Current Tunisian literature continues to feature distinct voices in the realms of poetry, the short story, and the novel alike. This distinctiveness is founded in particular on a creative capacity to broaden both narrative space and reliance on the writing experiments taking place among Arab and non-Arab authors at once. Tunisian writers increasingly exhibit a clear narrative identity with its own unique flavor and presence coupled with an openness to experimentation and ground-breaking exploration. In this text, promising 17-year-old author Aziz Yahyawi constructs a story world with a kind of narrative authority. We glide among the characters’ orbits, yet without establishing intimate connections either with them or with the story’s dark language, which creates a parallel world permeated by a sense of frigid remoteness and fear. This style in and of itself generates and deepens diverse meanings through a tightly constructed, surrealist tale that steers clear of the allure of both rhetorical flourish and limp descriptive prose.
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Translated by: Suleiman Zougari
Emerging from his plastic cave awash in filth, Crow “J” toddled unsteadily over to the paved road with sullen, terse gasps. The radiant disk was rising from the mouth of the earth as he advanced through the wild cawing of his fellow creatures.
Along the sides of the path that led to the hole where he worked there were large numbers of crows. Some were copulating, exposing their genitals to the rays of the disk, while others quarrelling and fighting to death, and still others gleefully burying each other to the sound of drum rolls
With difficulty he found a place in the packed line of rank, naked bodies. He tried to move away from a pair of bulging tits that had been rubbing obnoxiously against his back, but whenever he managed to escape them he felt his organ rubbing colliding with another crow’s rump. He was stuck between a bunch of charred, filthy sticks routinely sliding towards the road’s downward slope.
Throughout the long march, he heard pained groans and dismal memories emanating along with broken songs, whose indistinct lyrics trembled in horror on darkened lips, yet without being released.
When the black caravan reached the grain mine deep in the Earth, the stern, reprimanding voice of the master hastened their steps, intensifying their dread and their fear of losing the accustomed meal. “J” looked into the master’s crimson eyes taken aback by the sight of his shiny feathers and his elegant suit. He was likewise taken aback by his bizarre obesity. It was the first time he had actually looked at him. His surreptitious gaze had hardly gone on for a couple of seconds before the crush of bodies thrust him forward to his workplace like a huge wave.
He took the pick and got to work. The mine floor was slippery and especially filthy, saturated with the stench of urine, blood and semen. He clung to the flickering pillar of light lest he fall or lose his job. As the disk of light retreated for some rest into the mouth of the Earth, the line surged forward again with flaming enthusiasm in anticipation of the meal. “J” found himself standing before the master’s assistant, having forgotten momentarily that he had been waiting for his turn. Jolted into awareness by the doltish smile that would appear on the assistant’s lips every day as he distributed the grain of wheat that constituted the longed-for repast. Holding the grain in his rigid grip, he felt like flinging it in his face. However, flustered the hungry shouts behind him, he refrained from the gutsy deed.
On his way back to his plastic cave, he looked back and forth at the swings-turned-gallows hanging from the trees and gazing to the red sky that had left him drenched to the bone.
As he entered the dusty, dark grotto, it wasn’t the sky alone that was weeping. He, too, was weeping, though he had not felt it outside. Rather, he realized it only when he had come inside.
He lit his only candle. Then, as usual, he took the letter that he kept hidden under the plastic blanket, trying, if he could, to find something new in it.
“Be well, Jameel.. I will return soon. Don’t see the world as it is. Rather, try to see it with our eyes: as free and agile as a butterfly.” From Maya, your beautiful and playful sweetheart
He tried with all his mind, but wasn’t able. Instead, he fused with the voices behind him, and became one of them