Adania Shibli is a writer of uncommon intuition and sensitivity. Born in Palestine in 1974, Shibli has published novels and essays in literary magazines in the Arab world and Europe. She was twice awarded the Young Writer’s Award of Palestine by the A.M. Qattan Foundation for her two novels Masaas (Touching), which was translated into French, and Kulluna Ba’eed Bethat al Miqdar an’ al Hub (We Are All Equally Far from Love). Fellow Palestinian writer, poet and translator. Anton Shammas considers Shibli one of his favourite Arab writers
“…not because she is a fellow Palestinian – although that certainly helps – but because I simply believe she has created for herself in recent years something, that especially for a young writer, is hard to achieve: a solid literary presence, a distinct voice, and a unique style … Her language is that of a writer who has turned her back on the ready-made structures and prevalent rhetoric of modern Arab literature, and trusts nothing but her inner voices and her amazing intuitiveness when it comes to the hard-to-master and hard-to-tame Arabic language.
The following are excerpts of a short story by Adania Sibli, entitled, “Faint Hints of Tranquillity” translated from the Arabic by Anton Shammas.
Faint Hints of Tranquility – Excerpts
I don’t know her name, but it could have been Salma. We met her when we, a Finnish journalist, and I, were visiting Balatah Camp. All that could be seen of her was a dark shade of black under her eyes, which didn’t seem to fit the liveliness and enthusiasm of her body.
She sat to a pile of covers from whose depths came a scary moaning, and she went on patting the pile to no avail, as darkness descended on all sides. Even the lit lantern, hanging from a nail hammered into the ceiling, was emitting darkness and cold and frustration into the room where we were sitting. With a voice that had no connection to this world, she then started to talk about the night when the Israeli army invaded the camp, then her house, while pointing at the gaping holes that the soldiers had blown through her walls. She’d occasionally screamed at her grandchildren and at her husband, huddled under the covers, to keep quiet, so she could figure out what we were inquiring about. Her screaming, and the dark rings under her eyes, undoubtedly hinted at extreme fatigue that she refused to give in to and wouldn’t even acknowledge in the first place. She was behaving responsibly, trying to rein in the loss and destruction and, on top of that, to insist that there was still something worth living for.
After a while, and at the request of the journalist, she took us around to see the holes that the soldiers had left behind, as the house was set suddenly afire when the main electric line was hit by a splinter from a hand grenade that they threw into the house, and they ran away, leaving behind them a fire that burned up the half-finished wreckage.
Salma ascends the stairs ahead of us to show us what the flames have done, and her white head scarf, as inconsolable as her soul, descends and rises and waves, comforting me in a sweetness and gentleness that defies this no-outlet misery.
The day comes when one envies the clouds their movement as they glide against the sky, and the birds their freedom of passage from one place to another. I took my eyes off the sky and went back to looking at the lone line of cars in which we were stuck at the Bethlehem checkpoint. On my right, men stood crammed together behind a stone hedge in front of which a soldier, examining the identity cards he was holding, ordered each and every one to unbutton their jackets and lift up their shirts. I wouldn’t be able to stand there. I’m thinking if there are any other possible roads left besides this one, but can’t think of any.
I look to the left this time, and fixate on a large puddle of mud whose stillness is not threatened by anything, and it really looks like a melted, delicious piece of chocolate. When I get home, I make a decision: I’ll go to buy chocolate with hazelnuts and almonds. The reflection of the clouds and the blue of the sky return now to the muddy water, and to my mind returns the pictures of the wreckage of the houses that were hit during the shelling of the city of Bethlehem, in which the destruction seems primordial, as if the city has never given shelter to any living soul for even one day.
A suicidal operation carried out by one of the military wing activists of the Hamas movement, at a hotel in Netanya, causing the death of 29 Israelis and the injury of dozens of others on the eve of Passover. Anguish is weighing down on my chest and I can’t breathe properly.
The young man who carried out the operation is from Tulkarm. In the last wave of reinvasions, the Israeli army killed some 50 people in that camp and arrested more than 600, during al-Adha holiday. Chekhov says that a pistol hanging on the wall in act 1 must eventually go off in act 3. But, in reality, when the smell of blood spreads out here, it’s bound to spread out there.
Tonight I realize that the occupation hasn’t only occupied our bodies, but rather, it has occupied our beings and filled them up with the “ease to kill.” All I dream is that my dreams be less ugly than life.
It was approaching nine, so I turned on the radio to hear the weather broadcast, maybe there’d be good news regarding the sun. Two hundred tanks have surrounded the Muqata’ah building in Ramallah. I went back to the kitchen and remembered that I hadn’t paid attention to the weather broadcast. But within seconds, it started bucketing down.
The petals, then have fallen from the almond trees before I had a chance to touch them. All I wish for from this life before it ends is to join the spring and enjoy the bloom, even though I don’t know how or where or by what right.