“Saudi wastemen came over the bridge for boozy orgy celebrations.” —Noor Naga
The horror of the city. As Dhari tapped the steering wheel, he calmed himself by visualizing the beautiful woman who should be sitting next to him soon: shoulder-length blonde hair and sky-blue eyes. He eyed the two security guards idling at the gate of the hospital, joking with each other. The gangly one spit on the ground, then turned to the one with long hair, who handed him a cigarette. Dhari’s friend Dawood got caught with a woman he wasn’t related to once. Dawood was actually lucky to spend only a week in jail, but Dhari knew he couldn’t handle prison for even a day. If only he could have been born somewhere else, where people weren’t separated from one another like this. Whenever he watched American movies, he marveled at how men and women got together, threw dinner parties, clinked glasses. Relationships, dances, first kisses, all these things were taken for granted. How would they view Saudi weddings? Separate ones for men and women. At a wedding, all one did was shake men’s hands, drink tan Saudi coffee in small ceramic cups, and sit, waiting for meat and rice to be served.
Natasha Burge is a finalist for the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.
A strikingly original exploration of autism and psychogeography, Natasha Burge’s Drifts takes us through the souks, caves, and sands of the Arabian Gulf to create a loving and sensorial meditation on place and transcultural identity. In gorgeous poetic prose, Burge probes her unfurling awareness of autism, connecting seemingly tangential thoughts and wanderings with the anchored histories of the Arabian Gulf. The scenic and descriptive power of Burge’s writing is remarkable, bringing to life vivid landscapes, city streets and markets, desert sunsets, and unseen waters flowing beneath the earth.
The following excerpt includes material originally published by The Smart Set.
An editor suggests I write about being an alien. This word I like, with its superabundance of meaning. It reminds me of visa stamps crowding an already full passport, of space shuttles and star dust and loneliness. It rings true.
Memory and pain are partners in crime. You will kill pain only by killing memory!
I sit facing the coast in a place where I can see the route by which I came. I stand and try to allow the burdens of memory to fall away. I start to slowly raise my hands as if to drag these burdens off me and throw them into the sea.
These days, I can’t seem to hold on to anything, and yet the screeching of battle takes hold of my mind, my fantasies, and my thoughts. The trainer yelling and the bullets flying were the sounds that pushed me to kill so many of my countrymen. I was led by the lust of my budding virility and my idiotic youthful pride. I was nothing but a fool. The war tricked me and played me like a fiddle. The shouts of Abdel Nasser, and wounded Palestine, and crazy Lebanon—my mind kept an account of them all.
The Colonel’s words weighed on Hisham’s mind. He became confused and hesitant again. This Colonel… He either was sincere and didn’t want to hurt Hisham, or was an expert in psychology. Hisham didn’t know. Could it be possible that all the prisoners were wrong about the Colonel’s intentions? Or was Hisham the naïve one? The Colonel fell silent as ‘Awadh brought tea and coffee. The Colonel lit another cigarette and took an audible slurp from the hot tea, followed by a sigh of pleasure.