A Hole Widens Slightly by Hanan Farouk (translated from the Arabic by Essam M. Al-Jassim)

My vacation had come to an end, and my return to the office was a reluctant one. I harbored no desire to resume work. Indeed, the thought of falling once more into the monotonous routine, weighed on me like a thick, unshakeable fog.

Conversely, part of me longed for the warmth and familiarity of my office. When I opened the door on that first morning back, I felt a sense of belonging, even a welcoming vibe. I then became content to occupy myself with the same old administrative tasks before heading out, as usual, for a cup of tea with my colleagues.

In the foyer, I met a workmate—a good friend—and we quickly fell into comfortable conversation. While we were talking, her gaze lingered on my dress, and my eyes veered instinctively toward that part of my attire. There was a small, irregular hole near the hem of the skirt. Surprised, my friend asked what could have caused such a hole; it hadn’t been there that morning when we’d punched our time cards.

Genuinely clueless, I didn’t know what to say and began to dread the rest of the day ahead. My face flushed with potential embarrassment. She reassured me it was hardly visible and advised me to ignore it; until it was time to go home.

Thoroughly preoccupied, I returned to my office, reluctant to spend any more time with anyone. A while later, the phone rang, snapping me back to reality. The manager was asking for me, so I forced myself to stand again and took a deep breath as I headed her way.

The manager greeted me with a warm smile and requested that I perform an urgent task. I agreed and was ready to leave when her eyes zeroed in on the very direction I feared. When she brought the hole to my attention, I feigned confusion, as if I’d been taken by surprise. I pretended to look for it—an endeavor that didn’t take long.  My jaw dropped in dismay, embarrassment seeping into the core of my being.

The hole had become considerably larger since I’d last looked. The manager shrugged and gave me a questioning look I couldn’t decipher. Beet red and beyond mortified, I went back to my office next door, hugging the wall so no one would notice me, and decided not to leave my desk again until the end of the working day. I kept myself busy within my four walls and tried to soothe the distress that was rapidly overwhelming me.

Engrossed in a mountain of paperwork, I was startled when I heard my colleagues’ voices outside, announcing the end of the day had arrived. Quickly but carefully, I stacked my scattered papers, placed them in my bag, and turned off the lights.

Impatient with my delay, my co-workers raised their voices in a great chorus, calling out for me.

“I’m coming!” I answered.

Their voices rose higher still, and I could hear accelerated footsteps heading toward my office.

What is wrong with them?

“I’m coming!” I repeated.

Faces appeared at the door of my office as I took my keys from my purse, ready to lock up and leave.

Suddenly, their calls faded to a stunned silence. My friend pushed past the others and reached out to hug me, her tears wetting my face.

“What’s the matter with all of you?” I asked, taken aback.

Without saying a word, my friend took off her coat and wrapped it around me.

 

Hanan Farouk is an Egyptian poet and short-story writer. She is a doctor by profession. Hanan earned her master’s degree in internal medicine from Alexandria University. Her poems and short stories are held in high esteem by writers and critics. She has published a collection of poetry and three collections of short stories. Hanan lives with her family in Saudi Arabia.

 

Essam M. Al-Jassim is a writer and translator based in Hofuf, Saudi Arabia. He’s taught English for many years at Royal Commission schools in Jubail. Mr. Al-Jassim received his bachelor’s degree in foreign languages and education from King Faisal University, Hofuf. His translations have appeared in a variety of print and online literary Arabic and English-language journals.

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