Sky Also Smokes Cigarettes

a novel

By Wajdi Alahdal – The Yemeni American News


In my childhood I once heard my father talking about the year of “Z”  i.e the year of ” the Donkey’s Cock” which is a year that takes place once in every 67 years. It is a year similar to those comet stars that occur once only in a person’s lifetime.  It was  called “Z” : the Donkey’s Cock” because it is the year of catastrophic events, changing conditions and the death of people.


He advised me if that year took place in my future life to scale down my food and my speech, and to take my wife and children and go back with them to the land of my ancestors.

Here we are. The ominous year has taken place on time, and my father’s astrologic calculations just proved correct. But what was not in the grip of his and my expectations was that I would rather prefer celibacy than getting married and having children. Hence, his advice was useless.


About forty days have passed at a snail’s pace since the God of war has started roaming in almost over every corner in my homeland devouring very greedily all the souls that he snatches from the human beings bodies. Study in schools and universities has been suspended for an indefinite period. Most of the shops and supermarkets have been closed. No electricity, the price of water is in sky rocket, 90 percent of cars are seen parking everywhere in the streets because of the fuel crisis. People’s daily displacement to safe areas is nonstop. The city is most likely going to evacuate its   inhabitants soon.


My father, may his soul rest in peace, survived “the Donkey’s Cock Year” in 1948 when tribes stormed into the capital Sana’a, brought havoc  and destruction, killed my grandfather and looted his shop. The next “Donkey’s Cock Year”, according to him, is going to be in 2082. Of course, an old man like me will not live that long and wittnes that horrifying year. May God help future generations to be strong enough to endure it for I am sure that the length of the donkey’s cock will get longer and longer with each circle and its catastrophic miseries will get much worse.


Across my flat lives a large family: two old parents, seven well-built brothers over their twentieth and one girl in her seventeen. Their flat used to be very noisy most of the time; yelling, shouting, crying and repressed voices that cause shivering when bodies hit walls or fall on the ground as the boys take to fighting like oxen .At the end, the beaten of them would storm out very angry slamming the iron door behind them so hard as to shake almost every single brik in the whole building.


Many times the furious mother would follow her sons outside the flat cursing them with outrageous words that even patient mules would find hard to tolerate. She would also throw anything at hand at them ; a glass, a broom, a waste basket, or a shoe. When once she couldn’t find but a sleeping cat near the door, she picked it up and threw it at the back of the son who drove her angry. I did not know what happened to the boy, because he was not within my sight but I heard a pain-stricken miaow of the cat and no more of that cat did I see in the neighborhood. Maybe the cat was almost sure that the people living there were nuts, so it decided to call it quit for the best of its life.


Anyhow, this edgy and snappish family decided to move to the countryside especially after that horrifying destructive bombardment of Attan.


I kept peeping at the family members through the magic eye of my flat door while they were taking out their bags and luggage very slowly to the front space near the stairs. Every half an hour a full bag would emerge, a tied cardboard box, a gas slender, yellow buckets for water, and then a pile of pillows, blankets and light sponge mattresses.

However, all these things were left in that spot all day long. It seemed there were something delaying the family departure. At the sun set, our neighborhood’s ‘chief” mad man appeared with a pen and a piece of paper in his hand and busied himself staring at the sky and jotting down odd numbers.

At night, I heard my neighbors shouting and arguing. Then they suddenly start pulling their luggage and stuff back into their flat which meant they had cancelled departure. Near midnight the festival of bombing the city started. But that night it was heavier and harder than any previous night, so it was very difficult for me to sleep. Then I opened the window and indulged myself in watching and hearing the flying numerous anti-aircraft bullets in the sky coming from all directions and jotting the war story with fiery letters.

When mosques woke up and began calling for prayer I decided to force myself to resort to bed and forget all about thinking of death. I woke up very tired and drained at ten in the morning, prepared a kittle of coffee and walked towards the flat door in order to peep through the magic eye at my neighbors’ flat. The door was open and no one appeared. Something unusual had happened . I continued sipping my hot coffee but I didn’t hear any sound so I believed that they had left the city very early in daybreak.

Taking a shower, and dressing, I hurried up to go out for Friday prayer. I saw the father of the family sitting in front of the building door leaning his cheek on his palm. I approached him to say hello. He startled and woke up from his pensive recollection. He mumbled back my greeting  with a heavy  tongue.

I felt very curious, so I asked him: ” Where are your sons?” “They’d gone to the village”, he answered

  • -“May God’s safety be with them”, I said
  • -“Amen!”
  • -“But you have forgotten the door of your flat open”, I reminded him
  • “It doesn’t matter. There is nothing left in there to care about or lock the door for”

I nodded and went on my way. His voice when he uttered the last sentence stopped me of further speakin. I felt that he was sobbing even though his eyes were dry and his features looked so strong. I preferred to let him alone so that he might not lose his temper.

I returned home at night after spending my day out. The whole building sunk in darkness. Taking my steps up to the second floor I used my mobile light to see and glanced at my neighbors flat to find the door locked. I wondered that Haj Badr had left with his family without asking me to keep an eye on his flat in their absence!

Four days later, he came back with his daughter only for he couldn’t bring the whole family back as he chose to bury the rest of his family members in the village where he was born. On the day of their departure, the taxi which carried them stopped in a fuel station but someone from the sky threw his cigarette down at them. Perhaps this pilot threw his ‘cigarette’ in a gleeful laugh as if it was just a joke for him! Their bodies were burnt out beyond recognition.

Saba survived this ‘joke’ by a mere chance because she got out of the car to go to the ladies toilet. She did not die, but I was sure a precious part of her soul was lost forever when she was only seventeen. The appalling trauma had left deep scars in her whole being. One of them was the grey hair in her head that grew as she saw the charred remains of her mother and seven brothers lying dead in their seats and smoke rising from their corpses.

I visited Haj Badr in his flat for consolation and condolences. This was my first time in there. There was a lot of noise because many men and women came to offer their condolences. They continued coming to his place for a number of days after which things returned to normal  and the building sunk again in silence and darkness.

After a while, I used to see Hai Badr spending the whole day outside his flat roaming about aimlessly in neighborhood with his hands knotted behind his back. He would walk in one direction as if he were going to a certain place, or to see someone. He might come close to a person and gaze at him for a while, and then he would stand still and suddenly turn back as he remembered something and would go the opposite direction.

In spite of feeling ashamed at myself, I kept peeping  through the magic eye to see Saba. I noticed something had changed in her conduct; she was not the same decent and reserved girl anymore. She would leave the door open when moving in the hall, taking no care whatsoever about what she was dressed up with. In fact, she often scared me when she would gaze directly at the magic eye of my flat door and laugh in odd and scary voice  as if she had caught me red-handed .Then I would run to my bedroom trembling frighteningly from her laughter .

One night I returned home very late after spending a good evening with friends. When I entered the building, I felt that every single hair in my body stood up when I saw Saba sitting on the stair in darkness and staring at me very firmly and smiling. By God, I had never been as frightened as I was at that moment in my whole life.

My mood changed dramatically because she scared me so furiously that I did not even bother to greet her. I passed her silently and opened my flat door, then I heard her whispering, “Have you seen my father?”. I turned my head and said in a heavy harsh voice, “No.” I entered and began to close the door at her face, when she said, “I don’t know where he is.”

“Ah , then  she is worried about her father”, I thought, “there is nothing at all of my stupid suspicion thoughts”. Speechlessly, I stood holding the door not knowing what to say. She said, looking at inside their flat,” Someone took the advantage of my father’s absence and entered our flat.”

I felt my blood poiling in my veins and hurried in picking an iron bar and went into their flat looking for the stranger  while she followed me to light my way. I saw Haj Badr laying on his front on the floor. Feeling his beat, I realized that he was dead. Maybe he died of an infarctions. Standing behind me, Saba asked, “Do you love me?” I turned toward her and said, “Of course, I love you from the deepest of my heart.” “Don’t forget me”, she said with a trembling voice. “Don’t forget me, and pray for me so that God forgive me, and have mercy on me”, she added.

I noticed that there was a rifle in her hand pointed at her temple. I jumped to stop her, but the angle of  death was faster than me.

Translated by Abdulwahab Almaqaleh