Awards · Illustrators · Middle Grade · Picture Books · Young Adult

The 6 Winners of the 2020 Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature

Judges for this year’s Etisalat Award for Arabic Children’s Literature went from 221 submissions from 22 countries to a 13-book longlist, to the six winners announced at an online ceremony streamed online today:

The top category, “Children’s Book of the Year,” went to Egyptian author Hadil Ghoneim and illustrator Sahar Abdallah for Shahrazizi’s Nights: A Tale Within a Tale Within a Tale, published by Dar al-Balsam in Egypt. Ghoneim has previously been shortlisted for the Etisalat Prize, in the YA category, while Abdallah won the 2018 “Best Illustrations” category with her Think of Others.

This year’s “Best Illustrations” category went to The Monster and Me, illustrated by Baraa Al Awour and written by Aisha Abdullah Al Harithi, while “Best Text” went to Words by Syria’s Jikar Khorshid. The book was illustrated by Maha Daher.

“Best Silent Book” went to The Apple, by Asma Amara, illustrated by Atifa Abdullah, while “Best Production” went to I’ll Be Okay, co-authored by Essam Asmir and Lama Azmar, illustrated by Hanane al-Kai, and published by Jabal Amman in Jordan.

And although there was no shortlist announced for this year’s Young Adult category, judges did announce a winner: شقائق النعمان (The Poppy Anemone), by Haya Saleh, published by Al Yasmine for Publishing and Distribution in Jordan.

According to the publisher, the novel follows two brothers who find themselves in unjust circumstances, who set out on an adventure to search for one another.

Watch the full announcement:

Young Adult

The Mystery of the Falcon’s Eye: Action Packed Adventure Tale of a Palestinian Teen Against All Odds

ArabKidLitNow recommends Taghreed Najjar’s Etisalat Prize-shortlisted novel, The Mystery of the Falcon’s Eye (لغز عين الصقر):

Awards: Shortlisted for the Etisalat Children Literature Award 2014

Author: Taghreed Najjar

Illustrations: Ammar Khattab

Publisher: Al Salwa Publishing

Target age: 12+

Goodreads ratings: average 4.24 stars (out of 5)

Buy in Arabic: لغز عين الصقر

When the discovery of an old family heirloom reveals a cryptic glimpse into his family’s past, 17-year-old refugee Ziad must embark on a dangerous journey across the impenetrable border that divides him from the buried secrets of a past Palestine, a journey which may hold the key to his future.

After his father is arrested as a political prisoner, Ziad is forced to leave school and begin working to support his family. Toiling away each day from dawn ‘til dusk at the infamous Qalandia checkpoint, selling tea and tissues to the endless lines of traffic, Ziad must reluctantly say goodbye to his dream of graduating from high school and going on to university, family is just too important to him, and his mother is struggling to support him and his younger sister Najwa and little brother Selim. Things go from bad to worse when Selim falls gravely ill and requires an operation in an Israeli hospital which the family simply can’t afford. But there may be a light at the end of the tunnel, locked up in his great-grandmother Sitti’s cloudy memories of the days before the Nakba…

Ziad must take a huge risk and leave everything he’s ever known to look for the ancient clues left for him by Sitti, taking him across the separation wall into occupied Palestine in search of his family’s ancestral village and the gold and jewellery that was buried there long ago. He must find the key to unlock his past and ensure his family’s future…

The everyday details of life for refugees in the West Bank are seamlessly woven together with an oral history of Palestine before the Nakba in this exciting adventure story from one of the leading writers of children’s and YA’s fiction in Arabic. It is a story to shine a light on the reality of Palestine, while also showing young readers that Palestinian children have many of the same worries and desires as children anywhere else. The charismatic lead Ziad and his resourceful younger sister Najwa will inspire and charm young readers and leave them deeply invested in this compelling tale of a perilous journey into a mysterious forgotten world.

From: The Mystery of the Falcon’s Eye

Below, an excerpt from early in the book, as Ziad begins to think there might really be something to his great grandmother’s story.

By Taghreed Najjar

Translated by Joseph Devine

At Qalandia checkpoint, Ziad waited on tenterhooks for their return from the hospital. As soon as they arrived, he hugged Salim and gave him a kiss. He gave Najwa an urgent look, his eyes asking her about the outcome of the appointment, but his mother’s expression and Najwa’s averted glance were all the answer he needed. He got in a taxi with them and, sensing they were all exhausted, asked the driver to take them straight home.

After Salim had gone to sleep, Ziad’s mother had to excuse herself as she broke down in tears. “The doctor said Salim’s condition is serious, and he needs an operation that’s too expensive.”

Najwa rubbed her mother’s back, gave her a tissue to dry her eyes, and tried to calm her down.

“Don’t worry, Mama, I’m sure there’s a way for us to help Salim. The doctor has our phone number and he said he’ll try his best.”

Their great grandmother Sitti suddenly cried out, “Oh my! Mahmoud’s in prison and his son’s dying!”

“Don’t speak like that, Sitti!” Um Ziad shouted. “Salim is not going to die. There’s an operation that can save him, and he’ll lead a normal life.” She paused for a moment and then went on in a hushed voice. “But where will we get the money for it? What a nightmare.” She started weeping again.

“Remember, Mama, didn’t the doctor say that if we can pay for the tests, he’ll try and find a way to pay for the operation?”

“Tell me, Najwa, how will we even pay for the tests? They’re expensive, too.”

“Simple!” shouted Sitti. “How about we sell my gold? There’s ten gold bracelets, twenty-five gold liras, six rings, four gold chains, and…”

“For heaven’s sake Sitti!” snapped Um Ziad. “When will we have enough of this story about the gold? You’ve been going on about it for years. If we had such treasures, then we wouldn’t be living this miserable life. We’d have had the best lawyer for Mahmoud, Ziad would be on his way to university by now, and we’d have paid for the tests already. No, please, Sitti. Enough of this gold nonsense, it hurts my head.”

Sitti drifted off, and a confused look came over her face, as if she were summoning a memory from the distant past. There was gold… she thought. Then, like a skipping record, she repeated, “Ten gold bracelets, twenty-five gold liras, six rings, four gold chains, and…”

She perked up after a few moments and continued, “I was a new bride, and Ismail was head of the household. Everyone in town respected him and valued his word. One day, he came home and called a meeting. He told us they’d received word that, two days earlier, Zionist militias had attacked the village of Deir Yassin, that they’d killed dozens of people and robbed their homes, and that they were heading our way. He said we’d all have to leave our village for a few days and then come back when the situation got better. Some of the women began wailing and hitting themselves, but Ismail shouted, in a voice that shook the house and made everyone as quiet as mice, and said…”

Suddenly, she went quiet. Then she turned to Ziad and said, “Ismail, tell them what you said!”

Everyone laughed as Ziad grabbed her hand and said, “Sitti, I’m Ziad, your great grandson.”

“Oh goodness me, of course!” cried Sitti. “By the way, have I ever mentioned you’re his spitting image?”

Um Ziad clapped her hands. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Sitti. What will become of us?”

That night, Ziad couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t stop thinking about everything Sitti had said. He’d heard the story of the gold dozens of times before, but he’d never paid it much attention, since Sitti was always confusing events and forgetting things. But today, it had made him stop and wonder. Why did Sitti still insist on this story? Why did she repeat such exact amounts of gold? “Ten gold bracelets, twenty-five gold liras, six rings, four gold chains, and…”

No one ever took her story seriously, but…what if it was true? What if all that gold really existed someplace, and Sitti was the only one who knew where? If he could find out where it was and get it back, then they’d be able to pay for Salim’s operation, and he could finish school and go to university, and who knows what else…

“You’re really clutching at straws here, Ziad,” he told himself mockingly. “And even if the gold did exist, how would you find it? Is it even possible? They took over the whole country decades ago, so wherever it was left, surely someone would’ve found it by now? But then again, what if…?”

He stayed awake, tossing and turning in bed until the light of dawn crept in. That’s when he made his decision to talk to Sitti in private, in the hope that she could tell him more.

#

The next evening, after dinner, Ziad was able to talk to Sitti alone.

“Sitti, tell me about the gold. What’s the story? Did it really exist or not?”

She replied with excitement. “Of course it did! Who says it didn’t?”

“But whose gold was it? Tell me.”

“It was mine of course,” she said. “And it’s my will and testament before God and his prophet that this gold should be given to the family of my grandson Mahmoud, oh how he weighs on my mind!” She began to pray, “May God, most capable and generous, accept him and grant him success, relieve him of his worries, and release him from prison.”

“Inshallah, Sitti. Can you tell me more?”

Sitti looked around hesitantly, then said, “Okay, I’ll tell you. But listen carefully, and don’t tell anyone else. This is a secret between you, me, and your Jiddu Ismail.”

“Don’t worry Sitti, I won’t tell.”

“So, where was I?” she asked. “Oh, yes. Ismail had just told us about the slaughter at Deir Yassin. We were so scared, we were crying and wailing, because you know, Ziad, Deir Yassin was very close to our village of Lifta. But Ismail—God rest his soul—he was a tough man, and he quickly stopped all the fuss and came up with a plan. ‘Enough tears! We must leave our homes and go to a safe place, far from these Zionist gangs. It won’t be more than ten days or so before we’ll be able to return. We’ve heard that the Arab armies are on their way to defend us. So don’t take anything heavy or unnecessary. It’s only for a few days. Do you understand?’

“I understood, and so did my sisters-in-law: Safiya, Fatima, and Bahiya. We nodded and told him ‘Yes!’… See, Ziad, back in those days, we all lived together in a big house for the extended family, and… Where was I?”

Ziad was afraid that she’d get distracted and drift off-topic. “Then what happened, what was Jiddu’s plan?”

“Ah, yes!” she continued. “He looked at us, gave us an empty box, and said in a thunderous voice:

“‘Listen to me, all of you, and listen well. We’ve heard that these gangs have been looting all the abandoned homes and taking everything of value. So I need all of you to give me your gold. Put it in a bag, I’ll write everyone’s names on each bag, and we’ll put them in this box, which I’ll bury somewhere safe. Don’t worry, not even the Blue Djinn will find it! Everyone will get their gold back when we return after all this violence. I promise you all, and you know I always keep my word.’

“Your Jiddu, may he rest in peace, was famous in the town for being trustworthy, all the merchants said his word was better than any legal document, that he was always kept a promise and gave everyone what they were due. Everyone used to say, ‘This free man keeps his word’…”

Ziad began to feel that there might be some truth in Sitti’s story after all. He pressed her to keep going. “And what happened next, Sitti?”

“What happened?” she asked. “They stole Palestine and made us all refugees, that’s what happened! Enough, Ziad. I’m tired and need to sleep for a while. Get me my blanket.”

Joseph Devine holds a Bachelor’s degree in Arabic & Persian at SOAS University of London, and is currently studying a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature (Arabic-Western) at Doha Institute for Graduate Studies in Qatar, where he also works as a research assistant, translator, and editor.

Taghreed Najjar is a pioneer of modern children’s literature in Jordan. A graduate of the American University of Beirut,Taghreed started her career as a teacher before becoming a full time writer of picture books and young adult novels. Her YA novels have been celebrated widely by her readers and various schools in the region have adopted them as part of their curriculum. A number of her books have won awards while others have been translated into English, Swedish, Turkish, French, and Chinese.  

Middle Grade · Young Adult

RECOMMENDED: Fearless Upper MG Fantasy ‘Dragon of Bethlehem’

Huda El Shuwa’s popular and acclaimed 2017 novella Dragon of Bethlehem is about looking up at the sky, seeing things from a new vantage point, and how—even when things seem hopeless—it’s possible to change the small things around you.

Adaptations: In 2018, it was turned into a musical narrative by Faraj Sulaiman, and presented by narrator Fida’ Zaidan and the The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music:

Author: Huda El Shuwa

Publisher: Tamer Institute

Contact: info@arablit.org, tamer@palnet.com

Buy in Arabic: تنين بيت لحم 

This short work— just 76 pages in Arabic and perhaps 20,000 words in English—is built around a boy named Khidr who’s just turned 16, and who lives in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp south of Bethlehem. Khidr has recently lost his only friend, isn’t a good student, and his father is in a psychiatric hospital. The other kids at school bully him, and the teachers aren’t much kinder. Khidr meets a sarcastic dragon (or rather, the dragon barges into his tiny camp house during the rain, because dragons do not like rain) who takes him up into the skies above Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and the surrounding areas to show him his world afresh. Although at first his teachers just punish him even more for his new creativity, Khidr is not deterred, and eventually even goes to visit his father at the psychiatric hospital.

In 2018, Dragon of Bethlehem was turned into a musical narrative by Faraj Sulaiman, and presented by narrator Fida’ Zaidan and The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music. It is exciting, gives a brief brush of Palestinian history landscapes, and also manages to be uplifting, with a smile-through-your-tears ending.

An excerpt from the beginning appears on ArabLit and another, from near the end of the novel, is forthcoming on Words Without Borders.

It opens:

TO SCHOOL

Khidr…

Khidr…

Khidr…

“It’s six o’clock… Come on, get up…”

Khidr wriggled in his bed, drifting between sleep and wakefulness as he drew his woolen Tom and Jerry blanket up over his head. He couldn’t sleep outside this haven—it had sheltered him from his first year to his sixteenth, which had just begun last Wednesday.

He hated waking up early so much. And he hated school…and oh, he hated first period…

He wished he could sleep a little longer in this warm bed, under the ancient woolen blanket that was like a cave full of beautiful, safe dreams. To go to the high school near his house meant he had a morning walk down cold, dark lanes, before the sun dared spread its wings firmly across the sky above Dheisheh Refugee Camp.

“Mmmmsleeeepy.”

The smell of sage tea, hard-boiled eggs, hot bread with zaatar… That’s what his mother fed him every morning, and it sent a little warmth his way, pulling him out of bed.

“Zaatar kickstarts the brain,” his mom would tell him every morning, as he sipped his tea. Khidr wasn’t sure about this saying; his brain felt completely shut off.

“Did you forget I’m seeing your dad today? Won’t you come with me? It’s so long since you’ve seen him.”

Khidr looked over at the picture hanging on the wall; the two people in it looked like wax statues. His dad was smiling in a black suit, while his mom was beside him in a white dress, wearing a lot of makeup… His mom didn’t wear makeup like that anymore, and she didn’t put on bright-colored clothes, either.

“No, Ma, I don’t want to see him. What am I going to say? I mean, I feel like I don’t know him.”

“How is that your father’s fault?” She lowered her head. He knew that look—the look where the light in her eyes flickered out. He felt a prick of conscience, as he did whenever he saw tears shining in her eyes.

Keep reading on ArabLit.

Young Adult

RECOMMENDED: Taghreed Najjar’s ‘Whose Doll Is This?’, A Palestinian Coming-of-age YA

ArabKidLitNow recommends Taghreed Najjar’s first Young Adult novel, Against the Tide (ست الكل).

Awards: Winner of the Etisalat Children Literature Award 2019

Author: Taghreed Najjar

Publisher: Salwa Books

Contact: rights@alsalwabooks.com.

Buy in Arabic: لمن هذه الدمية؟

Whose Doll Is This? is a Palestinian YA story for our times—a compelling tale of love, loss, injustice, and the possibilities of restitution. This page-turning coming-of-age tale centers on the discovery of a long-disappeared childhood doll and raises key issues, including cultural appropriation and coming to terms with one’s roots. WHOSE DOLL IS IT? is the fourth YA novel by award-winning author Taghreed Najjar, a 2019 nominee for the Astrid Lindgren award and a several-time winner and shortlistee of the Etisalat Prize for Arabic Children’s Literature. Najjar’s books have been translated to English, Italian, Swedish, Turkish, and French.

In Whose Doll Is This?, our teen lead, Arwa, is in her last year of high school. At first, she hardly considers herself Palestinian. She was brought up in the US, and her biggest concerns are her relationship with Stan and choosing a college. She chafes against her mom’s restrictions.

But then she comes to a lecture given by grandma, Dr. Laila, which she expects to be boring. When people heckle her grandma, Arwa begins to see things differently. This is also when she meets her new beau, Saeed. And when Arwa stumbles across her grandma’s beloved childhooddoll, she traces it back through previous owners to Nurit, who survived the Nazis and moved into Laila’s family home. Laila writes a book about the story. When it’s published, Nurit comes to a launch event and returns Laila’s old journal. But not everyone wants restorative justice: When Arwa and Laila travel to Israel to film a documentary based on the book, they meet with hostility. But now, the once-childish Arwa is steadfast.

There are more than six million diaspora Palestinians. Even more, the issues raised by this book—exile, cultural appropriation, teen relationships—would be interesting to any young adult (and adult) reader.

An excerpt from ‘Whose Doll Is This?’

The excerpt below is from chapter 15 of Whose Doll Is This?, titled “Mr. and Mrs. Wilson.” Arwa has by now found her grandma Laila’s beloved childhood doll on e-Bay, bought it from an antiques dealer, and drove out with her budding love interest Saeed to talk to the antiques dealer, Mr. Alexey. From him, she got the phone number and address of Mr. and Mrs. Wilson. When they don’t answer the phone, Sara and her friend Sara take a bus out to Bloomington, Indiana, to track them down.

Mr. and Mrs. Wilson

Then they were on their way to Bloomington, to meet the people who’d sold the doll to Mr. Alexey.

“I feel like we’re two high-powered investigators,” Sara said. “And, since the story of your grandma’s doll is so weird and unbelievable, and since I’m going to major in film, I’m totally going to make a documentary about it. And when I’m a famous director, it’s going to win me an Academy Award.”

Arwa laughed. “Ahh, Sara, that’s an excellent dream. I agree, on the condition that I get to choose the actor who’ll play me in the film. It’s important that she be tall, blonde, and beautiful…just like me.”

“But…you’re dark-haired and short… And, of course, beautiful.”

“Of course, Madame Sara. Beautiful, smart, and full of spit and wit, just like my grandma says.”

The two girls burst out laughing. Then they got busy imagining which famous actors would star in Sara’s future film. The bus made several stops along the way, giving Arwa and Sara a chance to eat sandwiches and have a quick coffee in the station cafeteria. When they found out from the cafeteria waitress that the address of the place they were going was on the outskirts of town, they decided to take a taxi right to the front door.

The taxi stopped at a final, isolated house that was old and falling down, in desperate need of maintenance and a coat of paint. Arwa asked the driver: “Are you sure this is the right address?”

“Of course I’m sure,” the driver said anxiously. “You want me to wait for you? It might be hard for you to get a taxi back.”

“No thanks,” Sara said. “We’ll manage.”

Arwa glanced up at the house’s second floor, where she saw an elderly woman watching her from behind a curtain. The woman seemed upset. Suddenly, Arwa and Sara heard the sound of a dog barking and a man calling, “Sit, Star. Sit!” Before Arwa could press the bell, the door opened up and a huge, bald man stood in front of them with a long gray beard, worn clothes—and a hunting rifle in his hand.

The man glared at them. “Are you from the debt-collection agency?” he yelled. “I know what liars you are. You send young girls so we think you’ve got good intentions. But then, when we open the door, boom, you hit us with a court summons. Go on, get out of here before I take a shot at you. It’s my right, since you’re trespassing on my private property. Go on, get out of here. Now!”

Arwa and Sara took several steps back, shocked by this reception. Sara whispered as she tugged on Arwa’s arm: “Come on, Arwa. Let’s get out of here before we get hurt!”

Arwa yanked her arm back. “No. I’m not going until I get an answer about the doll.” She approached the man, saying, “You’re mistaken, Sir! We’re here for a totally different reason, and we’re not with any debt-collection company. Please, just hear me out. We only need a few minutes of your time, and then we’ll go.”

Before he could answer, they heard a voice from inside the house. “Let them in, Fred. I’m curious what brought these girls all the way out to the edge of the world. Come on in. Come on!”

When Fred opened the door, Star walked up, sniffing and wiggling his tail in welcome. “Stupid dog!” Fred bellowed. “You’re supposed to be a guard dog to scare strangers off, not welcome them.”

The old woman coughed. “So. What brings you here to the end of the world? What do you want from us?”

Arwa cleared her throat. “Mrs. Wilson, I recently bought an old doll from an antique shop in Chicago. The owner of the shop, Mr. Alexey, told us that he bought the doll from a Mr. and Mrs. Wilson…and… Aren’t those your names? Anyhow, our request is simple. All we want to know is—how did you get the doll?”

“Doll!” Fred said. “What doll are you talking about?”

Arwa took out a photo of the doll and handed it to Fred. “This is the doll I’m talking about.”

Fred took a long look at the photo and shook his head. “Never seen this doll in my life.” Then he handed the picture to his wife. She was silent for a while before she nodded. “That’s the one… Don’t you remember, Fred? The attic was full of dusty old junk except for one old doll that was wrapped in white paper and stuck in a cardboard box.” The old woman gave them a look. “Is there a reward for this information?”

“Unfortunately, no,” Arwa said. “But let me explain the reason for our interest in this doll, Ma’am. This old doll belonged to my grandma—it’s the same exact doll she lost as a child, more than 50 years ago, in Jaffa, Palestine. My grandma’s now an old woman, and she’s curious about what happened to her doll from the time she lost it until she recovered it.”

“Some money might help me remember,” the old woman said, insistently.

Arwa and Sara exchanged looks. After that, Arwa pulled twenty dollars out of her bag. “I hope this is enough.”

“Enough?? Nothing would be enough for our food and medications. Nothing would be enough, but… Well, it seems like you’re a nice girl, and that you love your grandma. My grandkids never ask about me. I wish my granddaughter would ask after me, give me presents on the holidays. But… they’re my heartbreak. I barely see ‘em once a year.”

She fell silent for a moment. Then she said: “I’ll tell you about the doll because you’re good girls. When we moved into this house, almost twenty-five years ago, we found a bunch of old junk in the attic, left behind by the people who lived here before us. I remember the doll especially, because it was wrapped up so carefully and put in a white cardboard box. We needed money, and a neighbor said we could sell that and some other old junk to an antique shop. We sold the doll and all the rest of it for around $300. Seemed like a lot at the time, but clearly we made a mistake, since there must be people like your grandma who’ll pay a lot more.”

Disappointment spread across Arwa’s face. “Do you know the address of the old owner?”

“We told you we bought the house twenty-five years ago,” Fred said sarcastically. “How exactly would we remember?”

Mrs. Wilson snorted. “We don’t even remember what we ate yesterday.”

Arwa thanked Mrs. Wilson. As she walked out, the old woman said, as she closed the door behind them, “If you want to find the name and address of the old owner, you’ve got to go to a company called Renewable Real Estate at the center of town. They might be able to help you.” Then, after she shut the door, she shouted: “And never come back!”

Translation by M. Lynx Qualey. For information about translation rights, contact Al Salwa Books at rights@alsalwabooks.com.

Fantasy · Young Adult

Ahmed al-Mahdi’s ‘Reem’: Dark Yet Witty YA Fantasy

ArabKidLitNow recommends Ahmed al-Mahdi’s dark yet witty YA fantasy, Reem (ريم).

Author’s awards:Winner of the Short Story Award, 2017, from the Egyptian Society for Science Fiction, for the short story “Unusual Visitor”

Author: Ahmed al-Mahdi

Publisher: Al-Kenzi for Publishing and Distribution

Contact: info@arablit.org

Buy in Arabic: ريم

Egyptian author-translator Ahmed al-Mahdi’s Reem: Into the Unknown (2017) is a dark YA fantasy, a reimagined folktale in the vein of T. Kingfisher’s The Seventh Bride. It opens from the point of view of Saif, who’s living a claustrophobic life in suburban Cairo, working a desk for a major corporation. His life is empty, and, after taking a detour to get around a typical Cairo traffic jam, he crosses paths with a pet store, just a stone’s throw away from home. There, he finds a cage covered in black cloth, hiding a strange black cat. This launches Saif—and the reader—into the intertwined stories of Reem and Osama.

Reem re-tells a European horror-folktale in an Egyptian setting, with Egyptian wit, relaying the story of a girl who’s pressed into witchcraft by her seemingly kind old grandmother.  Saif must untangle the threads of the story, delving into the world of greed and witchcraft thriving just beneath the workaday world of modern Cairo.

Ahmed al-Mahdi is an author, translator, and critic who lives in Cairo, Egypt and has published three novels, as well as numerous stories for children.

Sample:

In his office at one of Egypt’s big corporations, Saif sat in front of his computer’s bright screen, feeling totally bored. He stared inattentively at the numbers that ran past on his screen, and from time to time he yawned and checked the time on the wooden clock that hung on the wall, wondering how much time was left till the workday ended. Although he had a digital clock in the corner of his screen, he preferred the sound of the wooden clock ticking away, with its constant, circular, clockwise movement, which gave him a sense of the passage of time.

He struck the keys with the rapid movements that now came to him, as he was used to the mundane work that drained away hours of his life every day. He felt especially weary today, because it was the last day of the week, and he was looking forward to the weekend. It seemed there was an unwritten rule that, the closer the thing you wanted, the more you craved it. He didn’t actually do much on the weekends — just watch TV and read the occasional novel — as he lived alone, and he preferred not to hang out much with his friends, who’d become used to his retiring personality.

Saif glanced up again at the wooden clock and noticed there were only about fifteen minutes remaining, so he arranged the papers on his desk and shut down his computer. Once the clock struck three o’clock, he left the office and rushed down the stairs. He didn’t like the elevator, since he was claustrophobic. Once he reached the ground floor, he headed to the garage, looking for his car, trying to remember where he’d parked it that morning. Finally he found it, and rushed toward it.

The garage worker was waving as usual to greet him, so he waved back before he got into his car. He started up the engine, which roared as usual. Then he left the office building, driving the car into the crowded city streets, heading straight for home. To pass the time, he began to think about what he’d have for lunch — although he don’t need to worry about deciding what to eat, since he lived alone. He might get some take-away, or cook a simple meal using his humble cooking skills, which hadn’t improved, even though he’d lived alone for many years. Today was, as he always told himself, “just another day.”

Yet on this particular day, there was construction work on the main road, and drivers had a hard time trying to pass through the tiny sliver of road that barely allowed for a single car to edge through. Saif wasn’t the kind of person who could bear sitting in a Cairo traffic jam, so he decided to take another route home. This way was actually longer, forcing him to take several side roads, but for him it was still better than being stuck with all the angry drivers on the main road.

When Saif passed a fast-food restaurant, he seized the opportunity and bought some hot sandwiches to eat on the long ride home. But then, before he got home, he noticed a pet store. Even though it was close to his apartment, this was the first time he’d ever seen it. If he hadn’t been forced to change his daily route, he might never have seen it.

He suddenly felt the desire for a pet, without knowing where the urge came from. Maybe it was just the idea of doing something new and different, or maybe it was because his friends kept insisting that he marry, telling him that living alone could make him lose his mind. Maybe the company of a pet would relieve his loneliness. Although the idea seemed strange to him at first, after he turned it over in his head – while he was standing in front of the shop – he said to himself, “Why not?”

Full manuscript and plot synopsis available upon request.