She opened the plastic bag, not larger than a fist, and emptied the powder in a small glass bowl, then poured a cup of water over it and continued to stir the mixture until it dissolved. She did not need to read the instructions on the bag again. The process was easy – like preparing a cup of tea or coffee, or mixing a glass of juice. After the mixture started clotting, she would add a few drops of liquid from a small bottle that she got with the plastic bag, and keep stirring it. She would then have to put the bowl in the refrigerator for ten hours, after which she would find a small man in it. This strange creature should be carefully lifted, washed under the kitchen faucet, and dried. She would then have to take the creature to the bedroom, gently place it on the edge of a pillow, switch off all the lights, close the door and stay out. After a few hours, she would find, on her bed, a perfect man in the specifications she selected before.
Today she would try to do the things she normally did. She carried out the procedure, the steps of which she already knew by heart, and sat on the kitchen chair closest to the bedroom. It was ten in the morning now. The man would be ready in his first form at eight p.m., after which she should get him from the refrigerator and take to the bedroom. At dawn or soon after, she would receive from him a first touch, a first kiss, or maybe more, if the mixture was of good quality. Yet, she remembered that, because of her financial situation, the powder she had bought was average.
The previous weekend, she had gone to her favourite bar and inserted coins in a machine one by one. She was soon displayed options, which, however, were not the options she had expected, but much less. She was not able to select the skin color, height, chest circumference, weight, the penis size or erection period. She made the selections that were available: black color for the eyes, short toenails, medium stature, curly hair, normal sweat smell, copper skin, thick hair in the chest and the pubic area. Then she pressed ok. In a short while, a milky powder poured down from a tank at the top of the machine. She saw small, blue, green and violet pellets in it. The powder fell into a plastic bag that was lifted by a metal lever and placed in a small cardboard box. The same lever pulled out a small bottle from the back of the machine and inserted it in the box. The box was then closed and pushed out from a slot in the bottom of the machine’s glass cover, behind which the woman witnessed everything.
She made a cup of tea, smoked a cigarette and opened the radio. There was a story about a plane crash somewhere, a story about a calf born with three heads and a news story about the theft of a statue. When she changed the station, she heard strange music. What should she do then? She closed the radio, went to the bathroom and sat on the toilet seat. She took off her clothes, bathed, walked to her bedroom naked, and lay down on the bed. She then put on her best clothes, sprayed on perfume, took her umbrella and went out.
She did not really know where to go, so first, she entered a super market, wandered its floors, then called one of her friends from a public telephone, but the line rang with no replay. For a while, she sat on a bench in a bus stop next to a small garden, and watched the leaves fall around her, as the autumn wind carried them from one place to another. Time went slow, so she went to her favorite bar, and sat alone in a dark corner. There was a mirror in front of her. She looked at her pale face while slowly sipping a glass of beer with lemon; her gray hair, her withered eyes behind dark glasses, her slender neck hidden in a collar of an old pink shirt. She turned and saw the machine from which she got the man powder few days ago. She wondered to herself how happy were the women who could go to the machine at any time, who just put the money in and chose a man in the specifications they wished, and did with him whatever they desired. Then, when his body became weak and started to wilt, they put it in a garbage bag for disposal, or put it in the refrigerator with the hope that he might resurrect again, or mummify the small corpse inside matryoshka box forever.
She asked for another glass of beer. The old waiter carried it to her and said some words; she either didn’t pay attention to them or she didn’t hear them. When the waiter left, she asked herself if the man had perhaps tried to flirt with her or simply ask her something. Not that there was anything wrong with that; he would do that with all lonely women. When the man opened an old voice recorder beside him and chose a song that she loved, she looked at him and smiled gratefully. A man and a woman entered the bar and sat on the other side. After a while, they were followed by two women and man, who sat near the machine’s glass cover. She could not help thinking that she really needed somebody to talk to. It did not matter what she would say, she simply wanted to open her lips and stir her tongue and say things. Would she be able to come here with her creature tomorrow? Would she sit with him in one of the corners, allow him to talk and listen, or talk and force him to listen; would his body, with its weak specifications, resist until tomorrow or would it crumble and fade? She would try to not to exhaust him so much. What about the man who was sitting on the other side of the bar? Was he able to satisfy the wishes of the woman sitting in front of him, no matter how wild or strange? Was he real or just a temporary creature she had made with her own hands? In any case, he had what women like: he was handsome, elegant with charming black eyes. But how is the tone of his voice? Was it strong or soft? She could not hear those tones, as he was speaking in a low voice while bend on the table all the time. She tried to draw his attention, but he did not look to her. Nothing in her shape drew other people’s attention. She was the remains of a woman or, rather, the shades of these remains.
She emptied her glass and went out. While she looked in the eyes of men who passed her, she continued to imagine the shape of the creature she would have tonight; the man who was created by her own hands, who cost her months’ savings. She was not intoxicated; she simply walked in remote streets to pass the time. When she arrived home, she looked at the clock. Only a half an hour, maybe less, separated her from her date. She changed her clothes and went to the kitchen, looked outside through the window. The street was dark. Shades of hasty people passed on the sidewalk. She opened a bottle of wine and poured a small glass, taking short sips as she looked anxiously at the clock. Exactly at eight, she opened the refrigerator and pulled out the glass bowl. As she put the bowl on the table, she saw a small creature, the size of a mouse, lying at the bottom, covered in thick, dark liquid. She felt a sense of humiliation as she looked at this strange body. Was this a sin? How could she deal with such a creature after all those long years of loneliness? How would she deal with him outside the bed? How would he behave with her? How could she explain his existence, his emergence from nothing? Should she invent a history for him? What does history mean to a temporary object? An amorphous creature lying inside a bowl, opening his legs with a pin-line protrusion between them, his belly inflated, his curly-haired head resting on his chest, smeared by thick liquid.
She took the bowl to her bedroom, put the creature on the pillow and turned off the light. She returned to gulp her wine slowly and continued her mad bodily dreams. She would do such and such with him, would bend into the positions she had dreamed of for years, whisper in his ear the wild words she had never pronounced before, lick drops of sweat off his neck, move her tongue over his arms, rub her nose on the hair of his chest. She would let him do what he wanted; he might have wild desires, too. Desires that started from nil and reached climax within minutes, as written in the instructions on the box cover; the woman should only know how to stir the creature’s instincts. These dreams took her far away, to wander in dark forests, going into unprecedented depths, flying with small angels, each with more than one face.
After the wine glass became empty, there was no point pouring another, since she did not want to be drunk. After reaching the edge of her lust, no more wine was needed. For a few minutes, she stood near the balcony door, breathed fresh air, then reeled to the bedroom. For a moment, she waited in front of the mirror, put drops of perfume behind her ears and lipstick on her lips. Then she took off her clothes, put on a short nightgown and lay on the bed. She tried to comprehend the mysterious lump that lay beside her. Was it real or imaginary? Had she carried out the steps correctly? What if she had made a mistake, what would happen then? Would the man turn to ashes or into a monster? Who knew? Questions were pointless now; she would discover everything when she woke up.
The man opened his eyes, not knowing where he was. He tried to remember where he had come from or when, but couldn’t. His whole memory was muddled. He only knew that he was in a dark room, laying on a narrow bed and that there was a mysterious body beside him, breathing in with loud, squeaky breaths. He removed the sheet that covered him and sat on the edge of the bed. He stretched out his hand, found a matchbox, opened it and stroke one of the matches. In the faint glow of light, he saw a woman’s face; it was wrinkled, stained with dyes, with white tufts covering the forehead. It looked like a block of wax melted over the pillowcase. The man got up, opened the door and went to the kitchen. It all felt like coming out from a long nightmare, in which his body was passed in endless tubes and dissolved into glass balls that kept changing their colors as the body continued to break down and dissolve. In the dark, the sequenced tubes carried microscopic objects that looked exactly like him.
He found a bottle and a glass on the table in the middle of the kitchen, poured some wine and drank it quickly, which soon relaxed him. The kitchen was clean and tidy but there was a strange smell coming from somewhere, similar to that of rotten food. After a while, he discovered that the smell came from a cardboard box on the table. On the cover of the box, he saw a picture of a naked man, a lookalike, with words written in a language he could not understand. He wanted to eat something, so he opened a wooden cupboard at his side, and found glass cans, each of them with a female head. When he opened the first can, he found a smaller one, then another smaller one, and so on, down to nothing. The same happened with the other cans. In another cupboard, he found cans with male heads with large, open eyes. He continued to open them one by one, but he did not find anything. In the refrigerator he found colorful flasks and rectangular bowls, with small creatures laying in them, surrounded by liquid that looked like coagulated blood.
He went to the balcony and stayed there for a few minutes. There was no one on the street, only trees that looked like a giant black heads. He realized he was alone and didn’t know what to do. He returned to the bedroom and switched on the light. On the bed, he found a small body, the size of a doll; yet it looked like the body of the woman he had seen when he woke up. He lifted the body carefully. It was covered in a viscous liquid that smelled just like the cardboard box in the kitchen. He went to the kitchen again, put the body in a white rectangular bowl on the table and sat in front it. After a while, he asked himself: was it possible to eat a body like this? Outside, the rustling of the trees carried on and turned into a sorrowful sob.
Saad Hadi is an Iraqi writer Born in Baghdad in 1956. He has worked as a journalist since 1975 and holds a Master’s Degree in Art History from the College of Fine Arts, University of Baghdad. He has issued six books in Arabic: four novels and two collections of stories. Currently, he lives in Espoo, Finland.
Translation into English: Saad Hadi and Anne Ketola