While I’m still shopping around the novel I’ve posted here (excerpts) a couple of times, I’m going ahead with another project. It’s funny, but starting a new story is just as hard as editing an old story. Actually, it’s harder. Cos you don’t want to make the mistakes you made before, so you’re under a lot of pressure (mostly put there by yourself). So, anyway, I’m pretty sure this will the first of many versions of this scene before it finally sees the light of publication day. But, all always, I’m hopeful it will.
Meanwhile, just enjoy!
Ibitsam hates to think her life is hard. No, sir. After all, she isn’t her grandparents who fled a burning country, trekked through the Sahara desert on their bare feet, without water, food, and hanging on to life merely by the hope that the refugee camps in Spain will not turn them back. She isn’t her mother. The teenager raped numerous times she can’t count, pregnant by one of her violators, speech impaired for many years because one of those monsters had tried to strangle her to death, forever suicidal because thirty years, a handsome devoted husband, three sons and four daughters don’t erase the horror. She isn’t her father who is three parts Arab but cannot let that be whispered around Lambert, lest the goodwill of the community shrivels and they have to live like endangered animals.
She is British, Ibitsam tells herself. Born, bread and buttered here, as Kanelechi likes to put it. She doesn’t have to worry about being sold into marriage like her father’s mother was. She has freedom of association, and it’s not just on paper. She could kiss whomever she wants. Fuck whoever takes her fancy. The shari’a laws of her native country that would have put her to death for homosexuality have zero jurisdictions here. So, why hasn’t she taken Kanelechi to her parent’s home? Hooyo, Aabbo, meet the love of my life.
Because she can’t.
UK may have given her parents security and a percentage of the wealth they once had. It doesn’t mean they live by the outlook she says they should have. Oh no, they do not. Mogitesu may be thousands of kilometers away, and they may never set foot in the whole of North-East Africa to begin with. The Horn of Africa. It’s a name Ibitsam knows, and not from geography lessons, or what the English say is Africa’s history. Besides, no teacher could quite manage the tenderness, the longing, the doleful my-life-used-to-be-perfect Calaso and Geeddi bring to the table. In their hands, the unending civil wars, famine, drought, deep tribal hostilities, descriptions that leap to Ibitsam’s mind when she thinks of her heritage, is moulded into this paradise where souls go home to rest. But they aren’t content waiting till death. Oh no, they aren’t. Normal Brits are the ones who embrace the twenty-first century London where BlackBerry and ipads rule, they can make pizza or can certainly order it, and they have surnames. She, who has to sign herself as Ibitsam Geeddi to suit the convention, is a nomadic in the times of Sultanate Adal. Eating only “our food”, thinking only in terms of “our ways”. If this doesn’t make a good case for how people remain who they are in their hearts, and it hardly matters where they are now making their livelihood, nothing does. And of course, there is that bit about the sins of the people of Lut.
Last week, Ibitsam’s mother and her team of friendly neigbhours had come to together to break the fast. All of them in jilbāb, fulfilling the Quranic demands for decency (one or two had on the khimar and niqab, which was hardly necessary since they were in Calaso’s inner chamber, a room where no penis-owning member of the human race is allowed into). All of them united in their disapproval of liwat, and the belief that a mother’s number one duty is to diligently raise her children according to the strict instructions of the Qu’ran, the Hadith, and the Seerah, so there shall be no doubt in them of the life Allah expects them to lead.
Ibitsam’s aunty, who has lived with her parents since her second divorce, she insists it’s her last marriage, and always has a bee up in her hijab about something or the other, declared that Ramadan is perfect time to pray for the lutis.
“It is not enough that these people engage in this corruption of morals, but these days they are bold to say Allah created them in that nature,” Aunt Kinsi kicked off, releasing the avalanche of opinions from those upright wives and mothers who alcohol and pork has never crossed their lips, who cannot imagine birthing sons that would stray so far from the teachings of the prophet. That their daughters could desecrate themselves so is totally inconceivable, it doesn’t even warrant a mention. “If it is so, why then does Allah forbid it?”
“It’s the songs these young people listen to,” offered a mummified woman sitting by Ibitsam’s mother. Ibitsam has never seen her face in all the years the woman and her mother have been friends. She knows her only by her voice. “The music and television. And all the Christian friends they all keep these days.”
“I think it’s the way our culture emphasizes so much on male virility,” suggested a soft voice that is as young and timid as the owner’s face. She was the youngest wife there and is still childless. She probably would have nothing to do with that crowd if her husband, as young as she in age but ancient in his thinking, didn’t prohibit her from mixing with her mates lest they corrupt her with their decadence. Unlike the rest, her clothing is a cream coloured muslin chādor. “Perhaps if husbands can take more than one wife, they won’t turn to boys when their wives cannot warm and comfort them.”
“What is that? Have we all become beasts? My hooyo was my aabbo’s only wife, and they didn’t live in England long before their death,” Calaso attacked, and the girl shrunk away. “Men no longer know how to restrain themselves. Their fathers neglect to teach them, and how can they? When they too break the principles of the prophet, sallallahu alaihi was sallam, and they call it modern times? Worst of all, women are accepting this. Wasn’t it the other day that the news broke of Omar having a mistress, and that she’s pregnant? What did his shameless wife say? That at least it’s not a man he was doing it with. Masha’Allah! This is not the behavior that should be found among us.”
“If you fear Allah, then don’t do what Allah has forbidden. Is that not simple?” Aunt Kinsi pressed on, as though nobody had spoken. “And they will be at an iftar as we speak, breaking the fast, lying to themselves, desecrating this period of holiness. You cannot enter jannah in the hereafter when you present your buttocks for your fellow man and tells him to put his thing inside it.”
Ibitsam’s mother shuddered; her disgust was not hidden from her face. “It’s saytan that possesses them, and makes them do that. May Allah guide us into the right path, all of us.”
“Ameen,” chorused the women.
“That is why we should pray for them, in case they are not doing that for themselves. Inshallah, to pray so they can get rid of this feeling. Pray that Allah helps them and be patient with them. Pray so they can do everything for the sake of Allah, as Allah loves those who do everything for his sake.” Aunt Kinsi the crusader charged on.
Later, when Aunt Kinsi had gone to replenish the qahwe and to check that the shuuro Ibitsam’s mother’s cook was making was coming along well, one of her comrades wondered at her vehemence. Maybe she caught Khayre with another boy, ventured another speaking through her clenched teeth, her darting to the door Aunt Kinsi would emerge from in a minute. She always suspected that one to be a mukhannath, the mummy said. You’re right, echoed the quietest of the women, he walks a little like a girl. And certainly has more jewelries than his own mother. He lives in America, doesn’t he? Those diluted American Muslims.
Khayre is a good boy, Ibitsam’s mother thundered in defense of her nephew. She is possibly more scared of what the rumour will do to her family’s standing in the society. How her chamber will become deserted, and nobody can bear to look her in the face when she goes to the market, and maybe only the brave kind few would continue to respond to her greeting. The women flinched, and put on appropriately contrite faces. She lowered her voice and continued. Khayre will not do something the prophet, sallallahu alaihi was sallam, called a sinful abomination; And I don’t what any of you insinuating that, do you hear me.
And all this while, Ibitsam was squatted at the foot of the ottoman her mother’s bulk had squished, silence. Praying no one looks her way.
So, yes, she has earned the right to say her life is hard.