‘The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away’ by Bushra al-Fadil, translated from Arabic by Max Schmookler

Bushra al-Fadil, a Sudanese writer based in Saudi Arabia, won the 2017 Cain Prize with this deceptively sophisticated story. It opens with chaotic street scenes in Khartoum, before switching into his dream-like fascination with the eponymous Girl. 

There I was, cutting through a strange market crowd – not just people shopping for their salad greens, but beggars and butchers and thieves, prancers and Prophet-praisers and soft-sided soldiers, the newly-arrived and the just-retired, the flabby and the flimsy, sellers roaming and street kids goraning, god-damners, bus waiters and white-robed traders, elegant and fumbling.

While it is not uncommon for short stories to spring something on us, the skill is in the unfolding; the way in which this story transitions from liveliness to something more mournful reveals how layered it is.

Published in The Book of Khartoum, edited by Raph McCormack and Max Schmookler, Comma Press, 2016. Available to listen to, read by Elmi Ali here