The Locust and the Bird: My Mother's Story
In a masterly act of literary transformation, celebrated novelist Hanan al-Shaykh re-creates the dramatic life and times of her mother, Kamila.
Married at a young age against her will, Kamila soon fell head-over-heels in love with another man—and was thus forced to choose between her children and her lover. As the narrative unfolds through the years—from the bazaars, cinemas and apartments of 1930s Beirut to its war-torn streets decades later—we follow this passionate woman as she survives the tragedies and celebrates the triumphs of a life lived to the very fullest.
school again. I was too old, they told me; the younger children at school would laugh at me. ‘Let them laugh,’ I said, but Mother replied that school lasted all day. Who would take the boys to school? Who would deliver my brother-in-law his lunch? Who would help with the washing? So instead I was taken to Fatme’s house. She welcomed me with a big smile and, as soon as my brother-in-law left, I could feel her opening her heart to me. I adored her. She was different from any woman I’d ever met.
carry you away!’ She was right, of course, but whenever I saw Muhammad, my mind would detach itself and run towards him. Once a thief managed to get into our house early one morning. Maryam, as she was kneading the bread, spied him hiding behind the door. She pushed against the door as hard as she could, trying to squash him. All of a sudden she stopped pushing. ‘For my sake,’ she said, ‘I hope you’re not Muhammad.’ ‘No,’ the thief replied. ‘My name’s Mustapha.’ Clang, Clang, Clang …
and we had made peace with each other then. When we finally arrived, Ibrahim and Khadija could not have greeted us more warmly. The other big surprise was that we found Fatima and Hanan there too. The street fighting had prevented me from seeing my daughters for quite some time. They were on their way to Nabatiyeh to take refuge from the troubles, which had reached their neighbourhood. Once my children were in bed, I pinched myself. Here I was in Ibrahim’s house – the man who had arranged my
offered me his goods instead. I’d taken nighties for me and my daughters, even though they were so young still. We would put them on and strut around. I’d been coming home month after month with ever prettier and more expensive nighties. The only solution was to start selling off my jewellery. It pained me to pawn a gold necklace for a mere 100 lira, particularly when I discovered that the jeweller had tricked me. The necklace was worth nearly 1,000 lira. I informed all the shopkeepers that
alongside the number of a friend were her two fat sons; a mouth wide open was Fadila singing; a plate with a banana and apple was the local restaurant; an aeroplane was drawn beside the number of a relative whose husband was a pilot; a water jug and washing machine depicted the repair company; car wheels represented the number of Hanan’s mother-in-law’s driver; a man surrounded by fire was the number for a woman friend whose son was a fireman. When Hanan came to the electrical-repair man, she