I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister, page 1
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Translation copyright © 2014 by Y. Maudet
Jacket photograph copyright © 2014 by artist Emrah Altinok/Getty Images
Interior art copyright © 2014 Shutterstock
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York. Originally published in France, in paperback, as Un Foulard Pour Djelila by Éditions Milan, Paris, in 2005. Original French text copyright © 2005 by Éditions Milan. Updated French text and illustration copyright © 2008 by Éditions Milan.
Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Random House LLC.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
[Foulard pour Djelila. English]
I love I hate I miss my sister / Amélie Sarn; translated from the French by Y. Maudet. — First American edition.
“Originally published in France as Un Foulard Pour Djelila by Éditions Milan, Paris, in 2005”—Copyright page.
Summary: “Portrait of two Muslim sisters, once closely bonded, but now on divergent paths as one embraces her religion and the other remains secular”—Provided by publisher.
ISBN 978-0-385-74376-1 (hardback) — ISBN 978-0-375-99128-8 (glb) — ISBN 978-0-385-37020-2 (ebook) [1. Sisters—Fiction. 2. Muslims—Fiction. 3. Death—Fiction.] I. Maudet, Y., translator. II. Title.
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
About the Author
My thanks to everyone who so graciously accepted to answer my questions on various aspects of the Muslim religion of which I was ignorant—especially Mohammadi and her sisters, and Maud, who was my enlightened go-between as well as advisor on various other points.
The women walk slowly, heads down. They hold a banner that stretches across the length of the street.
WE HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN YOU, DJELILA!
As they make their way through the Lilac housing projects, followed by parents, friends, and strangers, some who were watching from their windows come down to join the silent procession. Maybe they had forgotten.
The group stops in front of the tower where Djelila lived, the tower where her parents, her brothers, Idriss and Taïeb, and her sister, Sohane, live still.
But this morning Sohane isn’t home. She’s at the foot of the tower, bare-headed; she helps carry the banner.
Flowers have been placed on the stone slab embedded in the ground like a tombstone. The slab commemorates the tragedy of that day, a year ago. Exactly a year ago.
The slab where slurs have been tagged and erased three times this year. Three times in just one year.
Sohane’s eyes fill with tears.
This morning she did not cover her head. It would have been useless. It is her whole face she wants to hide.
“Sohane, can I borrow your jeans?”
“No, I already told you, Djelila.”
I don’t feel like lending Djelila my jeans again. Not that I want to wear them, because I don’t. Ever since the last time Djelila borrowed them and I saw how much better they fit her, I no longer feel like wearing them.
“Come on, little sis, please.”
“No. And I’m not your little sis. I’m a year older than you, remember?”
I roll my eyes. Djelila isn’t giving up. I know she’ll soon come and sit beside me, ask me what I’m reading, get up to tell me all about the incredible shot she made from the middle of the basketball court in one of her dreams last night. She’ll pretend to focus, bend her knees, throw an imaginary ball, put on a dazed look as she explains that the ball is rolling around the rim of the basket; then she’ll burst out with a whoop when, at last, it falls in, adding the three points needed for the win.
“The referee whistles the end of the game!” she’ll shout. “And the crowd stomps onto the court and lifts me up on their shoulders. Coach Abdellatif congratulates me and declares that I am the best player of all time; the college recruiters are here to watch me.…”
And she will manage to make me laugh.
My sister is beautiful.
Djelila has fine features, soft and silky skin, not one spot of acne. She is tall, her smile and her dark eyes radiant. She’s wearing only a T-shirt, a pair of shorts, and high-tops. Her thighs are long and muscular, her legs, as always, perfectly smooth.
Lending her my jeans is out of the question.
“Tell me, Sohane, what do you think of Jeremy?” she asks.
Just as I predicted, Djelila comes to sit beside me. We’ve always shared a bedroom. All of my memories include her. I love no one else more than my little sister and I hate no one else as much.
“The guy in twelfth grade.”
“Oh, him. Well …”
“Is that all you have to say? He’s as handsome as a god.”
“Don’t talk that way, Djelila. You know I don’t like it.”
Djelila laughs. “Sorry, he’s killer handsome. Is that better?”
I would rather not answer. Djelila talks the way she wants to; that’s her problem. But I don’t have to listen to her using the word “god” so casually.
“Don’t give me that disapproving look,” Djelila says, smiling as she scoots closer. “Tell me what you think of Jeremy.”
I put down my book on the night table that separates our beds. The room is small.
“Why do you ask? Does he want to go out with you?”
Djelila shakes her head. “I noticed him at the gym the other day, after practice,” she says. “I think he’s on the handball team. I couldn’t stop staring at him, but he didn’t even look at me.”
“And that’s what’s bothering you?”
“No. I like him. That’s all.”
“You don’t even know him.”
“Well, I like him anyway.”
“You’re going to get into trouble again, Djelila.”
Racine High School is on the outskirts of our housing project. It’s a large complex composed of five buildings swarming with 2,153 students, grades eleven through twelve, plus
Unfortunately, the partitions are sometimes fragile.
Djelila already learned this the hard way.
“Do you mean Majid and his gang?” Djelila says. “Whatever. I’m not afraid of them! They’re a bunch of losers with nothing better to do than sit on the project benches and spy on us. They’re jealous, that’s all. Because we’re happy!”
I am not going to remind her that two days ago I found her crying in front of the elevator. Her mascara had run around her eyes. I’m the one who told her to calm down, not to let those lowlifes get to her, just to let them spit their venom. “Ignore them, that’s the best thing you can do,” I said.
In the elevator, Djelila put her head on my shoulder and I wiped off her mascara with a tissue. She whispered, “Thank you.” When we entered our apartment, she went directly to the bathroom to clean her face, then came out and joined Mom in the kitchen; I went to our room to do my homework. From there, I could hear the two of them laughing.
Dad’s voice intrudes on my thoughts.
“Girls, dinner’s ready,” he says.
He knocks on the door and walks off. He never comes into our room. He would never even think of opening the door. As if he’s afraid of what he might see. This amuses Djelila. On purpose, she’ll ask our mother, right in front of him, if she has seen these underpants or that bra. “You know, the pink one with double straps? I can’t find it,” Djelila will say. She thinks it’s fun to see Dad stiffen over his newspaper, pretending that he doesn’t hear a thing.
“A girl’s space must stay a girl’s space,” he explains to our little brother Taïeb, who listens wide-eyed. “Women have secrets that we don’t need to know about. We must respect their privacy.”
Taïeb doesn’t understand. All he wants is to barge into our room and play with us. Actually, because Dad forbids it, it allows us to have some peace.
A slip of paper is shoved under our door. Someone scribbled on it with a purple felt marker: Dinner is reddy. It’s Idriss’s handwriting. He’s in first grade, a few years younger than Taïeb, and spends all his time writing even though he hasn’t started to learn spelling yet.
I push Djelila away and get up.
“Come on, let’s go have dinner,” I say.
Djelila rises, smiling, kisses my cheek for no good reason, and puts on her old pajama pants, the same ones she has worn for at least two years. Softly she walks toward the door, laughing.
She is beautiful, my sister.
I envy how she is so carefree.
“Carefree.” What a strange word.
My parents refused to move out.
Dad refused because he can’t bear to leave Djelila. Mom has no opinion. She’s in denial. She refuses to believe what happened.
Taïeb and Idriss have grown. Aunt Algia had her baby—a girl she named after her mother, Hebtissem. It’s strange that time does not stop.
I feel like running away. Final exams are at the end of the school year. I will ace them and get my diploma. Then I will leave. So I work hard, losing myself in my books. I’m oblivious to the difference between night and day. For me, the world is a small, narrow bedroom with twin beds and two desks—a space terrifying and comforting at the same time.
“Sohane, wait for me.”
“Hurry up, then!”
Djelila hoists her bags over her shoulders—one filled with schoolbooks, the other stuffed with her basketball gear—shoves a slice of bread into her mouth, and takes the stairs four at a time behind me.
“We’re always late because of you,” I complain as we head outside.
“Why are you always in such a hurry to get to school?”
Djelila throws what’s left of her bread into the square. Bon appétit, birds.
My sister never has time for a proper breakfast. But there is no way she would go to school without doing her hair just so and carefully applying makeup. Not too much, just a light trace of powder to hide a tiny blemish on her chin, mascara, and some kohl to line her eyes. Only what’s needed.
At the bus stop, a woman wearing a djellaba is waiting, a shopping bag in her hand. I glance at her, then at the ads on the bus shelter. One ad shows a girl wearing nothing more than a G-string, her buttocks on full view. The full-size ad is supersexy. You can’t see the model’s face, which makes you think she has no face. She’s only a pair of butt cheeks. I am disgusted by this display of flesh. I look at my sister. Makeup isn’t the only weapon in her feminine arsenal. She’s wearing jeans that hug her curves, a close-fitting sweater so short it exposes her back when she bends down, and a mini-hoodie. She is lovely. So superficial. It’s probably her age. I’m only eleven months older than Djelila, but I don’t feel the need to expose parts of my body. My sweaters are long enough to cover my waist. And even if I don’t feel like lending my tight jeans to Djelila, I don’t wear them anymore. I’ve switched to a pair of looser-fitting cotton pants. They may not be as stylish as jeans, but they’re more comfortable.
Besides, I don’t want a boy to look at me because he’s attracted to my bared skin. I want something more. Something better.
Conceit is a sin. I know.
School isn’t so far that we can’t walk, but in the morning the bus gives us time to relax and prepare ourselves for the change in atmosphere.
The bus pulls up in front of the stop. It’s almost empty. We’re at the beginning of the line. It will be full by the time we reach school. Djelila and I sit side by side, always in the same seats, in the first row at the middle of the bus. We put our bags on the floor and prop our knees up against the glass partition. We are still sisters for a few more stops. After that, we part ways—as if we’ve crossed an invisible border. The projects border.
Beyond that limit, my sister changes. She sits back a little more and puts her feet on her bag. The Djelila of the Lilac housing projects becomes the Djelila of Racine High School. One stop farther and Karine and Estelle join us. Djelila gets up and holds on to the pole to be closer to her friends. They talk about their teachers, about some of their classmates, about the last math lesson, which none of them understood. I wonder if Karine and Estelle even know that Djelila and I are sisters. If they do, they couldn’t care less.
When we get off the bus, the crowd separates us. We don’t bother to look at each other. Djelila no longer knows me.
I walk toward my friends, if you can call them that. They’re just the students from class who I get along with: Lola, Sofia, Christian, and Charlene. They are huddled near the main door, smoking. I do not smoke. I am Muslim. My parents taught me that we have to respect the body that God gave us.
Djelila goes her own way. Up until last week, Sylvan, a boy who’s also a junior but in another class, greeted my sister with a kiss. Hand in hand they would join their friends. They made a cute couple. It lasted a month and a half. A short-lived love story. Djelila filled me in on the details at night, when the light was out. Ever since she started flirting in tenth grade, she’s told me everything. She had never gone out with a boy for such a long time, but she broke it off last week because she got fed up. “Sylvan’s too dull” is what she told me. My sister needs passion. Sylvan looked unhappy for a few days, but now he seems better. He still hangs out with Djelila and the others, and yesterday I saw them all laughing together.
I’ve never gone out with a boy. Djelila sometimes makes fun of me, in a nice way. She claims that Basil, the tall blond guy in her class, is crazy about me; she says I have a long list of admirers and that my indifference will drive them to suicide. She swears that a little bit of kohl would bring out the beauty of my eyes, that I’m very pretty when I smile. Of course, hearing her say these things makes me smile.
Djelila just lit a cigarette. Dad would not like that.
Dad would not have lik
“I thought you were an athlete,” I told Djelila.
“Yeah, so what?”
“Well, since when does nicotine boost endurance and the ability to shoot a basket from the mid-court?”
“Give it up, Sohane. What’s it to you if I smoke?”
“Nothing. It’s your problem. I’m just saying that for such a serious basketball player you—”
“I barely smoke one cigarette a day.”
I was using the sports argument, but Djelila wasn’t buying it. We had already discussed the subject. Long before, Mom—at Dad’s request—asked Djelila why she no longer went to the mosque.
Mom made no demands. She just wanted to know the reason. Djelila mumbled some answer; she knew our parents worried about her. After all, if you don’t go to the mosque, and if you stop praying, you’re condemned to hell. Djelila explained to Mom that she didn’t really have time anymore, what with homework and basketball.… “But I pray, Mom, I recite all my prayers,” she lied to her.
Mom turned to me for confirmation and I nodded and said, “Yes, Mom, we pray together.” This was a lie too, but it reassured Mom, who in turn eagerly reassured Dad.
I tried to delve deeper into the question.
“Don’t you believe in God anymore, Djelila?” I asked.
You shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t think about it. I don’t feel like thinking about it.”
Of course you didn’t feel like thinking about it.
You inhaled your cigarette smoke with relish that morning and started to cough. Karine slapped your back and you burst out laughing. You couldn’t stop. You laughed like crazy, like the crazy pretty girl you were.
I thought you smoked to prove yourself, to appear self-confident. I was right, probably. But I couldn’t understand why you wanted so badly to belong to that group. They were all so ordinary. All they cared about was their looks, their love lives, the movies they went to see. I saw it as a betrayal, a way for you to detach yourself from us, a way to reject and repudiate us. I told you as much sometimes: “You’re different when you’re at school, Djelila, you’re not the same. You play a part. Why?”