Two Stories by Osama Alomar

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The Smiling People

Wadi’ al-Mantuf was arrested after having been caught in the act of looking at the leader’s picture without smiling. The secret police administered punches and kicks to him, as did most of the passersby. Even the children didn’t miss a chance to express their strong hatred for him, sticking out their tongues and spitting on him. He was then taken to the police station where he remained a long time under arrest. Finally he was brought to court. He was sentenced to smile at the leader’s image for life. To prevent the recurrence of such an embarrassing situation countless numbers of smiling masks were manufactured and distributed to the entire population, from nursing babies to the oldest people. Smiles became generalized and sadness fell into oblivion . . .and the tourist trade became bustling.

The Sea Shell

He was walking by the sea shore, enjoying his yearly vacation, kicking the sand in happiness, meditating on the golden pearls embedded in the creases of the waves far out to sea beneath a sun held up by ecstatic joy. His foot hit up against something hard. He bent down and pulled easily it from the sand. It was a big shell. He put it to his ear and immediately stopped walking to enjoy the enchanted echo of the waves. He felt as if he was diving in the ocean, transported by the music of its astounding creatures. He wished to be part of that stunningly beautiful world. As for the sea shell, she was writhing in pain, listening against her will to the torments and the struggles of the human soul, the wailing of the tortured, the cries of mothers who had lost their children, the tears of orphans, the rivers of blood, the heart of humanity pierced by millions of spears, destruction and ruin everywhere.

The shell would have exploded in the man’s ear had he not lifted her high with a joyful movement and thrown her into the sea. She breathed deeply in relief, feeling incomparably happy. She dove excitedly into the depths . . .and he returned to his sea.

–Osama Alomar was born in Damascus in 1968. A prominent practitioner of the Arabic “very short story” (al-qisa al-qasira jiddan), he is a past winner of the Najlaa Muharam Short Story Contest in Egypt, and has had three collections of his work published in Syria and Lebanon. His work is also regularly heard on the BBC Arabic Service. Alomar currently lives in Chicago.

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