The Situation

You’re certain that nothing will dissuade you now. Nothing. Not your neighbors’ invitation to the luncheon to celebrate their boys’ circumcision, not the kind old lady’s pleading to help her write a letter to her faraway son who never visits, not the laughter of your three-year-old boy (whose laughter, you would say, sounds like a gurgling stomach). Not the mischievous way he clung to the collar of your jallebeya when you saw him outside just a few moments ago with his mother (who was, as always, chomping away on a stick of gum) on their way to visit the neighbors. Nothing. Nothing will dissuade you.

You know you do not own a Hemingway rifle or the pistol of Khalil Hawi. But you have this rope, stretching from the bathroom ceiling to the twisted nail sunk high up on the wall. Yank it down! Great. Now pull over that chair with the low plastic seat and climb up. There, you’ve got the one end tied tight to the ceiling. Now put the chair up against the wall. The ceiling’s too high? It won’t reach? No doubt the low seat makes it impossible for you to reach that bent, cursed nail. But this is just a small dilemma. Put your feet on the arms of the chair. Yes, like that. Now you’re taller. You got it?

With your wife and child off visiting the neighbors, you can move about freely in your own home. But be careful! Pull those clothespins off the rope. They’re off? Good. Don’t look around like that, you idiot. Don’t you see the table on your right? Push it into that room, the one with the low ceiling. Not like that, you oaf! You can’t push the table into the room without releasing the latches to the left of the door. Don’t you see them? OK. Now put the table right in the center. Not like that. Pull it back again. Now it’s right. What are you doing staring at the ceiling? If you could get it over that dark rafter, you could get two exactly equal lengths!

Don’t shake the table so much. It’s stable as it is. And why are you looking over like a lunatic? Are you really mad? Don’t let such a thought seep through you just because you read this very morning in a medical journal that “suicide is nothing but a sign of insanity.” A curse on those doctors. Wine: cirrhosis of the liver. Drugs: madness. Cigarettes: lung cancer.

Ruin to them all! Senseless prattlers. So be it. You know quite well now that you are not mad because you are aware that you are married and that you have a three-year-old child. Is there any more clear sign of reason than this?

All of your actions demonstrate your sanity, for how could you, otherwise, realize that the distance between the ceiling rafter and the table was still too far and would need—in order to narrow further—what was slinking around in your mind at the moment. That chair will work. Put it on the table. It’s sturdy. Don’t move it too much . . .

Verily, it is stable. The rope. The rope. Where is it? Ah, there it is, coiled on the low seat of the chair. You’ve got it? Well then, climb up! Or would you prefer to take off your jallebeya first? Yes, that is the correct and right thing to do. The gown is only good for hiding your bottle in its sleeves each night when you walk to and from those places of shame, the bar and the brothel.

Ah, you’re up! Don’t spin like that. How naïve you are! The table is sturdy, the chair stable above it, and you balanced atop the chair.

Why are you covering yourself? Is it because you’ve heard that the hanged defecate? In order to avoid that, you would have had to fast for three days like one of the heroes of the Mahdiyya before the British hung him, as your grandmother once told you. Vanquish this thought. And besides, what do you find so disgusting or embarrassing? Assuming it does happen, it’s the body’s natural reaction. Fine. Drive out that thought as well. Here, toss the rope over the rafter. It comes back to you like a dejected dog but never mind. Try again—and aim this time. And . . . finally, you got it!

But you won’t be able to pull the other end of the rope hanging down from the far side of the rafter. Ah, like that. Raise the end that’s in your hand and twirl it up high. And there’s the short end swinging toward you. Catch it. The higher knot is all that remains. It’s not hard, because you’ve practiced connecting the enormous cardboard containers on the deck of the steam ship.

Finished? Then pull the longer end of the rope. The knot’s up by the rafter. Pull it closer. Closer. It’s tight enough now. The only thing that’s left is the noose itself, but it looks like you’ve had no trouble. Just don’t tighten the knot without making sure that the noose will fit over your head. Try it. Of course it’s naturally tighter than what will fit over your thick skull so make it a bit wider then. Yes like that, exactly. It’ll pass easily over your head with the help of your smooth, silky hair. Rest it over your shoulders. Pull the rope hanging above your head until the noose lifts off your shoulders and tightens around your neck. And . . . now! The . . . ch . . . air . . .

—Khartoum 1985

© Adel Gassas. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2013 by Max Shmookler and Najlaa Eltom. All rights reserved

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