‘The Well’ by Badriyah Al Bishr


From Words Without Borders:

When Rafa‘a died, the last human desires in the bosoms of the people of Huzum village were extinguished, most of all in the bosoms of its women.  The burning desire for Rafa’as comeuppance sputtered out, for when a person dies, her memory grows flimsy and her human presence melts away…  She is no longer a threat to us because she is better and more beautiful than we are; instead, she becomes a weak creature because she dies insignificantly like every human being.  Because she no longer competes with us here on earth.

The women of the village who were Rafa‘a’s companions can no longer recall the spark of life in Rafa‘a’s eyes, her mischief, and her love of jokes.  The women of the village no longer burn with anger as they remember Rafa‘a’s legs exposed in front of their husbands and her breasts heaving with temptation when, possessed by the jinn, she was overcome with epileptic fits.  The men no longer think of Rafa‘a’s body as a memory subject to possession, because Rafa‘a has entered into the weightlessness of the void, and forty days after her death, her memory now evokes an inexplicable gloom in the spirit, turning cool breezes into the scorching heat of a sandstorm.

When Rafa‘a came to the village of Huzum, she was fourteen years old.  She hadn’t yet noticed women’s sly tricks or got the winking references in ribald tales.  She wasn’t yet aware of the reason for the words of wisdom that the women spun for her in Umm Ammar’s sitting room, and which provoked exuberant hilarity among the women while at the same time making Rafa‘a more embarrassed and confused in her ignorance.

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