Short stories about Barcelona

© Judit Canela

Born in 1960 in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, the poet Bassem an-Nabris arrived in Barcelona in 2012, invited by Catalan PEN through the “Writer in Refuge” program, which enables writers who are persecuted to stay for up to two years.

Bassem an-Nabris spent four and a half years in Israeli prisons as a result of his works. After Hamas came to power in 2007, an attempt on his life was made by the group’s militia. He has written seven books of poetry and two war diaries, and in 2015 he published Totes les pedres [All the Stones], his first book of poems outside Palestine, in Catalan and Arabic. Below are some excerpts from the short stories that make up his latest book currently awaiting publication, Petites històries de Barcelona [Short stories about Barcelona]. Both books have been translated into Catalan by Valèria Macías Pagès.

Messages that don’t get through

On Sundays Fernández blows soap bubbles. He can be seen in Plaça d’Espanya or Parc de la Ciutadella. Equipped with two pieces of string and in the right position with respect to the prevailing wind, he blows small and large colored bubbles. They are so beautiful that they appeal more to adults than to children. Some smile while others get out their cell phones to take photos.
Yet Fernández, an amateur who learned the art of blowing bubbles from a Romanian drifter, does not care whether the bowl on the ground next to him is full or stays empty. He’s happy just to earn the cost of a meal and a drink. He blows the bubbles with all of his soul. He says:
“A creator of bubbles does not need the sophisms of Herr Hegel or Monsieur Descartes. They just need thorough knowledge of life.”
“Come again?”
“Can’t you see the truth of life, mate?”
“Yeah, what about it?”
“Isn’t life just a simple soap bubble that quickly bursts?”
“Might be.”
“I just like to remind people of the truth about their lives.”
Then he sighs, waving his hand in the air:
“You know what? The worst thing about this is that the message doesn’t get through.”
When it gets dark, Fernández, with his blond hair in dreadlocks and his trousers ripped at the knees, goes to find a bar or a café with his bowl half empty and his strings and liquid soap in a ruckpack. I follow him.
“Hold on, mate!”
He speeds up and turns his head, now angry:
“The message will never get through!”

At two o’clock I came down. In my mind I had only one aim: the night. “But if the city is so lit up, how will I find what I’m looking for? All I have left is Parc de la Ciutadella.”
Coming back from the beach, I get in through the hole in the fence, jumping. I choose a palm tree, lie down below it in the grass and calm down. I rub my face in the short, damp shoots. I breathe in. I lie on my back and look at the stars embedded in the sky. I breathe in. This is the first night that deserves to be called night. I hear a flapping of wings close by, and a blackish bird goes by me. “That’s it…” And I delve into the freshness of the dew and melancholy. 

Fair Mercè, with her tiny features and flirtatious voice, is seduction personified. Her age is the same as her fingers and toes added together. She likes cava, cycling and Lluís Llach. When she hears there will be traditional Catalan dances taking place in Plaça de la Catedral, she does whatever she can to join in the circles forming the dance.
The day before yesterday I went there and I didn’t see her. I asked her friends and they told me she’d gone to the University of Lisbon on a scholarship. I felt alone. Mercè wasn’t in any of the circles today either.
When she joins a circle there is something in her soul that emerges, and you see how the elderly – who are the people who go there most – become radiant in her company. She has infected them with her youth, vivacity and joy. The absence of that kind girl weighs heavily on my heart.

Bàssem an-Nabrís

Writer and poet

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