Every morning he shaves his beard so spider legs fall, fill the sink and block the plug hole. He emerges from the bathroom with a soft shiny face, and leaves the sink for me to clean after him.
He always complains that his beard grows a lot faster than his peers. He brings my hand close to his face and I try to escape gently but his hand closes on mine and leads it to the stubble. The spider legs penetrate his skin and touch my fingertips. I shiver, but he smiles and comes closer in an embrace, his stubble rubbing against my cheek and I can feel the slimy spider legs. He thinks that the feel of his stubble arouses me, so he purposefully rubs it against my cheek again, I pretend to laugh so I can escape. I run to the bathroom and throw up in the sink, which means I have to clean it again.
He won’t believe me if I say: ‘Hello! Your beard doesn’t grow quickly, but there are spider legs emerging from inside you, I hate spiders, they disgust me, please don’t come near me before you shave, and clean the sink after’.
He will call me crazy. He will probably take the little one to escape my insanity.
I get dressed and tell him I’m taking the little one to the park nearby. He says he will drop in after he comes back from work. I have to escape this craziness for a little while.
The little one runs to the swing. I prefer to sit on the ground and watch her, I take my shoes off to feel my feet touching the wet green grass, to give them a bit of peace. I sit and move my palm against the grass, which is moist, its dewy feel tickling my palm as if it is petting it.
I call the little one, my voice sounding sweet as I know it. She smiles at me, I smile and wave, maybe I send her a kiss in the air.
My palm is resting quietly on the ground, but I can still feel the grass moving underneath it. Almost unnoticeable light, random movements are tickling my palm and stroking it. I observe the ground. The grass seems to be cut evenly but, looking more closely, it shows some form of pattern; it is growing in groups of eight, spaced so tightly that you have to look very closely to notice them. They curl around themselves looking like spider legs.
I know spiders when I see them; they have showed up here too, moving quietly, seemingly at random, but I am very aware of their regimented way which no one can see. I try to get up but I can’t. It is as if my body has been glued to the ground. I try to call the little one but my tongue stiffens inside my mouth like glass. I try to shout but the screams emerge inside me. I choke on my screams. I try to throw up, but I throw up inside, making my body heavier.
The spider legs move faster underneath me and I can feel the soft, shiny web grow around me, but I can’t see it. I try to push it away but it sticks to my hand and the web encircles me and drags me down. I don’t resist. I give in and fall down, underneath the grass, underground.
The sun seems less intense and doesn’t hurt my eyes, the moist soil eases the heat, and suddenly all the sounds are clear – the city, the shop keepers, the women laughing. Despite it all there is an ice cream man close by listening to hidden music, and my little one is talking to someone. I distinguish her father’s voice asking about me.
‘I don’t know, daddy, she was sitting right here’.
I can feel his heavy footsteps and I recognise his shoes. His arm rises with his watch, time after time, and he looks around, repeating his question to the little one about the last time she saw me. I can hear his usual bored voice, then I recognise some worry in it. I think about hiding here forever.
My husband lights a cigarette and starts smoking nervously. I decide to sing to him to calm him down but he doesn’t seem to hear me. He looks down suddenly to see what’s underneath his feet. I smile at him and sing louder. He comes closer to the ground and extends his hand. I try to extend my hand to touch him, but his fingers reach down to his shoe to brush off some ash.
His hand is so close to the ground that I extend my hand to touch his. Suddenly the whole world becomes dark in front of me, the sounds disappear. I pointlessly try to push the surface with my hand. I can’t feel time passing but I know that it has. I try to push harder, my hands becoming more fragile, my fingers slowly turning into eight black, fragile legs, with a disgusting feel. Finally I am able to push my fingers through the surface. It is moist, with a familiar smell, similar to my husband’s. I can clearly hear the water running, and a sharp metal blade suddenly cuts off my fingers. They fall in the bathroom sink.
He looks at his shiny face in the bathroom mirror, the secret will stay inside him forever. Will there ever come a day when he tells her, ‘Hello! There are spiders growing out of my face. How have you not noticed them before’?
She will call him crazy, maybe take the little one and run away. He can’t ever tell her.
He comes out of the bathroom as she comes in. She pours soap and water down the sink to clean it with her amputated fingers.
‘Spiders’ was written as part of Short Stories Cairo, a collaboration between KfW Stiftung and the Goethe-Institut for the promotion of young literary talent in the Middle East. The project consists of writing workshops for young writers writing in Arabic who develop short stories under the direction of renowned writers (including Abbas Khider, Wagdy El Komy, Adania Shibli, and Dima Wannous). The best texts are translated and published in Arabic and English on adda.
Illustration by Ghada Khalifa