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The Collar and the Bracelet

The Collar and the Bracelet

Yahya Taher Abdullah
Translated by Samah Selim
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 156
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  • Book Info
    The Collar and the Bracelet
    Book Description:

    Set in the ancient Upper Egyptian village of Karnak against the backdrop of the British campaigns in Sudan, the Second World War, and the war in Palestine, The Collar and the Bracelet is the stunning saga of the Bishari family—a family ripped apart by the violence of history, the dark conduits of human desire, and the rigid social conventions of village life. In a series of masterful narrative circles and repetitions, the novella traces the grim intrigues of Hazina al-Bishari and the inexorable destinies of her son, the exile and notorious bandit Mustafa, her daughter Fahima, tortured by guilt and secret passion, and the tragic doom of her beautiful granddaughter Nabawiya. Yahya Taher Abdullah’s haunting prose distills the rhythmic lyricism of the folk story and weaves it into a uniquely modernist narrative tapestry of love and revenge that beautifully captures the timeless pharaonic landscapes of Upper Egypt and the blind struggles of its inhabitants against poverty, exploitation, and time—themes that are echoed and amplified in the short stories included in this volume, which span the breadth of Abdullah’s tragically short career as one of Egypt’s most brilliant writers of modern fiction.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-184-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Part I The Collar and the Bracelet

    • Chapter 1
      (pp. 3-12)

      With the men, Mustafa departed for the Sudan while still a boy. A year passed, and the twelfth month of the second year came to its end without news of the absent beloved.

      Hazina’s thoughts are with her son, there, in faraway lands. Her right ear—the one that hears—is here with the cooing doves that cry, He is the Lord of Creation! The light deserted her right eye two years ago. Her left eye watches: Bikhit al-Bishari stretched out on the stone bench that circles the trunk of the doum tree. (At the end of those long years...

    • Chapter 2
      (pp. 13-18)

      Bikhit al-Bishari lay stretched out on the bed of palm leaves made with his own hands before disease struck him two years ago. Hazina uncovered his face. There, she saw three colors—black, blue, and yellow—and she divined the approach of death. She said to Fahima, “Run girl, and don’t come back without Shaykh Fadil,” and as she watched the covers rise and fall over the chest, she thought to herself, “He fights with the determination of a man.”

      Shaykh Fadil drew up the hem of his white silk cloak and pre-pared to sit down. Hazina swore on the...

    • Chapter 3
      (pp. 19-22)

      From Palestine, the promised sum reached Hazina regularly. It was interrupted just once, and Mustafa apologized the following month: “Our beloved wife miscarried in her fourth month, but now she is in good health. If not for this compelling reason, we would have never been late in sending the usual sum.”

      Fahima went often to her mother’s house on the pretext of paying a visit. How to digest these repeated visits from a newlywed? And did it escape Hazina that al-Haddad would also come immediately on Fahima’s heels, as though he were a piece of straw caught in the hem...

    • Chapter 4
      (pp. 23-24)

      He is the Great Contriver. He sent death to Umar Ibn al-Khattab in the shape of a dagger clasped in the hand of a vile Magian. He is the Prince of Believers. He is the One who scattered the seed in Fahima’s belly and behold: she is with child after a year and a half of marriage to al-Haddad.

      Hazina schemed, but God is the Most Excellent Schemer, and now Hazina harvests the bitter fruit. Fahima has left al-Haddad’s house thrice divorced and al-Haddad will take no pity on her swollen belly.

      Shaykh Fadil summed up the abominable news as...

    • Chapter 5
      (pp. 25-26)

      Al-Haddad visited his former wife in order to see the baby girl. He slipped two coins in the child’s swaddling clothes and avoided Fahima with his eyes. “I came for my daughter’s sake,” he warned Hazina. “The money is for her.”

      He objected to naming her Nabawiya. “Why Nabawiya?” he demanded. “There are lots of beautiful names. Why do you refuse the nice ones? Hmph. They don’t cost anything! I’m going to call her Houriya. That’s a lovely name, and the girl is lovely—can’t you see?”

      Al-Haddad brought his daughter some colored calico, “Because winter is on the way.”...

    • Chapter 6 It All Happened So Unexpectedly
      (pp. 27-30)

      Abd al-Hakam Taha came from Palestine. He brought gifts from Mustafa: a small crate of hazelnuts and dried figs and apricots, a black gown for the mother and a patterned gown for the sister. There was a black headscarf for each, and for the little girl Nabawiya a length of cloth large enough for three dresses, yellow shoes with red buckles, and a small candy bull with two pointy horns.

      Hazina distributed some of the gifts to the neighbors. “Didn’t they stand by me during the worst of those evil days? They did their duty and now I’m doing mine.”...

    • Chapter 7
      (pp. 31-34)

      Disabled Hassan recited the opening sura of the Qur’an and finished with a quick reading of Chapter One, The Cow. He asked Hazina and Fahima to pray over the souls of those who died in God and his Prophet’s faith. He rose from his seat and unfurled the sleeve that covered his amputated right hand. Hazina emptied the dates and yellow bread baked with milk and turmeric from her small basket and into Hassan’s sleeve. Hassan left to recite over another nearby grave where a group of women were sitting and waiting.

      Hazina pointed to the women and said to...

    • Chapter 8
      (pp. 35-36)

      Nabawiya is her father’s legatee by right and law. Al-Haddad’s sister—who hates Nabawiya and Nabawiya’s mother and grandmother—planned and plotted how to defraud the little girl of her God-given rights. Al-Haddada said, “My brothermay God rest his soul—sold me his inheritance and here is the official deed, inked with al-Haddad’s thumbprint.” Hazina sought out Shaykh Fadil to protect her and to thwart al-Haddada’s stratagems. Al-Haddada sought help from Shaykh Yusri, son of Yusuf Diyab. He had failed his studies at the blessed Azhar, but because he had spent two years living in the University Hostel for southerners...

    • Chapter 9 A Boy and a Girl
      (pp. 37-40)

      Shaykh Fadil owns an unenclosed date palm orchard behind his large house. Nabawiya ties each end of a long rope to the branch of a palm tree in order to make a swing. In between the two trees lies a vast space through which Nabawiya flies. She spreads out her arms and grasps the rope that cuts into her buttocks while the wind raises her dress and caresses her lovely face, blowing through her hair and bringing the joy that fashions laughter.

      Shaykh Fadil’s son (from deceased Asmaa) is close to Nabawiya in age. He is her only playmate. The...

    • Chapter 10
      (pp. 41-46)

      The Cunning Jew with the hooked nose is selling three jugs of wine for less than a quarter of the going price. The rich Arab said to himself, “What a good bargain!” The Jew’s lovely-daughter dipped the tip of her tongue into a goblet full of wine and took a long, slow sip. She said, “Our wine is good.” (The girl’s hair is yellow, like molten gold, and each cheek is stamped with a red rose.)

      The wine dripped over her mouth, into the cleft that marks the two breasts, and gathered in the navel.

      The son of Arabs said,...

    • Chapter 11
      (pp. 47-50)

      Two startled doves settled on the girl Nabawiya’s breast. They delighted her. All alone, she stared at her breast and questioned them. “Why are you frightened? Why always on the point of taking flight?”

      Nabawiya said to herself, “These two doves are stuffed with sand and hot pebbles.” She grew bold and took a dove in each hand.

      Hazina saw the birds on the daughter of her daughter’s breast. She heard Shaykh Fadil’s son calling out to the girl in a voice now grown rough as a reaper’s scythe slashing through clover. “I must be vigilant,” she said, and by...

    • Chapter 12
      (pp. 51-52)

      The mother threw her thin-fleshed body into the arms of the son. She rubbed her head made heavy by the burdens of time against his chest and sniffed his clothes. She took note of the white hair at his temples. “This is what time has done to you and to me, my son. But you still bear the strength of two men in your arms.”

      The ghost of Bikhit al-Bishari, the father and the husband, whispered in the air. Fahima’s ghost, daughter and sister, whispered in the air. The mother said, “My darling, my one and only.” Their sobs rose...

    • Chapter 13
      (pp. 53-54)

      The river floods—covering the expansive sands there, on the west bank, with its copper-colored waters—and recedes, leaving behind fertile mud deposits. The farmer buries his watermelon seeds, whereupon the vines emerge and spread their green stems and leaves, then the blossoms burst open and the fruit reveals itself. The melons grow bigger and rounder; their outer skins are green but their insides are fiercely red, fiercely sweet, firm, and not too watery.

      Boats bring the merchants who bargain with the landowners (not the farmers of course) and buy the crop. Then the same boats take the crop from...

    • Chapter 14 In Which All Threads Intertwine
      (pp. 55-58)

      Al-Sa‘di said, “Mother, I want to marry my uncle’s daughter.”

      Al-Haddada looked as though she’d been stung by a scorpion. “If you marry Fahima’s daughter, you’re no son of mine. I’ll slaughter a pigeon in your footsteps, just as though you’d died or as though I had only given birth to girl-children, and God be my recompense.”

      The obstinate lover shouted, “Nabawiya is my cousin! She’s my honor and my blood. Her flesh is my flesh.”

      “Nabawiya is Fahima’s daughter, not al-Haddad’s,” the mother replied. “If you decide to be stubborn about it, I’ll disown you.”

      The boy spit out...

    • Chapter 15 The End
      (pp. 59-62)

      Enraged Mustafa meted out the searing blows to Nabawiya and turned the lovely face into a swollen pulp. He gathered up the raven hair in two strong hands bulging with purple veins and threw the body desired by men onto the ground. He dragged her along, kicking the sinful belly over and over with his feet, then he left her there for a moment—a heap of broken-boned flesh moaning at the foot of the wall—in order to dig the pit.

      He tossed the hoe aside, lifted Nabawiya and stood her up in the pit. Then he shoveled the...

  4. Part II Short Stories

    • Chapter 16 From the Dark Blue, a Story
      (pp. 65-68)

      All thanks to God, who has seen fit to strip me of every blessing but the gift of imagination.

      And prayers to the Prophet, who sheltered the gazelle when she sought refuge from the evil ways of her cunning master.

      And praise upon praise to you, my Prince.

      The perverse Italian count entered the City of Winter in summertime. Immediately the city’s summer sun had stared long and hard at the stranger with its enormous eye and assaulted him with a thousand winks of light and a thousand winks of fire, he stripped off his clothes all the way down...

    • Chapter 17 The Story of Abd al-Halim Effendi and What the Silly Woman Did to Him
      (pp. 69-74)

      I didn’t see it, I wasn’t there in those days myself, my Prince, but I was present at an evening put on by three of the very best storytellers who ever lived. Cruel death made off with them all in the same year (may God have mercy on their souls). The loss of them is great indeed.

      The one-handed man who played the lute, plucking tears from one string, laughter from the next.

      The mute who painted the world in shrieks and wild gestures—a world of seas and forests, birds and people.

      The toothless one who was an unsurpassed...

    • Chapter 18 The Story of the Village Maiden
      (pp. 75-78)

      The orphaned virgin sells the baskets that her mother’s mother twists out of palm branches in order to make a living from the toil of her arms and the sweat of her brow. Like all poor girls, she waits in a cage for a poor husband who will clasp her hand and take her to live with him in another cage. The days go by and the belle loses her pretty smile and her lithe figure. The days leave nothing in their wake but children, worn-out husband, summer and cold, pests, dust, rotted cheese, and a hand holding a crust...

    • Chapter 19 An Embroidered Tale
      (pp. 79-84)

      His father used to pickle turnips and dye them with safflower petals before selling them. This, my Prince, was the first of a series of humiliating smacks dealt to Abbas by a ruthless, son-of-a-bitch world.

      His father divorced his mother, Asma, after she had given him seven children who all died one after the other. Only Abbas remained to see his old mother, ragged and barefoot, collecting cow dung and hawking the fuel to one and all, even the stuck-up ones so long as they paid.

      His father married a young girl—a tripe seller called Saliha—who was very...

    • Chapter 20 A Melodramatic Story
      (pp. 85-88)

      In Fustat it was. Two floors of white stone, on each floor four rooms with high ceilings. The upper floor for living, and on the lower floor, a storeroom, a granary, a toilet, and a reception room. The reception room was the farthest room in the house. It was close to the toilet and the bathroom and intended for the accommodation of male guests.

      The house belonged to a noble family of old. Long ago, a Turkish lady possessed its keys by right of marriage. After her death, it passed to bungling heirs who sold the house because of a...

    • Chapter 21 The Song of Elia the Lover
      (pp. 89-98)

      It was a hot evening, just after sunset, and contrary to habit Elia the lover was wandering about aimlessly. Elia the lover was sad because Samia—the girl he loved—wasn’t walking by his side at that very moment.

      Elia the lover wandered aimlessly down the street lined with the most movie theaters in the city. His right hand was snuggled in his right pants pocket and his left hand was snuggled in his left pants pocket. The transistor radio nestled in his black and white striped shirt pocket played a tune dedicated to the Ismailia Football Team, which had...

    • Chapter 22 Mr. Sayyid Ahmad Sayyid
      (pp. 99-106)

      The apartment has two rooms. It is a dilapidated place, located in one of the city’s old popular quarters. It belongs to the two sisters who inherited it from a dead father and a dead mother. The older sister lives in one of the rooms and the other room is rented out to Mr. Sayyid Ahmad Sayyid.

      Yesterday, the younger sister (an old woman nonetheless) came to visit her older sister and for some reason known only to the Great Knower, an argument broke out between them.

      The younger sister said, “You live in one of the rooms, and that’s...

    • Chapter 23 The Ghoul
      (pp. 107-108)

      The outcast stood erect and spit on his merciless people, and he threw a parting glance at the distant houses. But how great was his joy to find that his pregnant cat had followed him, and he marveled at the devotion of animals.

      He walked on, and she walked on after him. They walked for a long time until they penetrated the heart of the wasteland and vicious thirst and hunger seized them. The cat had given birth to a litter of tiny, blind kittens. She satisfied her hunger with the flesh of one of her brood and slaked her...

    • Chapter 24 Tears
      (pp. 109-110)

      One day, a man cut off a viper’s tail with an iron bar, so the viper fled his house and took refuge in the house of an old widow.

      The old widow, who was wise, said to herself, “My chickens are my livelihood. I barter with the shop owner. He takes the eggs and gives me a packet of tea and a cone of sugar and a box of matches. Likewise, the tinker: he takes the dung of my chickens and gives me a needle, a spool of thread, a handful of salt, and some grains of pepper. Vipers are...

    • Chapter 25 Fear
      (pp. 111-112)

      A barren shop owner married a beauty and he watched over her as he did his goods. The beauty is a framed painting to be admired but not to do any admiring; a precious object in an opulent home with warbling birds in cages and colored fish swimming in a glass bowl. Chains of magnificent stones adorn the beauty’s throat; anklets of silver and bracelets of gold bedeck her. She wears costly brocade and brilliant scented kerchiefs embroidered with sequins and pearls.

      The days—as wills the Maker of Days—are divided between morning and night. The mornings of our...

    • Chapter 26 Death
      (pp. 113-114)

      It is related that, wishing to toy with the souls of a male and a female slave who worked in the fields of the master, the scowling angel Azrail disguised himself as an old and bearded blind man with a tablet under his arm and a quill and compass in his hand.

      Astonishment possessed the two heedless slaves: What need does a blind man have for a tablet, quill, and compass? And why does he not feel his way with a stick, like other blind men?

      The female slave said to her husband, the male slave, “If you command me,...

    • Chapter 27 Be a Good Egyptian: Be the Master
      (pp. 115-116)

      He married—having fled his people—a beautiful bride who had also fled her people, and he promised her a home.

      So he put on the cloak of a regal beast of prey and headed for the wilderness, and there, where he found water cleaving the rocks in two, he built his house and enclosed it in thick coils of interlacing trees.

      The lost traveler came and asked for food, and he fed him without demanding payment. The lost traveler departed, then returned with his family. He thanked him and his family thanked him. He fed them again, and they...

    • Chapter 28 The Messenger
      (pp. 117-118)

      The messenger of death (the swindler, the able one) removed his silken garments, his ornamental necklaces, earring, and anklets, and disguised himself as a live fish swimming in sweet water.

      The messenger of death (the swindler, the able one) removed his silken garments, his necklace and earrings.

      The messenger of death and lover of ornament (the swindler, the able one) removed his robes of silk, his necklace, earrings, and anklet and disguised himself as a large live fish swimming in a sweet-water well. “Come,” the master of the house called out to him in the language of the fish. The...

  5. Translatorʹs Afterword
    (pp. 119-122)

    Yahya Taher Abdullah was reputed to have the remarkable ability of memorizing his stories and reciting them perfectly by heart at the lively literary gatherings that were a hallmark of the Cairo cultural scene in the 1960s and 1970s. Reports of these legendary performances point to one of the key elements of his style and of his persona. Abdullah was a poet, a master craftsman of language steeped in a centuries-old oral tradition, a modern-day heir to the itinerant balladeers who performed the ancient epic cycles of North Africa and southern Arabia in Egypt from the fifteenth century onward. But...

  6. Back Matter
    (pp. 123-124)