Authors: Yousef Al-Mohaimeed
Rashed interrupted. âDon't forget the liberals, Omar. They need exposing, too.'
Omar laughed mockingly. âWhat liberals? Bless you, they're just lambs to the slaughter. The real game is with the Taliban who are polishing off what's left of this country, if there is
anything left, that is. They've invented the liberals out of thin air to justify their iron grip and lead this hapless society of ours to their final solution.'
Fahd gestured to Saeed, who made his excuses to the group, telling them Fahd didn't have a car and was travelling tomorrow, so they had to go. They went out past the men selling cassettes and CDs at the cafÃ© door.
The car moved west towards the Dammam Road into Riyadh. It was two in the morning and the traffic around the cafÃ© had thinned out. Saeed grimaced in disgust. âNo theatre, no cinema, no public spaces, no streets where you can get a breath of fresh air. Even the cafÃ©s have been chucked thirty kilometres out of town. But still they chase after us wherever we go. God help you, where can we go?'
âWhat do you expect? The people set free? Left to frolic about unmolested, no one to watch them, no laws to bind them, no rights protected and upheld?'
âTell me: where's the law, anyway? Anyone can stop you and make accusations, force you to sign a confession, or even get you detained or sent to prison.'
Saeed was drumming nervously on the steering wheel as he spoke: âKnow what, Fahd? There's this guy at work who was talking about some woman assaulted by the Committee and he says, casual as you like, “Why doesn't she go and complain to the Human Rights Commission?”'
âThe problem, Saeed, is that a lot of people are simple-minded and naÃ¯ve. They don't understand that the Human Rights Commission is a government body, no different to the Ombudsman. It's not independent. It's controlled by the same people the government always employ with their salaries and bonuses.'
The car crossed Khaled Bin al-Waleed Street and Saeed suggested they stop in at a Herfy or Kudu and pick up a meal. He wasn't just disgusted, he explained, he was hungry as well.
âDon't you ever feel that this country lives just to eat and shit? The restaurants are the only places open after midnight.'
âWhat I feel is that everyone is panting like a dog after a couple of pennies so he can escape for a month or two in the summer and live abroad. He spends his pennies then he comes back to live like a dead man for ten months, making a little bit here and a little bit there, until he flies off again next year, and so on.'
Saeed pulled in at the Herfy drive-through window in the Panda on the north-eastern boundary of Maseef. He ordered two chicken combos and refused to let Fahd pay his share, claiming that travel and life abroad would put paid to the modest sum he had made by selling his car the day before.
Back out on the Northern Ring Road the heavy dust cloud began to drop towards the tarmac until it brushed against the two men. Fahd hid his nose in his
as he got out by the entrance to the building. Saeed said he would stop by the grocery store to pick up a pack of cigarettes and asked him if he wanted anything. Fahd turned him down with a wave of the hand as he climbed the marble steps on his way to the second floor.
HE JOURNEY FROM LONDON
to Great Yarmouth was not a long one and it would have been pleasant were it not for the crying jags and painful memories that overwhelmed and upset Fahd the whole way. The route was lined with verdant nature, redbrick houses, rivers and contented livestock, but though he stared through the window and tried to hold on to his pleasure at this delightful journey from London, he saw nothing but the barren desert. When he managed it, that is, when he managed to force his memory like some stubborn goat towards new pastures and away from his former life, he found the threads re-knotting, weaving themselves together until they brought him back once more to the same tragedy.
He had stood for ages before Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square where the Mayor of London had forbidden the feeding of the pigeons that Fahd hated, the vile pigeons whose shit polluted the beautiful square and clung to its monuments. Even Nelson wasn't safe from pigeons, and nor was Fahd. If the commander of the British fleet, the man who defeated the navy of Napoleon Bonaparte, the legendary Admiral Nelson, couldn't keep his body free from the shit of some piddling pigeon, then how could Fahd protect himself from the malign effects of a feather?
That pigeon. Fahd remembered it well, asking himself over and over: âWhy didn't it take flight like the pigeons in London's
parks? Why didn't it beat its wings and try to fly away in the courtyard of Abu Ayoub's house in Buraida?'
Fahd recalled how it had desperately scurried and hopped, yet had never left the ground. Were its wings not strong enough to fly? Had its feathers been clipped, for instance? Was it too heavy, lacking air-filled chambers in its limbs? Maybe its toes were straight, not curved; Australian biologists had discovered that in prehistoric times, birds had spent their time on the ground rather than perched on branches, and fossils showed their feet were flat, suited for walking and not flying. Was life in Buraida still stuck in prehistory?
He had returned his gaze to the pigeons of Trafalgar Square, pondering the ban on feeding the pigeons and the public outrage at the rule, particularly from environmentalists, though their cause was shared by suppliers of birdseed whose business had gone flat.
âThose birdseed merchants mean nothing to me,' Fahd thought. âThe thing that really hurts is that a great artist like Picasso could love this ugly bird and paint it into his pictures. Even Chagall painted a pigeon, descending beak-first from the sky towards two lovers. I love that wonderful painting of his,
Lovers and Flowers
. How courageous to use that powerful, vivid yellow! Yet what a miserable artist, to paint a pigeon descending from the top of the canvas towards two lovers floating above a jug of flowers. I hate pigeons. I really hate them. Not because they destroyed my childhood and perhaps my whole life, but because it's a loathsome bird, spiteful and selfish. Even the way it mates is awkward, its stupid circling, its ungainly, graceless hops. So how is it that they've proved in their studies that next to the dolphin, elephant and chimp, it is one of the most intelligent creatures after humans? Does it save people
from drowning? Can it see colours? Can it recognise itself in the mirror or on TV? When I fail to recognise myself in the mirror does that make me a dumb animal? A curse on scientists, and artists, too.'
Fahd opened the bag beside him and took out an iPod, fixing the headphones in his ears.
Mmmm â¦ Mmmm â¦ I got wings to fly â¦
He awoke in alarm to the sound of the train reducing speed. Removing the headphones from his ears he looked out of the window to see the train coming to a halt. Throwing his bag over his shoulder he stepped down on to the platform and let the little town swallow him up.
YOUSEF AL-MOHAIMEED has published several novels and short story collections in Arabic and has had stories published in Lebanon, Egypt, France, Germany, Spain, and Russia. He studied English and Photography in the UK and was recently presented with an award by
Diwan al Arab
magazine and the Egyptian Journalists Union in recognition of his creative contribution to Arab culture. He lives in Riyadh.
ROBIN MOGER is an Arabic translator currently living in Cape Town, South Africa. He is the translator of
A Dog With No Tail
(AUC Press, 2009) by Hamdi Abu Gollayel, Ahmed Mourad's
Women of Karantina
(AUC Press, 2014) by Nael Eltoukhy and Youssef Rakha's
(Seven Stories Press, 2014). He was the principal translator for
Writing Revolution: Voices from Tunis to Damascus
(IB Tauris, 2012) which won a 2013 English PEN award for outstanding writing in translation.
This electronic edition published in 2014
First published in English in 2014 by
Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing
PO Box 5825
First published in Arabic in 2009 by the Arab Cultural Center
Copyright Â© Yousef Al-Mohaimeed, 2009
Translation Â© Robin Moger, 2009
The moral right of the author has been asserted
Where Pigeons Don't Fly
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted or utilised in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without prior permission of the publisher