I have seven photos from my childhood, and once I saw myself in a video as a two-year-old in my auntie’s wedding. It was only a few second or so, a quick glimpse of littler me watched. Quite bizarre really, to watch yourself as a child when you’re a kid. In half or so of my photo collection, it is my second birthday and I am celebrated. Adorned. I bet I lapped it all up, who knew that that would be the last bomb-less year? I’m wearing a white dress (or was it ivory?) with matching ankle socks with tulle frill. Tulle. Isn’t it odd that only your childhood and the day you become a bride is the only time that tulle comes out of hiding? Both times meant to depict innocent joy, I suppose. The falling into the unknown before you get burned and everything around you is torched. It wasn’t made for this cruel world. In my current favourite photo, I am being held, comfortably, resting on my mother’s right hip, my white patent Mary Jane’s look bulky and glossy. This is how I will be described as an adult. Seven little sad photos lying on top of each other in an envelope tells a tale of being a refugee far better than I ever could.
A strand of bright red henna coloured hair peeks from underneath her silk scarf. Arthritic fingers bent, as if by the will of circular beads, moulded around her tusbax.
“Her name was Zeynab”, Ayeeyo blurts out unexpectedly. I look at her with my I-need-to-write-this-down face.
“Who was she?”, I ask. Softly.
“Her name was Zeynab”, she repeats, I hear her mumble the name Zeynab a few more times, under her breath.
“She was so young, tiny in my arms”, she continues.
Still hasn’t missed a count on the prayer beads.
I decide that silence is the best move on my part.
“She was the last one, tiny, so fair”, she adds. I can tell that this will be last of it.
“What happened to her?” I find myself asking, even though I told myself I wouldn’t.
Ayeeyo blinks fast, her usual habit to avoid crying. Her eyes so hollow from the weight that she’s lost in her face, hardly any signs of eyelashes or eyebrows anymore,cataract eyes that look like an ocean surrounding a tiny brown island. She let me in far today, the dead children that I hear her praying for each day are only a statistic at this point, a bead in a line of ninety-nine. But today I was told about Zeynab.
Zeynab. I say the name over and over in my mind. I bet her name would look pretty on me.
I’ve written 2 new poems for the website Case Stories which is a transdisciplinary project on migration, dying and care.
Somalia droops from the ceiling and clings to the window sill in the form of gaudy, mismatched drapes that belong in a home built with no double-glazing. We avoid mentioning its presence like the way you avoid eye contact with the person begging for spare change in the street, because if you look at him then you both exist and it becomes a forced relationship of give and take. So instead, my childhood is cleaned up for guests and decorated with once-upon-a-time’s that are divided into a thousand and one nights, polished for retrieval. Here we are, three war-torn generations tucked away in a Hampshire cul-de-sac, such a long way from home, we’re told. Reminded. Told. My grandmother’s clothes smells of myrrh and petroleum jelly, next to her cardamom shaah is a bowl of heated up crunchy nut cornflakes. She forgot what it’s like to not have a microwave. The summer is nearly over, so is my time here in this self-declared, self-governed nation at the end of the street.
Really chuffed to be short listed among such heavy weights. I’ve been told that over 300 submitted so I’m excited to have made it to the top 6. It’s really encouraging as writing can often be such an isolating and reward-less passion. The Story of Us will be published in Spring 2017 by Kingston University Press in the London Short Story Anthology.
I’ve also made the massive leap in posting a selfie online for the first time in about 6 years so you can spot my photo on the short list page and my ‘about’ page! Brave new world…
Here is the link (opens in a new page).
Very excited to find out that I’m long listed for the London Short Story Prize 2016 and hope to find out more on the 5th December as they reveal the winner. The link can be found here.
I’m not allowed to say which story is mine (yet!) but this is really encouraging news as a writer, watch this space…
“What race are you?” she asked me. “Are you African or Asian?”
“I’m like Othello – Arab-African”, I said to her.
“Yes”, she said, looking into my face.
“Your nose is like the noses of Arabs in pictures but your hair isn’t soft and jet black like the Arabs.”
– Season of Migration to the North, Tayeb Salih.
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