Almost Every Day—from the novel by Mohammed Abdelnabi

3 December, 2023,
In this exclusive excerpt from Mohammed Abdelnabi’s eponymous novel, Fouad decides to turn over a new leaf as he is about to turn forty, giving up his vices in order to be free from the past…


Mohammed Abdelnabi

Translated from Arabic by Nada Faris


The incident took place a few days before the beginning of the New Year, the year Fouad would turn forty, when he’d contemplate disposing of his old journals, either by burning or shredding them into scraps too small for anyone to decipher the words originally scribbled on them — too small for any species of creation to picture the life those journals were trying to conceal within their sheets. Perhaps it was a desire to rid himself of clutter that no longer held any significance for him, or perhaps he sought more space, hoping to invite a breath of fresh air into his life. But his heart couldn’t bear it, so he didn’t rip up his journals in cold blood before bidding them a final farewell. Thus, he postponed their execution date and took his time instead to delve into the entries until, little by little, he immersed himself.

Through the successive rifling of the journal’s pages, the seedling of the project we are working on today emerged, since our friend had decided to spare certain paragraphs from the incinerator: any precious moment or topic worth saving, playing the role of judge and executioner, sentencing one part and exonerating another. Soon, it became evident that this undertaking was no simple feat, as it demanded nothing less than a complete rewrite of his life’s movie script.

Months, he dilly-dallied, taking one step forward and another back, and wasting his time as usual. Then, he tried to cherry-pick some paragraphs and supplemented them with external commentaries on separate pages, some composed on a laptop, others hastily scribbled by hand. Soon, the stacks began to overflow, and rather than feeling cramped, he found himself enveloped in an expansive labyrinth, though he didn’t know how to navigate his way out.

This is how he lingered in uncertainty until another birthday approached. Then, years passed, more than once interrupting his fragmented project, which kept allowing him to turn his attention to other concerns. Yet, his effort only led to filling even more pocket notebooks, jotting down various comments on loose sheets, and storing disorganized folders on his laptop, as if his declaration for cleaning and organization — for clearing away the remnants of yesterday and making room for a fresh and invigorating tomorrow — was not entirely genuine, but masking, rather, a deeper longing, concealed like a dormant snake, namely: to remain resting in the indulgent past, absentminded in his room, endlessly rereading his pages, even though he was known as somebody who believed strictly in the power of the present moment and who dismissed the significance of yearning for any yesterday.

We had to swiftly intervene to salvage the situation before our companion grew even more disoriented. He proposed that we (let’s call ourselves “Legion”) take charge and strive to mold this shapeless substance into a discernible form. Together, we agreed, although he proceeded to tear apart some of the materials and erase certain memories, those that had been written down already and those still unwritten. Whether intentionally or due to forgetfulness, it became a new habit, but we refuse to succumb to despair, and won’t surrender since there’s nothing that we cherish more than assisting a friend who has asked us for help — a friend who has allowed us to inhabit him for 40 years. Subsequently, we began to gather discreetly in public spaces and to organize our next moves, delegating tasks among ourselves, unbeknownst to him and away from his physical form.

Around the same time, Fouad made another decision, unrelated to the journals. It was an old but recurring resolution to abstain from smoking and drinking. He embarked on this endeavor with unwavering determination and a resolute mindset, managing to succeed for several days before realizing that it was merely a passing phase, not unlike previous attempts — a fleeting glimmer of hope for the anticipated change.

Every bout would last a week to a month, and once it even surpassed two months. After the bout, he would surrender, gradually, until he’d finally collapse, first by smoking shisha in a small café not far from his house, or asking someone for a cigarette, after which he’d be enticed to order an entire pack, or after a rendezvous with a companion that would include a beer bottle at a cozy bar, until it all culminated in the final descent, when he’d find himself, in the early hours of dawn, in a strange and repugnant place, excessively spending, unable to recognize his companions or the quantity of alcohol he’d already consumed. This succinctly portrays the recurring pattern of falling off and getting back on the wagon, and though sometimes the story varies, it never strays from the fundamental tone of a melancholic melody.

That time, as well, the abrupt collapse recurred just before the arrival of the New Year, the one mentioned previously, when he heeded the call and ventured out of his shell, that is, from the room in the wing in the house in the village that’s located about an hour and a half’s drive away from the capital city and the nocturnal streets he knew so well when intoxicated. On that day, as usual, he ventured out with an insatiable desire to journey to Cairo, to encounter both familiar and unfamiliar faces, even yearning for what he’d once found distasteful: pollution, overcrowding, and the cacophony of traffic. He was suffocating from the monotony of his daily routine, its repetitive motions, and the confined horizon in his room in the house in the village.

He felt no shame in deceiving himself, pretending that he possessed the courage to confront — to hover near the flames without succumbing to their allure and their total consumption. This meant abstaining from smoking and drinking during his time away from home. He held onto this resolve, finding solace in his steadfastness for an hour, then another hour, and then another. However, as time passed, his strength waned, his will faltered, and he found himself drawn closer to forbidden temptations until his foot slipped again, so he asked for a cigarette, and soon he found himself gravitating towards places of indulgence and debauchery, visiting them one after the other, as if he were on a demonic pilgrimage, or bidding farewell to a life of nighttime, revelry, and uproar, perhaps for the final time.

Surely, this one must be the last. The final evening of this kind. The last beer bottle. The last cigarette. He will not waste away again or waste the hard-earned cash on something that holds little significance compared to a multitude of other meaningful pursuits. He refuses to waste or get wasted. So, he tries to downplay the matter, claiming that each attempt provides him with a new experience, a small weapon to add to his arsenal, one to use in the future during missteps, moments of weakness, and temptation. He has learned more from each setback and recovery than from triumph or self-control.

He told us: “It has become comical. Enough. No matter how hard I try, I will never know how many cigarettes I’d decided would be my last. Of course, this encompasses beer bottles or glasses of wine as well. Maybe all the smokers aspiring to quit share my struggle, yet unlike them, and through feats of the imagination, I have fashioned something distinct from this desire, unique to me alone, something that seems immense and singular, which, to unfamiliar eyes or from a distance, may seem ordinary or even trivial. I have transformed it into a touching Greek tragedy, as if smoking were not merely a pernicious habit that ravages health and leads to death, but rather more like a symbol for something grander than inhaling smoke into the lungs and longing to control nicotine levels in the body. The cigarette assumes the guise of a formidable angel of death, a haunting emblem of all the games of doom and self-destruction, a futile ambassador emerging from the realm of annihilation as though it were the initial gateway to the realm of mortality and revelries; revelries of sleepless nights, financial ruin, inebriation, and loss.”

As for what is happening there, on the dark side of the moon, whatever happens to him or with him mostly dissipates, as if those events never existed, and he cannot hold onto them except in fragments and tatters without any recognizable context. Even his sober days, on the bright side of the moon, routinely fade away in the soft sands of oblivion, and he is only able to hold onto them through what is preserved for him within the pages of these notebooks, where he continues to dig for meaning, as if he were living a permanent and transparent dream, all the while striving to find a rational interpretation before death awakens him.

But who are they, Fouad? Those who yearn to venture out and to indulge in libations, forsaking their homes, meandering from one bar to another until the break of dawn? Or those who long to remain within the confines of their abode for days and weeks, dedicating themselves to a strict daily regimen, taking care of their houses, their kitchens, their plants, and their cats, all while engrossed in their writing, translation, or similar pursuits, finding solace in communicating with friends, acquaintances, and the wider world through digital screens? Who among them seeks solitude? To be erased from memory? And who needs to be seen and heard? Who aspires to remain silent, hiding their wounds, struggles, and trivial desires, burdened by shame? And who craves hollering or endlessly complaining when alcohol is running through their veins and someone’s nearby, willing to listen? I wish there were only two people, or I wish there were only two of us, for amidst these two towering faces, a multitude of masks with diverse hues, tones, and forms reside, or amidst these two towering faces, we’d find ourselves. We won’t exaggerate and claim that we are not surrounded, but what is the point of settling on a specific number since we wax and wane, vanish and reappear, and as one of us fades, another star rises? All we know is that when Jesus Christ inquired about our name and addressed us, one distant day, to expel another poor body in which we were residing at the time, we answered him: “We are Legion; because we are many.” We are Fouad’s Legion, still dwelling within him, bound by a contract that was signed long ago.

Yes … Who are they, Fouad? Wouldn’t it be more fitting to paint a preliminary portrait of him? Since he is our protagonist, perhaps our only character, we have delved into a discussion of him in such a manner, without any introductions, as if we unanimously agree on his identity. Is it not important to provide him with a concise backstory and to commence with something tangible?

For questions like these, it was not easy to reach a unanimous answer. Our discussion lasted a long time and devolved into a fruitless argument. We could no longer remember the exact number of teacups, coffee mugs, and various items that used to decorate our table before they were taken away to leave behind an empty surface. Nor could we recall the number of cigarette butts that overflowed from ashtrays, or the number of times hookah coals were replaced, seemingly by unseen hands of almost invisible people attending us silently and respectfully, as if they understood the immense challenge we faced. We paid little attention to them, scarcely acknowledging their presence, nor did we hear the sound of their voices or take notice of their actions, as they existed only in our imaginations, unlike Fouad, who demanded all our attention. He is the illusion we want to draw into a picture that appears true and satisfying for all of us before we start delving into the arduous task of sifting through journals and pages, discarding superfluous documents and retaining only those that are beautiful or crucial, then fashioning what remains into a coherent form.

There is no escaping the need to state an obvious fact, even though it has eluded many at times, which is that Fouad is not a real person, plain and simple. Yet, we shall exert every ounce of our effort from our end to imbue him with an appearance of authenticity, making him seem present in a distinct time and location, transcending the confines of these lines where the spirits of writers converge with readers’ spirits.

Fouad is a fictional character, conceived from A to Z. We conjured him together, like someone crafting a mirror to escape solitude, like someone standing before a mirror to multiply, like someone sketching a self-portrait inspired by their reflection. We invented him for our own amusement so that each of us could find respite from ourselves, to step back and observe the self as though imagining a different form, setting aside the body, with its life force and its stories, only to reconstruct them in a self that remains perpetually unfinished — a self that exists in a state of both existence and nonexistence, a possibility and a probability, an idea without form; in short, a specter or a ghost.

Perhaps that is why we perceive ourselves as ethereal beings, dwelling in him and dwelling on him, transforming him into a home and furnishing it with memories and narratives, with a piece from here and a slice from there, trying to combine all the disparate fragments in a way that doesn’t repel or create an overwhelming cacophony, or a way that might be viewed as a deceptive trick that wouldn’t impress anyone, for the creator of beauty is obliged to be sincere even when inventing a fiction, and to possess a melodious voice even when shrieking, for he’s cursed to never know if his creations are truly beautiful, and to remain forever haunted by doubts and suspicion, regardless of the praise others bestow upon him. We must act as though we are a singular creator rather than a group in a corporeal workshop, and if we were destined to succeed in our mission, then none among us holds superiority over the others, and if we were to fail, we share the blame equally.

Referring to the session where we discussed Fouad’s identity and initial image, we encountered no difficulties in agreeing upon the name as we had previously utilized it in past experiments for this fictional character. However, resolving the issue of identity goes beyond a mere consensus on a protagonist’s name. While it may commence there, it also requires the completion of the remaining details as outlined in the official form — the popular one, found in the section dedicated to crafting and portraying characters, a section that occupies an entire aisle within the Novel Construction Complex. This form does not adhere to a standardized size but bears, rather, various styles and dimensions tailored to the aspirations of each writer and the nature of their text. It may span a single page or extend to dozens or even hundreds of pages, sometimes persisting until the very conclusion of the text or the termination of one of its inhabitants: the author or the protagonist.

So, must we then breathe life into the heart by stating that he is an Egyptian man, an Arab, and a Muslim? Or should we introduce him in a different sequence: an Arab man who is Muslim and Egyptian? Or …? But what do we truly mean by those words? Are they universally understood in a way that the reader or listener comprehends the exact intentions of the speaker or the writer? After much give and take, and even some headache — indeed, after all is said and done — we have resigned ourselves to the belief that there is nothing beyond that, and we have reached a consensus that there is no room for questioning those terms and definitions. If we were to open that door and inquire about the meaning of masculinity, or Arab identity, or …, we would find ourselves wandering through labyrinths from which we may never escape, repeating the tragedy of our protagonist and his writing project. And how many complex issues can be resolved through collusion and compassion for language and ideas, as long as we avoid meeting each other’s gaze; so that our glances do not expose us, revealing our vulnerability or helplessness.

We may do anything to end another workday, to conclude the meeting, and reach a resolution. But we haven’t forgotten to choose the most opportune moment to begin the project, and it’s the moment of the father’s passing, with all its solemnity and significance — after this moment we must attend to our real life in a reasonable manner so that some of us do not miss the last train that takes them to their distant homes, or because “there’s a biting chill in the air these days,” or because “my wife is badgering me with her never-ending texts and calls,” or because “the nearby bar is quieter and warmer than this café,” or because I have important work to do in the morning.” Even the apparitions gathered here, and the act of penning these words, are not exempt from homes, obligations, and appointments, just like the specters who will later come, alone, to read these lines.


Mohammed Abdelnabi is an Egyptian writer born in Dakahlia Governorate in 1977. He obtained a BA in languages and translation from the English and Simultaneous Translation Department of Al-Azhar University in 2002 and currently works as a freelance translator. He has published several novels and short story collections, including After the Prince Went to Hunt (Merit, 2008), The Return of the Sheikh (Rowafid, 2011), In the Spider’s Room (Hoopoe, 2018), Once Upon a Time (Al-Ain, 2018), and Almost Every Day (Al-Mahrousa, 2023). In addition to his work, Abdelnabi runs a creative writing workshop in Egypt that has resulted in two books about his experience: In the Writing Room (Al-Karama, 2021) and The Story and What Is In It (Al-Karama, 2023). His novel The Return of the Sheikh was longlisted for the 2013 International Prize for Arabic Fiction and his story collection, As the Flood Passes the Sleeping Village won the best short story collection at the 2015 Cairo Book Fair. In 2010, his short story collection The Ghost of Anton Chekhov won the Sawiris Literature Prize. He has translated many novels and nonfiction books from English to Arabic, including In the Country of Men, by Hisham Matar (Cairo: Dar el-Shorouk, 2016) and Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach (Cairo: Al-Karama, 2016).

Nada Faris is a writer and certified coach for creatives. In 2018, she received an Arab Woman Award from Harper’s Bazaar Arabia for her impact on creatives in Kuwait. She is an Honorary Fellow in Writing at Iowa University’s International Writing Program (IWP) Fall 2013; and an alumna of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) April 2018: Empowering Youth Through the Performing Arts. Faris holds an MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry & Literary Translation) from Columbia University. She is, furthermore, the author of multiple books in different genres. Her shorter works have appeared in: The Norton Anthology for Hint Fiction, Gulf Coast Journal, Indianapolis Review, Nimrod, Tribes, One Jacar, The American Journal of Poetry, and more. Lost in Mecca is her first literary translation.

AIArabic literatureCairocharactersEgyptian writersfantasy

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