Sabah Sanhouri is a Sudanese fiction writer and poet. A founder of #OneDayFiction project and a member of the Sudanese Writers Union and Geneva Writers Group. A jury member of the University of Khartoum short story competition in 2017. She was born in December 1990. Her work won the Tayeb Saleh award in 2009, has been translated into many languages, and appears in many journals and magazines such as Words Without Borders. A film adaptation of Sanhouri’s prize-winning short story Isolation was released in 2013 and has been shot in Jordan by director Burhan Saadah. The film has participated in many film festivals and earned several awards as the Best Short Film and the Best Actor. She published her first book Mirrors, a fictional short story collection with Merit Publishing House in Cairo, Egypt, in early 2014, and the book has been distributed in Sudan, Egypt, Qatar, the UAE and the USA. She was awarded the title Honorary Fellow in Writing by the University of Iowa, USA, for participating in the Creative Activities of the International Writing Program, in the 2014 fall residency. Her participation was made possible by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the USA Department of State and nominated by the USA Embassy in Khartoum. Her work has been selected by the French Institute in Khartoum to join a short story collection book named Nouvelles du Soudan published by Jasmin Publishing House in 2015, in Paris, France. She also participates in several international projects such as writing essays for the volumes Sudan Photography by Elnour Foundation in Paris, France. She represented Sudan at the conference of the PEN International Organization in Johannesburg, South Africa, for PAN Africa Network 2016. In April 20, 2017, she published the book Hasad, which contains the best short stories written by the participants to her project #OneDayFiction.
I didn’t see my mother’s face. Ever. Except for a few moments kindly given to me by the air of a storm. Even then I couldn’t see her face very well. All I could make out was that she had a dark face. And maybe I’m wrong there too. Because my eyes no longer recognize anything, not even the darkness.
My mother wraps herself with a very big piece of cloth—a new color every month. It seems like a cocoon. Or I do. She never takes it off. She walks, sleeps, and meets nature’s calls with it on. Wearing it, she became pregnant with me; and wearing it, she gave birth to me too. When the nurse—or whoever helped get me into the world—asked my mother to breastfeed me, my mother made no effort to see me or let me look into her eyes; she didn’t even ask whether I was a boy or a girl. All she bothered to do was pull down her dress. Was I even her first child?
That very day I heard my mother saying she would go back to work! She just pushed me into the world a couple of hours ago! What kind of work is it?
My mother fixed the very big piece of cloth that she wraps herself in, but this time she added a new creature to it. She wrapped me carefully, I don’t know how, but she was careful not to let me experience her face or anything in the world, other than her smell and the very big piece of cloth. Was it because she was afraid the world would insult me when I grew up (am I going to grow up?), because she works on the streets as a beggar or cadger—whatever the difference.
I don’t really care what she does. What is most important and concerns me a lot is I just want to see her face. Her face. I don’t ask for much, just a look.
Since my birth, I’ve been living in this big piece of cloth. When my mother breastfeeds me, she thinks her breast is full of milk, but it isn’t. In fact it is full of… something. I don’t know what it is exactly, but it’s not liquid; it supplies me with knowledge and makes me see the world. Not a liquid, I am sure.
When she wants to feed me, she pulls her breast out, inside the big piece of cloth, which I am inside too. I’m always hoping she’ll give me a look, but… it’s never happened. And won’t.
She carries me wherever she goes. We pass the day on the streets and sidewalks. She sweats, I sweat, inside the big piece of cloth; I pee, vomit, and yet she never bothers to look at her poor child. Despite all this, I feel pity for her; because she spends the whole day begging from her own kind. I’m always imagining her feet, cracked as they must be.
Does she ever feel hot? Anything? Despite my feelings of chronic heat and nausea, I don’t cry at all—except for when my mother pushed me into the world. I don’t know why, but I really feel pity for her: she is really poor, this woman. If only she ever looked at me or at least changed the very big piece of cloth! She never takes it off: she pees in it, I pee and vomit in it; she sweats in it, I do too, and all of this fills me with strong nausea, and that leads me to repeat the cycle all over again. If only she changed the big piece of cloth!
I breathe only the air that penetrates the piece of cloth and takes on its smell! My eyes don’t see a thing but the cloth and my mother’s breasts. I feed on that stuff, that not-liquid that supplies me with knowledge and lets me think and see the world. That’s enough for me, but my body is falling apart, because I don’t feed on anything but knowledge, and it overwhelms my body. I am sick. Too sick to cry. My body starts to stink. And my mind? I feel I am nothing but a mind. Because it is the only thing that can feed here, but I am sick.
The big piece of cloth is no longer a place to live; it grows ranker every passing hour. I’ve come down with inflammation of the adrenal cortex, atopic dermatitis, inflammation of the seam, discoid eczema, recession eczema, lichen planus, lichen simplex chronics, psoriasis, seborrhea dermatitis, itching Streptococcus, discoid lupus linear raised erythematic, and some memory loss, because I forget a few of my chronic diseases. You see? The more the creature—any creature—knows, the more the creature suffers.
My mother doesn’t know what’s going on with me inside the very big piece of cloth and maybe doesn’t want to. She never asks why I don’t cry as the other children do, but she knows I am alive whenever I give her a sign like vomiting or peeing, or when I gladly respond to the knowledge-milk that causes my misery. I feel a mustache starting to grow on my face. I don’t know whether it is a good thing or not, but I do feel that I am going to leave life very soon, because I’ve begun to see green butterflies every day—this means I will leave this life very soon.
The more the creature—any creature—knows, the more the creature suffers. Today will be the last day for me in this life, and I haven’t seen my mother’s face yet or anything else in this world. I will go back to where I came from, and only then will I say goodbye—in a hurry—to the world, my mother, and the very big piece of cloth, and… die.
How can I say goodbye to my mother? Or alert her to the fact that I am leaving today and will never come back? I don’t know.
When the green butterflies came, I couldn’t say goodbye to the world or to my mother. But I did—in a hurry—to her breasts and the big piece of cloth, and fell into a deep sleep.
I don’t know how my mother knew about my leaving – maybe because I didn’t vomit for a whole day, or sweat, or respond to her breasts. Despite the knowledge in my soul, I made a deal with my body: on my departure day my mother would see my face, and I would see hers. The agreement was that my body would let me see her face in the final moment one way or another. But when my mother found out about my leaving, she abandoned the big piece of cloth and wrapped me very well without taking a first or final look at me. She took me, buried me in a small grave, and left.
There’s no difference between my life now and my life then. I don’t see my mother. I pupate in the very big piece of cloth, ruminate on my previous knowledge, and… am sick.