This is one of eighteen lost stories by Naguib Mahfouz, the Egyptian writer and first Arabic author to win the Nobel Prize. Though not his strongest work, the collection – recently discovered, and published in English by Saqi press – captures the timeless storytelling touch of Mahfouz and his ability to wrap the individual into society to make something universal. In this story a woman returns to town nursing her illegitimate baby; powerless and poor she seeks redress by her will and wits.
In one hand she would hold a basket full of halva squares and in the other she clutched her baby. She began to move from face to face, hawking her halva, but it seemed she was making a special point of standing in front of Boss Uthman’s shop. She made sure that he could hear her voice or see her in person. He could not ignore her forever.
First published in The Quarter, Saqi Press, 2019