NEW BOOK ALERT!
I’m working on a new book and want YOUR feedback! Each week, I’ll post a new chapter, and want you to provide your thoughts, opinions, feeling, and feedback on the chapter.
Be brutally honest.
“Maman!” my daughter yells. She comes running up the stony pathway to our hut on those long colt legs. “Maman, look what jido gave me!”
I force the tension out of my jaw and smile at her instead, wiping my hands, still sticky with pomegranate juice, on the front of my dress.
She waves a bundle of papers and a shiny pen – a gift from her grandfather. “He said he is going to send me books,” she says, twirling in front of our home.
I smile at her excitement, and reach out for the pen.
“It’s lovely,” I say, holding its golden body in my fingers. “What will you write with it?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she says, pursing her lips in thought. “Stories. Like you do, except I’ll put them on paper.”
“Your stories and mine are different, bintay,” I tell her. My daughter.
She rolls her eyes in all the exasperation of a girl on the cusp of womanhood. Still, she’s just fourteen, and I pull her in for a hug. She smells the same as she did when she was a baby – of powder and sweet skin. I breathe in her scent, keeping her in my arms for as long as she’ll let me. But soon enough, she’s unwrapping herself out of my arms and running into the house.
I follow and watch my child sit down at our table, scribbling on those blank sheets. She glances up when she senses my staring and rolls her eyes again.
“What else did you do today?” I say. “Were you in the cemetery again?” I add, staring pointedly at her dirt-covered knees.
“I don’t get why you hate me being around dead bodies so much when you’re always spending time with souls.”
“It’s my job,” I say, though I want to say punishment instead.
“Well, I did find an old tombstone,” she starts. “A really old one. Older than jido, even.”
“Oh? Whose name was on it?” I say as I pull out a few potatoes and bread and some dried thyme and sesame seeds from our stores.
“The letters were too faded. But,” she said, holding up a sheet of her grandfather’s paper. “I rubbed this name. It looks like one of the original elders.”
I take the paper from her, glancing at the name. “Hasim Hasan,” I read. “I don’t know it. Your grandfather might.”
“He’ll just say ‘a young lady shouldn’t be rolling around in dirt like a hog in heat,’” she says, furrowing her eyebrows and making her young voice as gruff as she can. She even wags her fingers, just as I imagine her grandfather would.
I giggle with her, and she pushes aside her papers to draw herbs towards her. Small knife in hand, she begins chopping at them. I take the second knife and dice potatoes.
“What else did you do today?” I say.
The smile fades from her face and she shrugs.
“Layala,” I say, “What is it?”
She looks up at me with those eyes so dark and wide like her father’s, my breath stutters. “I went into town.”
“Oh, Layl,” I say, pulling her into my side for a quick hug. “You know what the townspeople are like. Just stay away.”
“I wanted to see the books. Jido said Kitabi Kitab got a new shipment of books from the far west,” she said, delight brightening her face. “And they were so beautiful, maman. You should have seen the covers. Velvet and silk and so many pretty colors. I’ve never seen anything like them before.”
“But?” I say.
“But a few of the boys chased me off. They called me witch and deathbringer.”
I sigh, the knife in my hand in midair. “I hope you didn’t throw stones at them.”
“Of course not,” she grins. “I threw horse shit.”
She laughs, and I can’t help but laugh with her. “You know you shouldn’t have.”
“I know, but they deserved it.”
“Yes, but their parents might now come to our house, and what good would that do for us?”
She sobers, her face screwing up in anger. “They have no right–!”
“Many people have no right to say or do the things they do, but the difference is, some get away with it, and some don’t. We’re in the second group, Layl.”
She picks at the herbs, ripping off leaves and tossing the stems aside. “It’s not fair. And it’s not fair you’re stuck all the way out here, just because the townspeople needed a mutahida to deal with their dead.”
I don’t say anything, only cut the potatoes into blocks and dump them into a bowl of oil. Layala takes the bowl and rubs in the herbs, releasing fragrance into our small cottage. Soon, we have a fire growing against the cold of the oncoming night, and food cooking over it.
“I wish–” she starts to say when we’ve eaten and she’s getting ready for bed. But my daughter doesn’t finish her sentence, only shakes her head and slips into her cot, her back towards me.
“I have wishes, too,” I whisper. “But they never come true.”