Excerpt from The President's Gardens by Muhsin Al-Ramli, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The President's Gardens

by Muhsin Al-Ramli

The President's Gardens by Muhsin Al-Ramli X
The President's Gardens by Muhsin Al-Ramli
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  • First Published:
    May 2018, 352 pages

    Apr 2019, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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Some suggested this crack was an old well, reopened by the rain. Others said that perhaps the hill contained ancient ruins, for when digging wells or kneading mud to build their houses or make a bread oven, people often found urns, bracelets, earrings, tablets, belts, swords, and armor made from brass, gold, and silver. They would give anything made for women as gifts to their own wives and keep anything made for men as ornaments to put on the walls of their reception rooms. They used the urns—after dumping out the bones and washing them—to cool water or pickle vegetables. As for the ceramic tablets, which had drawings and inscriptions scratched upon them, these they used as doorsteps, or to reinforce doorframes, or as part of a window, or under the legs of beds or wardrobes to fix their balance.

That morning, before Maryam went inside "the pit," she saw a bundle of cloth propped up against the wall next to the entrance, near the outer opening of the crack. She was startled and put her hand to her mouth, then to her breast. As she calmed down and took a deep breath, she reached her hand out cautiously to the top of the bundle and slowly drew back the edges of the cloth. She was terrified to see the face of a newborn baby, asleep. She ran back to the house and shook Salih until the entire bed shook with him. He woke up and asked what was wrong. Maryam stuttered as she pointed outside, "A baby—a baby—the pit—a baby!" And if it were not the case that Salih had never before seen his wife in such a state of bewilderment, he wouldn't have hurried out barefoot and in his pajamas.

They carried the bundle inside and set it down. They kept looking at each other in silence, their unspoken thoughts hanging in the air. "Salih," Maryam said at last, "do you think it is a gift from God in return for our patience? Is it an answer to our prayers?"

"I don't know," he said. "But what could have brought it here? I'll go to dawn prayers at the mosque and ask if anyone has lost a baby."

He got up and made his way to "the pit" in order to perform the ritual purification. He walked around the structure twice as though looking for something—perhaps another baby. He squatted inside and strained but only gas came out. He washed and went back to put on his clean robe. He stared at the face of the child and said, "Please check—is it a boy or a girl?"

Maryam uncovered the infant with trembling fingers and burst into tears. "It's a boy!"

Salih went out as though a wind were at his back—and a second wind pulling him from the front. As soon as he arrived at the mosque, he told Sheikh Zahir, the imam, what had happened so that he could inform the congregation. Contrary to Salih's expectations, Zahir wasn't surprised, a response Salih put down to the sheikh's sophistication, the breadth of his knowledge, his equanimity, and the firmness of his faith.

After the prayers, the imam addressed the people, asking them about the matter. Given that no one there had lost a baby or heard about anyone losing a baby, Zahir said, "Let those who are present inform those who are absent. Tell all the people of the village. And if no one claims the child and establishes his paternity within three days, then the infant belongs to Salih and Maryam. It is undoubtedly a gift from the Lord of Creation for their patience, their goodness, and their faith."

Everyone agreed, and indeed, it warmed their hearts on account of their affection for Salih. At first they hoped, then they said, and in the end they believed that the matter truly was a miracle, God's recompense to the good and patient couple.

Salih couldn't hide the tears gleaming in his eyes. And as soon as he found himself outside, he hurried home, carried along by the same gale at his back. Beaming, he came in to where Maryam was waiting and said, "It really is a gift, Maryam, just as you said! And if it had been a girl, we would have named her that, 'Hadiya.' But now, we'll name him ... we'll name him Abdullah, after my father, who died dreaming of a grandson to carry his name."

Excerpted from The President's Gardens by Mushin Al-Ramli. Copyright © 2018 by Mushin Al-Ramli. Excerpted by permission of MacLehose Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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