Syrian writer and poet Osama Alomar conjures the transformative powers of imagination in these seven works of microfiction.
Thieves of Youth
A strange thing began to happen in the country. One morning, some young people woke up and found they had become old men in their eighties and nineties. Day after day, the number of those losing their youth increased, and the entire population was struck with an awful terror. People were afraid that the country would turn into an old age home. In the midst of this terror, researchers began to study this unique phenomenon. After painstaking efforts, they had solved the mystery, but they didn’t dare to announce it publicly. They kept it confidential until the day when the results of their investigations were leaked to the press, revealing, to everybody’s shock, that a number of elderly high functionaries had stolen the youth of those young people, adding it to their own ages, and distributing what was left to their closest family members and associates. The report indicated a heated competition among the oldest functionaries to steal the largest possible amount of youth from the young in order to get the most enjoyment out of their lives.
Everyone was deeply shaken . . . As for what was left of the young people in that country, they decided then and there to escape to another country where there were no thieves of youth.
From the porch of my house looking out on the main street, I saw the ideas like birds circling over their owners’ heads. Some of them were black and others white. After a little while, winds of cyclonic circumstances carried the birds away in a storm, and their owners too. It spun them up together in a whirlwind that only disappeared after a long time had passed. When it did, the birds soon went back to flying . . . but over the heads, their distribution and arrangement was different.
Strong spent most of his life living in a fabulous palace equipped with the most modern heating and air conditioning system and all the finest and most luxurious gadgets and accessories.
One spring day, he felt very bored, and so he decided to leave his house to see the city and get to know how the people lived. He put on his nicest clothes and fancy cologne and set out for a stroll, exploring the streets and alleys of the city, an amazed expression on his face. But after wandering for less than an hour, he developed sunstroke and returned to his palace, carried on people’s shoulders, swearing never to go out again in the spring, insisting that it was absolutely the worst season.
In Union . . .
“Come on, friends. Come together . . . come together . . . close ranks . . . close ranks!” The leader of a school of fish spread over a vast area far out in the sea shouted with his loudest voice, watching in terror as three enormous sharks approached.
Waves of fish stretching and moving everywhere instantly contracted and thickened.
The leader shouted again: “In union there is strength.”
Voices of support rose behind him. The compact mass of fish watched the sharks carefully as they approached, gliding confidently. Tension reached its peak at the moment when death passed just in front of them, but nothing happened. The fish sighed in relief, watching as the three predators calmly dragged the huge net of terror away with them as they went.
But only minutes later a big fishing boat appeared above. Its experienced sailors threw their giant net over the great school, snaring them easily.
Community of Dust
A floating particle of dust was annoyed at the cleanliness of the house where she lived. She said to her friends irritably: “I haven’t known rest in this house for as long as I can remember. Its owners are so enamored with cleanliness it’s unbelievable! I’ve forgotten how to lie down on furniture or shelves or old magazines. . . Stability and settling down has become, for us, the community of dust, an impossible dream. We drift through the air like vagrants without homes or dignity . . . we must demand our rights!”
“Yes . . . Yes, we must demand our rights!” All of them shouted in unison.
A few days later the owners of the house left on a three-month sightseeing trip. The dust particles were overjoyed and began a slow descent day after day, until everything in the house was covered in white.
When three months had passed, the owners came back to their house and did a thorough cleaning, leaving not a single dust particle. They didn’t sleep until they had thrown every last one out into the garbage in heaps.
A Story for Children
At eight in the evening, after he had eaten dinner, my eight-year-old grandson came running to me, eagerly asking me to read him a story before bed. He’s my only grandson. I love him a lot and I never refuse his requests, and so I turned off the television and went to my library to get a schoolbook containing stories for children. I sat the little one down next to me and opened the book to one of the stories at random, and began reading:
“It is said that a young man in the prime of life woke up and opened his window onto the giant sea of humanity. He saw women who took pride in their manliness . . . and men who were proud of their femininity. He saw germs and insects sitting regally on thrones, and miserly rich people carrying their fortunes to the grave and, there, getting more enjoyment from them than at any time previous during their lives. He saw the prophets and the saints enter hell through the widest gate, and Satan and the great criminals enter heaven, surrounded by songs of glory and praise. He saw maternal tenderness never growing tired of slaughtering children in icy blood, and the four seasons leaving the earth to have one strange, indescribable season take their place. He saw countries refuse to celebrate their independence days, crowning traitors as national heroes. He saw the dry land invade the seas and oceans so that their creatures slowly died, and sterility was the tyrannical lord of the world. He saw the past, present, and future like three drunk friends reeling as they walked, left and right . . . forward and back. . . running into one another . . . fighting . . . stabbing each other . . . losing their memory. He saw the skies raining gold and the people burying it so deep in the ground no human hand could reach it, then going back to their homes weeping from the weight of poverty and deprivation. He saw love’s emaciated body soaring with two huge wings of hate.”
Finishing this sentence, I looked at my grandson and saw that he had fallen into a deep sleep. I closed the book and put it on the table, then I carried the little one to his bedroom and laid him on the bed with great care. I put the comforter over him, kissed his forehead, and went back into the living room to watch the exciting evening movie on TV.
The Tears of the Phone
I woke early that morning to the sound of anguished crying. When I hurriedly turned on the light in my room, I saw that the telephone was wet with his own tears. I asked him why, and he answered me, saying: “for many months, no ring has shaken me, no device has tried to call me . . . what’s happened to the world? I’ve been destroyed by loneliness.”
I thought about the problem for a long time, until suddenly an idea flashed through my mind. I went out into the street and called my own phone number, and immediately went back home. I found the phone glowing with happiness.
Ever since, I call myself from the street every day.
© 2017 by Osama Alomar. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2017 by Osama Alomar and C. J. Collins. All rights reserved.