Detail from a hunt mural in the grave-chamber of Horemhab, Ancient Egypt, <i>c.</i> 1422–1411 BC. The Yorck Project/Wikimedia Commons” width=”370″ height=”252″></a></p>
<p>In the village that follows a never-changing script, things are today exactly as they were yesterday, the day before, and last year. Over there, one of the villagers, dutifully executing his daily chores. He’s drawing water from the well using a bucket raised by a beast of burden. Now he’s tossing daily feed to his livestock. Now he’s moving back and forth with an ox, as it cuts a furrow in the ground. From the mountains through which so many tomorrows pass floats a sweet, but unremarkable tune. It’s Omran, singing as he coaxes his ox forward. He doesn’t hit the animal with his stick, heavens no; he just urges it cheerfully along a path that can’t be more than five metres long. Over there, you can see Mabrouk, axe in hand, sweat dripping from his broad brow. Hoeing in his small garden has made him short of breath. And there – see? Haj Salim is tilling his field, rippling with blades of wheat and barley. What’s he doing, exactly? Ah, he’s evicting a wayward donkey from his premises. Wait, no, he’s shouting at a herd of sheep. Now he’s throwing stones at a flock of sparrows that has settled in some corner of the field.</p>
<p>Sometimes you can find Haj Salim setting a trap where he’s found traces of fox or jackal feet, evidence of a nocturnal raid on the chicken pen. Like clockwork, the villagers move to and fro as they go about their usual tasks. The sheep herder, poor fellow, he’s lost his voice amongst the incessant bleating of his charges; baaa… baaa… Another hauls up with his fore­arms as he straddles one of the wells, heaving water up into stone troughs that camels drain with loud slurping noises. In short, until that very evening, everything in the village was quiet as usual.</p>
<p>Suddenly (of all the rare things in this village, the rarest of all was something worthy of being called ‘sudden’ or ‘surprising’) a man comes running, his voice accented with fear.</p>
<p>“Come, everyone, come!” he shrieks, crying out a message that makes the skin crawl: locusts are at the gates of their small village! The man’s cries instantaneously transform the idyllic scene, turning the villagers into a group of mad people who dart around like chickens with their heads cut off. Faces betray the universal feeling that a monstrous creature is lurking at every corner, at every bend in the road and under the roots of every tree. Some run to their fields and their orchards and just stare, their eyes filled with longing, certain that tomorrow will bring an end to it all. Soon, all that will remain are memories. Haj Salim is among them. This is the first time he looks out over the birds landing in his field and does not throw stones at them, or spots trespassing ewes and does not bark them away in an excited voice.</p>
<blockquote><p>Tomorrow the insects will begin their invasion of the little village… No doubt about it, they would turn every green inch of land into a barren wasteland.”</p></blockquote>
<p>The news has a paralyzing effect. Nothing is on anyone’s mind but locusts. For once, the sheikhs’ wagging tongues stop telling interminable stories. The women lingering in front of the village infirmary and those alongside the well filling their water jugs forget their gossip about other women, giving their targets a rest from tongue-lashing. Everyone’s thoughts are caught up in the terrible ghoul branded with the name of destruction: locusts… locusts. Tomorrow the insects will begin their invasion of the little village. Slashing and burning, the creatures will strip the green coats from the trees, take from them luxurious shade and leave behind only dead, withered sticks. Absconding with morsels of trees and plantations, the locusts will steal food from the mouths of Haj Salim, from the members of Mabrouk’s family, from the sons of Omran and everyone else in the village. No doubt about it, they would turn every green inch of land into a barren wasteland.</p>
<p>In the village, many events bring people together: a death, or when the village police arrest a passer-by on charges of some crime, or an old woman’s bout of lunacy. Before tonight, the village in its long history had never seen a force so powerful as to graft the villagers’ individual and collective fates together into a single destiny. It was plain in people’s looks, and in the way they spoke, that they were distraught. As always happened when danger knocked at the village gate, the men felt the instinct to assemble. Abdul Nabi raised his voice to deliver the evening call to prayer:</p>
<p>“Come… come all you farmers… men of the village… hurry!”</p>
<p>They ran to the mosque, which was only crowded on two sorts of occasions: when the village faced a danger, or during the Eid. Everyone was now assembled, huddled in a single mass. Frustrated and angry, at times groups found themselves speaking in unison. There was profound sadness in the air. Blue-vein-spotted hands flapped in anxious gestures.</p>
<p>A couple of the sheikhs indulged themselves, relating ancient accounts of an invasion that had transformed that village, so proud of the gentle-heartedness of its denizens, its natural beauty and bride-like freshness, into a graveyard over which the owl squawked an obituary. A third sheikh interjected with a melodramatic account of a locust-ambush on ten men camping at night in a ravine. The locusts set upon them while they were sleeping; in the morning there remained not a trace.</p>
<p>“O brothers, even the bones…” said the sheikh, pausing for emphasis, “even the bones the locusts ate!”</p>
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Extracted from the collection Translating Libya, in a new edition from Darf Publishers