The scalpel by Kamel Riahi

When I woke up in the morning I found myself in the midst of a nation that spoke a strange Arabic. They had long heads, with huge Diapositive1bodies covered with hair similar to the fur of a camel, and men wore a long wooden earring in their left ear. They were wearing a cloak and a gray striped tunic, and they walked moving their bottom in a peculiar way (I knew later they were all suffering from venereal disease). They were feeding on grass and did not touch lamb meat, except once a year, on a day called the « feast of Ghurrafah. » As for beef and poultry, they were totally forbidden, and not only did they not know of fish or other kinds of meat from the sea, but the term « sea » had a different, offensive meaning.
I heard one of them insulting his enemy, saying, « Thou art a sea. » When I asked about the meaning, I learned that it was an insult, which meant homosexual. Surprised, I asked about the basis of this comparison. They said: « The sea is the lord of homosexuals and master of the effeminates: foreigners sail him and he shows no annoyance, like a homosexual among humans who gets penetrated by plebs and nobles, men and youths. » I was not convinced by this explanation, but I kept silent as if I was satisfied, because their customs and beliefs were so sacred they did not let the foreigners discuss them. One day, I wanted to ask about the reason behind the name of these people who live by the rocks, so I whispered in the ear of one of them:
– Why are you called « the blowers »?
He glared at me with a disturbing look, his skin color changed, and the muscles of his face were quivering with rage. He replied:
– Ask the question once again, and you will suffer the same fate as that stranger. He pointed to a near place with giant trees that had smooth trunks and few leaves, which looked like ghosts that night. Dazed by curiosity, I went off to that place, and when I got there, a strong and sickening stench like the smell of carrion suffocated me. I sheltered myself behind my cloak and strolled ahead. It was the remains of a corpse, its four limbs were kept up by ropes knotted into two trees, with dangling entrails to the ground, pecked by creepy birds, among which I recognized only crows. Some birds were white, others were gray, and some others had a beak like a saw. The birds were releasing dreadful cries as they chewed the unfortunate man’s innards.
Meanwhile, a huge bird had landed, like a hawk, but it was not a hawk. It had a long head like a mule or a donkey, and a big mouth with thick lips. I was disturbed by the bird that was unlike any other. The strange thing slipped its tongue into the crucified man’s head to lick his cerebrum, after planting his paws on the shoulders of the cadaver. Terrified, I ran away. When I joined the guide who had been away waiting for me, terror had drained the blood in my veins and my knees could no longer support me. He smiled and said:
– Fear not: this is the fate of those who want to reveal our secrets.
I replied: That is not what scared me.
– What is it then?
– The bird-mule!
– You saw it?
– Yes, what is this monstrosity?
– Let’s go, let’s avoid being its prey this evening.
– You did not answer me. What is this thing? Is it one of your secrets too?
– I’ll talk to you when we get closer to the village. Hurry.
When we were away from the crucified corpse, the man slowed down, turned to me with a sweaty forehead and said:
– This is the Cerebrophage, he only eats brains and does not touch the rest. He took thousands of children. Each day we find the beheaded bodies. He loves the young brains, perhaps because they are fresh and pure. But the origin of its story is an extraordinary fact that someone other than me might tell you.
At lunch, they brought me herbs and tree roots, with a variety of smelly kinds of onion, some of which were raw and some others were cooked in a yellow sauce. I tasted them but I didn’t enjoy their taste; they tasted like they had been boiled in water without salt. I turned to one of them and asked:
– Can I have some salt?
Struck with amazement, he raised an eyebrow hearing my question. I repeated my request:
– I would like some salt.
He replied: And what is ‘salt’?
I was stunned! I had landed among people who did not know what salt is! I returned to the evil onion, bit off a piece and found it appeasing. I ate until I was full because I was exhausted by hunger. After the meal, they brought a pitcher which, I thought, contained tea, and poured us a white fermented milk-like liquid in wooden cups. I sipped it until I was drunk.
Translated by Sami Lamine
Madison – Wisconsin –USA 12/4/2015

A propos kamelriahi

KAMEL RIAHI Kamel riahi: tunisian novelist and journalist , born in 1974. He works as a cultural correspondent for prominent universal broadcasting including; newspapers, televisions and news agencies. He worked as the head of translation department at Arab Higher Institute for Translation in Algeria .In 2010, he returned to Tunisia where he joined the ministry of culture and took charge of the cultural panel in important spaces in the Tunisian’s capital. In 2007, got the “Golden Alcomar” prize to the best novel named “the scalpel” in Tunisia.In 2009 he was the only winner in “the Beirut 39” literary contest organized by high festival foundation to choose only 39 best arab novelists .One of the best five writers under the age of forty selected to participate in “the Bouker’s competition for two rounds. He issued a set of literary and monetary books such as; “Gulls memory” , “Stole my face” , “the scalpel” , “the gorilla” , “the movement of narrative fiction and it’s climate” and “thus spoke Philippe lejeune” and “the novel writing of wasiney al aaradj”.Some of his works have been translated into French,English,Italian,Hebrew and Portuguese languages.
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