Mohammed Choukri: from The Prophets Slipper

MORE PLEASURE AND FANTASIES. More money and more scams to get hold of it. I was tired of all this, tired, but I still wanted more. Fatin walked toward me, white as snow in the blood-red light of the bar. She picked up one of my notebooks
and looked at me, smiling.

Aghapi-mu! Darling!” she cried in Greek.

She disappeared in the midst of people who were swaying provocatively to the music. It was three o’clock in the morning.
I was bored, and my nerves were frayed. On the radio Umm Kulthum was singing, “Sleep will not prolong our earthly days, nor carousing the night hasten the grave.”

A black man came over to me, white on black. He took one
of my books and began to read aloud, “Unlimited freedom has its unfortunate and tragic side.” He set the book down.

“What’s that book about?” he asked me.

“It’s about a depraved man who doesn’t understand the world. He confuses himself and everybody who gets close to him.”

The black man shook his head, then raised his glass to his lips.

“You’re an idiot,” he said.

I watched Fatin writing on a slip of paper from my notebook as I drank, smoked, and thought about how to sell the Prophet’s slipper. Suddenly, the lights went out, and the women began to scream. When they came back on, everybody cheered.

I bought Rhimu another drink to celebrate the lights coming back on. She gave me a kiss, and something sweet melted inside my mouth. Afterward, she stuck out her brown tongue, and I could see she’d been eating chocolate. She let out a red laugh. Fatin handed me the slip of blue paper. I read: Rashid, do you really know what love is? You spend more time talking about love than you do actually loving. You might find greater happiness in love if you didn’t try to understand it. You can’t know love. You can only feel it, feel it, feel it!

Miriam Makeba began singing “Malaika.” She had a white voice. I wrote at the bottom of Fatin’s slip of blue paper: Fatin, you are my red bed, and I am your black blanket. I am beginning to think of love in this way.

—translated from Arabic by Sandi Milburn