The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2017

All Issues
JUL-AUG 2017 Issue

from The Waste Pickers

Note from the translator:
For Dr. Sausan Hasan, writing a novel means creating a new world parallel to the “real” world surrounding it. A novel’s components, symbols, and necessary links to reality are successful to the extent that it makes an impression on the reader. In her novels she has avoided the use of omniscient, sophisticated narrators. Instead, she has allowed ordinary people to speak and develop. This “democratic” narration entertains, influences, and convinces the reader.

* * *

“Don’t Dump Trash Outside Bin under Threat of Criminal Prosecution!”

This warning was scrawled in dirty white letters on the dumpster’s side that had not yet been covered by the piles of sacks that spilled out from it or that more typically had never reached it, either because they were thrown from too far away, too gently, too carelessly, or had deliberately been tossed from a distance to avoid the cloud of flies swarming over it. He caught sight of the notice as he approached the bin, followed by his donkey, which had a lame right leg and which he led by a rope fastened around its neck.

Jum‘a al-Dashshash knew all the dumpsters well—where they were located and what they typically contained. He had memorized all the streets and alleys and had learned what people on each were like from the refuse that accumulated in the bins and from the way residents threw trash at the dumpster. His career began the first time his father took him to work. Once he turned six, his father would take him waste picking whenever there was no school—waking the boy early from an enjoyable morning snooze as he happily dreamt that, because it was a school holiday, he would not be forced to rise early. All the same, Jum‘a loved attending school. His father, though, did not merely make him work on school holidays but occasionally pulled him out of school—alleging the boy was sick—and took him to work. That happened during busy seasons, which his father recognized intuitively or anticipated in special ways he had learned from experience. He wished to teach all this to Jum‘a, who would inherit his calling. These matters, however, could not be explained. Therefore, he insisted that the boy accompany him from an early age on his route, which ran a full circle. Had it not been for surprises, which occasionally occurred—provoking his dreams afresh and causing him to forget his daily suffering, from which he had often decided, as he fell asleep nights, to liberate himself, only to wake the next morning and repeat the same chores before setting out on his same rounds—had it not been for these surprise occurrences, perhaps his destiny would have been different.

Jum‘a was heading down al-Jumhuriya Street, limping because his left foot suffered from muscular atrophy, because of trauma in his delivery, and was shorter than the right. This deformity had never received medical attention, because there was no money for an operation to correct it—given the circumstances he and the country had experienced. It was true that during his career the quantities of trash had increased dramatically, but the quality of garbage and refuse that people threw out was contemptible compared to the past. Jum‘a discussed this matter with his donkey while he used his metal rod, which he lifted from the donkey’s haunches, to dig through the sacks or to pull out cast-off tools from the mounds of trash, which released noxious odors whenever he prodded them. “Damn the Master of Deceit, deceitful folks, and the blindness that no longer leaves us a chair that’s broken only on one side or a discarded bucket that can still be used, Dear. It’s all flimsy and worn out. The moment you poke it with a stick, it breaks. Abu Tafish, look at this plastic dish they use for baking a number of times and then sell to us! Do you remember when we went with Khalil to the plastics factory where he works? Did you see how the area around it was strewn with pieces of plastic and how nothing grew around there in a wide swath? I didn’t see even one lizard leaping among all that plastic; all signs of life seemed to have vanished. You saw it yourself, if you weren’t too preoccupied that day. Your eye was flitting hither and yon, checking out the donkeys around the plant. You’re entitled to that, Abu Tafish. It’s been a long time since you’ve been with a jenny. I know my father neglected you. He didn’t have time to pay attention to you. The guy he bought you from neglected you too, because he didn’t believe anyone would buy you, since you’re lame. If my father had had enough money to purchase a sound donkey, he wouldn’t have bought you. But don’t worry about that. You are precious to me. I’ll never neglect you.”

Jum‘a’s birth, almost thirty years earlier, had been complicated by a breech presentation. During the final months of pregnancy, he had been stuck in the womb, unable to flip or turn to assume the normal position for a fetus, even though he squirmed a lot and was always kicking his mother’s abdomen. Things got so bad she almost died giving birth to him. Thus he entered the world by the scruff of his neck, butt first. Then the midwife, who had stayed up all night and half the next day, could do nothing with this baby, who arrived in the world wrong way around. When she despaired of a healthy delivery, after she had tried everything she had learned from all her previous, difficult deliveries, she pulled him out with the force required to save the life of his mother, who had turned blue, was perspiring profusely, gone pale, and almost died. Thus the midwife seized in her hands a newborn like a little puppy with a face covered by a dark veil. His left thigh swung like pendulum when she raised his head, after first holding him by his feet and letting him hang, head downwards, as she gave him light slaps on the back to expel the fluids he had swallowed during the long delivery. Then he screamed, drawing air into his lungs. That was when he made his appearance on the roster of this planet’s living inhabitants.

His mother recited the tale of his birth as women gathered during the day—when the neighborhood emptied of men and of children old enough to work—in front of houses that were hardly more than shelters for sleeping or places to escape from the cold and the rain. Their days were long, and their nights, which began with early evenings when women placed their pots on the fire, even longer. The pots, which had three legs that had been blackened by the butagas stoves, all simmered at the same time, as the gas flame whimpered beneath them. Then the women squatted by their doors to chew over the same stories every day. Jum‘a still remembered them in their matching dresses, which were embroidered in brilliant colors on dark backgrounds. The fabric felt like velvet but in daylight had a cheap-looking sheen Jum‘a disliked when he was a boy. He used to inhale the special odor of those dresses. It was an aroma of onion, garlic, and pot grease blended with the smell of the women’s constantly perspiring bodies, since they concealed their heads beneath milayas, which were carefully fastened over their matted hair.

Jum‘a had heard “his” story so many times that it was etched in his memory. The midwife, Umm Arif, knew everything there was to know about babies and delivering them. She had told his mother, who was bathed in sweat after delivering this baby that had almost killed her, “When the fetus formed in your belly it was female, but in recognition of your many good deeds, the Lord made it male before the delivery. God, Who knows best what is in the womb, had mercy on your condition. The visible proof is there for everyone to see! Look at the veil covering his face. God, glory to Him, intended to grant you a daughter, but praise to God for His generosity! He changed His mind and granted you a boy. This veil proves that all is for the best, Umm Jum‘a. See this boy? He will be a very important person when he grows up. If God allows us to live that long, remember me and say: Umm Arif predicted this.”

She had been called Umm Jum‘a even before he was born, because she had become pregnant many times after her marriage at fourteen. Before Jum‘a, her only children not stillborn or miscarried were three girls.

Al-Jumhuriya Street was one of Latakia’s long streets and ran from the Harun Roundabout toward the northern part of the city. It ended where roads forked, leading to the coastal tourist city or mountain resorts in the Kessab district. Distributed along this street were numerous restaurants and places of entertainment, but Jum‘a did not visit these with his donkey.

The most difficult stretch of this street was at the start, whether descending it or climbing back up. He inevitably needed to use all his strength and skill to match his gait to his donkey’s, because they were lame on opposite sides. Jum‘a leaned left to reduce the weight on his weak leg and seemed to be reaching toward the earth to apologize for putting so much of his weight on it. His donkey’s body, on the other hand, lurched a little whenever it took a step forward with its left front foot and then its right rear foot, which could not bear its weight as well as that of the burdens on its back. So the pair seemed to be performing their own dance, deftly and brilliantly, the whole length of the street. Jum‘a’s brown hair fell to his shoulders and fluttered with each step he took, and the donkey’s tail did the opposite, falling beneath its buttocks, and then emerging as the pair descended the street. Perhaps what troubled them most about this route was being forced to walk on the asphalt pavement while watching for speeding automobiles, because the street was lined with automobile showrooms, which had taken possession of the sidewalks and of a strip of the pavement in front to display vehicles. As Jum‘a walked along, he kept turning back to check on his donkey and to survey the street with squinting eyes that burned with a special gleam and resembled stars glowing in the sky of his face, which was so brown that his complexion seemed to have the aroma of roasted coffee beans. His lips held a cigarette, which he allowed to burn by itself as a white cloud rose with each puff.

On that dull morning, they were beginning their descent down al-Jumhuriya Street. Jum‘a turned to his donkey, which trailed him slowly, and appreciated its docility. He stopped a moment to massage its neck, promising it a break. “Don’t worry, Abu Tafish, by the light of these eyes, you are soon going to eat the finest food beneath the most beautiful tree, even if I’m forced to change our route. May God deprive them of their health—these bastards who don’t spare even a huge tree. Do you see what I mean, Abu Tafish? I wish I knew why trees upset them. Trees provide many benefits. It’s true that I dropped out of school, but that isn’t because I don’t like learning. By God, I love it a lot! You know better than anyone else how hard I studied the books for the ninth grade. I studied on my own, not in a school and not with any teachers, till I earned my certificate. It’s true that I didn’t succeed on my first try, but I did the next year—without my father even knowing, because he always said that a person is better off focusing on work, not study. My father didn’t believe in learning, Pal. Not at all! When I came to tell him I had passed ninth grade, he opened his eyes and glared at me as if I had committed a crime. Instead of blessing me, he yelled at me threateningly: ‘Are you going to neglect your work and waste your time this way? God willing, you’ll regret this, Boy! Then, in your own life, you’ll discover what I’ve learned. That’s how my luck has been.’

“I remember they threw a party for us at school on Arbor Day and had us write in our copybooks: ‘Plant trees; don’t cut them down.’ The message was that only the government has a right to cut trees. No one can tell them not to. You know what? I would like to punch them and break some hands when I watch them seize a chainsaw and climb an extension ladder mounted on a government truck to cut a tree. I feel my heart is being chopped down—those sons of bitches! If only someone would let me have a go at them! Aren’t the forests they burn every year enough? You see how in the summer we always hear the sound of fire trucks heading up to Kessab, al-Farlaq, and all those forested areas. Our country is beautiful and belongs to you, Abu Tafish. Why are they trashing it? By God, I’m afraid these chainsaws will start cutting trees along the streets and alleys. I fear they will reach the grove where our shack is. That’s been my nightmare for some time, Abu Tafish. Imagine them cutting those trees! What would become of me? May God protect us, Abu Tafish!”

The donkey was silently descending the street behind him on slender legs, oblivious to Jum‘a’s concerns, and leaning to the right. Its light brown coat glistened in the sunshine. Since its hair was short, it seemed to be clad in velvet. On both sides of its chest, the corners of its ribs protruded in front of the saddlebag. This donkey was exceptionally good at calmly maintaining the same distance between it and its master. When he speeded up, it did too. If he slowed down, it did as well, lost in its own reflections. Jum‘a praised its comprehension and the way it listened without protest. In fact, it was rarely headstrong, except when its instincts overwhelmed it. Then its behavior changed. Jum‘a had not understood this at first but eventually caught on. So he made the rounds of donkey owners to find one willing to loan him a jenny for his jackass to mount. These owners realized that the jenny would be exhausted by the tryst, because his donkey had a weak rear foot, which was a handicap for mounting. Since Jum‘a had no alternative, he would offer financial incentives to the owner—paid in advance—even though there was some possibility the procedure might fail.

Jum‘a had not been a slow student. In fact, he had distinguished himself in school. He could reason quickly, and his ability to memorize matched his gift of creative imagination. His brief education, which had been limited to elementary instruction—despite all the tricks his father had used with truant officers to pull Jum‘a out of school and draft him to work, hoping that Jum‘a would relieve him of responsibility for the family, since Jum‘a was the eldest male child in the family—had sufficed to build a vast reserve of remembered knowledge. His happiest memories harbored gleams of joy that subsequently stimulated his dreams when he decided, after dropping out of school, to study for the preparatory school certificate. It had been difficult for him to save up the price of the books, but finally he was able to obtain them. He kept studying their pages and paragraphs for the next two years, until he was able to earn this significant degree.

Descending the street, he did not usually examine the dumpsters—only some of them. He had become a connoisseur of their contents, especially because the upper stretch of the street was not densely settled. Instead it contained a gas station, school buildings, automobile showrooms, car rental agencies, and real estate firms. Many buildings there were also still under construction and not yet inhabited. None of this prevented him, however, from stopping at the school dumpsters on his way home, after these institutions had dismissed even their employees, who piled trash around the bins. Perhaps this reminded him of an experience that had left a deep-seated impact on him and had never ceased to stimulate his yearning. In fact, it flirted with his imagination at times when fortune was generous and he occasionally discovered, among the piles of garbage, schoolbooks that had been discarded or copybooks that their owners no longer needed, were fed up with, or had dropped by accident when leaving school and pushing past other pupils. Jum‘a snatched these up eagerly and set them in a special place in his donkey’s saddlebag to protect them from being soiled by his other gleanings. The important point was that he completed his tour of the upper stretch of al-Jumhuriya Street without making any important finds. This fact did not upset him, since he depended on the next section, which was typically the richest in its quantities of refuse and the most diverse. The concentration of people there steadily increased with new residents and the stores.

“Don’t Dump Trash Outside Bin under Threat of Criminal Prosecution!”

When he caught sight of this menacing notice, he laughed and turned back toward his donkey, Abu Tafish, to share the joke. He explained: “It says, ‘Under Threat of Criminal Prosecution!’ Who’s going to prosecute here? If there’s no prosecutor, these words are meaningless. They’re chatter, just empty chitchat. These dumpsters aren’t big enough to hold all the trash that streams from these dwellings. By God, it makes my job easier. This way I don’t need to dive into the dumpster, like I did when I was young, to pull sacks out.”

When they were a few steps from this bin, many cats bolted out of it. Startled, they scattered in all directions. These were filthy, scrawny cats of all different colors. Despite their unkempt appearance, they possessed a winning charm, and their coquettish eyes twinkled with a lovely languor. They distributed themselves around the dumpster, maintaining a safe distance while waiting for their chance to swoop back again and claw out their share.

Abu Tafish had a special gleam in his eyes. Encountering cats was a happy chance encounter he dreamt about every day when sprawled in his small pen behind the house. Then he would travel in his memory to the distant past, to the golden ages spent in the wilds and forests, ages of freedom and liberty, before they, the nation of asses, were attacked by an odd adversary whose nature they had never quite fathomed. Despite their mercurial moods, men had been able to rob the donkeys of their free will and enslave them. “Feel free to dig a long time, Comrade, while I gaze at these cats a little. By God, my heart dances when I see them. Do you really think I’ve forgotten those days?

“It’s true that I myself never lived in the wilds. It’s been a long time—thousands of years—since we donkeys lived under God’s eye, far from yours. Those were days of comfort and security. Unlike you humans, we have a memory that does not die or change.  I, for example, inherited this memory from my father and mother and will bequeath it to my offspring, if God grants me any. They will learn, without my needing to teach them, that they are a mighty tribe spread over all areas of the earth, from China to America to Russia, even Europe, to all these locations to which you have given these names, which have exhausted our brains trying to memorize. They will continue to bear these names while waiting for the day we liberate ourselves from your domination, because you will finish each other off. See, Comrade Jum‘a! I’m not threatening. I’m not gloating. To the contrary, I’m just telling it the way I see it. We’ve grown accustomed to doing our work, wherever we are, without grumbling. We’ve become used to being patient and productive. This alone suffices to guarantee that we will preserve our species for no matter how long the wait. We’re going to return to our paradise after you human beings finish your hell. God! How sweet these cats are! They haven’t abandoned their mischief after all the time they’ve spent with you. They still retain their savagery and their total way of life after all the time they have spent among you. Each cat is free to live as he wants, if he doesn’t harm the others.”

Abu Tafish stood silently bathing in his happiness while Jum‘a probed the piles stacked around the dumpster, driving the flies away. Some took off and hovered around the donkey, which waved its tail right and left or flicked its eyelashes as it rotated its head in both directions. The mound was full of mallow stalks, vegetable peels, leftover tomatoes that had been pulped, and many household discards including plastic bottles, cartons, paper diapers, sanitary napkins, magazines, broken glass, juice cans, and innumerable household leftovers that Jum‘a was digging through and sorting. He picked out the juice cans, plastic items, pieces of glass, and anything that he might be able to sell at the end of the day to the proprietor of the large recycling site where all the waste pickers went in the evening. He kept all the magazines and papers he collected, without trying to read them while on his route, because he wanted to isolate himself with them once he returned home, where he normally secluded himself, separating himself from all the people around him. This conduct fit his taciturn temperament, which had initially antagonized his family. They eventually grew accustomed to it after they despaired of being able to reform him.

A few meters from the dumpster, beneath the shade of a small tree, Muhanna al-Qatranji daily set up his stand, which was open from morning till evening. Across its table he spread tobacco tins, both local and smuggled. He also had a small refrigerator, which he secured to the tree trunk by a chain and supplied with electricity from the nearest light pole. Before he returned home in the evening, Muhanna locked it up. Inside were cans of juice and soda water and some plastic bottles of water. Muhanna had operated in this location for more than eight years. Today he was considering upgrading his stand to a shed and expanding his stock, because the income no longer sufficed now that his three children had grown older and their demands and needs had increased, especially because a considerable share of his profits went as tribute into the pockets of officials who provided him cover for his enterprise. They had also promised to help him obtain a reduced rate on the municipal tax for the shack. Muhanna was almost forty, and streaks of white had begun to invade his thick hair, sideburns, and the center of his upturned forelock. His most eye-catching characteristic was his broad nose above a lip that revealed a gap between his upper teeth. This lent him an appearance that suggested he was dull-witted, even though he was not. In fact, he was clever enough to gull other people into dropping their guard without them being aware of it. His gift for gab was a natural talent that he had developed over time, without quite realizing it. His conversations with other people and his acquisition of the information that he sought or that came to him by chance strengthened his self-confidence and increased his volubility. Over and beyond this, talk was the only form of exercise he practised, since he spent most of his day sitting behind his stand. With time, this lack of physical exertion caused his paunch to protrude till it reached its current proportions and began to settle on his lap. His only motions were within a narrow space where he stood when handing orders to customers through their car windows.

Jum‘a’s relationship with him or, to be more precise, his relationship with Jum‘a (because the latter was not inclined to speak to or accost other people, since he spent most of his time roaming the streets, talking to himself or his donkey, and contemplating the world around him) began once Jum‘a developed the habit of stopping at this stand every day to buy a tin of tobacco and occasionally a glass of soda water. Had it not been for his donkey, his line of work, his shabby appearance, his old clothes, and his unkempt hair, Muhanna would have thought, like anyone else, that this young man was conceited and stuck up. Actually Jum‘a was something of a loner. He had embraced this attitude once he realized how appropriate it was for him.

Muhanna called to him, “Welcome, Mr. Jum‘a. Where were you yesterday? We didn’t see you.”

“It’s you who weren’t here; not me.”

“You’re right. Come have a soft drink—or are you fasting?”

“By God, just as soon as I finish with this bin.”

“To hell with work, unless you’re drilling for oil. Are you going to strike oil, Jum‘a?”

“It’s my calling. I told you: I’m coming.”

He continued checking the dumpster with total concentration—sorting and piling items to the side. Jum‘a had grown used to the terrifying mixture of refuse and leftovers crammed into dumpsters or piled around them and similarly had desensitized himself to the foul odors issuing from them and the vapor plumes that rose from them on hot days. Actually, he had not grown accustomed to them but had trained himself to accept them, since they were an essential part of his work. He knew quite well that he could not separate the smells from these piles. For that reason he had become inured to them while he focused on his work.

In the beginning, when he had plunged into this career as a boy helping his father, he had not been able to distinguish between the different odors, even though he had smelled them all before. Previously he had spent most of his time outdoors in alleys—which were characterized by stinky water, scraps of food thrown in front of houses, open storm sewers, and swarms of flies that buzzed in the air, head high—or at the nearby shore, where they camped for the day in scattered huts. When he went off with his young companions, after the lanes could not hold them all and the adults grumbled that there were too many of them in these cramped areas, the shore was their only playground. Stripped to their underwear, they would race into the water, shoving each other out of the way. In the water’s deluge they discovered that something hard to label was stirring inside them. This revelation drove them instinctively to discover their bodies’ pleasure points. The sea itself had an acrid smell that mixed with the stench of the storm sewers that emptied into it and the smells of their own urine and excrement when the tumbling waves stimulated evacuation. They would also cool off in its waters during the summer, when there were lots of mosquitoes that would begin to feast on their soft skins, leaving a tattoo of bites on most of them, selecting places blindly. Most of the district’s inhabitants bore the tattoo caused by Leishmaniasis. When the health authorities became aware of this problem, they began to send a vehicle to the district daily that sprayed a dense white mist, which smelled like burnt mazut. Children would race behind the truck with noisy joy, even though tears welled up in their eyes because of the fumes. All these smells formed his first collection of odors. He drew conclusions about the places that were the landmarks of his limited environment on the basis of their smells—more than from any other characteristic. His dictionary of smells, however, was limited, because those places were not rich in scents. Even the foods people consumed and their styles of cooking were similar. Aromas emerged from all the houses at the same time and quickly mixed with smells outdoors to create an olfactory fingerprint that remained deeply etched in Jum‘a’s mind.

Over time Jum‘a learned the science of waste picking and added his own special contributions to it. He became extremely adept at his work and quick about it. Thus he could make the rounds of numerous successive bins and glean from each whatever was most useful and valuable. He would occasionally retain some items for himself. A few of these things he did not know why he needed or how he might use or benefit from them. He simply felt strongly that he needed to hold onto them, reserving reflection about their uses for a time that might be far in the future. These articles might be forgotten in the anarchic crush that imposed itself on their lives due to limitations of space, because their house still consisted of one multipurpose room and a bedroom. The kitchen, which had a tin roof, and the latrine, which was shorter and leaned against the kitchen, were both reached by leaving the house and walking several meters. It was not long before the household was crying for mercy on account of the things piling up inside. His mother first began to grumble and complain but eventually screamed at him.

Jum‘a felt that his personal space was boundless. Indeed he was accustomed to the spaciousness of the streets and spent much more time outdoors—where the space stretched to distant limits or perhaps forever—than in the house. Something inside him would change, and a murky feeling would stir, toying with him, as soon as he reached the outskirts of the district. This feeling grew fiercer the farther he progressed down the lanes, which became corridor-like passageways that extended to darkened cellars, till he reached the house door. Rusty nails, which were bent in multiple directions, held pieces of zinc to crate slats that formed a door, which groaned every time it moved. Gloomy distress would afflict him inside the concrete walls, which were dark and had grown increasingly black with age. A single light fixture, which was mounted on the wall facing the entrance, illuminated the room. Along with its feeble light, it emitted a smell that invaded his being. It resembled a weird blend of all the odors ever released in the house, the alley, and the neighboring lanes—indeed in the entire district. The smell differed from that of the dumpsters. It was not the smell of leftovers. In fact, it was the smell of a life suffering from putrefaction and rottenness. It was truly a smell of resistance to death and stood at the dividing line between death and life. The moment Jum‘a entered the house, he would merge with it. In fact, everything became so similar that individual characteristics vanished.

A black bag with a thick wad inside it attracted Jum‘a’s attention, because it felt like a stack of papers. He opened the bag and found a collection of envelopes tied with an old ribbon. He lifted it up and placed it in the donkey’s saddlebag.  The bag itself did not seem to mean anything special to him, and he postponed delving into its contents. Then he began to pile other things in the saddlebag. He hung some cans and plastic gallon jugs off the donkey’s croup. When he finished, he headed to where Muhanna al-Qatranji was seated. Muhanna handed him a folding chair he kept stowed under his table. So Jum‘a sat down, mechanically murmuring his thanks. He was not in a particularly good mood. Some formless anxiety was bothering him. This confused state gripped him from time to time, making him grumpy and rude to people. At the very least, he prefered to avoid them. Today, however, he intended to end his circuit at the sea, and it was not time yet for his rendezvous with the setting sun. That was why he accepted Muhanna’s invitation, even though he felt indifferent to everything—even to the container of soda water that Muhanna offered him and that he accepted without wanting to, at the urging of Muhanna, who was always keen to chat.

“I implore you to drink it. This is my treat, Jum‘a. Never fear; I won’t charge you for it.”

“I told you I’m not worried about that. May God preserve you! Excuse me today.”

“I won’t. Today I mean to treat you. Besides, what’s keeping you? Half a thousand is the same as five hundred.”

Jum‘a was in no humor to compliment Muhanna but accepted the invitation under duress, because he knew he would pass by here on the morrow, the next day, and perhaps for many days to come. Muhanna would be stationed in the same place, and any estrangement between them would be awkward. In spite of everything, the vendor was pleasant and did not upset Jum‘a, who began taking languid sips from the drink without saying anything.

Muhanna interrupted his silence: “By God, Jum‘a, tell me what you earn from waste picking? Why don’t you look for some other, cleaner job?”

“This is the work that I was put on earth to do and that my nature has inclined me to perform. My father practiced it before me, and I’m satisfied with it.”

“But that’s not possible. You’re a young fellow and can learn other things. How long are you going to wait?”

Jum‘a had not accepted this line of work with total conviction; his set of choices had simply been quite restricted. After obtaining his preparatory certificate he had dreamt of working for the government, but his leg’s condition precluded that. Obtaining a government position was a difficult dream to realize, because many sought them, and the number of jobs was limited. Generally the names of those to be accepted were chosen behind the scenes by methods that seemed mysterious, even though many people knew how devious they were—despite the fact that government positions had to be announced because that was required by various laws and agencies. The important thing was that Jum‘a had not found any opportunity at the beginning of his career; each time he had applied for a position he had despaired of receiving it. So, contenting himself with the work he had, he had begun to sketch a future he was determined to realize.

Published as Al-Nabbashun (Beirut: Dar Al Adab, 2012)


Sausan Jamil Hasan

Sausan Jamil Hasan is a Syrian novelist and physician. Born in Latakia, Syria, she studied medicine at the Syrian University. She has worked in clinics and hospitals of the State Ministry of Health and is also active as a journalist. She has published four novels: Harir al-Zalam (Silk of Darkness) 2009, Alf Layla fi Layla (A Thousand Nights in One Night) 2010, al-Nabbashun (The Waste Pickers) 2012, and Qamis al-Layl (Night Gown) 2014.

William Maynard Hutchins

William Maynard Hutchins, a professor at Appalachian State University, was awarded National Endowment for the Arts grants for literary translation in 2005/2006 and 2011/2012. He was co-winner of the 2013 Saif Ghobash/Banipal Prize and won the American Literary Translators Association National Prose Translation award in 2015.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2017

All Issues