Translated from Arabic by Thoraya El-Rayyes
Like stars on a dark black night, flocks of clouds passing before them—that was how bodies writhed in the celestial nightclub, slicing the lights as they undulated.
The Almighty Boss sent forth his minions, winged waiters with glasses. Fluids—red, blue, yellow—flare as they pass from throat to stomach, turning the drinker transparent—ethereal—light—light—flying—rising—and fading.
Below, on earth, explosions escalate and the dead multiply. Who would want to get drunk on exploding ground? And so, they all ascended into the sky.
The name on his ID was Muhammad al-Ibraheem. But because he hasn’t left a single desperate woman in the city he hasn’t screwed, they call him The Saint. The wretched amass by the gate of the sky by order of a huge guard. When they see The Saint they request his intercession with The Almighty Boss and he obliges, giving his title new meaning.
He sat down and a table rolled out before him ending in a beautiful woman. She was born at the beginning of September 1982 and so, everyone forgot her name was Mary Najjar and the title that stuck was The Virgin. She didn’t live up to this title of course but coincidence plays its snide games with us, and we never understand.
With a smooth, expert motion—like the swing of a bowler’s arm, but horizontal—The Saint pushed a small square glass across the polished surface of the bar until it stopped in front of her.
“Let’s make a miracle,” he whispered. She read his lips and tipped the glass into her throat.
One . . .
Two . . .
Three . . .
Then they were flying through the city sky. From high up, buildings and streets full of cars look like the painting Broadway Boogie Woogie: interrupted lights on a flat plane. Every now and then, a patch of brilliant light expands suddenly then breaks off, they hear a great, trembling sound and are pushed back by a hand of hot air rising from below.
They have left the celestial bar, and The Almighty Boss’ sovereignty does not extend outside this space fenced by colored lights.
“Let’s go toward our first mother . . .” he said, and they tilted toward the sea. This painting is one of Muhammad Nasrāllah’s—Another Land: vast, homogenous expanses. But wait, there is a blemish on the surface. A long, thin frame pushing through the air with erect hoses and (he shakes his head, saying “Even here . . .”) a brilliant light flashes from its edges, suddenly expanding then breaking off. Great trembling sounds and, finally, a hand of hot air rising from below.
This city isn’t ours. A city where thunder and lightning run through the streets is not ours. That is why they come to me. They climb the ladders of the sky in their fleeting mi’raj and knock on my door. One colored glass guarantees their flight, and they become citizens of my dimly lit Heaven.
I am The Almighty Boss. There are no explosions in my sky. When they ascend, they dissolve in my coloured fluids and become a single soup.
In the morning I banish them from my paradise and send them swimming in sin: there is no paradise without sin. That is why I throw them out into the street every morning.
Banish them? Throw them out? Here I am swimming in delusions of grandeur again. This city isn’t ours. When morning awakes and my sky turns into tables and chairs, my winged waiters into men and women, my flashing lights into black boxes with glass slits, they descend quickly. In the street, each of them raises a gun in the other’s face and I drown in tears.
When The Saint and The Virgin landed in two neighboring chairs, morning was about to break. They were surrounded by red eyes, crumpled bodies, and empty glasses.
“There is something higher than my sky . . .” yelled The Almighty Boss as he heard a loud sharp whistle from above. Above him, he saw (in the vast, homogenous expanse) a blemish: a long, thin frame excreting cylindrical chunks, one of them starting to
and grow until the sky became like puffed wool and The Almighty Boss, The Saint, The Virgin, The Winged were no longer. There was no one left to tell us if a flash of brilliant light expanded suddenly then broke off, or if a great, trembling sound was heard. But I am certain that a hand of hot air is slapping you now.
Mi’raj is the second part of the Isra’ and Mi’raj night journey that, according to Islamic tradition, the Prophet Muhammad took from Mecca to the heavens during a single night. Isra’ refers to Muhammad’s journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, and Mi’raj refers to the ascension from Jerusalem to the heavens (translator).
Muhammad Nasrāllah: A prominent plastic artist living in Jordan. Born in the Wehdāt refugee camp for Palestinian refugees in 1963, he has developed painting techniques unique to his work. Another Land is the name of one of his artistic projects.
Hisham Bustani has four published collections of short fiction, most recently The Perception of Meaning and Inevitable Preludes to a Stalled Disintegration. His translated stories have appeared in The Saint Ann’s Review, The Common, CutBak, Banipal, and World Literature Today. He was recently listed among the best six contemporary Jordanian writers by the UK-based website The Culture Trip.
Thoraya El-Rayyes is a writer and literary translator in Amman, Jordan. Her translations of Arabic fiction have appeared in various literary magazines including World Literature Today, The Common, CutBank and Banipal.
“Skybar” was originally published in The Glutton’s Kitchen (TLR Summer 2014)