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  • from Anubis: A Desert Novel
  • Ibrahim al-Koni (bio)
    Translated by William M. Hutchins

After Midnight

“The prophet of exploration guided us,” said the first strangers when they reached my oasis. I hurried out to greet them before I could mask my astonishment. Once they had descended through the pass between the sandy mountains of the west and the rocky ones of the south, I asked: “Who are you?”

The elder leading them replied: “Wanderers parched by thirst.”

“How did you cross the rocky wastes to reach here?”

“The prophet of exploration guided us.”


“Please postpone your amazement till later and give us water from your spring.”

I led them to the nearest of my four groves, and they knelt to sip from the spring. They thrust their mouths into the deluge till their noses and faces disappeared. Their animals also darted to the bubbling waters. I stood beside them, waiting until they had slaked their thirst. I watched the delight they took in the water, till thirst stirred in my heart too. This was the thirst concealed, since birth, in the psyche of every desert dweller, for it can never be quenched, even if he consumes all the water in the world. Awakened in my heart was the thirst that had become an enigmatic murmur ever since I was overcome by thirst while searching for the Barbary sheep. Unlike the spirit world’s emissary, who wrested the water-skin from my mouth that day, I did not drive these people from the water but, rather, found myself also dropping to my knees to sip from the bubbling water. I sipped and only came to my senses when the caravan’s leader repeated less than grammatically, “Four! Four! Not just one well, but they is four. What have you done for spirit world that grant you four treasures?”

I replied with the stupidity of one who has been isolated from other people for a long time and who has forgotten the niceties of expression: “I didn’t do anything. I was searching for my father.”

He gazed into my eyes for a long time. Then he looked away, toward the peaks of the southern mountains; over the peaks in fact, for he stared upward. His eyes shone with a look of longing. His chest growled nervously, and he swayed like someone in an ecstatic trance before proclaiming, “No one else is compensated like a person who demonstrates how to search for a father.”

“But I killed him.” [End Page 1089]


“The she-jinni said I killed my father.”

He hummed with suppressed longing once more and allowed his eyes to roam the naked, eternal emptiness. His distress set his shoulders to shaking. The look of his eyes changed into real tears. He repeated, “No, no. You didn’t kill your father! You can’t kill your father. You slew a shadow and found your father. Believe me!”

Then he turned to his vassals and ordered them to fetch gifts: dried meats, clothes, skins, containers, and many other objects, the uses of which I only grasped later. As he piled these items at my feet, he declared, “You must have suffered a great deal.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Only those who suffer succeed. All my gifts to you count as nothing compared to what you have given me. Your gift has granted me life. Your gift will continue to afford life.”

I was going to object, but he stopped me with a gesture of his hand. “These meats are from creatures that will safeguard you from the meat of relatives.”

“The meat of relatives?”

“The prophet who guided us to you told me everything.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The prophet said you had set out to search for relatives but had almost perished from dehydration.”

“I went out in search of beauty.”

“Beauty? Did you kill beauty?”

“The thirst for beauty, master, is worse than the thirst for water.”

“But beauty’s not beautiful unless we touch it. Beauty’s not beautiful unless it touches us. Beauty’s not beautiful unless we envelope it and it envelops us the way metamorphosis envelops composite creatures.”

He turned to his vassals...


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pp. 1089-1090
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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