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Imagine africa volume 3, p.10

Imagine Africa, Volume 3, page 10


Imagine Africa, Volume 3

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  Bashir’s uncle had also told him that Khadija had planned to marry Nuruddin, one of the boys in her neighborhood. He was a tall, broad-shouldered boy her own age whose dark, wavy hair and talent on the town’s soccer field had all the girls swooning. But it was ultimately Khadija who captured the young man’s heart. Bashir never found out the details of what happened to the life that Khadija had planned with Nuruddin except for a few cryptic sentences he had been able to coax out of her during his many attempts to get to know her better. He had almost given up all hope until very recently when Khadija had finally allowed her husband the access he had sought for the better part of their thirteen-month marriage.

  A week ago, after making love, Bashir lay next to her with his arm around her neck, his hand resting on her warm, bare shoulder. “Can I ask you something?” he said with his eyes focused on the ceiling. Khadija’s head lay on his chest, her fingers gently scratching the patch of hair on his chest. “Sure,” she said, trying to suppress a yawn.

  “Tell me about Nuruddin,” Bashir heard himself say. He felt her body tense. From the periphery of his vision, he saw her lift her head a little and stare at him. He turned to her and saw in her eyes a look he had never seen before. A look that was at once wounded, confused, and offended but also intrigued. It was as though there was a small part of her that admired him for acknowledging that she had a life before him, a life that didn’t include marrying him or migrating to Canada. Somewhere in her eyes, Bashir had also registered gratitude for understanding that she had made sacrifices to be with him.

  Khadija reached for the lamp on the nightstand and turned off the light. In the dark, obscured from her husband, she told him the story of her love affair with Nuruddin. Freed by Bashir’s audacious question, Khadija told him how she and Nuruddin met one day as she was carrying a large container full of water that she had walked thirty minutes to collect from a local pump that sold water whenever the tap water stopped. She told her husband of Nuruddin’s cheeky humor and the slow evolution of their mutual love that was conducted in a secret rendezvous in the one cinema house in town that played Bollywood movies, where they sat next to each another, holding hands under her cotton garbosaar. And in a tone of a woman who had made peace with her fate, she told him of the day it all came to an end two years after the death of her mother Nadifa and the collapse of her father’s latest foolhardy business venture. As the eldest of three siblings and with a father who couldn’t take care of them, Khadija left school a year shy of her high school graduation. She took a job with a distant cousin who owned a store that made women’s clothing. She didn’t earn much but it was enough to help feed her younger sisters and send them to school.

  Khadija showed no emotion when she told him about the night her father asked her to sit down next to him on the sali on which he prayed and asked her if she knew where Canada was. Her world geography wasn’t great but she knew enough to understand that Canada was far away and cold. Her father told her that a man from Canada had asked to marry her. Khadija told her father she would rather marry Nuruddin. Her father said that wasn’t an option and that marrying him would just be yet another mouth to feed. Her father, not a man to make demands or raise his voice, told her to think about the marriage proposal and what it would mean to her family and give him her final answer in three days.

  Khadija stopped telling the story and cupped her husband’s cheek in her palm. The meaning of this gesture confounded Bashir. Was it a gesture of sympathy for the husband to whom she was confiding her great love or was it intended to remind him of the sacrifices she had made to marry him? Bashir couldn’t tell. “Then what happened?” he said. “Tell me the whole story.”

  “I knew what my answer would be even before my father finished his request. But I took the three days he gave me. On the third night when he came home, I brought him his dinner and sat on the edge of his sali and told him that I had my decision. I asked him if he would respect what I decide? He said yes without hesitation. I told him that I accept the proposal. He nodded, smiled and ate his dinner.

  “Why did you say yes?”

  Khadija was silent for a moment. Perhaps she was searching for the right words, the proper way to answer her husband without hurting his feelings. “For my sisters,” she said at last. “I did it for my sisters…I knew that what little money my father made wouldn’t be enough to send my three sisters to school.”

  Bashir put his arm around his wife’s shoulder as if to thank her for the decision she made. And a part of him was happy that she had said yes to his proposal not only because she was there with him, in bed, in the dark, her pregnant belly pressed against him. But also because he knew that at the end of every month when they got into their car and drove to Dahabshiil, the remittance bank on Weston Road, to send her father four hundred dollars, three young girls in Kismaayo would be going to school thanks to his wife’s decision to marry him. And as he lay next to his wife, Bashir pictured her sisters sitting in three different classes in Horseed Private School. It was a small school for girls run by Halima Roble, a Somali woman with a Master’s degree in education from the University of Reading in the U.K. who had moved back to her hometown to open a school for girls.

  Khadija finished her story and rested her head on Bashir’s chest. She remained quiet for a while until she cleared her throat and said, “now you.”

  “Now me what?”

  Khadija pinched her husband’s nipple. “Ouch!” he yelled and they both laughed.

  “I told you mine. Now you tell me your story,” she said.

  In the darkness of their bedroom, Bashir felt his wife smile at him. He grinned incredulously as he considered her request. He debated just how much of his past it was wise to share with her. A part of him wanted to tell her everything, to come clean about the long parade of women, both Somalis and non-Somalis he had dated and slept with until his heart and his body had tired of the chase. But it wasn’t until he felt the loss of that singular thrill of pulling down a new girl’s panties, a thrill that had once motivated his every action, that he had decided to call his uncle Ahmed in Nairobi and accept his oft-repeated offer of facilitating a marriage to a “good Somali girl,” as he put it. Perhaps it was the deep loneliness that had wrapped itself around him like a shawl or the fact that he was turning forty in a few months. Whatever the reason, Bashir picked up the phone one night and said the words his uncle had been waiting for. He still remembered the shock he felt as he hung up the phone, and the regret and confusion that had surged through him. He was stunned that he could cast away his many deeply held beliefs about romance, courtship, and the progress of love. He found it at once thrilling and unsettling that three months shy of forty, he still possessed the capacity to be shocked by his choices.

  Bashir ignored his desire to confess everything and told his wife of the only one that really mattered. In details equaling hers, Bashir told his wife about Mikeila and about their deep and tumultuous three-year love affair that ended because of his inability or unwillingness to make himself vulnerable and take the risk of telling Mikeila how much he loved her. When Bashir finished telling his wife about Mikeila, Khadija didn’t say anything. Bashir’s heart began to beat fast and he instantly regretted his frankness. He berated himself for going along with his wife’s nightly storytelling game. He had always suspected total honesty was never a good idea in a marriage and that night as he lay next to his wife who had suddenly gone mute on him, his suspicion was confirmed.

  “You should’ve told her,” Khadija said at last.

  Bashir tilted his head a little to see her but it was too dark to see the expression on her face. “Told her what?”

  “How much you loved her.”

  Now it was Bashir’s turn to be mute. He didn’t know what to say. So he remained silent and pulled her closer to him.

  That night, as they lay in bed in the dark, unable to inspect each other’s eyes, Khadija had, at last, allowed him in and given him the access into the interior recesses of her co
nsciousness that he had yearned for. And in return, he had laid bare his regrets and the risks he never took for the woman he loved. And she had consoled him with a long, wet kiss on the mouth. As their evening storytelling ritual progressed, it became the part of Bashir’s day that he looked forward to the most. It was also in another one of these nightly story-sharing sessions that his wife had told him the truth about the day her mother Nadifa walked into the Indian Ocean.

  They had just finished watching another Bollywood film, a tragic story that ended with a young bride who kills herself with rat poison after her beloved is murdered by a ruthless gang leader in the slums of Mumbai. They lay on the couch, their limbs entangled. Khadija had the look of someone kicked in the gut. She had never told anyone the story of her mother’s death. It was a secret her family had kept from their neighbors and even their closest relatives. In her world, suicide was a sin for which the survivors of the deceased were shunned as if the act of self-killing ran in the family like a curse. That night, Khadija finally shared with her husband the secret she carried with her from Kismaayo to Canada.

  Khadija’s mother Nadifa never recovered from the death of her twin boys Zakhariye and Ismail. When the great drought of 1993 hit, it destroyed the family’s banana farm. Penniless and hungry, Nadifa knew their only chance of survival was to join the caravan of neighbors headed for a place called Dadaab somewhere in the northwest of Kenya. Khadija’s father tried to dissuade his wife from the treacherous journey but Nadifa threatened she would take the kids and walk by herself. Her father relented and the entire family—Khadija, who was nine at the time, her younger sisters Filsan, Sameera, and Nuurto, as well as the twin boys—all set out on foot to take an uncertain chance at survival. The twin boys who were only ten months old were ill-prepared for the two-week foot journey through the parched lands of southern Somalia. A week into the trip, their soft bodies gave up. Their dehydrated corpses were buried at the foot of a leafless acacia tree, their graves unmarked.

  Blaming herself for the loss of her only boys, the boys that would carry the family name, Nadifa fell into a deep and unrelenting depression. Even a year later when the family returned to their farm house in Kismaayo, Nadifa barely spoke or ate, her talent for reciting the melodic Buraanbur she was famous for, snuffed out by the weight of the guilt she carried like a thing around her neck. At the crack of dawn, on a beautiful sunny morning, three months after their return to Kismaayo, Nadifa put on her favorite white guntiino and told Khadija, who was sitting in the outdoor kitchen making breakfast, that she was going for a walk. She never returned. Three days later, the Indian Ocean spat Nadifa’s bloated body onto the beach of a nearby village. She was still tangled in her white guntiino and long strands of seaweed.

  Khadija cried as she finished telling her husband the story of her mother’s death. Bashir put his arm around his wife and held her convulsing body as she sobbed. He held her until she stopped crying. As Bashir hugged her tight, he felt it at last. A year into their marriage, he had, at last, fallen in love with his wife.

  “You know what hurts the most,” Khadija said. Bashir shook his head.

  “When I think of my mom now, I don’t think of her sardonic sense of humor or her great intellect. I don’t hear her melodic voice that made her baraanbur so beautiful to listen to. I don’t see the high cheekbones I used to covet so much. The only thing that comes to my mind when I think of her now is this image and I don’t even know where it comes from. It’s not like I was there to witness it.” Khadija was quiet for a moment as if to conjure up an image long repressed. “I see her walking toward the water’s edge, her back turned to me. Her white guntiino is blowing in the wind as she walks into the dark blue water. I call out to her but she doesn’t turn back. She just walks further and further into the ocean until she is submerged.” Khadija paused for a moment. “That’s the only thing that comes to my mind when I think of my mother…Isn’t that terrible?”

  “There was more to her life than the way it ended,” Bashir said as he took his wife’s hand and held it to his lips.

  “I have this fantasy sometimes. I think about my whole family in heaven. My dad, my sisters, and the twins, still babies. We’re all chatting and laughing together in paradise remembering funny things that happened in Kismaayo. Except for my mom. She is not with us. She’s not with us because people who kill themselves don’t go to heaven. They go to hell.”

  “We don’t know that.”

  “That’s what the Qur’an says. Allah punishes them with eternity in hell.”

  “Allah also forgives. He’s the most merciful. Most forgiving. The Qur’an tells us that repeatedly.”

  Khadija remained quiet for a long time as if counting the number of times the Qur’an calls Allah the most merciful. Most compassionate. Most forgiving.

  Hassan Hajjaj, Kesh Angels, 2010


  Translated from the Dutch by MICHELE HUTCHISON

  Man Animal Thing

  ALFRED SCHAFFER (1973) is a poet and translator. He works as a lecturer in the department of Afrikaans and Netherlands at the University of Stellenbosch. He made his poetry debut in 2000 in the Netherlands. His latest volume is titled Mens Dier Ding (Man Animal Thing, 2014). He has translated the poetry of South African poets Ronelda S. Kamfer, Antjie Krog and Charl-Pierre Naudé. He lives in Cape Town.

  MICHELE HUTCHISON is a translator and editor living in Amsterdam. She mainly translates from Dutch and covers several genres from poetry to graphic novels to fiction and non-fiction. Her translation of Esther Gerritsen’s Craving was shortlisted for the 2015 Vondel Prize. Recent publications include La Superba by Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer, Fortunate Slaves by Tom Lanoye and How To Talk About Places You’ve Never Been by Pierre Bayard.

  Day(Dream) # 5,106

  The classic shoot-out.

  And with so much competition too

  it’s bizarre, it makes my balls tingle.

  I stand on one side and on the other side

  there’s me too, only the leaked version with a cold.

  The albino smurf cut out of The Smurfs

  and somewhere else I forgot.

  Tension crackles like a fire in a paper factory.

  I take another really good look –

  how fat I’ve become, god almighty, I’m not solid.

  Like a dictator in formaldehyde.

  Between us a boundless expanse, a concrete polar region.

  Actually just a mixture of sand and grass

  no larger than the back garden I used to lie in.

  I see myself thinking but that’s not my body

  that’s not me, I would never grope around my jacket pocket

  for a mouth organ

  to play a foolish little tune on.

  dag(droom) # 5.106

  De klassieke shoot-out.

  En dat met zoveel concurrentie

  niet normaal, mijn ballen tintelen ervan.

  Aan de ene kant sta ik en aan de andere kant

  daar sta ik ook, maar dan de uitgelekte en verkouden versie.

  De albinosmurf die uit De Smurfen werd geknipt

  en uit ik weet niet wat.

  De spanning knettert als de brand in een papierfabriek.

  Ik kijk nog een keer heel precies –

  wat ben ik dik geworden, allemachtig, stevig sta ik niet.

  Als een dictator op sterk water.

  Tussen ons een mateloze vlakte, een betonnen poolgebied.

  Eigenlijk gewoon een mix van zand en gras

  niet groter dan de achtertuin waarin ik vroeger lag.

  Ik zie me denken Maar dat ís mijn lichaam niet

  dat bén ik niet, nooit zou ik naar mijn vestzak tasten

  om mijn mondharmonica te pakken

  en een onverstandig deuntje te gaan fluiten.

  Shaka’s Brief Flirtation with Romance

  One day he appeared at her door like an apparition.

  It must have been his first and last attempt.

  Bunch of flower
s in his hand, some roses and chrysanthemums

  clean smoke blowing out of the smoke machine behind him

  and the universe dangling on ropes

  consciously apolitical and shining.

  It had cost a pretty penny, some serious logistics

  and bloodshed, but his anticipatory pleasure

  set its sights on the spectacle in her bed.

  If anyone had tried to pull one over on him

  at that moment, he would have stood his ground.

  Knocked and then again and then again.

  After some discussion it turned out he was at the wrong house!

  Laughing in disbelief, locals slid

  down from the trees, windows were closed again

  even the ladies from the drum band made an about turn.

  He was led off silently

  a decrepit barge in an immense canal

  and people forgot about the whole business so that it

  would never happen again.

  Sjaka’s korte flirt met romantiek

  Op een dag verscheen hij als verschijning aan haar deur.

  Het moet zijn eerste en zijn laatste poging zijn geweest.

  Bosje bloemen in de hand, wat rozen en chrysanten

  schone rook blies uit de rookmachine achter hem

  en bungelend aan touwen het heelal bewust apolitiek en stralend.

  Het had een cent gekost en flink wat logistiek

  en bloedvergieten, maar zijn voorpret

  richtte het vizier op het spektakel in haar bed.

  Had men hem wat dan ook geflikt

  op dat moment, standvastig was hij blijven staan.

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