How To Shun Abraham
Guillaume Cingal
Hayward Faultline winner

My name is Hicham Abraham. I have two confessions to make, and, as I am the author, I will keep them for the end of my short narrative.

Let me first confess (and this would feature as my third confession, the one that does not really matter) that I have always been fascinated by people who feigned sickness. When I was living in Algiers in 1851 - I am a sailor and was then fighting with the French army - I developed this odd habit of asking all the persons I met for stories about sick leaves and the like.

In Algiers, Catholic nuns tormented me for several days successively, without giving me any relaxation. My friends said that I ought to feign sickness, to get a little rest.

After my spell as a sailor, I went on meeting all kinds of histrionic people. Once, Edricus, Earl of Mercia, told me in a highly rhetorical manner: "Did not I, I pray, feign sickness, weakness, disadvantages whenas the king sent me to fight with him?"

In Russia, to feign sickness or madness is "kosit", i.e., to squint.

In an old Australian tale, Beeargah, the hawk, is told "to feign sickness, to tie up his head, and to lie down near wherever the two sat to watch the corrobboree". But who on earth these two might be I cannot remember.

There is this lover now, having dinner with his fiancée, making a mess, thinking, 'Maybe after we eat I'll just feign sickness and run away'. To cut a long story short, she might feign sickness, - indeed, it would scarcely be feigning, for she generally feels far from well. Hence the letter she will write: "It is scarcely necessary that I should feign sickness, for I am in reality sick. I have lost my color, and dark circles begin to show themselves under my eyes; and my father asks me, full of affectionate anxiety, what the cause of my suffering is, and manifests the deepest concern." Is there hidden romance in this?

Now that I am about to meet my maker, all this is enough to make me want to feign sickness, flee this place, go home, and get liquored up. If I had to teach creative writing, this might be my sole piece of advice: 'Don't try to please, entertain, dance, feign sickness, or otherwise cop-out'.

It is high time I confessed that I have not 'written' this narrative properly speaking, and yet my second statement has a truer ring, I think: I am indeed, as Hicham Abraham, the sole author of the lines you have just read.

First published: February, 2004