Pleased to meet you. I imagine shaking hands with an untold number of people, my arm stretched out through the looking glass of my computer screen and into your world and yours and even yours. It’s not that I’m running for office or trying to sell you a used lemon of a car, it’s just that I need to have a sense of my readership. I need to know that all my hours spent scribing away result in some kind of human touch. Or at least the idea of contact with another soul.

   I took almost two weeks off from my daily writing on this blog in order to reread Kafka on the Shore. I’ve published a number of books since then but it’s become one of my favorites (even though authors, like parents, aren’t really supposed to have favorites) and I wanted to return to this novel in English. Apart from this blog, all my writing is in Japanese and then translated into English by a number of superb translators that I’ve been lucky enough to work with. This blog, however, is my direct link to my English readers. Everyday for the past five months I’ve been writing a short-short story from a different point of view. An experiment in styles. A place for me to play with English. But today is Kafka’s birthday and it’s time to tell the truth. 

   Enjoy today’s whim of a short-short story…

 

Sounding the Curse

 

     It was a dangerous language to learn. That was the joke that Al kept making as his friend Abdi demonstrated the intricacies of a glottal stop. Abdi straightened his back, lifted his chin and made the sound, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet. “Not alphabet, it’s a script. Alphabet comes from the Greek language. Arabic script,” Abdi said, remonstrating his friend once again. “Well, whatever you want to call it. It’s a deadly language to learn,” Al said and then tried to make the glottal stop but found himself choking on something in his throat. He coughed and coughed and took another sip of the bottled water he’d purchased for an arm and a leg at the coffee shop. 

     “It’s much simpler,” Abdi said, motioning a gentle wave with his hand, trying to tap into some hidden reserve of patience. “Think of the shortest sound that can be made and then locate it deep in your throat.” Abdi pointed at the middle of his throat and made the sound again. 

     Al tried but this time his coughing fit was worse. When he had first attempted the vowel he’d hammed it up a bit but now he found that he really couldn’t get past the sound without his throat going into convulsions. He took another sip from the expensive water. “This is a deadly language. Learn our language and die. It’s a terrorist language.”

    Abdi’s eyes widened. Al had crossed the line. In the five years that they’d known each other Abdi had put up with all sorts of blasphemy but this was going too far. Abdi slammed his “Teach Arabic Now” textbook firmly shut, stood up from the small table, and picked up his backpack.

   “I will not tolerate that sort of small-mindedness. Whatever you curse in life comes back as an enemy. You have made it so.” 

    And true enough the spirit in the sound behind Alif was offended (I mean wouldn’t you be?) and like a broken vial of gas something emerged slowly from the shattered sound that Al had made. You will never succeed in anything again, it whispered in his ear. You will be filled with optimism as you attempt the first step of the basics again and again. You will believe that you can do it but you will fail eternally. Your futile hope will live longer. 

    As far as curses go, Al didn’t mind. 

    It could’ve been much worse. 

    But he did lose a friend in Abdi who he tried to win back again and again for the rest of his life, never losing faith in his ability to fail and try again.

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