A short story from Jordanian writer Shafeeq Taha al-Nubani, translated from the Arabic by Sarah Irving and Youssef Hussein Hamdan as part of an exploration of collaborative tranlsation. To read the original text, click here.
The cold wouldn’t rise to the level of warmth, or fall to the level of freezing. This state had been latent in Zaidoun for a while, and he couldn’t later define this period. A year… a day… a month… it’s all the same.
Shining ice was spread across the streets without a pattern or shape. The bus was creaking, like an old man whose last grey hair has fallen, along a winding road lined with frozen cypress trees.
This year was not like others. The snow invaded from the beginning of September and the ice piled up until January. How long would the ordeal of the ice last? The question passed from mouth to mouth. To start with the whole country stopped moving, but then the governor ordered that we should not succumb to nature’s confusion.
The passengers were listening to the coldness and calm. Their gaze rose, seeking the end of the monotony. On either side of the winding road were cypress trees and points of ice, and then nothingness. They wanted to break the vast emptiness around them, whatever new universe might replace it.
The conductor’s eyes moved between the driver and the passengers, the trees and the gathering emptiness. It was time to collect the fares. He came to the first passenger, who put some coins in his hand, breaking the oppressive silence with their jingle.
He reached Zaidoun, who put one coin in the conductor’s hand.
- What’s this?
The passengers glanced at him and whispered like the hum of beehives on a winter’s day.
- A deposit – until you get me to my destination. Then I’ll give you the rest.
- How can you guarantee I’ll get there?
Both fell silent. The other passengers turned away. Every eye resumed staring out of its own window. The conductor finished gathering the fares and went back to his place by the door. His eyes still held a weak challenge, which worked upon Zaidoun.
But Zaidoun’s eyes focused on the sapling trees, which were getting smaller as the bus got slower. The people looked at the driver; something stood by the side of the road. They all looked at the naked woman signalling to the bus to stop. They got off in a line, then formed a circle. They carried the woman – an ice shape which had turned into a woman… or a woman which had turned into a shape of ice.
They threw her on one of the empty seats and everyone sat back in his place. The bus carried on at its former pace. The passengers’ gaze moved between the ice shape and the emptiness, but soon their eyes rested on the emptiness again.
The bus stopped suddenly. The conductor pointed, as if to say that this was the last stop. The passengers’ eyes moved between Zaidoun and the female piece of ice. Zaidoun dug into his pocket… two coins… he gave them to the conductor while the passengers carried the piece of ice off the bus. The driver tried in vain to turn the bus back on. The group walked, carrying the piece of ice. Zaidoun’s temperature fell to freezing.