New in Town Etc.

by Leila Aboulela

New in Town

I pushed open the door that said ‘Black Bastards’ in pen, and stepped into the mosque.  A woman was taking off her shoes, untying laces, left shoe then right.  I greeted her and after she replied, I said, ‘Where can I get soap and water to wipe what’s written on the door?’

She said, ‘Leave it now, we must be quick’.

I took off my shoes and hurried after her down corridors thick with toddlers, little girls in long braids, fights over bubble-gum.

When I reached the hall, I heard the imam say in a loud voice, ‘Straighten the lines! Straighten the lines and pray as if this is the last prayer.’

My father has been coming to me in dreams

My father has been coming to me in dreams. One night he wants a glass of water while I am busy at the kitchen sink, a child pulling at my clothes, my best friend at my side, pouring over the angst of her life, luminous as the soap suds in my hands.

Another dream: my father wants the windows closed. It is too cold for him while I hand out crisps and shout at the child, who in the maverick way of dreams, got hold of the mosque’s collection box for the orphans and is prancing about, fists full of coins.

So I telephoned my father across the world. Thousands of miles, time zones, a different language to talk. ‘Where are you?’ he said. Strange question. Old age?

‘In Aberdeen, of course.’

‘But Leila’, he said. ‘You sound so close’.

Life Events Translated Literally From Arabic

rare with night grew in the elephant’s trunk. night came from higher ground, the lineage of rare was veiled.

from the island rare sent letters with excellent. night sent cookies, carried by one of the gazelles.

heart showed night another night: night eternal. in the seventies night eternal held a gun, hijacked airy lines for the sake of palestine.

days rotate.

days rotate.

near the river dee, words from the criterion are said aloud. and night is again in the flowers opened.

Writing A Novel*

The words come out of me like blood, burning, with difficulty, in clots. I know the bloated feeling beforehand, madness, the dark dip through scum. This is my fever and my cure.

Sometimes a flow, unexpected release. I am in awe of this gushing. Too much and there will be an embarrassment; accidental stains no one should see.

When I was young I was told that the blood is the womb lining itself, furnishing itself every month. So too my heaviest feelings are mucous, my secret thoughts are dense clots. They build up and then sidle out. Ink on the padded white of dry sheets.

*The Translator, published in 1999

Another Game

I stepped into his home and he stepped into my heart. And settled.

I saw inside him, through his skin; sadness like honey, sadness like mud.  The way he paused when he spoke to me.

‘Let’s play a game!’ I said.  I wanted my eyes to shine and please him, ‘Your turn first’.

‘I am a seal’, he said, ‘away from water. I cannot move with ease.  I remember the time I swam and swam, turned and glided back. Now I am heavy, shifting on the ground in very small increments.’

On the map he showed me his land; blue ice and snow, blue frost and sugar cubes. He smiled when I traced with my finger the Nile flowing north, pushing through desert before it fell into the sea.

He knew all kinds of names and their lives. I learned why he was sad. Only liars could be cheerful now. And those for whom the sky was opaque.

He said, ‘All idols in our time are idols of the mind’.  His words were balanced like a string of pearls.

 

About the Author:

Leila Aboulela was the first winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing. She is the author of four novels,The Kindness of Enemies, The Translator, a New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year, Minaret and Lyrics Alley, Fiction Winner of the Scottish Book Awards. Her work has been translated into 14 languages, broadcast on BBC Radio and appeared in publications such as Granta, The Washington Post and the Guardian. Leila grew up in Sudan and moved, in her mid-twenties, to Scotland. Her website is  www.leila-aboulela.com

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