July 3, 2018
Words Without Borders publishes an excerpt of Barakat’s Night Post

Words Without Borders publishes an excerpt of Barakat’s Night Post

Novel excerpt published by Word Without Borders, special issue on Lebanon, July 2018

Translated by Robin Moger.

Translator’s Note: Hoda Barakat’s slim novel The Night Post is composed of the texts of six letters interrupted midway through by short, fragmentary pieces of narrative prose. The following excerpt is taken from the beginning of the third letter. A young man, apparently pursued by the authorities, is at the airport when he sees a woman rip up and throw away a sheaf of papers (the novel’s second letter). He reassembles the torn pages and, prompted by their content, decides to write his own letter, to his mother—an equivocal missive of reconciliation and blame that unfolds into a desperate confession.  


My darling mother,

I write to you from the airport before they can take me, before I go through the security barrier. They’re worried about terrorism, you see. Watching the slightest movement. Soon as you’re through the main entrance they’re there, everywhere, patrolling about in civilian clothes.

It’s under control, though. I’m going to act like someone come to meet a passenger. I’ve no bag, and my shirt’s unbuttoned so they can see I’m not strapped with a bomb.


Darling mother,

I don’t know if this letter will reach you. That is: I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to stay here. How much time I have, that’s what I don’t know. I’ve bought myself a newspaper so I can pretend I’m reading, checking my watch repeatedly all the while, then over to the illuminated boards that display the landing times, and back to my seat again. Anyone watching me is going to think that the plane carrying my visitor is late, and they’ll leave me be.

Not much here for me to do, here on this threshold, people stepping quickly past me, in and out, and no one lingering for long. They come to wave good-bye, then they leave. They check their watches against arrival times and, even as they spot their passenger in the distance, they’re heading for the exits. They don’t linger. I can entertain myself for a bit watching people, all the shapes and sorts: the ways they bid goodbye to family or loved ones, each according to color, or origin, or creed. On appearance alone I can tell what they’re going to do. This woman, I tell myself, is Sudanese. She’ll cry when her son, the scowling young man at her side, leaves her standing and goes to the gates. And this plump blonde, fretting and rocking on her heels, never still, will leap for joy into the arms of the one she’s come for.

Not that I’m writing to you just to seem busy. No: I want to let you know what happened to me before you hear it from someone else. You won’t believe me, mother; you never do. Not never, perhaps, but in any case you’re all I have. You won’t be able to defend me, I know that. No one can defend me. But if I write to you you’ll know at least how dear you are to me and that I think of you when things are hard. This is the weakest kind of faith, perhaps. It is, perhaps, the only way I have of apologizing. Even if you won’t show me kindness in return, as you never did. From the time they first took me from the house you never showed me kindness. I told you, before they took me out, beating me as they went, that it was just a hashish case, that there was no need for you to worry. You didn’t believe me. You didn’t believe me, and you spat in my face. Maybe you wanted to make them see that I was a decent boy, that his people had raised him right and spat in his face because they were good citizens who took soldiers at their word. So I’m telling you now: I’m not angry at that gobbet of phlegm. You spitting in my face is the most beautiful memory I have, since what happened to me afterward, well . . .  You can’t imagine what I went through. Read more