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Ten Again

Ten Again: and other stories

Ibrahim al-Mazini
Translated by William M. Hutchins
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Ten Again
    Book Description:

    Ibrahim al-Mazini was one of the great humorists and stylists of twentieth-century Arabic prose literature. Like an Egyptian James Thurber, he captured the foibles and triumphs of Cairo’s middle classes of the 1930s and 1940s in exceptionally stylish prose. This collection gathers in one volume some of al-Mazini’s best short fiction, including two novellas: Midu and His Accomplices and Ten Again. Midu is an engaging, well-liked army officer who—assisted by almost every other character in the story—arranges a faux heist from his uncle’s library in order to allow young love to run its course. In Ten Again, a man awakes to find that he has returned to childhood, on the day of his tenth birthday: his wife, who is being wooed by a most obnoxious suitor, is now his mother, and his two sons torment him mercilessly at his birthday party. In al-Mazini’s skillful hands, the short stories included here illuminate a lively fictional world: from a drunken encounter with a parrot to an undertaker’s attempt to provide a cadaver with a believer’s contented smile. An unmarried woman dreams of her unborn daughter, who is impatient to be born; and a reclusive author who has chosen to disappear from Cairo’s literary scene is tracked down—to his obvious disgust—by an intrepid researcher. Rich in insight, imagination, and humor, these stories are a splendid introduction to a major figure in the early generation of Egyptian writers.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-188-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Translator’s Introduction
    (pp. vii-xii)

    Egyptian humorist, essayist, poet, critic, and translator Ibrahim Abd al-Qadir al-Mazini was born in Cairo on August 19, 1890.¹ He graduated from a teacher-training institute in 1909 and taught for ten years. He left teaching for a literary and journalistic career that continued until his death in 1949.Al-Diwan(1921), an early book of critical essays written with Abbas Mahmud al-Aqqad, established al-Mazini as a spokesman for Egyptian literary modernism. His best-known novelIbrahim al-katib(Ibrahim the Writer,1931)—one of the first important Egyptian novels was daring for its time both in its structure, which is haphazard, and its...

  4. Part I Midu and His Accomplices

    • Chapter 1
      (pp. 3-14)

      We had better say something at the beginning about the home of Professor Ahmad al-Badi‘, since some (you might say most) of the events we will recount took place in this lovely house. We fear that the speed of the action will carry us with it, so we neglect to give adequate explanation where it is needed. Then the reader will get confused and have difficulty following us. He will have to come panting behind us (with our apologies).

      This elegant house is located on Sulayman al-Hakim Street in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis. The end of this street leads...

    • Chapter 2
      (pp. 15-28)

      At this point we must introduce our friend Muhammad to the reader, for it is not right to meet him time and again, hear his words and confessions, watch him leap and jump, and learn his deepest secret without an introduction. So we say that he is an officer in the 24th Infantry Battalion. His fellow officers call him Hammada, but the name the soldiers use for him among themselves is Midu. The name by which he is known to the Ministry of Defense is First Lieutenant Muhammad Effendi Abu Talib al-Bahrawi. This is what his father named him before...

    • Chapter 3
      (pp. 29-36)

      We leave Sarah and Midu, with Shakir behind them, heading home to replace the fez that had collected just a bit of dust, which had been shaken off completely. We return to the people we left to introduce the reader to the guest Professor al-Badi‘ finds tedious and fears will abscond with his books and manuscripts. Khayriya is fond of him, but her fondness falls short of love, contrary to the speculations of the professor. By him—that is the guest—we refer to Abduh. He is a young man, as we said previously—or do you suppose we forgot...

    • Chapter 4
      (pp. 37-40)

      Midu, when his car shot off with the woman doctor, Dr. Sarah as she likes to be called, along with her brother Shakir, was so happy that the world could barely hold him. He perceived or sensed nothing except that the marvel had come to pass and the miracle happened. Sarah, whose name he had not known an hour before and with whom he had not aspired to speak, was riding in his car—his own car. She was beside him, speaking with him, joking with him, looking at him, and smiling contentedly. He saw the locks of her hair...

    • Chapter 5
      (pp. 41-54)

      Professor al-Badi‘ was sitting with his sister, Mrs. Hanifa, and Abduh when Khayriya and Sarah came in together, with Shakir trailing slowly behind. The girls did not appear to see anything unusual. Khayriya’s excuse was that Mrs. Hanifa was her mother, whom she saw every day. Perhaps she had never thought about how she looked, for the customary seems normal. We do not know Sarah’s excuse, but she was well-mannered and self-controlled. Shakir, however, had no sooner sighted Mrs. Hanifa than he stopped as if advising himself to flee. Then he seemed to have consulted with himself and decided that...

    • Chapter 6
      (pp. 55-60)

      Darkness had fallen after the sun departed. The features of the earth were no longer distinguishable. Solid items had metamorphosed to mysterious phantoms. The different colors had seeped into a blackness that drowned them out. The temperature had changed from pleasantly and comfortably moderate to cold, as was typical in these desert regions. The family had moved indoors in search of warmth or to ward off the effects of exposure to the cold. Iwaz, the Nubian doorman, was walking back and forth in the garden vacated by the pleasure seekers. He had reached the end of the pathway and turned...

    • Chapter 7
      (pp. 61-66)

      Perhaps the reader perceived that Sarah the woman doctor—or doctor, as she prefers to call herself—left annoyed. If we say she parted from Professor al-Badi‘ in a vengeful mood, we will not exceed the truth. It had disturbed her to hear his criticism of Abduh. This is a place to caution against an error the reader may fall into and an idea that perhaps will tempt him. For Sarah, truth be told, did not care anything about this Abduh, nor did it concern her who loved him or hated him. She did know, however, that he was related...

    • Chapter 8
      (pp. 67-74)

      Sarah wanted something and God something else. If recompense were always for one’s intentions, she would have gained Abduh’s thanks and the anger and curse of Professor al-Badi‘. But it—that is, recompense—is definitely not always based on intent, at least in this world, which is the only one we know. Anyway, our concern here is with what actually happened, and what actually happened is that Sarah got angry at Abduh and accused him of weakness, lack of imagination, poor planning, and stupidity as well. Abduh cursed her privately and redirected toward her the vengefulness he harbored for the...

    • Chapter 9
      (pp. 75-82)

      “Someone here has a secret, Khayriya.” There was a delicacy and sweetness in his voice. She turned her face toward him and said admiringly to herself, “The Creator be blessed.” She had never seen such radiance and purity. Looking at him, she imagined he was swimming in air, not walking on the earth. One of his arms was around her waist, the other was through Sarah’s arm. They were strolling in the illuminated, dewy garden. They had covered more than a mile walking back and forth in silence, without feeling any need for talk.

      Khayriya said nothing. Sarah leaned to...

    • Chapter 10
      (pp. 83-86)

      Khayriya regained consciousness in her room, in Sarah’s arms. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that she regained her composure, so far as the eye could tell, after she had shed a handful of tears, which moistened the blooming flowers of her cheeks and made the tip of her nose look like a carrot. A little crying heals the heart, clears the eyes, and relieves the need for powders.

      Sarah sensed the increased regularity of her breathing and hugged her friend tenderly and affectionately. Khayriya responded with a light squeeze. She thought while doing this: what if this...

    • Chapter 11
      (pp. 87-90)

      One of the established truths is that time does not have a fixed length. Anyone may attempt to contradict that, but the fact is that time grows longer or shorter, expands or contracts, and widens or narrows in an uncontrolled way. We do not know how it does that, but we know that some weeks go by faster than a second while an hour may be so excessively long that it becomes an eternity. You will not find two people whose sense of time is identical or who attribute to it the same length. Indeed, you will not discover a...

    • Chapter 12
      (pp. 91-96)

      If the reader had been Abduh—that is, had he been in love with Khayriya in such a tongue-tied fashion and hated Shakir, even though he had not known him for long, because of his mellifluous words and ready tongue, which gave this rival the ability to capture the affections of naive young women with a well-turned phrase and a honeyed jest—and been seeking—we mean Abduh—to assist the Mesdames Hanifa (although deprived of the knowledge that she is several madams even though God, may His might be exalted, had gathered them all together in her single person)...

    • Chapter 13
      (pp. 97-100)

      Sayyid carried Abduh’s bag out and preceded him to the tram station, for there no longer remained room for him—we mean Abduh—in this house after the succession of events that had befallen him through the night and into the morning. Before he left, the Mesdames Hanifa summoned him. She informed him that she would join him and that Khayriya would be with her. She set the date for their arrival to allow him time to prepare their transport from the train to the estate and to get two appropriate rooms fixed up for them in his residence.


    • Chapter 14
      (pp. 101-104)

      In any case, the story has been spoiled without any help from the reader, so it is all the same whether he keeps the secret we have entrusted to him, spreads it himself, or discloses it to Reuters to publish to the whole world. The problem is that the narrators and local historians plainly disagree about what happened next, and we must rely on them for the narrative of events. We have found no two of them in agreement. Shakir even tells you one thing and the opposite, asserting that both are true. If you express any surprise, he shrugs...

  5. Part II A Night Unlike Any Other
    (pp. 105-110)

    For thousands of years, since yesterday seems as remote as the age of Noah—or by the calendar, twenty-five years—I have lived on the top floor of a towering building. One summer night I went with a number of friends to Qasr al-Nil, where we, escorting flasks or bottle of beers, boarded a boat. I had suggested purchasing a small keg, so each of us could drink his fill, since my love for this beverage was enormous in those days. I scoffed at doctors who claimed that consumption of beer led to what they termed ‘distension of the stomach.’...

  6. Part III Smile of Belief
    (pp. 111-116)

    I imagined in a dream that I was an undertaker, washing the dead—men, women, and children, without distinction—and wrapping them in shrouds before carrying them on biers to their graves. Dreams follow their own logic, although frequently that is not apparent. I was initially amazed that I had become an undertaker. Then my amazement switched to how I could tolerate this craft or trade and be satisfied and content with it. I did not know I was dreaming, that what I was experiencing was imaginary, and that I would open my eyes and escape from it all. Had...

  7. Part IV Ten Again

    • Chapter 15
      (pp. 119-120)

      We were driving toward Tanta when my wife said, “After we visit al-Sayyid al-Badawi’s shrine let’s pass by the house of Madam ‘Morning’ Sabah to pay our respects.”

      “No morning, no evening,” I replied. “Time is pressing.”

      She said, “I beg you. For my sake.”

      “Woman,” I said, “you should give thanks to God for this upright servant whom God has provided to serve you and your children.”

      She asked sarcastically and mockingly, “You—an upright servant?”

      I said, “Fortunately, on the Day of Reckoning it won’t be a woman officiating at the balance. In any case, the afternoon is...

    • Chapter 16
      (pp. 121-126)

      When we reached home and sat down to supper, one of the rascals—my two sons (not something I boast of)—said, “Do you know, Mama, that you’ve come back younger and more beautiful, even though you’ve only been gone four days?”

      I said, “That’s not surprising. She’s gotten some rest from the headache you cause her.” The elder wretch laughed while the younger one continued, “It’s true, Mama, you’ve come back looking twenty.”

      I said, “If you play the hypocrite, flatter, and dissemble at your age, what will you be like when you become a man?” She cast me...

    • Chapter 17
      (pp. 127-134)

      I seemed to have closed the door on my whole world. I lit a cigarette and stretched out on one side, supporting myself with an elbow on the pillow and resting my head in my palm. I began to think about this virtuous wife, who never stops inciting our children to mischief and who joins them in it. I told myself that they are two young, inexperienced boys, even if they are afreets, and that she is only a woman. Women, according to the description of traditional wisdom, or at least of popular lore, lack both reason and religion. I...

    • Chapter 18
      (pp. 135-140)

      I went out through the wide window—or door—after being given other clothes to wear. There was a spacious balcony suitable for play and large enough for various types. It overlooked a garden with flowers and fruit trees. Pathways traversed this area, some spread with small yellow pebbles. Throughout its far-flung expanses could be found shaded protection from the hot wind and refuge from the cold. Included in it were types of fruit that set my mouth to salivating and my tongue and lips to smacking, even though I had just then risen from table.

      I felt a craving,...

    • Chapter 19
      (pp. 141-146)

      I saw a wide staircase with a banister of polished wood and steps that were covered with carpeting. I said to myself, “This seems to be a mansion. Why do you suppose they chose to leave the floor of my room bare when they carpeted the stairs?” I descended slowly, a step at a time. I was tempted to climb onto the banister and slide down! I kept turning every which way but did not meet anyone. I felt uneasy in this stillness. When I reached the bottom step I saw before me a chamber more spacious than the normal...

    • Chapter 20
      (pp. 147-150)

      Finally the uncle came, and I submitted to his kisses—may God shelter you from such a misfortune! Everything about him was oppressive. His breathing was a rasp, his voice a din, his laugh a creak. He kissed as though sucking water from a half-empty jug. His belly was a blockhouse. The hair of his moustache resembled gnawed strands of rope, and his eye (may God grant us refuge) consisted of a crinkled lid without a lash, secreting water. The hair of his eyebrows was thin at the sides but thick up in front. His ears hung limply from his...

    • Chapter 21
      (pp. 151-156)

      I retreated to my room and closed the door. I remembered I had done that yesterday to escape the mischief of the two children—I wonder how they are now?— and their mother. The roles have been reversed—I the adult man have been reduced to a young boy. My wife has become my mother, who is courted by a shameless uncle who cares not at all that she has a spouse, disguised—against his wishes— by this hide in which I have been stuffed, compressed, and jumbled together. The two children whom I love despite their naughtiness and deviltry—...

    • Chapter 22
      (pp. 157-162)

      The table was covered with all the best foods and drinks that Ibn al-Rumi envied the merchants. I think it was so heavily laden only because of this scheming uncle. His enormous belly could not reasonably be expected to be content with something light or delicate, something “delicious to savor, tempting in appearance.” He kept filling my plate and urging me to eat. He extolled the excellence and ease of digestion of the food plus the enjoyment and health afforded by it. He appeared to derive almost as much pleasure from describing as from devouring. He seemed, so to speak,...

    • Chapter 23
      (pp. 163-166)

      I spent the rest of that day—indeed, when did that day start?—in prison. I do not mean that I was confined in one place, that I was put behind locked doors, or that I was prevented from moving or walking about. To the contrary, I was ascending and descending, entering and exiting, playing, carousing, jumping, both in the house and in the garden, however I saw fit, without caution or reserve. But I was alone with no companion, no mate for company, and no toy to play with. I felt deserted. My mother was in her room most...

    • Chapter 24
      (pp. 167-174)

      It was evening . . . .

      Yes, by God, it was evening, and what an evening. I shall never forget it so long as I live. It was as though a chain of tremors had caused the earth to shake under me, and I stood with my legs wide apart, increasing the distance between my feet, in search of balance and stability.

      But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.

      The beginning is that they prepared a long, spacious room from which they had removed the thick carpet (so the children would not get...

    • Chapter 25
      (pp. 175-180)

      When I regained consciousnesses, I was in bed with my mother beside me, and my uncle was pacing the floor. Lulu was holding a compress on my swollen cheek.

      I heard my uncle say, “It’s always been my opinion that this boy must participate in sports. Athletics will strengthen his bones and build his muscles, but you’re afraid even to have him hop and jump. See what’s happened? A small boy— smaller than he is—gives him a drubbing like this and crushes him until he is knocked breathless. If he were a girl, it wouldn’t matter, but he’s not...

    • Chapter 26
      (pp. 181-190)

      The time came for me to sleep, but I did not feel drowsy. Yes, I was tired, shattered. At times I thought myself between wakefulness and slumber but did not feel sleepy or heavy-lidded.

      However, I was told that sleep is a duty. So I agreed. I thought this would allow me some privacy. I pretended to obey, and they left me alone. I was able to think about my situation freely, in repose, secure from intrusion into my solitude by any other person.

      I told myself that this Friday had ended not with peace but with a drubbing. No...

    • Chapter 27
      (pp. 191-194)

      My question afterward, while I was lying in my bed—I mean in his bed, as is clear—in my mother’s arms, with my back to her and my face to the wall, with her hand on me to reassure me, was, “Can I bear to live in this body?” I told myself I should assess the merits and defects of this transformation.

      One of the advantages was that I had been turned into a rich child. It would have been easy for the one who transformed me to make me a poor child living in a miserable hut, suffering...

    • Chapter 28
      (pp. 195-198)

      Everything has an end—even a long night crammed with disturbing dreams. My sleep was neither sound nor refreshing. No sooner had morning drawn its first breath than I stretched and praised God that I was awakening from a short and troubled sleep. I yawned and opened my eyes, saying to myself, “Good morning, Suna. Perhaps today will be a better day for you than yesterday.” I told myself it was Saturday. Most probably I would go to school, God help me. I do not know where it is or which grade I am in. I remembered that I had...

  8. Part V The Dream
    (pp. 199-204)

    It has been ten years, but even so she remembers the dream with utmost clarity and narrates it as if she had witnessed it only yesterday. Unlike some of Eve’s daughters, she adds nothing to it and perhaps even understates it, since she lacks a cooperative imagination. Her amazement at it has not abated despite the lapse of time and numerous repetitions. She continues to consider it an exquisitely novel experience that has lost none of its luster. All the same, even though she has not tired of narrating it and does not find its repetition tedious, she does not...

  9. Part VI History of a Life
    (pp. 205-224)

    My older brother, who had two wives selected from among his cousins, lived with them in a single apartment located on the middle floor of our house. We—my grandmother, grandfather, mother, and father—had the top floor. The office was located in the rooms off the courtyard. My brother was like my father in having more than one wife. Why my father kept marrying different women I cannot say, for in our family I know of no one else who had two wives at the same time or who divorced his wife. It might seem strange that my brother...

  10. Part VII The Fugitive
    (pp. 225-238)

    When granted permission to enter, Sa‘id al-Maydani unfolded the newspaper tucked under his arm and spread it before the director of the Egyptian National Library, Dar al-Kutub. After greeting him, Sa‘id demanded, “Have you read this, Your Excellency? The accusation is obviously a patent fabrication, and so I have come in hopes of obtaining a rebuttal from you.”

    The director took the paper but immediately threw it down on the edge of his desk. Giving free vent to his anger, he replied, “Okay, okay . . . all that interests patrons of the library is finding what they are looking...

  11. Glossary
    (pp. 239-240)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-242)