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  • Welcome to ALT Magazine & Press: Hazawi Prize Announces 2023 Shortlist: (Sana'a, Yemen) - The shortlist for the 2023 Hazawi Prize for Yemeni Literature has been revealed, announcing the ten writers who have been selected as finalists for this prestigious award.
  • Now in its second yearly round, the Hazawi Prize recognizes exceptional contributions to fiction in Yemeni literature. Organized by the Hazawi Cultural Foundation, this annual prize aims to promote Yemeni literature and support creative writers.
  • This year's shortlist features both emerging and renowned Yemeni authors. The ten works advancing to the final round of judging are:
  • - Abdullah Faisal shortlisted for his novel, Spirits and Secrets.
  • - Aisha Saleh shortlisted for her novel, Under the Ashes
  • - Farouk Merish shortlisted for his novel, A Dignified Stranger
  • - Ahmed Ashraf shortlisted for his novel, A Painful Belt
  • - Ghassan Khalid shortlisted for his novel, A Sky that Rains Fear
  • - Hosam Adel shortlisted for his novel, The Lord of the Black Dog
  • - Asmaa Abdulrazak shortlisted for her novel, Shrapnels
  • - Abdullah Abdu Muhammad shortlisted for his novel, The Road to Sana'a
  • - Najah Bahkeim shortlisted for her novel, The Final Decision
  • - Samir AbdulFattah shortlisted for her novel, What We Cannot See
  • The winner will be revealed at an award ceremony in Sana'a later where they will receive $1,500 USD. Second and third prizes of $1,000 USD each will also be awarded. All shortlisted works are celebrated for chronicling Yemen's rich culture and wartime experiences. This prestigious prize continues highlighting the nation's thriving literary community.

Whispering Discs – Ahmed Abdo

Whispering Discs

a short story by

Ahmed Abdo

translated by

Hatem Mohammed Al-Shamea



The night of the village was like my mother’s shawl on the day of my funeral! Except for flashes of light that sparkled in the beads of people’s eyes, from the remnants of the glow of electric bulbs in homes and streetlights, which had been cut off an hour ago. Those iridescent flashes in their eyes mingle with the remnants of the soft moonlight that had set half an hour ago.

Beings in the ambiguity and fog of dreams and nightmares, as if they are the mysterious secret that summarizes the terror of goblins as if they are the first seed of fear! Wave after wave blows on the village, hovers in its dark atmosphere, flies over the roofs of houses, then descends to flutter its wings between the sides of streets, neighborhoods, and alleys, sharp and wide wings, sweeping away hay and feathers, when it approaches the ground of the streets or the roofs of houses.

The village buzzed with a mixture of the dictionary of sounds of our pets and domesticated animals, between quacking, barking, meowing, braying, neighing, and braying, other than the crying of children, the screaming of women, and the supplications of the weak-hearted men, mixed with the sounds of those invading creatures, a battle of weapons from intertwined discordant sounds, taking place in the atmosphere of the village and on the floors of its streets, and in the narrow alleys between the houses. A symphony of mixed horror, in which the tame sounds were lost, with the noise of the creatures of the first seed of fear.

{Don’t rush to judgment, by guessing the smell of the first moments of danger and fear}

So why did these mysterious creatures come ــــــ whatever their name and nature ــــــ with the first night, and the first hour, the electricity booth broke down?

Beings in the form of darkness, and the terror of caves in the wilderness and forests, and on the sides of cemeteries, raging in the atmosphere and folds of the village ــــــــ bats that you poked their hole or nest with a stick in a dark room.

Their wings seemed to tear through the alley as they began their dive at the first house, sweeping the sea off its floor with the long and thick feathers of their wings. It was as if they had come to sweep it clean of gravel, or perhaps to pick up something. They then ascended at the end of the alley, like a squadron of planes making a maneuver in the form of a concave arc. The first of the alley was a landing and the last was a take-off. Perhaps they had come to drop a bomb, take a picture of a military site, or make a (card) of terror. Whatever their purpose, they repeated the maneuver several times in reverse.

At the same time, other groups of the creatures hovered in circles above the roofs of the village houses, then reversed their rotation. It was as if they were carrying out a geological survey and aerial photography of the inside of the houses. They might even have fallen through openings in those roofs, to explore the rooms and corridors, to see if they were empty or full of flour, ghee, sugar, and oil. They were exploring something, descending, rising, descending again for a moment, then rising.

Finally, the strange creatures finished their parade, and their maneuvers in our alley, or rather they finished throwing the (card) of terror on all the people of the village. Every four or five of them chose a window from the windows of the houses and began to tap on its glass if it was glass, or on its wood if it was wood. They tapped quickly then rose, descending to tap again, then rising. Their taps were like the taps of a skilled and trained writer, tapping on the keys of the typewriter that we used to write on in the past: “Tick tick tick tick tick…!” Or as if they were tapping on a sheet of tin, tin tin tin tin, covered with a thin layer of wheat or barley grains.

So, did the darkness conspire with them and summon them; to create this storm of terror on the people of the village? Or did they ــــــــــ before they ventured out ــــــــــ poke the electrical network with their beaks or claws or horns, depending on their type; so that the light would go out, in preparation for “their invasion”, so that the scene would be terror upon terror?

Had fate provided them with a climate that suited the mission they had come for?


It was as if there was a calculated relationship between the raid of these creatures on the village, immediately after the moon had set just past midnight, and the electricity had been cut off an hour before it had set.

The old men and women came out, feeling their way along the walls of the streets and alleys with their fingers, and then they began to scatter the phosphorescent beads of their rosaries on the ground. They were like pale crystals that had fallen from the stars to the earth.

The dogs decided they had to say something, do something. They couldn’t stand idly by in a situation like this, happening in their lair, in the houses that fed them, and sometimes sheltered them. They thought it was too much for this to happen in their presence, so they started to walk on their hind legs and bark; under the windows that were being oppressed by the tapping on their temples, trying to jump to the windows without success. The creatures continued their mysterious task without paying attention.

When the power goes out in the village, people go up to the roofs of their houses and spend their time counting the stars, until the electricity flows through its channels, and the bulbs translate it into light. They hate to be cocooned in the folds of the darkness of the rooms, and their children are next to them, training them on how to count the stars. At the last star, or if there are several of them left, sleep falls on their eyes and ears, until the warmth of the morning sun wakes them up, and they postpone counting the rest until the next night!

As for “Abdul Sabur”, he is still busy counting his stars, and he has his special way. Before he starts counting them, he makes two imaginary intersecting diameters on the face of the sky, centered above his head, in the shape of a plus sign (+). Then he immerses himself in the counting process, counting them quarter by quarter. He starts with the left quarter of his sitting position, walking clockwise. He didn’t pay attention to what was happening around him, above him, and below him. He was about to finish the three quarters.


The domestic creatures were silent, the barking and meowing, the neighing and whinnying, the braying and screaming. The children expected good things from the sudden silence of these creatures! except for the prayers of the faint-hearted men. Each of them slept in their shelter, as if they had played a specific role, and were forced to participate in the symphony. Or perhaps those creatures had suggested, or hinted, that they should be silent, be silent, and go away… or else!

Perhaps the guess came from the blackness of the wings that we imagined their shape in the darkness, and the gloom of the shine of their eyes – which intersect in that darkness, and determine their targets, and that omen inherited from the croaking that is deposited in our imagination.

Do not be deceived by the fact that it was screaming at the moment of its attack, saying: Caw! Caw! Caw! Do not rush to judge with the feelings of the inherited idea, for if the parrots, for example, were the ones making this violent commotion in the atmosphere of the village, and we heard them say: “Free me! Free me!” Or say: “Bring me boiled eggs! Bring me boiled eggs!” Would we say they were the voices of people flying in the air?

  • Shoo! Shoo! Go away, crows, shoo! Shoo! Shoo! The glass is about to break, shoo! Shoo!
  • How do you know they are crows? We can’t even see our fingers in front of our eyes.
  • And are these the taps of sparrows, hoopoes, or pigeons, for example, Saadia? The tapping is like the hooves of mixed horses running on the asphalt… Knock! Knock! Knock! Knock!

“Cattle egret [Abu Qardan] is kind and gentle, and he wouldn’t create all this commotion. Even if he had transformed and rebelled, leaving the branches of the nearby trees and taking this form, he would have made a white cloud in this darkness. Pale, yes, but closer to white.”

“Our village doesn’t know vultures either. The sounds we hear aren’t owls or falcons. The village has been filled with joy and good nights all past week. Those creatures, it seems, can’t bear our happiness. They hate for us to live in joy, so they come to spoil it for us. They came with gloomy and disturbing voices and shapes when they saw our ‘festoon’ floating happily!”

Saadia was convinced by her husband’s point of view and joined him in driving away this terror. “Shoo! Shoo! Shoo!” But the tapping intensified in a violent, stubborn, and chaotic way. They were shooing away what they could not see!

Abdul Sabur finished counting the stars in the three quarters, leaving the last quarter for the next night. His neighbors, whose windows had been tapped on, rushed to the guidance of the pale and scattered phosphorescent beads on the ground. They began to shoo the creatures from the windows of his house. While he was on the steps, descending from the roof, he caught one of the four or five creatures that the neighbors had driven away from his windows. The creature’s companions swooped down on him, and began to tap on his brain, the same taps on the glass and wood of the windows, and in the same way. But he persisted in catching the fat prey. The creatures tried to remove the woolen cap from his head, and they succeeded. Their tapping came directly on his scalp. He continued to descend, suppressing his pain, taking what he had caught with him into the courtyard of his house.

The jinn are the twins of the night – or rather the twins of darkness. The night is the stage of the jinn, for we have only heard of them in connection with the night and darkness. If it were not for the night or the darkness – there would be no jinn, at least in our imagination. Darkness is always the first suspect, for it is the one that has brought suspicion upon itself. It is the third party until the electricity returns to the village.

In the age of EL-Naddāha [ندَّاهة], the Deviance [توَّاه], and the One with Flayed Leg [أبو رجل مسلوخة], and all the creatures of my grandmother’s stories – the jinn used to come to people one at a time, not in a crowd like this. Two jinn would not meet in the same neighborhood. So why would a jinn accompany his colleague in a neighborhood, when he can scare a whole village?

They come to us one at a time, crawling with the touch and twists of snakes. But a herd of such density, and such openness, and such noise, and such audacity, and such violence, and such terror…!!

You will not find creatures more cowardly than the jinn! They melt away as soon as a candle is lit, and hide in the character of weak, delicate, familiar creatures, such as a dog, a cat, or a rabbit.

And because they only possess the familiar animals; we will not find them possessing a mouse or a hedgehog, for example. And because they only possess the weak; we have not heard of a jinni possessing a lion or a leopard. We will find it cunning in the case of the mouse, and cowardly in the case of the leopard.

And if it does not find a dog, a cat, or a rabbit to force it to represent itself – it sneaks up to shower us humans with its embers from the pores of the walls of the night. It does not attack in a group like this, it attacks in the form of lone wolves. It does not attack at all, it sneaks up, appears suddenly and disappears suddenly, throws us from behind, or through the pores of the walls, then, enters to hide in its bricks.

In the days of my grandmother, the night was our greatest demon!

The terrible and wondrous creatures finished their task on the first night and they departed chanting: “Caw! Caw! Caw! Glory to the crows, we are not cranes… Caw! Caw! Caw!”

“Didn’t I tell you, my wife? Did I make anything up?”


She came to us in the darkness, knowing that we had continued to be pessimistic; perhaps to punish us for our inherited idea. Her unspoken words said: “What have you gained from that idea, which we see as a sick idea?.. It seems that you have become accustomed to illusion. My color is indeed black, and I saw your grandfather kill his brother, and I was the first to see the blood of Adam’s son, and the first to see a dead man, and the first to dig a grave, and the first to call out in the wilderness mourning a dead man, so is what you do to us a return of the favor?”

But why do these crows peck at the glass like this?


As if someone is nervously tapping their pen on the hollow surface of their desk, beaks like steel – consecutive, strong, violent, aggressive clicks. If they were in the form of a serrated saw, they would have cut the glass into slices… slices.


Do they pick up things from the glass that we don’t see? Or do they engrave letters that will need a magnetic needle on a gramophone to read them?

They peck at the glass, perhaps thinking it is the eyes of the dead. The first thing that crows think of when they land on a corpse is to gouge out its eyes; perhaps out of fear or shame of its gaze as they devour it.

Do they want to convey a message to the people of the village, and their message will only arrive at night, and by pecking on the glass windows of their houses, a demon sympathizing with a ghoul?

But they will take from the glass what the wind takes from the tiles.

Also, demons do not come with messages, demons surprise.

Only angels come with messages!

It seems that the crows have reduced the villages of the world to our village, they have chosen it specifically, and in this complete darkness, to hold a cosmic funeral that has been postponed since the beginning of time, an intensive funeral, for all those killed by the gazelle’s horn in the streets, and those killed in the war squares, with the multiplicity of their methods of death, by throwing or stabbing or burning, from Abel in the oldest time, passing through Abdel Moneim Riad and Ibrahim Al-Rafaei in modern times, to Muadh Al-Kasasbeh and George Floyd in the most recent times.

Have they come to attend the funeral of Qabil, and are they burying him as they buried his brother as a kind of balance and justice?


Glory to the crow! It covered us and taught us burial, and it could have made Abel a hearty meal for the hyenas and its pack hungry to eat the ruins.

Perhaps it came to hold funerals for the dead of the modern era, but there are not all these numbers of dead in the village now, there were about a year ago when everyone was burying everyone, and on a general level; we practiced burial in the billions that died and were killed after Abel, the widest experience that man has acquired so far is how to die and how to bury!

And because the number 13 is always the title of our houses! So, we will not say that it came to spread a cloud of pessimism on us. And the glass or wood that it was pecking at is not the skin of a rotten sheep in which the worms gnaw, nor a garbage dump and animal ruins, nor nests full of pigeon or dove eggs, nor fish tanks, which crows love.


Life always takes place on the shores: the shore of a river, the shore of a sea, the shore of a lake, the shore of a canal, the shore of a mountain, and these crows have chosen – without the edges of all the villages in the region – with its trees, palm trees, jungles, hills, mountains and caves, to live on the outskirts of your village, in its surrounding jungles, performing its function for which it was created in the fields and ruins.}

Glory to the crow! It covered us and taught us burial. It could have made Abel a feast for the hyenas and its pack, hungry for the ruins.

Perhaps it came to hold funerals for the dead of the modern era. But there are not so many dead in the village now. There was, about a year ago, when everyone was burying everyone. On a general level, we have practiced burial on the billions who have died and been killed since Abel. The widest experience man has acquired so far is how to die and how to bury!

And because the number 13 is always the title of our houses, we will not say that it came to spread a cloud of pessimism over us. The glass or wood it was pecking at is not the skin of a rotten sheep in which the worms gnaw, a garbage dump, animal ruins, nests full of pigeon or dove eggs, or fish tanks, which crows love.

Life always takes place on the shores: the shore of a river, the shore of a sea, the shore of a lake, the shore of a canal, the shore of a mountain. These crows have chosen – without the edges of all the villages in the region, with its trees, palm trees, jungles, hills, mountains, and caves – to live on the outskirts of your village, in its surrounding jungles, performing its function for which it was created in the fields and ruins.}


Abdul Sabour went straight to a window of his house, the crow perched in his hands. He put the crow on the ground and stepped on its wing with his left foot. He ran his right hand over the window glass, while his left hand pressed on the skin of his head from the pain of the pecking. He found himself reading words he could not see, feeling them as vibrations that ran through his arm from the glass pane to his tongue:

“You leave cattle egret in your fields on the day of the eastern irrigation, so that he may pick up whatever he wants of earthworms and their grains, and you drive us away; so that we do not covet the ears of corn when they ripen. So, we remain on the branches of the trees, starving for this feast that we wait for, from year to year, or from season to season.”

Then he moved to the second window, wiping its glass with his right hand, while his left hand still pressed on the spot of the peck on the skin of his head. He had carried the crow with him and placed it under his foot. He began to read:

“God created the village, so how do you kill the crow and not bury it as it buried you? And how low and despicable have you become that you hang its corpse ‘a scarecrow’ in your fields to scare away the sparrows and pigeons?”

Then he moved to the third window, wiping its glass with his right hand, while his left hand still pressed on his head. He had carried the crow under his foot, and he began to read:

“Man created the city, so why don’t you paint its pictures with the crow’s feather, and prefer the feather of cattle egret over it?”

It is as if there is an old feud between the crows and cattle egret; the crows hate the color white, so they deliberately stand on the tree to defecate your white clothes while you sit under it!





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