Short Story: Little Blue Pills By Abdul Elah Abdul Qader – Iraq (Translated from the Arabic by Essam M. Al-Jassim)

Face tense, hands frantic, Mariam tried to cleanse her flesh and her soul by scrubbing at the warm stickiness contaminating her thighs.

As she did, the truth struck her: she was no longer a virgin. 

The man she had been forced to recognize as her husband had mounted her for the fourth time that night, before she could recover her breath or dignity. He had ravished her body and spirit in a depraved assault that splintered the remains of her purity. 

During the ordeal, she had felt like nothing more than a concubine at the mercy of a lustful man who only cared about exploiting her for his carnal pleasure. It disgusted her to see him behave as if it were his first and last night with a woman; however, this wasn’t Ghalib’s first marriage. 

Twice divorced, he was known for his preference for polygamy, and Mariam was the sixth wife on his list. Ghalib always promised hefty dowries to his potential brides—money he did not exert himself to obtain. No one knew how he had gained his wealth. The rumors that swirled around him were colorful and varied in their degrees of wildness, so no one could confirm or deny them. 

Ghalib always doused himself in perfumes in an attempt to add an air of elegance and genteelness to his hardened looks, but it had the opposite effect on Mariam. The smell sickened her every time his hands slithered over her. Through the long, horrid night, he had not laid his body to rest or allowed her a reprieve. Greed oozed from his pores.

When Mariam’s weakened body had finally succumbed to exhaustion, and she was fearful that she would pass out, she begged him to release her until morning. He had laughed viciously, baring his malformed yellow teeth. “You’re here because of my money. It doesn’t matter whether you like it or not. I can have you at any time!”

Mariam had already suffered unbearably since entering the marriage forced upon her by social and tribal traditions, as well as by her heartless father, who coveted the dowry offered by this brute. Her true love’s failure only added fuel to the fire of her torment. He hadn’t been able to provide her father with a reasonable dowry and lacked the courage to stop this deal, which was falsely conducted under the guise of a “legal marriage contract.”

She had begun slipping under when, out of the blue, Ghalib began to pant like an old dog. His eyes sank deep into their sockets, his naked paunch swelled, and his limbs shook uncontrollably. His movements came to a dramatic halt, and he collapsed in a heap.

Mariam, horrified, tried in vain to revive him. As she moved, an empty bottle of Viagra rolled off the bed and clattered to the floor.

Mariam’s eyes widened. Mere hours had elapsed between the cheers and songs of her wedding celebration and the start of her lawful rape. For her, those hours had felt like a lifetime. 

And in a matter of moments, she had become the widow of a marriage that had lasted one night. 

Now, watching as the dirty water from her thighs filled the bathtub, a smile touched her lips as she realized that she would soon claim the freedom granted her by those little blue pills.

Room 6 by Fares A. Al-Hammzani – Saudi Arabia

(Translated from the Arabic by Essam M. Al-Jassim)

Bodies carry something of a soul…they just murmur indistinctly.

 At the end of the corridor leading to the departing section—the mortuary—there is a small room. Within it rest tragedies—they are obsolete, silent, and full of broken hearts. From beyond the vestibule, where phantoms play in joyful expectation of the inbound souls, old Egyptian melodies accost me with subtle, dubious, ethereal tunes. 

Cramped beds fill the room. Old, rickety, wooden frames with their paint flaking, and their nails coming loose, surround dusty windows. The discolored porcelain tiles on the walls are faint; their designs have long faded away. The sonorous rhythms of carts holding medical equipment and electric apparatuses mingle with a grotesque smell, possibly the scent of death. Old pieces of furniture covered with white sheets feebly resist time, harboring some hope against banishment, lying in wait for those who dare enter the room. 

Communications in here are through the blink of an eye or the often soundless movement of a mouth. Voices are heard only in black-and-white tales of the past and muffled mumbles, resembling nothing I have heard before or could have imagined. Gestures, mysterious to me, carry convoluted meanings that embody their unique method of discourse. Old patients always cry. Usually, the intermittent phrases are accompanied by soulful tears that dribble down ruddy, well-worn cheeks. Here, visitors are prohibited, and there are no traces of get-well-soon flowers or praying-that-all-is-fine cards. Just small bottles of water.

     When I enter the room, I hear those who are able to speak whispering words that stem from the depths of their hearts, merging with biting reverberations. Sometimes, I eavesdrop on their stifled murmurs, and these laments fill my ears:

     “Fill up the earthenware vessels with clean water. Leave the door open, lest the guests see it closed and leave.”

     “Strange! Where are you, Ajeeb? Come and help me stand.”

     “Don’t forget to feed the camels. Put out some hay and barley for them—just over there.”

     “I want a piece of baked bread, soaked with ghee.”

     “Norah, where are you? Come and wash my clothes.”

     Every manifestation of frustration and despair is evident among these invalids. Their fading bodies contain worlds unknown. I wonder what they did in their youthful years. Diverse personalities are mingled together: the brave and the cowardly, the poet and the lonely hearts, the cruel and the kind. Had they known they would meet their end on these white beds, subsisting on intravenous drips and forced to live with deteriorated resolve, they would rather have chosen death on the field of battle or upon the golden sands of An Nafud—at least then, they would have set an example of bravery and gone down in history. 

     It’s a telling time that mercilessly crushes and places them on the graveyard admission list. 

     Despite the scourge of their respective illnesses and the ordeals they face, they look at each other while praying to Allah for best wishes, for speedy recoveries. They do not know the meaning of sleep. They wait for something far more important than that. They deal with each other politely, respectfully, retaining their strength. Sometimes, they smile at each other in spite of their weaknesses. Their bodies are worn out, but their hearts are still stronger than iron. Etched upon their wrinkled faces is the pain of an unjust time. 

     I stare in awe at the dry skin of their wizened hands, and I wonder, What did these hands do? How many people did they save? How many broken souls did these hands heal? How many times did they hold a child? How many, and how many…? Legends may have been written on these wretched countenances, events narrated by men on the tintype of the past, never to come back except through reminiscence. 

     They check up on each other every morning, aware that their souls are in the midst of an expeditious transition. Within Room 6, there lies a wide variety of meanings, understood only by those who enter or reside there.

     When one bed is covered with a white sheet and the patient’s file, hanging in front, is removed, tears roll down their furrowed cheeks. It’s as if the Grim Reaper dwells on the ceiling of the room, stalking them, lurking in silence, waiting to snatch their souls by surprise. Death represents the caterer who offers the best service for its patients. 

     Strange wishes! They are racing toward their eventual departures. Watching a fellow patient die hastens their own transition, jolts them closer to the death convoy. The ailing, aged inpatients no longer beg for longevity but every day wish for imminent, dignified deaths. They have lived significant lives and wish to depart with silent grandeur—humiliation and pitying looks are options not on the table. All they ask from Allah is a swift, benign death.

     Room 6 is a series of tragic incidents: an epic written by people who inherited towering statures. They make up a story told by heroic men who do not know the fatigue and boredom of the winds of poverty, who are now efficiently brought by time to leave a mark on the brow of day, informing the world of the ends of brave men.

Translator’s Bio

Essam M. Al-Jassim is a writer and translator. He has a bachelor’s degree in Foreign Languages and Education from King Faisal University, Hofuf. His translations appear in a variety of online and print Arabic and English literary journals. He lives in Hofuf, Saudi Arabia.

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