desires. I suggest that we take the initiative to go to it, holding white flags, cheering joyfully, with smiles on our lips and in our eyes. These are signs whose meaning it will fathom. Joy will fill its heart, it will be satisfied with us, and it will turn its harm away from us."

According to Abdelmannan’s report, people gathered that morning, all lined up in a single row, and marched towards the river, carrying white flags and wide banners on which they clearly wrote: "Welcome to the town of al-Areeqa" (Abdelhaleem corrected, saying, "Most of the banners said: 'You are welcome and we greet you with ease'"), Abdelmannan continued, saying, "They walked towards the river, with the three students, Abdeljabbar, Abdelrahman, and Abdelqawi, pointing with their fingers towards the direction where they first saw the extraterrestrial creature."

When they were close to the river, they caught sight of something dark-colored, descending towards the riverbank, as Abdelatif, who was walking alongside Ahmed, observed. The latter was known in the village for his frequent reading and his avoidance of others. Abdelatif noticed that Ahmed's face had turned pale, then his steps slowed down, and his hands trembled. He thought that Ahmed was overwhelmed with intense fear. He grabbed his arm to calm him down, but Ahmed quickly collapsed to the ground, muttering words that Abdelatif didn't understand at first. He leaned over him and put his ear close to his lips to hear what he was saying. At that moment, some of the townspeople gathered around Ahmed, who was lying on the ground, to find out what had happened to him. Abdelatif said they heard him repeating the phrase: "What a shame! It's just a big ghaylam! A ghaylam! A ghaylam!" In lieu of attending to his condition and providing first aid, they turned to the Arabic language teacher to ask him about the meaning of "ghaylam". The teacher, somewhat embarrassed, said, "It's a male tortoise."



  This short story is a translation of الخطر by Ali Al-Kasimi. It is the first in the short story collection Circles of Sorrow (دوائر الأحزان, under translation).  The Arabic version is also available following this link: https://www.almothaqaf.com/nesos/93796


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