Back to PLO Bulletin 15-31 January 1982

Palestinian Literature / Short Story


Majed Abu Sharar, the head of the unified information office of the PLO, and member of Fateh central committee, was killed by a remote control bomb on October 7, in his hotel room in Rome where he had been attending a conference for Palestinian authors and intellectuals. He was at one time considered a leading Palestinian fiction writer. The following short story was published in Al Ufuq al Jedid (New Horizon), the only literary magazine in the West Bank in the early 60's.

In his stories Majed Abu Sharar focused on the problems and sufferings of the poor, an outlook that was missing from the writings of other writers in the era.

His style of writing is considered very simple and reflective and dedicated to all sectors of society and not to an elite. Majed lived and died for a cause. He said, to repeat a phrase that reflected his belief in the cause which he died for: "In these days, death is present in every action we take, in movement, and in halting, but I would rather die moving."


Through the small town, located at the foot of a treeless mountain, passes a small stream quietly making the surroundings bloom. The fertile area ends with a sparse grey bank. It is the phosphate mine near al-Resaiyfeh where I work with hundreds of others.

Early in the morning, we head to the tool sheds where they hand us the equipment. We walk along the railway pushing a cart through the tunnel. The mountain then swallows me and the other workers. We stay for long hours digging white powder out of the hill. We fill up carts with the white powder, then we drive them outside where we empty them and mark on a sheet of paper: 'One cart, 35 piasters.'

The job is very rough, the danger of death in a cave-in is present at every moment. In addition there is the dampness of the mine, and the lack of light.

The dangers used to bother me most in the morning, especially when I first get to the mine. Abu Khamis' voice comes from a small side tunnel awakening me from my thoughts;

"Is that you Fa'eq? You are late."

I stop the cart, pull the axe, a spade, a container, and a small light from it and head towards Abu Khamis.

"Good morning, is the dirt here hard to dig? "

Without raising his head; "I am working anyway."

Then we get busy under the pale light, and the cold. Every time I raise my head, I find Abu Khamis working hard as if he were not 50 years old. Every time I warn him against working this hard, he says,

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"What do you care. You do not have a sick wife waiting for food, or hungry children, or school expenses to be paid."

He then stops and looks at me. I know he cared for me.

During the few moments of rest, we used to eat a dry meal - a piece of bread with a tomato and some water. During those breaks I try to get to know Abu Khamis, but he always seems unwilling to respond to my questions. He does not want anybody to interfere with his life. Little by little, I managed to acquire his trust. He told me all about his life, about Jaffa and the orange groves which resembled a green sky with yellow stars. He also told me about his small factory which he left behind along with his shattered heart, broken over his martyred son.

He told me about the miserable life he lived after he left Jaffa. I know what it means to be hungry, cold, an alien, and the pain of losing a son. His words were mixed with pain while his eyes were full of anger.

One day he told me, "Fa'eq, you are a young man, but I feel as if everything is fleeing, after my youth has gone. The light in my eyes is disappearing, strength is running out of my veins, and my age is leaving me behind, going to an eternal rest."

I tried to give him some confidence. "But you are still very strong and active, even more youthful than I am. On the average you produce two carts a day while I produce only one."

"It is not the strength I want. It is actually the last drop of strength which I have been trying to squeeze out of my tired body."

He always mourns his youth, even though he is the most active worker in the mine. All he cared for is to meet his sick wife and five daughters' needs. His sick wife was in need of healthy food and medicine, while his daughters needed the school expenses. He's made me a partner of his secrets. He comes every day with news about his family.

"Suhaila is the top of her class. I promised her a new wrist watch. I must start saving money for that."

Another time he came and told me, laughing. "Do you know what Leila wants? She wants a red car like the car that takes Afaf (our neighbour) to school. She got angry because I did not promise her one."

On a third day he told me, "The doctor asked me for 30 Jordanian dinars for surgery for my wife. I told him that I am a poor worker. But he said, 'so?'"

One day he stopped me after I emptied my cart and said:

"Fa'eq, I want to ask you a question."

"What is it?"

He said with obvious hesitation; "How long would a person with consumption live?"

I said, "Why do you ask about that?"

He responded painfully, "I have it."

I was shocked. I tried to convince him to see a doctor, but he said. "No. I will not go."

I said, "The company does not pay for our medical treatment. That means you should see a doctor, or else you will die."

"I know but what would the doctor do? He'll send me to the hospital where they will take care of me, but who will feed my wife and daughters, do you understand?"

The days pass and Abu Khamis is still working in the mountain; while the tuberculosis eats out his chest.

I lived through a rough period. Abu Khamis' coughs tear my chest before his. I used to get scared when the coughing caught him while the blood comes out of his mouth. When he stops coughing, he continues to work silently. I used to pour some phosphates into his cart from time to time. This was the most I could do. He was so dear to me ... I wished that youth could be transferred from one person to another so I could share my youth with him.

He started feeling the end was nearing. The hard work he did was helping his sickness in drawing his end closer. He worried most about his family starving once he is unable to work. He wished to live until his oldest daughter finishes high school, so she can become a teacher.

One morning, Abu Khamis did not show up to work. I knew that he had started to give in to the sickness. I went to visit him. Everything reflected the sign of the end.

The coughs calmed down, while the light of life was departing from his eyes. He gazed at me with a look that carried a thousand meanings. His wife and daughters were weeping in a corner. He suddenly raised his hand, shivered, and his head and hand fell on his chest. I, then, covered the face which ran away from life.

Written in 1959
Translated by Sami Al-Aboudi

The following short story was published first by the Palestinian weekly AL-FAJR in its issue of 20-26, 1981. AL-FAJR is published in the occupied territories.

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