By: Mounir Otaiba
Translated by: Dr. Lobna Ismail
Original Arabic Version
The First Bead
She shut herself in her mother's room and took the old chest from under the bed. With difficulty, she turned it upside down and emptied all its content on the floor. She tossed aside old rags, faded papers, glass jewelry. At last she found it. She was certain that she would find it here: a big blue bead, the size of a giant's finger. Her mother once told her that she had bought it twenty five years ago from an Old Nubian woman who asked her to tie it in a chain around her neck to ensure the safety of her pregnancy. She kissed the blue bead and put it in her pocket. She put the content of the chest back and pushed all under the bed again. She lay in bed on her back dreaming.
The Second Bead
She carried the enormous aluminum washing pan above her head and walked with firm steps, while her watching mother-in-law sucked annoyed lips. She reached Ismail El-Ganainee's little stream, placed the pan on the ground and started to wash the dishes. Suddenly, a red fish jumped from the depth of the waters into the washing basin. She recited some Koranic verses to guard herself against the evil of Satan. The fish threw up a blue bead and jumped back into the water. Dazed, she followed the smiling fish as it dived into the water, and smiled back.
The Third Bead
Crystal raindrops were falling from the sky. She followed these with her long-ago girl's eyes. She saw herself with two long braids, trying to dance under the rain, then slip in the muddy ground and fall. She opened the window pane, reached out her hand. Rain drops caressed their home in her palm. She held them tight in her grip and closed the window with the other hand. Inside, she opened her grip. A blue bead with luminous rainbow veins looked at her.
The Fourth and Fifth Bead
She watched the blue-eyed, black cat crouched in her mother-in-law's lap. She looks at the feline creature with terror. Her husband used to laugh at her fears. She tells him she will never be pregnant unless this cat is out of the house. She keeps the rest of the sentence to herself - and your mother out of sight too, with or before the cat. When her mother-in-law fell into that deep siesta slumber which so numbs her senses that she cannot even feel an earthquake, she placed a large plate full of fish bones in front of her room. The cat hastened for the feast, then dropped dead. She wrapped the cat in an old rag and quickly headed for Palm Land. The dead cat's eyes emit a terrible thunderous light. She calls up her old dream and is possessed with an uncanny courage and cruelty. With her index and middle fingers she wrenches the cat's eyes out of their sockets, whole and compact, wraps them in her handkerchief, and puts them in her pocket. She buried the cat and went back home filled with an overflow of a triumphant feeling.
The Sixth bead
Her heart becomes drenched with warmth for him when he puts aside his excruciating work at the workshop, his mother's nagging demands for his sisters' wedding, his brothers' troublesome behaviour, and the never-ending financial difficulties that chain their lives. He puts all that aside, spreads an old army blanket on the floor and covers that with a sheet full of holes. He holds her by the hand, undresses her, counts the dotted naevi over her right shoulder, her left thigh, her heal. He kisses her, swirls and turns with her in a world of infinite surrender. They reach the peak of the dream at the same time and share the same fruit. They look at each other, their eyes wet with love and gratitude. They close their eyes. She reaches out her hands; drops of an intimate passion fall into them. She tightens her grip over these. He gets up, puts on his clothes; she opens her hand, she is overwhelmed by the beauty of the blue bead she now owns.
The Seventh Bead
Her grandmother told her that the embracing palm trees in front of the house have an unknown secret. No one but her knows it. If she uncovers the secret she dies. But she pointed to the road. Take your heart in your hands, wash it with cold rose-scented water, bury it under the palm trees for an hour, and lie down beside it. Retrieve your heart after the hour and put it back in its place once again. Keep silent during the night, don't speak to anyone, don't touch your husband. Sit naked in a new copper pan filled with rose-scented water prepared while verses from the Koranic Surah of Al Korsy and that of Al Jinn are recited. Think only about the coming one. Don't let your mind be occupied by any other thought. She woke up late, tired after the night when she gathered all her strength and will to carry out what her grandmother ordered her to do. A mysterious yearning siren-sang her to the embracing palm trees. She dug the ground in the same place where she buried her heart the other night. She found a blue bead that looked like a palm date on whose skin she could detect the face of a little boy that looked very much like her, though his nose resembled that of her mother-in- law. He had the most beautiful smile she had ever seen.
The Eighth Bead
She was hesitant to tell him. Her prayer has been answered: no one can figure out what is going on inside her. Will she risk all the trouble she went through and tell him? He will tell his mother. The whole family will know. His envious older sister hates her. His younger sister can go with his mother to Sheikha Widad to buy a talisman that would shatter her dream. He looked into her eyes, a smile played on his face, coloured with a loving, compassionate and delicately sarcastic streak. He put his hand on her head, kissed her forehead, and took a blue bead out of his pocket. It was the size of his palm. She was surprised and thought she would ask him, how did he know? Where did he buy it? She looked at him. An understanding silent smile formed over her lips. She kissed him between the eyes.
The Ninth Bead
Her father-in-law looked at her with gratitude while she placed his food on the table. Since his right hand and foot were paralyzed, she has been the sole person who takes care of him. Besides being the father of her husband, he is her uncle. She brings him food, clean clothes, and tenderness. She keeps him company with conversation and listens patiently as he labours through memory, recalling, in broken words, the glorious days of his youth. She was surprised when he untied his left-hand fingers long knotted in a forcible grip years ago. He offers her a bead, the shape of a boy. He fondles her belly with his fingers and smiles. His fingers then go back to their former forcible grip. A tear drops from his eyes. He tries to wipe it with his left-arm sleeve. He fails. She wipes it with her fingers. She strings the grandfather's bead with the others with a silken thread. She puts the necklace of beads around her neck. She stretches in her bed. Her mother is sitting beside her waiting for the coming dream.
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