I am not pleased. Paint is dripping down my hoof and the colors are muddled together. I shouldn’t complain. I agreed to it, of course.
Hafiz is putting together a zoo. And he asked me to be the zebra.
“You’re a very good donkey, habibi,” he told me three days ago, “but the border is closed, and everyone says prices for using the smuggling tunnels have gone up. I can’t afford the zebra in Damascus, and the one in Cairo is twice that price.” He gestured wildly, scattering my oats. What a waste.
I don’t know much about borders, but I would do anything for Hafiz. He is more than a father to me.
Kimberley didn’t know that her estranged father, Mr. H, cloth magnate, up-and-coming politician, had been shot. While he was in Trinidad, sliding from the leather backseat to become a heap on the floor of his car, she was still in self-imposed exile in Barbados, her tongue traveling down the ripples of her “roommate” Rachel’s sculpted stomach.
I know a man whose heart is instructed in Bedouin life. He knows the desert and its moods, and has learned early on that it doesn’t like to be challenged. I know him walking without pause, teaching his feet and his heart the ways, walking slowly and deliberately, the trails trembling beneath him. Aimlessly he digs into the sand of the earth and settles nowhere, for his early existence taught him that a real Bedouin doesn’t settle except in death. He may pause, but if he does, life sneaks up on him with its poison. With every pause comes an ache. The trick is not to overcome life’s problems, but to understand its laws.
To my counterpart in privation: The Awaited Mahdi, Mohammed al-Mahdi Saqal
If he’d obeyed me I wouldn’t be here now, and he wouldn’t be there, either… but he’s what they call around here head-cracking stubborn.
Lice and stench and cockroaches. I thought head lice died out ages ago, but in this dump they’re still going strong. The flabby woman sitting across from me is picking through her friend’s hair. From time to time she yells out, “There’s one. I’ve got it!” She squashes each little nit between her two thumbs.
My mother used to put my head on her lap, too, and search for those tiny little bugs. She’d set herself up ready with a bottle of paraffin next to her, and one of those combs made from sheep or gazelle horn that we all used in those days, and then she’d launch her attack on the parasites feeding on my blood. I’d be trying to wriggle away; she’d grab my arms; I’d keep struggling. Eventually she’d lure me in—I’m gonna tell you the tale of Hayna, who was abducted by the ghoul—and at that I’d surrender instantly.
—We simply must get a band in to play at the women’s section of the party. A party’s nothing without drumming and dancing.
—If my first wife demanded that of me, I would never have granted her wish. But you…you know the place you have in my heart.
Nuwara was twenty-two years old, slight, and a little snub-nosed. What made up for that, however, was the rosy bloom of her cheeks and the existence of that exquisite mole between her left cheekbone and her nose. And although her clothed body didn’t stand out as anything special, when she was naked and in the hands of a man, she became a real woman. She was tastier than any fantasy, as sweet as a ripe fruit out of season. Any man could see that. That’s why Ahmed was saying to her now:
—You know I give in to all your demands. But a male band performing to a group of women? I can’t imagine that.
An hour before their father would wake up and take them to the beach, they lay under a block of sunshine in the courtyard of the house. They waited an hour, or longer, until they were almost fed up. But they kept occupying themselves lazily with the blueness above, as the hands of time crept by.
I looked at my wristwatch. Was it time for a surprise trip, or nearing an appointment? I approached one of the coffee shop’s customers and peered at the cup of black coffee and the glass of water—at the time, it would’ve cost the Ministry of Interior Affairs forty billion to quench the citizens’ thirst. This was therefore the most expensive glass of water I never drank!
I walk in and find the women there in the large hall. I can hear their soft, melodious voices, which means there is no man around. (More accurately: there is no man doing all the talking.) I instinctively head toward them, like an animal finally encountering its species. I take a seat and wait for my turn. Before I came up to the therapist’s clinic, I had run into Fast Lubna—with the hazel eyes, the kohl always smudged, and the newly blonde hair—outside the entrance. She was on the phone. She was dressed in black leather pants and a black leather jacket. I thought she smiled at me, but she didn’t move the phone slightly away from her ear to give me a warm hug as she would have usually done. She used to dress more normally, less severely, before she adopted this style and dyed her long hair blonde. She surprised me. The transformation of the vast majority of women I know since the eighties of the last century has been toward the hijab and extreme modesty, away from modern clothes.
—a town so small we all had the same therapist, honest, and called her by her first name: Carla. Predawn in a Denny’s booth, we debriefed our sessions, shared notes, compared diagnoses, and wondered where her tattoos were hidden. We marveled over Carla’s insight. Her ambient charm. Her bad jazz mixes. The slight dent in her forehead, how it hued and curved the light.
We drove ourselves in circles telling stories of how she saved our lives. Where else are myths made but in dark diner corners? That long bulb flickering overhead. Gaunt faces reflected in the glass. Stomachs dumb with syrup. Waitresses tamping down our every simple need. Please, it’s the cradle of conspiracy.
Fakirchand of Kusumpur set out on his way to meet the Big Man. A bundle of meagre belongings hung on his back from one end of a cane stick that rested on his shoulder. Old Fakirchand walked with a slight stoop.
It was moments before sunrise, and the March morning was soft and cool with a genial air and the earth still pleasant to walk on. The cocks were still crowing. Swarms of little children were already out in the open. Old Fakirchand walked slowly, as though measuring each step, and raised both hands to his forehead in obeisance or ‘pranam’ to the rising sun. Yes, his eyes felt better and so did his body. In the brisk morning air, he touched his rheumy eyes with his cold hands.