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from the January 2007 issue

from “A Nation behind Bars”

TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: The author is Sudanese. This excerpt is a translation from Watanun Khalfa al-Qudban (Beirut: Dar Al Saqi, 2002, ch. 17, pp. 46-52). It takes place in the early to mid-1990s, a time when foreign fighters were entering Sudan hoping to strengthen Islamic law in the country. I would like to thank Diana Abouali and Hussein Kadhim of Dartmouth College for their insightful comments and suggestions on this translation.

Rust in the Back of the Head


A silent prison. They call it "the devils' lair." Don't worry, my dear. As long as your mouth is a woman's handbag full of cotton, you won't see it and you won't enjoy the devils' welcome. Just keep hoarding the cotton, waiting for your period.

A greeting at the door. A slap on the right cheek. I spat blood. His face is like a fried fish that just came out of the oil. His eyes are pools of pus and rotten blood. I stood opposite him.

"When's your period?"

"The whole month, just like all of you."


"But I'm not a lesbian!"

He got up and walked forward in slow steps. He came near me. He ripped my clothes completely. I resisted him. He was able to lay me down on a table while I kicked violently. He opened the buttons of his pants with one hand. The other was gripping my hair. Moments passed in a repulsive sluggishness. He wasn't up to it.

He was extremely tense when he threw himself on his chair. I collapsed in a corner of the room, happy with his defeat.

"Didn't I say I'm not a lesbian?"

"Shut up, depraved whore!"

"The depravity is that we've gotten used to celibacy here."

His face was full of disgust and hatred as he whipped me repeatedly. They took turns for four hours. My body became a lump of minced meat. Hours later, they put me in a filthy jail cell that was full of dirt and remnants of coal. I passed out for the fifth time since I got here. A cell more confined than a country ruled by the military. Worthless are the people who don't applaud a tyrant. Military boots are designed to remind you of that.

I kept having to go to the toilet. I wanted to relieve myself.


I turned to the wall. Don't be surprised, since pissing is forbidden only between the two political banners.

Another banner: "Best is the One Whom the Strong and Faithful Rent Out." How they were violated with holy things! Who is the one that killed Imam Hussein? We celebrate every year the killing of a Sufi and the raping of dignity at Karbala. It's strange that Hulagu didn't tear down the Ka'aba. A man tore it down with the utmost piety.

An ant is next to me. They arrested it under the charge of hoarding and monopolizing wheat. They shouted slogans aimed at the president's wife that day: "Your husband is a jackass! You needed jackasses!" They haven't dared do that again.

The one with the fried face returned. A painful blow. I passed out again. Then the jail cell. Before closing the door with the gate I said: "You've satisfied me completely as a woman."


I smiled while listening to his tense steps in the corridor as he walked away. Are you good at dancing? Or drinking a bottle of mineral water without stopping? You don't have to be since all they're good at here is pumping up women's bellies. When do men's chests swell with violent anger? The Devil keeps to his own.

The wise saying: If you see your neighbor being murdered, turn your back to the killers. Maybe they'll take off. Another trick: Volunteer your tongue and underwear to the ruling system. Our morals are that you can embezzle a country's money and then cut off a peasant's hand because he dared eat a date from his field without your knowledge. Our morals are that you commit a crime and then hang others for doing the same thing.

People of our city: More silence, for God's sake! Your silence has disturbed us. You've even treated the sound of your wind with a silencer.


His fingers return to fondle my chest. I spit on him. He kicks me in the crotch with his right foot. He pulls my hair and grabs hold of my breasts violently, almost tearing them off. I spit on him as I writhe in pain. He beats me repeatedly with his fists. I protect my body with two terrified hands. The rhythm increases and a horrible state of agitation envelops him. A powerful demon possesses him. His entire body becomes two fists raining down on me. Blood!

He left me in a heap inside the cell. I came to. The world is becoming clear before my eyes. My body is a lump of screaming nerves, crying out. My hands were twitching a bit. There was blood on my face. I run my hand over my head. A bleeding wound halfway back. I feel dizzy again. I vomit and empty my guts entirely. Some spots of deep-red blood. I spread out my legs and my feet hit the opposite wall. I feel the sticky vomit under my toes. Darkness makes seeing things difficult for my eyes, which have suffered for days. The cell is full of foul air, polluted with odors of humidity and putridness. That's besides what I have added with my own excrement.

I try hard to find a haven for my head on a wall that bore much of the agony and follies of criminals. My eyes move with an intense slowness like two ducks from the days of Noah's flood. My eyelids are like two basalt stones. My stomach and chest hurt me. There's also blood on my underwear. A kick of the damned. Are you still a virgin? The bastard. Maybe he made me lose my virginity with that kick of his. All I remember is that my head fell on my chest and I felt the world turning in circles in a repugnant nervousness.

3 Another officer. White-skinned with black hair and green eyes.

"I wonder," I ask him, "are you from the Bajja or the Danaqla? Or maybe you're from the Shalk?"

"Enough sarcasm. I'm not Sudanese!"

"Really? Aren't I in the barracks for international peace-keeping troops?"

"The Islamic state is our state. We came from Afghanistan after we helped our brothers there. Some of us are waging jihad now in Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia. A majority came to the true country of Islam."

"Jihad? You call massacres jihad?"

"We're waging jihad against ignorant society."

"And who said you know more than society?"

"Enough! I'm the one who asks questions here. Shut up!"

"You? You're an unwanted guest. You grant yourself power to torture the citizens of this country. What kind of insanity is that?"

"We've come to reinforce the pillars of Islamic rule here. We won't retreat from our plan."

"Fine, but my country doesn't need your plan."


"That's you. You think you're a god? Silly boy."

"You don't know our viciousness."

"In this place, Gordon's neck was cut off. Don't forget, brother""

"Misbah is my name."

"Misbah? How strange, since your face is dark and your heart is blacker than the doka. Do you know the doka?"

"I know that here I'm for the victory of Islam!"

"Is Islam in trouble?"

"Our brothers here need our greatest efforts."

"Your brothers? Or are you for torturing, killing and muzzling people? What did they tell you about me?"

"That your father was a traitor and a fighter against the Righteous State. That you shun the right path so you deserve punishment."

"Damn you. You fight in Algeria because your party wasn't granted rule by democratic means and you protect a tyrannical system here. What kind of men are you?"

"We're fighting to spread Islam."

"Fine, go to America. People there haven't become Muslim yet."

"We'll definitely go."

"You're bands of despicable men who hide out in the mountains. You've been injected with hatred and vengeance. You have no way to heal your personal defeats other than through rifle barrels and torturing the innocent whenever you can."

"We've come to reeducate and punish people like you who are outside the law."

"The shadow of God is on earth!"

"No, an Islamic and rightly guided caliphate."

"It's the age of psycho-drugs and chasing defeat with violence."

"Infidel of the grace of the Islamic state!"

"Tyranny and violating my rights and killing my father?"

"Your father was one of the dogs of America!"

"America is better than you."

"The communists court America!"

"I'm not a communist."

"You're outside the Righteous State. You aren't a communist? What are you then?"


"An artist?"


"Art is forbidden. It calls for immorality and degradation."

"I prefer immorality to killing people!"

"Take her for torture. Whip her until she forgets her name."

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