• New short fiction, every week.
    The words you know and love . . .
    in a totally different order.

  • Archives:
    Alaa Al Aswany

    36. The Kitchen Boy

    By Alaa Al Aswany

    For some unknown reason, intelligence is associated in people’s minds with brightness of eye, and anyone who wants to prove he’s brilliant stares into others’ faces, focusing on their eyes. This way, they may witness for themselves how brightly his own flash and the inordinate acumen with which they shine. Hisham’s eyes, on the other hand, did not shine at all, and were small too. Similarly his brown complexion, unremarkable features, meager body, and natural tendency toward shyness and introspection made him appear simply one of those undifferentiated thousands who throng the streets and buses. As soon as Hisham began to speak, however, you would be amazed, because he would grasp what you were saying immediately and comment on it before you’d finished. Then he’d fall silent and quietly smile, as though apologizing for having left you behind. They say—though God knows how true this is—that Hisham learned to speak very early and that before he was three years old he knew how to wind the old Grundig tape reel, put it in place on the machine, thread it, and finally press the button to make the music come out. Because Hisham and I were at the same secondary school, I myself had the opportunity to observe his talents, which carried everything before them. Hisham wasn’t one of those who would plod away at his studies for hours and hours; he would understand the lesson in class and read it once at home, after which he might do a few exercises. Then he would effortlessly achieve the highest marks. In math, he’d often stand up and explain to us, in his quiet voice, how he had solved a problem that had defeated us all, and when he had finished and the teacher had thanked him, we would stare at him, in admiration or with envy. He, however, hated being the object of attention, so he’d busy himself by searching for his pencil, or lean back and start a conversation with the student sitting behind him. Hisham came first in the school in the Secondary General exam. He wanted to go into engineering but his mother wept and pleaded with him in the name of his dead father, reminding him that he was her only child and that all her hopes were pinned on his becoming a doctor, . . . Read More.

    Our Friends

  • They Come in Collections, Too

    New and Impending from Harper Perennial: