Azher Jerjis’s ‘The Crow’s Revelation’ – ARABLIT & ARABLIT QUARTERLY

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This spring, Banipal Books brought out Iraqi novelist Azher Jirjees’s At Home in the Cherry Orchard. Here, emerging translator Bianca Rosen brings us one of Jirjees’s satiric short stories from his 2017 collection, The Sweetmaker.

The Crow’s Revelation

By Azher Jirjees

Translated by Bianca Rosen

On my way home, I was intercepted by a crow, which blocked my path. It stopped, mid-air, flapping its wings in front of my face. I asked the crow what it wanted. It said good news awaited me. Good news from a crow? Well, damn! In any case, I thanked the crow and kept walking.

As I hurried home, question marks crowded my mind. What was waiting for me at the house? Two years ago, I’d lost my job as the cultural editor of a newspaper for an idiotic reason. Since then, my misfortunes have multiplied.

The newspaper’s managing editor said that she was suffocating because my big nose sucked all the oxygen out of the air. After failing to convince me to get surgery to reduce the size of my nose, she fired me.

To be honest, I wasn’t comfortable with the size of my nose either, but I was terrified of the operating room. I’d only been inside an OR once in my life, but its smell was still stuck in my nostrils, like a tick clinging to the side of an ox. I’d been four years old. There was a gap in my small heart that separated my two atria from each other. A surgeon by the name of Shawqi al-Asabi had closed the hole. I don’t know if that was his real name or maybe a nickname, since he was short-tempered with his patients and al-Asabi means The Irritable. What I remembered were his thick eyebrows, which gazed down at me as I dozed off, waiting so he could plunge the scalpel into my chest.

For men, getting a job in this city has become a near impossible task. Women have dominated the job market and, as a result, men have become an oppressed minority. I tried to work as a taxi driver, but I couldn’t pull it off. Women have their own cars, so they don’t need to spend money on taxis. And no amount of loans could allow the men of this city to afford the exorbitant taxi fares. All we can manage is to ride the bus or take the train. I worked delivering newspapers, but then I slipped and broke my leg. I tried everything I could to quit writing jokes for a living, but I didn’t succeed. So then, what’s up with this good news, you presumptuous crow?

I finally arrived home. I reached into the inner pocket of my coat, snatching up my house key and jamming it into the lock. I turned the key, but the door didn’t open. I pulled the key out of the lock and wiped it off on my chest before trying again. Still, it didn’t open. The door was closed, bolted shut from the inside. I pressed the doorbell. One ring… Two rings… Three rings… Finally, the door opened. There was a tall blonde woman inside, holding a bouquet of red roses. She handed me the bouquet, gave me a kiss on the cheek, and beckoned me to follow with her index finger. She must have been a fan of the ridiculous jokes I told, the ones that the owner of the most insignificant newspaper in the city admired, I told myself.

But how did she know my home address!? And how did she get inside? And where had she found my key?

These questions swirled around in my mind. When she saw me frozen in place, the woman said: “Don’t be surprised, my dear. Smell the roses and follow me, so that we can whisper sweet, dirty nothings into each other’s ears.” Because I am a deeply naïve person, I trusted her. I took a whiff of the roses and fell to the ground, unconscious; the damn woman had laced the roses with a sedative.

After an hour and a half, I woke to find myself tied up on top of a white bed in a white operating room, surrounded by a team of beautiful women doctors.

At first, I suspected that they were part of an organ trafficking gang. I chuckled to myself and raised my hand, asking to speak. One woman silenced me, while another gave me permission to talk. The rest protested. They deliberated whether or not to hear me out. The discussion became heated before, finally, they allowed me to speak. A woman with honey-colored eyes said, “Go ahead, say what you want to say.”

“Well, listen to me, gorgeous, before you proceed: My heart doesn’t work, it won’t help you.”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“There was a hole in it, closed up by Shawqi al-Asabi more than thirty years ago. It seems that he forgot one of his shirt buttons in there. Do you really want to sell a heart that has a shirt button in it?”

The doctor laughed and said, “Rest assured, I have no use for your heart.”

She doesn’t want my heart! That means she’ll remove one of my kidneys. The price of a kidney is steep these days. Oh God, what should I do?! She brought out an anesthetic needle and ordered me to relax. I begged her to let me speak again. Grudgingly, she allowed it. “Go ahead, say what you have to say. Quickly.”

“My kidneys are worn out, too. Don’t expect to make a profit from them,” I said.

“Why are they worn out?

“Lots of kicking, ma’am.”

“Kicking?!”

“Yes, kicking. I was the prisoner of an executioner who entertained himself by kicking me in the side… Please, leave them alone.” The effect of my words was reflected on the doctor’s face. Despite her best efforts, she couldn’t stop her honey-colored eyes from welling up with tears.

With a start, she said, “Don’t worry, we don’t need your kidneys.” I was not reassured by her answer. If not my kidneys, then I would definitely lose at least one of my eyes. I asked her permission to speak again. “What do you want?!” she asked.

“Don’t mess with my eyes,” I cried. Then one of the assistants approached the doctor, whispering in her ear. Her voice was just loud enough for me to hear. She said that time was running out, and the doctor should not waste it listening to my chatter.

Despite that, the doctor asked me: “Are your eyes weary, too?

“Yes, very weary.”

“Why?”

“From crying too much.”

“About what?”

“About the loss of my loved ones, ma’am. It has been twenty years since someone has come knocking on my door. ”

The doctor, wiping two tears from her cheeks, tapped my shoulder and said: “Please don’t worry, you will not lose your eyes.”

Fuck! FUCK! What’s going to happen to me?! I asked myself as worry began to eat away at my heart like a fish devouring a tasty bit of bait. These women didn’t want my heart, nor my kidneys, nor my eyes! Nothing was left except… Oh God! I did not want to lose my masculinity. I didn’t want my penis cut off in a country where men were scarce. I kicked the woman who was nearest to my feet. She fell, and I started to scream. The doctor stretched out her hand, covering my mouth, so I bit her, my teeth sinking into her skin. I wrestled with the air, trying to escape. Curse the black crow and its good news. They were cutting off my penis tonight!

The doctor stood up from the ground and regained her composure, wrapping a bandage around her wounded hand. While standing several steps away, she said, “Please calm down, my dear. We don’t need that. The markets are already filled with those disgusting toys. Take a deep breath.”

“Then what do you want from me, you bitch?”

“Nothing, believe me. We just want to improve the environment.”

“The environment?!” I asked, pausing my kicking and screaming.

“Yes, the environment. It’s our duty to protect it.”

“What do I have to do with the environment?”

“We were informed by your elderly neighbor, Mrs. Solvay Honsen, that your nose consumes 65 percent of the available oxygen in the atmosphere. So, we must operate on your nose to make it smaller in order to conserve the environment. Please, just calm down and let us do our job.”

“Go ahead, my dear, do your job. Goddamn this crow and his good news.”

Also by Jirjees:

An extract from Jirjees’s At Rest in the Cherry Orchard, tr. Jonathan Wright

An excerpt from The Stone of Happiness on ArabLit

Conversations with Jirjees:

Azher Jirjees: Writing an Iraqi Postman in Norway

Azher Jirjees is an Iraqi writer and novelist, born in Baghdad in 1973. From 2003, he worked as a journalist in Iraq and published a number of articles and stories in local and Arab newspapers and periodicals. In 2005, he wrote a satirical book about terrorist militias entitled The Earthly Hell, which resulted in an assassination attempt against him and he was forced to flee the country. He fled to Syria, then Morocco and finally to Norway, where he now lives permanently. His other works include two short story collections, Fouq bilad al-Sawad (Above the Country of Blackness, 2015) and Saani‘ al-Halwa (The Sweetmaker, 2017), and two novels. His first novel, At Rest in the Cherry Orchard (al-Nawm fī Haql al-Karaz, 2019), was longlisted for the 2020 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and it is now available in Jonathan Wright’s English translation from Banipal Books. His second novel Hajar al-Sa‘ada (The Stone of Happiness) was shortlisted for the same prize in 2023. He works as a freelance translator between Arabic and Norwegian.

Bianca Rosen is a rising senior at Brown University, where she majors in Middle East Studies and International and Public Affairs. Bianca has been studying Arabic for 6 years and has spent extensive time in Oman, Jordan, and, currently, Morocco, sharpening her language skills. Her passion for translation was sparked by Professor Miled Faiza. In his courses, she immersed herself in the works of poets and writers such as Ibtisam Azem, Azher Jirjees, and Sania Saleh and translated excerpts of their writings. Bianca is drawn to translation because it causes her to focus with precision on how word choice affects the feeling and rhythm of a text.

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