if You please

by qisasukhra

A very small extract from Nael Eltoukhy’s latest novel-in-process-of-being-published-but-not-published, الخروج من البلاعة (Out of the Gutter).



At the Sayyida Mosque, Hind suggested they go in. She knew Houriya liked to pray here. In they went and prayed, then made their way over to the Green Tomb. Houriya said she didn’t know what the right thing to do might be—God knew, and God alone—and she prayed that He might teach her what it was. And a philosophical problem started to drift around her mind. At first she said, Act for the best, O Lord. Then it occurred to her that this prayer of hers, all said and done, was a command and that it wasn’t right for a person to order their lord about, and she reflected that a fitter formula might be to pray God to bring about, on her behalf, what pleased and contented Him, at which she considered that this, too, fell into the same error as the first, so she prayed Him that He do what He will, at which it occurred to her that this prayer was meaningless because God, in any case, always does what He wills, and just for a second the machine that was her mind nearly broke down altogether, until she took the decision to append the words, “if You please”. If You please, she said, O Lord. And no sooner uttered than her tongue was loosed. By the prophet’s life, O Lord, do what You want, just make me want it, too, if You please. O Lord, I know I’m in the wrong, but by the prophet, make me happy. Hear my prayer, O Lord. Do what I ask You. By the prophet, O Lord, if You please, hear my prayer and never, ever, cause me grief. And the light of faith filled her heart and it was as though she saw God seated on high, holding in each hand a small ball of dough, her and Kamal, and pressing them both together into one great ball. Setting the ball before Him on the table and rolling it, whirling it high into the air then slipping it into His oven to cook and fuse within. She was curled in Kamal’s arms over the oven’s flames, one single, indivisible ball of dough, not knowing what was her and what was not, which part of her was male and which was female.

She came to, and opened her eyes, and saw Hind sat beside her, the Book open on her lap and murmuring. On her upper lip was a tiny fly. Houriya brushed it away for her and Hind looked up. Hind, too, had been sleeping.

In the selfsame instant something like infatuation struck both their hearts.