Empty of Radical Emotions
with Dima Hourani
Najwa Juma, born in 1978 in Gaza Strip, Palestine, is a Palestinian teacher, author, playwright, woman activist, and translator. Najwa has published two short story collections, »Shut Off « (2019), and »Wings of Fear« (2022). She also published several articles on the conditions of Palestinian women and publishes regularly in the Women Voice Newspaper. She has been selected for Akademie Schloss Solitude’s Jean-Jacques-Rousseau Fellowship program that provides support for authors in emergency situations. Here, we are sharing three selected short stories of the author: Forty-five Minutes, The Window Girl, and In Her Black Scarf.
Short stories by Najwa Juma — Aug 9, 2022
Najwa Juma during the Jean-Jacques-Rousseau fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude, July 2022. Photo: Jana Hochdorfer
One, two, three, …., fifty, fifty-one bodies, I do not know how the room opened its walls, and contained all their big eyes, breaths, and fears. The walls chanted their deep prayers. The cries of mothers were drawn as horrible portraits on the four walls. Children’s panic filled the room with a confusing chaos.
On a cold and bloody night in November, during one of the heavy attacks on the Gaza Strip, all these faces came seeking asylum from a building that was just few meters away from ours. They rushed to our building, thinking it was safer. Guided one more time by the same blind eyes and the lost feet that wronged their way seventy years ago, leaving the lands of their ancestors behind.
With all the fear that one could not imagine, we all were waiting through our suffocated breaths for the sound of the next expected rocket after the warning one. But the warning rocket that fell near their buildings was different. It only cut off the bodies of two men who were passing through their alleys.
The next rocket was not in a rush because the warning one was really different. It gave the people an occasional forty-five minutes instead of the five minutes it usually gives before the fall of the next F16 rockets, to pile up their fear and panic and run away.
Breathlessly we were staring into the void, waiting for the sound of the second rocket, which would shake the whole neighborhood, destroying many houses and raising the counter of martyrs, but the rocket was really different.
Forty-five minutes passed, however, no explosion was heard. Only the muffled sound of the phone ringing interrupted the deep silence we were drowning in. A trembling finger of an old woman pressed the receiver’s button.
A stifled voice came from a city far from us but close to the warplanes: »Thank God for your safety!« When the old woman told the caller that we were waiting for the next rocket, she was astonished when the voice on the other side told her that the truce had been announced forty-five minutes ago.
Out of a window in the fourth floor of an old building opposite to a broken theater, a little girl with long braids is sitting holding a doll and trying to make a braid for her.
The girl peeks at the ruins of the theater from time to time, sighs and turns the doll to face her and says: do you know how many days I spent trying to convince my dad to come with me and my mum to that theater? I can’t remember, may be fifteen or even more.
There, I wished to accompany them to one of the performances that my friends told me about. I was eager to sit between them and hold their hands, I wished to live that moment of family gathering.
That moment of happiness was worth a try, I tried my best, I begged him, I cried sometimes and screamed in others. The idea itself seemed very silly for him, but later when I pretended that I was sick he felt sad and promised to come with us.
My mum said that Thursday the 9th of August would be great to go there, then we could go to my cousin’s birthday party, but nothing of what I dreamt became true, the whole building was destroyed that day by ten F16 rockets.
The little girl turns the doll to face the ruin and says: There, under that rubble my dream lies, can any magic change this fact?!
The tang of autumn mingles with the smell of the sea, spreading a special fragrance on the beach. The sun hides behind the horizon in the cool morning. Some breeze moves the ends of his clothes and hair. Standing still, he stared at the waves.
The horizon rises from a shivering sun ray for the seventh time, reflecting golden threads on the surface of a sea that is guarded by soldiers.
A woman dressed in black approaches him, stands close wrapping her arm around him, pulls him towards her, until they become one still body, except for tufts of hair and a scarf stirred by the sea breeze.
She looks where he looks for a moment, then bows and kisses his head, whispering I don’t think that your father will be back today!
His eyes beg for some waiting from her hand that pulls him away. Desperately he bends his head, then suddenly he looks up. An idea flashes in his eyes. He tries to pull his little hand from hers saying: his fishing companions surely know when he will return, let’s ask them!
She pretends to be angry: I don’t talk to strangers. The little boy hits the ground with his foot and let his mother guide him. She turns back home, wiping with her black scarf a tear she doesn’t want her little son to see, simply because she can’t tell him that the never return from his death since the soldiers killed him and made his body food for fish.
They return, the little boy drags his desperate waiting, his mother tightens her scarf over her loss and weakness, while the waves turn red, behind which guns appear.
Najwa Juma. Photo: Jana Hochdorfer
© 2023 Akademie Schloss Solitude and the author