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The Traveler and the Innkeeper

The Traveler and the Innkeeper

Fadhil al-Azzawi
Translated by William M. Hutchins
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 132
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  • Book Info
    The Traveler and the Innkeeper
    Book Description:

    This timely, elegant novel’s hero is an Iraqi secret police inspector who routinely uses enhanced interrogation techniques, which even he considers torture. Convinced that he is protecting society from anarchy, he is at peace with the world until ordered to interrogate a childhood friend, a journalist with possible links to violent subversives. Then he falls in love with his friend’s wife. The plot of this novel, which was written in Iraq in 1976 and published in Arabic in Germany in 1989, is further complicated by street protests in Baghdad following the Six-Day Arab–Israeli War of June 1967. Despite the grim subject matter of this novel, it is at heart a love story, lyrically narrated.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-058-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
    (pp. v-x)
    Fadhil al-Azzawi
  3. CHAPTER 1
    (pp. 1-7)

    In the evening, Qasim Husayn, a police inspector in the Bureau of Public Security in Baghdad, would often head to a summer bar. Most of these were located on the sidewalk of the north side of Abu Nuwas Street, which ran parallel to the Tigris River and twisted with it like a viper penetrating the heart of the city, starting from al-Jumhuriya Bridge, which linked al-Rusafa, east Baghdad, and al-Karkh, west Baghdad, at Tahrir Square, and then extending to the historic houses in Karradat Maryam. Qasim Husayn followed this routine especially in the summer, which lasts more than five months,...

  4. CHAPTER 2
    (pp. 8-10)

    Inspector Qasim Husayn entered the office where secret records were kept and picked up three dust-covered old files, and placed them on the table where an elderly clerk sat busily recording a group of new names that had come to him. Inspector Qasim reflected that this old man was as usual working with the contentment of a person who didn’t want anything to escape him. Then the old man lifted his head and said somewhat plaintively, “Please return those when you’re finished with them!” Inspector Qasim grinned; he would have liked to comment that the clerk always repeated the same...

  5. CHAPTER 3
    (pp. 11-14)

    The weather was dusty and the sun was shining brilliantly. It was eight o’clock in the morning. At ten the weekly meeting began, and—as he usually did—the director general would attend. Inspector Qasim Husayn crossed al-Waziriya Street, heading once more to Bab al-Mu‘azzam, and—like all the previous times he could remember going out for a stroll—let his feet lead him into the hubbub of the itinerant peddlers and taxi drivers. On his way, Qasim first passed the small bridge the train crossed behind the dam and then the faculties of Education and Commerce, known for their...

  6. CHAPTER 4
    (pp. 15-21)

    Inspector Qasim Husayn flipped through the numerous files before him and started to read some of them. Two boys, one fifteen and the other seventeen, had been scrawling slogans hostile to the government on walls in the Dura area with a brush and a bucket of red paint. They had been arrested two days ago but denied their guilt, claiming, “We support the government and wanted to paint over slogans attacking it.” The interrogator had then asked, “But if you really support the government, why did you run away?” Their response had been, “We were afraid of the security officers....

  7. CHAPTER 5
    (pp. 22-26)

    Inspector Qasim, while brooding about his latest encounter with Jalil Mahmud, remembered the day they met. Qasim had crossed New Bridge and then had descended toward Kirkuk’s old quarter, where the secondary school stood on the north bank of the Khasa Su River. This river goes dry in the summer, leaving nothing but colored pebbles in the broad riverbed and birds scavenging for scraps of food on its banks. Toward the end of winter and the beginning of spring, the river swells with roaring, swirling torrents that in some years threaten to flood the nearby Chay neighborhood. On that day,...

  8. CHAPTER 6
    (pp. 27-32)

    Inspector Qasim Husayn opened Jalil Mahmud’s file and began to read through it. Evening had overtaken the Interrogations Bureau, and the hubbub had subsided except for some quick rushes of speech that occasionally penetrated his office from new prisoners who had been dragged from their homes and thrown into holding cells for the night. As he studied his friend’s answers to the interrogators Inspector Qasim realized that his old school friend had chosen a difficult path.

    Q. Your name?

    A. Jalil Mahmud Salim.

    Q. Your occupation?

    A. Journalist.

    Q. Your age?

    A. Thirty.

    Q. Your employer?

    A.Al-Barq Newspaper.


  9. CHAPTER 7
    (pp. 33-36)

    “If you’re really his friend, do something for him!” Huda Abdul Qadir struggled to control her explosive emotions as her voice seemed ready to break. “He hasn’t done anything. I can assure you of that!”

    Inspector Qasim Husayn sat near her in her office, which she shared with her colleague Samia, who was working intently, perhaps to afford them more opportunity to talk.

    Qasim said with embarrassment, “I’m here as Jalil’s friend.

    This visit isn’t related to my work. I would just like to extricate him from the pickle he’s landed himself in.”

    Huda whispered, “I don’t know how I...

  10. CHAPTER 8
    (pp. 37-40)

    Qasim opened his office window and stood gazing at the trees, which were quaking in the night. The wind, perfumed with the scent of a desert summer, made him conscious of a fear that he began to feel not only in his heart but in every motion of his body, which he realized was rather scrawny. He wanted to go to Jalil Mahmud, open the dungeon door, enter, and say, “I apologize, Jalil. I hope you’ll forgive me.” But he wasn’t able to do that with his men standing behind him as always. Could he open his mouth in front...

  11. CHAPTER 9
    (pp. 41-46)

    Madiha stood inside the door wearing a short blue dress dotted with white lilies. She had braided her hair, which was tinted with henna. She welcomed Inspector Qasim Husayn with a sweet smile and drew him by the hand into the parlor, saying, “What’s the matter with you? You look pale today. I have some friends here; come meet them.”

    Inspector Qasim Husayn found himself in the parlor where he saw two middle-aged men who were in Kurdish dress. They were in the center of the room behind a table that had glasses, two bottles of whisky, and plates of...

  12. CHAPTER 10
    (pp. 47-55)

    Inspector Qasim Husayn rose to shake hands with Huda Abdul Qadir, who sat on a wooden chair in a corner of the office. He asked her mechanically, “How are you?”

    She replied, “Not bad, as you can see. I had to wait more than an hour before they would let me in.”

    Inspector Qasim Husayn expressed his regrets politely, “Sorry, I was only told you were here moments ago. I apologize.”

    Huda thought he was going a bit overboard and said, “Oh, it wasn’t a big problem. I’ve grown used to waiting. I mean, I’ve learned how to wait. When...

  13. CHAPTER 11
    (pp. 56-61)

    “Everything must be well organized. Supervise the work yourselves!”

    This was the last order that the director general issued as he retreated to his chair behind his desk, which was not very imposing. What it lacked first and foremost was the splendor appropriate for a security director in charge of the entire country. Behind it, high on the wall, hung a large picture of the president of the republic in military attire. In addition to the gray couches that took up most of the large, rectangular room, there was also a huge radio along with a television console. In point...

  14. CHAPTER 12
    (pp. 62-67)

    The telephone rang. Huda was on the other end. “Thank God! It’s you. I telephoned you this morning. Where were you?”

    Her voice was full of a sweetness that made him tremble with joy. It was the first time he had heard her voice over the telephone. He had hesitated at first about whether it was advisable to give her the number or not. Here she was, calling him the very next day. So he told her, “I was a little delayed leaving home. How are you?”

    She answered with a word which she had surely learned by watching films...

  15. CHAPTER 13
    (pp. 68-72)

    Inspector Qasim’s office was on the right side of the large building atop which fluttered the national flag. His was the second room on the left side of the open portico that led to the holding cell, where detainees were packed together, on one side, and to offices for inspectors and secretaries on the other. Even though the windows were locked, sunlight flooded the room, creating small rectangles of light within a large one on the wall. Like all the other rooms in which the destinies of the men forced to enter them were often decided, his was hardly a...

  16. CHAPTER 14
    (pp. 73-75)

    Inspector Qasim Husayn had seen Huda three times recently: the first time in the Family Coffeehouse on Abu Nuwas Street and the second in the Restaurant Casablanca in al-Kasra. The third time they had taken his car to Qanat al-Jaysh Street. With each of these meetings their relationship had strengthened. Her smile haunted him even when he was in the torture chamber. He would feel a kind of dizziness drown him with a sweet transparent fog that hovered over his spirit the entire day. He would frequently ask himself:What is this? Is it love? Never, never! I couldn’t love...

  17. CHAPTER 15
    (pp. 76-78)

    As evening brought an end to another day of the stifling summer that arrived prematurely in Baghdad every year, Madiha opened the parlor window that looked out on the balcony over the street, filled with young men and women, and then a breeze of cool, sweet air flowed in. Madiha looked out of the window and began to inhale her fill of this air, experiencing an unexpected happiness that came to her suddenly with the chill air. Hearing a movement behind her, she turned her head; Inspector Qasim and Huda Abdul Qadir were leaving the bedroom.

    Madiha said, “The tea’s...

  18. CHAPTER 16
    (pp. 79-84)

    The Arab-Israeli War of June 1967 swept past people like a fleeting dream that was hard to grasp. It seemed rather like a game but perhaps resembled a fantasy more than anything else. Even so it changed everything. People were no longer the same. The streets were no longer the same. A change had occurred in the universal law that governed everything, and Inspector Qasim Husayn tried to bring himself up to speed on this rupture in the law. Only with this knowledge would he be able to continue his work, which had never changed at any point in his...

  19. CHAPTER 17
    (pp. 85-92)

    The inspector passed through the gate of the College of Education. Two of his men stood at the entrance, and others were spread out along the dirt embankment that split the college in two. The inspector could have ordered his men to bring Majida to him but wasn’t ready for such a rash adventure, because Majida might slip through their hands and disappear, and that would spoil everything. People like her had an incredible knack for vanishing like vapor. At the same time, he wanted to avoid provoking the students. If they found out who he and his men really...

  20. CHAPTER 18
    (pp. 93-96)

    Amin, a secret policeman who looked like a mouse, telephoned Inspector Qasim Husayn to report, “Sir, there’s been a catastrophe! They’ve thrown a bomb at a police car!”

    Qasim Husayn’s face blanched. The heat was suddenly more than he could bear. He had difficulty opening his mouth, which he had glued to the phone. “Any fatalities?”

    The voice from the other end of the line replied, “No, but there were some casualties.”

    Inspector Qasim screamed, “Where did this occur?”

    “At the Nasr Cinema. They seem to have set up an ambush!”

    Qasim asked, “Have you arrested anyone?”

    “No. One of...

  21. CHAPTER 19
    (pp. 97-99)

    A dagger? Someone had thrust a dagger into his flesh. With his own eyes he saw his own blood pour between his fingers and flow over the wild roses he had so often seen in the northern countryside. Then it changed into crystals of various shapes. He said, “I’m dreaming. Here I am: leaving empty-handed.” He turned his neck to one side after discovering that he was sitting on his chair again. He hadn’t slept for three days, with the exception of a few hours he grabbed shortly before dawn when he would throw himself, without changing his clothes, on...

  22. CHAPTER 20
    (pp. 100-106)

    Night had enshrouded the city for more than three hours, and he had traversed many streets on foot and sat in more than one coffeehouse without wiping his profound grief from his face. He brooded incessantly about everything in a random, disorganized fashion, and this oppressed him and gave him a headache. Severed hands circled in the air, and children threw themselves into the water from a tremendous height but landed on the sidewalk. He witnessed countless screams; then he stood up—screams without mouths. He turned round but saw nothing but silence. He dreamt that a scream as sharp...

  23. CHAPTER 21
    (pp. 107-109)

    For three days I’ve been hiding from people, secluding myself in this house, which stifles every tremor of life inside me. There’s nothing like a fall, because when a man finds himself falling a little, he discovers he has entered a night where each step becomes a new fall.

    Qasim was brooding about his disgrace.I’m destroying my life.

    As he entered a small coffeeshop, which was tucked away in al-Maydan, he thought:I hope I never see them again.He felt a burning desire to weep, as if he were a king being led to the gallows. He told...

  24. CHAPTER 22
    (pp. 110-118)

    It was ten-thirty on a normal morning.The world’s repeating its routine.Two men left the Brasília Coffeeshop after they both laughed at something the portly waiter had said. Three young men entered by the other door, carrying books. They sat down facing the glass façade so they could stare at the crowded street. The cup of coffee still sat in front of Qasim, but he hadn’t touched it yet. He rose to go to the toilet. Something in his head made him feel alone and abandoned.Huda must be sitting behind her desk now. She’s nearby.

    He had an...

  25. Back Matter
    (pp. 119-120)