He kissed my cracked lips.

‘A paternal kiss… you are like a daughter to me.’

I run my tongue over my lips. Oozing, something sticky. Blood… saliva? Who knows.

Someone is shining a bright light into my eyes… I’m trying to open them… I can’t.

My head is weighed down… I try again… I close them again… Where exactly am I?

The man told me after he gnawed at my lips, ‘A paternal kiss… you are like a daughter to me.’

But my father doesn’t kiss me on the mouth… in fact, he has never kissed me ever. Or maybe he did when I was a baby? Does my father kiss my mother? I close my eyes, I’m squeezing them tightly shut, I’m picturing him: a grey djellaba… yellow slippers with a dusting of earth, a huge turban like a satellite dish… my mother stands facing him, I’m trying to picture her… slender, wearing a crimson kaftan, locks of white-streaked black hair showing under her little kerchief. When my mother got angry she would shout at us, ‘You’ve turned my hair white before its time!’

My big, tall father bends down to put his hands around my mother’s waist… and the image disappears… like the picture on our old television. All my father’s fury gathers in his fist, he punches the TV and the picture comes back… he laughs victoriously: ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child.’

Where am I? Am I there? And who is that man who chewed on my lips and when I tried to stop him, said, ‘a paternal kiss’.

I run my tongue over my lips; they taste like burned plastic.

When Salah used to kiss me I wanted him to go on and on doing it, into infinity. I loved how his kisses tasted… of cigarettes and cheap wine. When he quit smoking and drinking, I had no appetite for his kisses anymore. I would be sniffing him, searching for that smell I had grown addicted to, not finding it… Desire slunk off to a safe distance and I slipped out from between his hands. He got angry and yelled in my face, ‘You’ve changed! Are you in love with someone else?’

‘Have you got a cigarette and some cheap wine?’

Stunned, he turned pale.

‘Have you started sm-sm-smoking?’

‘No, but you – you should smoke before our dates, every time. And can you gargle with booze, too? I’m addicted to that smell.’

He laughed until there were tears in his eyes. ‘I feel like my chest is a cage full of birds, all squawking at once – you’ll land me straight in the oncology ward!’

Where am I? Is it possible that I’m there?

Will someone come to ask me, Who is your god? What is your religion? Who is your prophet?

Whoever has the magic answer will spend the rest of their life/death in…

A TV show on one of the self-broadcast channels says, If you have the answer to our questions… call now! This could be your lucky day, win a trip to

Where am I? Laid out on my back as if I’m in the morgue… one of my hands has needles in it, I can’t move, my head hurts, I manage to move my right hand, no wait, it’s my left… I grope for my body beneath the bedcover, or is it a shroud?

I touch my breast, wincing… it’s like a fried pepper, limp and revolting. A month after I met Salah, a month or a week… maybe it was only hours… he said to me, ‘I want to touch your breasts.’

His request shocked me.

‘I feel like your breasts aren’t real. They’re unnaturally round, it’s like they’re inflated. Are they really your breasts, or is your bra padded? Can I feel them?’

I laughed at this, at the time. I held back for a moment and then said, ‘Today you want to check my breasts are real, tomorrow my thighs, and then what? It’ll never end.’

Where am I? Laid out on my back as if I’m in the morgue… one of my hands has needles in it, I can’t move, my head hurts… I grope for my body beneath the bedcover, or is it a shroud?”

I love his body. It’s like a piece of charred wood, I cling to him even harder, I melt under the heat of his lips, he breaks my ribs with his arms… Is it true he has an extra rib?

When I said to my husband, I want you, he said, You are badly brought up… aren’t you ashamed to talk that way?

The next day he said to me, I want you.

I said to him, You are badly brought up… aren’t you ashamed to talk that way?

He laughed stupidly. This is my right – as granted to me by my religion and by my forefathers.

When he forced me to do it, I surrendered woodenly. He shouted in my face, Am I married to a statue?

When I moaned in his arms and writhed and whispered sexy things, he shouted in my face, Who taught you that? Who touched you before me?

Salah wasn’t interested in asking stupid questions, or permitting and forbidding things on a whim.

I shouted and shouted and shouted… I left the house, shouting… I ran through the alleys, shouting… I heard the screech of tyres… my body fell violently onto the asphalt, and I wasn’t shouting anymore.

Where am I?

My mother comes, puts her hand on my head, and starts murmuring some Quranic suras.

‘Where am I?’

‘You’re in the hospital.’

‘Mom, he kissed me, his eyes were the colour of diseased liver, and when I pushed him away he said, “You’re like a daughter to me.” He was wearing white clothes. Was he a nurse? A doctor? Or a butcher? Are we in a butcher’s shop, Mom?’

‘Sleep, my girl, you’re raving…’

From the collection Something Strange, Like Hunger (Saqi Books, £9.99), translated by Alice Guthrie


Malika Moustadraf (1969–2006) was a writer from Casablanca, Morocco, celebrated for her distinctive style and experimental language. An exacting social critic, she wrote unflinchingly about life in the margins and was persecuted for her taboo-busting subject matter. Denied the life-saving treatment she needed, Moustadraf died at thirty-seven of kidney disease, leaving behind a semi-autobiographical novel and a collection of short stories. Something Strange, Like Hunger, the first full-length translation of her work into any language, is published in paperback and eBook by Saqi Books.
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Alice Guthrie is an independent translator, editor and curator specialising in contemporary Arabic writing. She studied Arabic at Exeter University and IFEAD (now IFPO) in Damascus, graduating in 2008. Her work often focuses on subaltern voices, activist art and queerness (winning her the 2019 Jules Chametzky Translation Prize). She programmed the literary strand of London’s Arab arts biennale Shubbak Festival between 2015 and 2019, and has curated queer Arab arts events for the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Outburst International Queer Arts Festival and Arts Canteen. She teaches translation at the University of Exeter and the University of Birmingham.

The US edition is published as Blood Feast by The Feminist Press at CUNY.
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