Ubah Cristina Ali Farah The Stations of the Moon
Somalis travel on a truck with their water trailers | Photo (detail): EPA/RADU SIGHETI / POOL © dpa-Report
By Ubah Cristina Ali FarahPlay the short story as audio: read by Sabrina Khalil
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My daughter left. I wouldn’t stop hugging her but then I said, “Go, it’s alright.” I couldn’t contain myself, what a disgrace, I burst into tears in front of everyone. I tried to dry my tears with the edge of my veil, I sucked on the edge of the veil like a nursing baby and she, for once, was understanding: “Mama”, she said, “I won’t be gone forever.” – “Are you feeling okay?” I asked her and my daughter gave me a hint of a smile. “Are you feeling okay about leaving?” I repeated, and she, hugging me again, said, “I’m going to my brother’s, you’re the one staying behind.” And I forced myself to smile, but the tears gushed out on their own as though from a broken pipe, a flood, and I swallowed them and my eyes were on fire and it was like during the rainy season, when the drains get clogged and the streets turn into rivers, red with mud.
I’m certain everyone noticed, because in this city being emotional is shameful and when I saw those women snickering I calmed down. “I’m going to murder them”, I told myself, “I’m going over there to rip out their hair, scratch them until their skin peels off, I want to see blood.” But maybe they were laughing about other things, who knows. There’s nothing to laugh about when it comes to separating from your daughter, a daughter you don’t know when you’ll see again. Then she climbed into that ramshackle van, a tangle of arms and legs filling a cubicle on four wheels, the air damp with saltiness and rotten fruit. “Make room”, I screamed, shrill as a seagull, and a young woman, wrapped in a faded guntiino, gaped at me in surprise, her mouth open so wide I saw she was missing an incisor in the ivory row of her teeth. The girl exclaimed, “Would you look at this, who does she think she is?” – “I think I’m a mother and that’s it”, I wanted to reply, but then I saw my daughter find a spot near a window, press her slender fingers against the glass, wriggle her long arm, liana-like, out the window. I stood on my tiptoes to squeeze her hand again, until the driver started the engine and all that was left was a contrail, a comet of red earth, where my daughter had previously been.
The wind blew, forming a salty crust on my face, and I started thinking back to that morning: I had woken in a pool of sweat and I watched her sleeping on the edge of the bed, her face toward the sky, her mouth half open, an arm bent under her head like when she was a little girl, and her knees to her chest. The air pregnant with wilted jasmine, clothes gathered in a cloth bag, vials of perfumed oils on the dresser. I wish I could seal the room to conserve its smell, though it’s a luxury I can’t afford now that I’m alone, in a house that’s a row of rooms covered with zinc, a brazier as the kitchen, and an open-air bathroom.
Before the kids left, it felt as though we lived in a nest bursting with birds, my sister-in-law and I had shared that house for years, together with a variable number of children, ours and also nieces and nephews who would come to the city for school. Then when even her youngest had gotten married, my sister-in-law decided to follow her daughter north, to her new residence. “Don’t wait until it’s too late”, she had told me before leaving, “You insisted on living alone with your daughter, you’ll regret it, you know? And what will everyone say?” “I don’t care about what people say,” I’d replied, “I’m going raise her as I wish and no one has the right to judge me.”
My sister-in-law had turned up her nose, because she knows perfectly well how tender-hearted I am, but how I still don’t let anyone push me around.
Yet, when I woke up early that morning, while the onions were sizzling on the coals, while I struggled to chop meat keeping the handle of the knife glued to the ground with my big toe, it was as if that same blade were tearing sinewy fibers from my chest, similar to the ones I was squeezing between my fingers. It was as if all my innards were there frying in the boiling oil. I felt a thud, a twinge similar to when I dream of falling into the void. “Smells good,” my daughter exclaimed upon waking, rubbing her eyes, stretching out her beautiful arms in the sun, “We still have some of the bread we baked yesterday, right?” – “Yes,” I replied, “I even prepared some food for the road.”
I watched her while she bent over to fill the terracotta pitcher with water, she filled it using a tin can, then she slipped into the cramped hut which is our bathroom and I could hear her singing, as clear as crystal. And then she came out, a towel tight around her chest and drops of light on her shoulders; her hair, heavy with water, plunged towards the floor. She sat down just like that, near me on a wood and leather stool, while glistening rivulets traveled down her body. I filled her plate with juicy stew and poured the tea. “You aren’t eating?” she asked. “Not now, I’m not hungry.” My daughter eats with her fingertips, she dips the bread and sticks it between her lips, leaving an oily trace on her chin. “You’ll see, everything will be fine,” she told me, squeezing my knee. “I’m going to go get dressed.” It didn’t take long before we were ready to go.
My daughter is graceful when she walks, as light as a dragonfly on water, her lips of ink, her smile of pearl, her body muscular and tight. We passed the sea and on the emerald ocean the frothy waves looked like flocks grazing in the grass. On the docks of the port there were long lines of dhows ready to depart. “You will no longer have the sea there where you’ll be”, I told her. “Without you it wouldn’t be the same,” she responded, shrugging her shoulders, “You remember?”
One day we had gone together to Gezira, a mother-of-pearl promontory not far from the city, with a small green and black island off it, where the remains of a saint are preserved. An old local man had insisted on being our guide. On the horizon, standing on the silvery outline of a dhow, a man appeared to be scanning the sea. “It’s made of stone,” the old man had said, “anchored to the deep sand, even though it looks like wood cutting through the sea. A merchant used to travel to Zanzibar and one night, surprised by a storm, he prayed to the saint, asking him to save his life. In exchange he would donate lamps and rugs to the mosque. The merchant was saved, but he didn’t maintain his promise and, the next time, when he passed by the salt island, he felt ashamed and was transformed into stone, along with his dhow and lifeboat.” Then the old man pointed out some crimson patches to us, scattered in the golden sand, like jujubes on the ground. A woman had promised to donate her precious coral necklace to the saint, if she conceived a son. A son was born, but instead of maintaining her promise, the woman panicked and decided to flee, and in her flight the necklace was torn off, falling to the ground. From the scattered coral vermillion-colored flowers sprouted, like pearls of blood. “We’re dependent on Allah’s will,” he whispered at the end. “It’s all just superstition,” my daughter said, while I poured coins into the old man’s hand, “we’re each the creator of our own destiny.” – “It doesn’t matter,” I told her, “you always maintain your promises.”
The monsoon was blowing so strongly the sand whipped our skin and my daughter kept repeating, “I don’t like these superstitions.” Her cobalt tunic was stretched taut like the sail of a dhow, and she continued steadily forward with long strides, sinking down with each step into the damp sand.“There,” she then exclaimed, “that’s where I want to go swimming.” A sha dy nook, protected from sight, circled by iridescent coral. A rainbow fish aquarium. She began to loosen her tunic and, looking at me sideways, asked: “May I?” – “Yes, we’ll do it together.”
We jumped, naked, into the ocean and the water was so hot it was like amniotic fluid and my daughter swam behind me. “I came out of there,” she yelled, diving under and resurfacing like a mermaid, “I came out of there,” pointing at the space between my legs.
My daughter left and I’m in the middle of Afar Irdood, The Four Gates, the station, where all the roads intersect, the loudest place in the whole city. Not exactly the perfect spot for saying goodbye. Trucks loaded to the brim, buses waiting to be filled, and then there’s the boy yelling to attract passengers. Stalls with mangoes and tomatoes, fabrics and Indian rice, goats grazing everywhere, camels in nooses and scattered pieces of paper. I just stood there, upset, until a cart came this close to crushing me. With its full barrel and a donkey – that’s what these water carriers are like, ready to run you over for no reason. And they curse if you’re in their way, as though it’s their right.
I came to Afar Irdood many years ago, when I was the age that my daughter is today. It was the first time I’d seen a city. I’d pictured it full of lights and shadows, the rumble of engines running, and women with long bright veils, silver necklaces and bracelets tinkling in the wind. A city removed from the whims of seasons, the cycles of penury and prosperity that the bush depended on. Inland, they say I was born the month in which the star Shaula joined the moon in the sky, a time of wealth and milk, and yet Shaula, the scorpion’s stinger, didn’t bring any luck to my mother, who died while giving birth. I would have been her only girl, after two sons. Life in the bush is tough, especially for women and, even though I didn’t have a mama, her sisters taught me what my duties were. They taught me which trees had the most resistant branches for constructing a hut or the ideal wood for water, milk and butter containers. They also taught me how to create the best fibers for matting and, when I became more skilled, they did nothing but praise my talents as a weaver, admiring the floral contours of my rugs. When I was very little I was entrusted with the goats that pranced around in the enclosure, until I was old enough to go off with them to the pasture and come back to camp at sunset, where they were protected from jackals and lynx.
We lived in huts of interlaced branches covered with mats – portable dwellings that we loaded onto camels’ backs when it was time to move. Life was always about movement in search of pasture and water. My father was a highly esteemed diviner and, although I didn’t even know how to write my own name, I learned how to read the stars and the seasons from him, how when the dawn is tinged with red and the sky is streaked with long black stripes, or when Ursa Major sinks her head to the horizon, it means rain is coming. My father could recognize the fields where the earth was rich with nuuro, a miraculous and abstract substance that guarantees the survival of all creatures. It’s not that he willingly taught me all of this, because this knowledge is reserved for men, but I think I could have become a diviner too, if they’d allowed it.
Life in the bush is rugged during the periods of prolonged drought, but when the heavy rains are over everything is transformed. Thorny trees thicken with little emerald leaves and the earth seems entirely laced with flowers. Buds white as cream appear sprinkled throughout the low grasses under the acacias. The scarlet flowers of the aloe plant extend from slender offshoots and the air is full of the songs of birds and the piercing whine of insects. The swallows fly so fast they only trace a blue streak in the sky. The vultures no longer rule and wild herbs and flowers grow from the skeletons of camels that had died during the famine. In the water puddles a whole host of little butterflies meet, all light green, they look like huge flowers with palpitating petals. Everybody smiles and we girls have on our new red, blue, and gold outfits, while the men casually wear their bright white robes. We know that the season of rain and plenty of grass won’t last long, so we take advantage of it. This is the time of courtships and dances. We girls clap our hands, dance, and challenge the males in poems and riddles. Sometimes they praise our dark lips, our amber silhouettes, or they compare us to the stars, or rainwater. We are also allowed, with the consent of the heads of families, to talk with our suitors in the shelter of a hut.
One evening, after having challenged me during the dances, a suitor insisted on meeting me. “There are three things that aren’t becoming to women, hoobeeyoy,” he sang, pressing me, “while they’re worthy for men: unravel this enigma if you’re able, hoobeeyoy.” My friends looked at me apprehensively, clapping their hands to encourage me until, after thinking it through, I replied in a shrill voice: “The three things that women are condemned for, let me tell you: One is gorging on food and serving themselves first—men can do that, women can’t, the second is that you men can milk more camels, you can marry four women, while we are entitled to just one husband. The third is not appropriate for a riddle therefore I choose not to say it.” My friends covered their faces and ululated, while the boys shook their heads, likely in disapproval. Everyone knew what I was alluding to. Men can court the women they’re attracted to, while for us that’s forbidden. I didn’t agree and I couldn’t hide it.
My suitor wasn’t ugly or handsome, rather mediocre, I must say. He moved with a womanly softness and his belly was already protruding somewhat, even though he was still young. His eyes were moist and insinuating, and he had a pink lower lip. It was said that his father owned many camels. “Tomorrow we’ll ask for your hand,” he told me with an air of defiance, just as soon as we were alone in the hut. “They say you’re a tireless worker, everyone talks about your weaving talents, your beauty is even more evident in the moonlight – we will make a good offer.” – “You didn’t ask my opinion,” I replied. He burst into laughter and stood up to leave, adding simply, “It’s not needed.”
My father never cared about my opinions either. And yet, he’d always let me eat the best parts of the meat – the ribs, the thighs and the shoulders – right alongside my brothers. Nothing in the world would make me disobey my father. My father knew how to read the stars and the planets, find barakin in the plants – that was good enough for me. Why would I accept the suitor’s proposal? I had never thought about love, the big red star that, when it leaves its position, obscures the moon. The boys ride horses with their spears and look like figurines on the horizon, their hair like acacia fronds, their eyes glittering, their limbs long and lean. But I’d never thought about love. And now the idea of sharing my life with a man, a man like my suitor, repulsed me. “He’s not old”, my friends told me, when they found out that the marriage contract had been stipulated, “you’re luckier than many.” I didn’t want to disobey my father, but for the first time I realized I wasn’t happy. I had never tried to fulfill any of my wishes, no one had ever tried to fulfill them either. Life is simple when you carry out your duties, when you don’t question anything. But what becomes of our wishes, if no one takes them into consideration? You are the creator of your own destiny, I told myself, be brave. A father’s curse is the worst thing a daughter can face, but the stars would help me, they knew I knew their name.
When I was a little girl, my father told me the story of a cruel son who often beat his mother. One day he was particularly brutal and he dragged her over sharp rocks, leaving behind a trail of blood. The mother, barely alive, lifted her eyes to the sky, hoping for divine intervention. The Omnipotent saved her and paralyzed her son who soon died. The long trail of blood ascended into the sky, transforming into the Milky Way, a warning against cruel children. Aren’t there also myths that speak about the cruelty of fathers? Who we’re always to obey, for whom we must work until we’ve reached the end of our tethers?
It was night, when I decided to run away. The friend I shared the hut with slept by my side. My arm was numb. I struggled to pull the hem of my dress out from under the girl’s knee. She flinched, but she didn’t wake up. I was scared. But nothing was worse than marrying an arrogant man I didn’t love. I wanted to be free. I grabbed my sandals and crouched under the lightweight cloth we used for a door, which was fluttering in the wind. I reached the thorny fencing and the stick that served as a gate. I managed to climb over it and headed off towards what I knew to be the route of the caravans. At dawn the Pleiades appeared on the horizon and a strong wind blew. I saw a truck advancing in a cloud of vermilion dust. Firmly planted on its route, I no longer had doubts, I was certain that this truck would carry me to the city.
When I got to Afar Irdood I knew no one. I admitted this to the truck’s driver and he told me it wasn’t a problem – I simply needed to spread the word, tell people the name of my clan, and I’d surely find someone willing to accommodate me. He smiled and promised to help. I saw him walk away while giving orders to the porters. His ochre shirt was open to the wind, his pants tight around his waist and he had a belt of worn-out leather. I stood still next to the truck for fear of getting lost: City people speak a distorted Somali, I thought, and meanwhile long lines of shirtless men walked past me, carrying heavy sacks and passing them between each other. The women wore batik dresses with short sleeves, voluptuous cotton shawls, and they suddenly made me feel inadequate, with my heavy tunic, covered with dust from my journey. The driver came back holding a little boy by the hand. “Here,” he said, “he’ll bring you to the house of an aunt on your mother’s side.” My luggage was only a bundle and I must have still looked lost to him, because right after we’d started walking, he called me back by name and added: “Ebla, people aren’t always welcoming to relatives from the bush. If things happen to go badly, know that you can find me here every Monday.” “Monday is an auspicious day in the nomad calendar,” I responded, and set off again behind the little boy. Mogadishu looked even more beautiful than I’d imagined it would be, while I tirelessly followed the boy down the narrow alleys of the old city. I saw a swarm of men and women on the sidewalks and little stores of Indian merchants from which an intense aroma of aloe and cardamom emanated. The humid air was saturated with salt. There were workshops of gold and silver artisans, seated on the ground with their burners lit: they made beautiful filigree jewelry and regal-looking necklaces. Women pulled fibers from cotton and men dyed and weaved them. Every now and then Arab merchants could be heard screaming out from behind their stalls of dried dogfish and raisins.
But even more surprising was the view of the large paved streets: date palms flanked them and there were squares adorned with yellow bell and hibiscus flowers. The palaces were a blinding white, as majestic as crenellated castles. They later told me that the oldest residences were built by mixing lime with milk so not even the sea could harm them. When we were in front of my aunt’s house, the boy showed me the gate and started to leave, before I even had time to announce my presence. “I have nothing to give you,” I told him with regret. “Don’t worry,” he responded happily, “the driver took care of it.”
My aunt didn’t receive me warmly, but she was not hostile either. She must have been an attractive woman at one time, with her long eyelashes and mouth the shape of a heart, but the city life and numerous births had made her gain weight. Her chest and thighs seemed to form a single block, making movement difficult for her. In the bush we’re all skinny: the scarcity of food and the hard work prematurely dig into the faces and bodies of the women and men. She didn’t ask me many questions, she instructed one of her daughters to prepare a bed and fill a bucket of water for me. I’d never used soap before and, after having scrubbed it on my skin, I saw rivulets of brown water flowing to my feet.
My aunt lived with an unmarried sister, five children, and a violent husband. I would hear her cry softly at night and during the day she rarely came out of her room, she always said she had a headache. Every so often I had to take her food to her and I would find her curled up in the dark like a snail, a suffocating smell of sweat and musk filling the air.
It didn’t take much for me to realize I couldn’t stay long. I’d found a place where I could eat and sleep, and yet I felt a threat, an imminent danger. This wasn’t the destiny that I’d left the camp for. I wanted to be truly free, to pursue my wishes. And so I decided to track down the driver. I found him on Monday, as he’d promised, about one lunar month after my arrival, his shirt fluttering and a stick of caday between his teeth. “Ebla,” he said, “I can sneak you some goods to sell at the market, so you can buy yourself a nice dress with the proceeds, and whatever else you need.” – “I also want you to get me some fibers,” I replied, “to weave mats. I’m told they’re valued highly here in the city.” The driver gave me a bottle of garoor milk, a basket of incense, and two heavy sacks of rice that I partially traded with small vendors like myself, in exchange for sesame oil, sugar, and peanuts, convinced that the variety would help me attract more customers.
In the morning I would wake up before dawn to go to the market, spread my heavy jute canvas out on the ground, cover it with the goods and, while waiting, I would braid straw. Some weeks passed and I felt satisfied, people did nothing but praise my skills as a weaver and the driver never failed to supply me – sometimes with sandals and dates, or dried meat and benzoic acid, floral patterned fabric, all depending on the shipment he was carrying. “You’re a good girl,” he would say when I gave him money in return, and often I had to insist that he accepts it.
My father could read the future in the fat around goats’ stomachs; he predicted war and drought, wealth and milk. He used to say that time is nothing but a sequence of prosperity and famine, cyclical recurrences that mark the course of life.
I knew the threat wouldn’t take long to reveal itself. It happened one night that was darker than the rest, the Southern Cross hidden below the line of the horizon. We’d just finished washing the dinner plates, when my aunt’s husband sent for me. “It’s a great shame you didn’t inform us,” he reproached me, “it’s a great shame for us to host a girl fleeing an arranged marriage. Your father has been notified and your suitor will soon travel to come and get you.”
It was like when a jackal chases a herd of gazelles who frantically bound away, and yet they can only count on their luck or the agility of their stride to save themselves. But I was not a gazelle and the suitor wasn’t a jackal. Why then did he insist on wanting a woman who had refused him? I could only hope for naqsi, divine compensation: one must not abuse one’s power, they say, because whoever uses it unjustly will lose it quickly. But not one person existed, not even my father, who considered an arranged marriage to be an abuse of power.
I didn’t know many people in the city and no one had ever helped me as much as the driver so, when I saw him the following Monday, I didn’t even give him the time to get out of his truck. I clung onto the door, my eyes two fiery embers. “You have to marry me,” I told him, practically yelling. The driver squeezed my shoulders to calm me down, his eyes clear and distant. Still moving in his graceful way, as though skimming over the ground, he approached a woman selling cigarettes on an overturned barrel, took two and, after having slipped one into his shirt pocket, lit the other with a match. I’d never seen him smoke, perhaps I’d never seen anyone smoke, and it was as if a foreboding cloud were forming. I remembered a song I’d heard during the courting: Oh my beloved, the well is dry, my horse is old and tired, where can I find water for your thirst?
“Ebla,” the driver said, “you are a beautiful and courageous girl, I can’t help but be flattered by your proposal. But you know that I am a traveling man, a man who loves freedom and I want to remain free from ties even at the cost of being scorned.” – “I want to be free, too,” I told him, “just as you do and, if you marry me, we can be free together and neither of us will ever be scorned, or humiliated.”
We celebrated our wedding in great secrecy just outside the city and I went to live with his sister who had recently been widowed. I had two children by him and in the house we shared with our children, my sister-and-law and I welcomed many others from the bush. We took care of sending them to school and hosting them in exchange for a modest amount of money. My husband came and went, free as he wished, and my small business flourished, thanks to his help.
Then one day I met Haaja Faay and things got even better. I met her at the market: she loved the rugs and baskets I wove and kept coming back to buy them, paying more than she owed. Haaja Faay was a white girl and she had strong hands, in spite of the weak structure of her skin and muscles. Her eyes were a color I’d never seen before, similar to that of a well in times of wealth – a blue as intense as night.
All the women in the neighborhood knew her and they’d given her a Somali name out of affection, because Haaja Faay was a midwife and she’d delivered many of their babies. They said she was a nun, but I didn’t know what that meant, still I saw that unlike the other white women she covered her hair, though an ink black curl always escaped her veil. Haaja Faay delivered my children as well and perhaps I wouldn’t have survived my daughter’s birth if it hadn’t been for her. She always stopped by the market and one afternoon she came with a strange garment. “Ebla,” she said, “I brought you a bra, you have a lot of milk, your breasts are heavy, you could hurt your back if you don’t use it.” “I have a lot of milk because I was born under the auspices of the star Shaula and the moon”, I wanted to tell her, but what did Haaja Faay know about the stations of the moon? Since then, I’ve never stopped wearing the bra and the bra brought me good luck because, thanks to my husband, I became the primary supplier of bras in the city. It was an important change in our lives and I’m certain that if it hadn’t been for me, few women in Mogadishu would be wearing bras.
My daughter was wearing a light blue bra when she came back with her clothes torn, long purplish scratches covering her skin, a red coral arborescence. Her face was incandescent and her eyes full of water, like electrical clouds ready to set off a storm. “They’re angry tears,” she said quickly, “don’t think I’m crying from the pain.”
I put my arms around her waist trying to squeeze her, her body shaking with strong tremors. She moved away slightly, freeing herself from my hug. “I don’t want you to pity me,” she added, swallowing, and she immediately stopped crying. We sat in silence for a few minutes, bent forward, elbows on knees, my daughter, anger incarnate. “At least let me attend to your wounds,” I quietly whispered. I took gauze and disinfectant out of the drawer in my room, Haaja Faay had gotten them for me at an Italian pharmacy. I slipped off her torn dress and then saw her wounded side and the bra strap brown with blood and mud.
“First we need to wash you,” I said, stepping away. We were alone in the courtyard so she stayed seated on the stool, while I poured lukewarm water out from a jug onto her nape, her shoulders, and her thighs, to remove the dirt. Then I helped her dry herself, lightly dabbing her skin, and the touch of the alcohol-soaked gauze turned the wounds bright red. “Bastards,” she muttered, gnashing her teeth. “Go lie down, I’ll crush some aloe leaves, it’ll help the cuts heal quicker. We may have to give you stitches.”
I went into the room with the censer lit, she hadn’t even brought a lantern with her and in the dim light of the moon I could see she was sitting up, her fists fixed to the edge of the bed. She looked like the sculpted statue of a goddess or maybe she was queen Arrawelo, who men say was bloodthirsty and tyrannical, while women still lay flowers where they think her body is buried. “Sagal,” I begged her, “tell me what happened.” Her voice was the breath of the wind, the same one she used when she sang for the brother, her brother, the poet and musician, he was never without his lute.
She’d been at a political rally that evening, her comrades from the league of young Somalis tried to dissuade her, she couldn’t go on the podium alone. “Your brother’s no longer here,” they told her, “what do you think, that it’s no different?”
My daughter was born under the influence of the green star and the double star of Libra: they say that the men born in this station of the moon are very charismatic, and I don’t think the celestial bodies distinguish women from men. Sagal took the floor all the same and told those present they had to fight the Italians and that there couldn’t be independence and unity if there was no female freedom. She reminded everyone about how her brother had been violently beaten while being interrogated at the police station, just for refusing to state the name of his clan, just for repeating: “I’m Somali, it’s the only belonging that counts.” She reminded everyone about how her brother had been forced to flee to escape persecution by the colonial authorities, and how he was mobilizing in the small city inland where he’d found refuge, acknowledging the strengths and speaking rights of even his female comrades. She was still standing on the precarious stage placed on a platform supported by four empty gas barrels, when they heard screaming in the distance and everyone started to flee. Police were barging in.
My daughter runs faster than a cheetah, she runs and no one can catch her. She lifted her dress above her knees and it was as if she were flying. “Then we reached the wall,” she told me, “we had to jump over it to find safety.” The top of the wall was studded with broken bottles and one had to be very careful to avoid getting cut. While she tried to climb it, with the help of an acacia tree’s branches, some comrades caught up with her. “A raid!,” they yelled, “they’ve taken about ten of us!” Then someone pushed her. The thorny branches scratched her arms and legs, and shards of glass were driven into her side. “It’s your fault you bustard, bird of ill omen,” they chastised her, “You’re a slut, that’s what you are, just like your mother. What did you think, that you were a man?”
I knew that even the men in the league couldn’t be different from the rest, one time one of them wrote an anonymous poem going after those of us who wore bras. “The breasts you hold up are soft, we only want the perky ones, oh women, stop tormenting your chests”, he’d written.
My sister-in-law always told me that I was wrong to raise Sagal as if she were a boy: “You want to send her to the best schools,” she’d say, “I get it. But never, ever let her run around all day dressed like a male. You know they will soon make it clear that it’s not her place.”
My children have always been inseparable. Sagal would follow her brother to the soccer field, a rectangle of hard ground. He would bounce barefoot around the ball of rags and from far away I’d watch her in the goal, all covered in dust, her long hair in the wind and her thin little legs planted to the ground. No one would have dared make fun of her while they were still together.
Then came the day of infibulation. All the girls her age sat on the ground, waiting. The woman officiating the rite was busy sharpening her tools. Sagal was crying and I didn’t have the heart, I took her in my arms and said no. I took her away, I didn’t want her to suffer what I had suffered. I wish I’d grown up with a mother by my side, I was for my daughter what I’d wished my mother had been for me.
They say a mysterious force exists, the World Woman, and that she is a very tall woman with just one eye planted in her head that looks up toward the sky. The World Woman had one daughter who she unfortunately lost, but is convinced she’s still alive. For this reason, every so often she grabs a person, feels him or her with her hands and, as soon as she realizes they are not her daughter, she tosses them away. If by touch she has trouble knowing, she lifts them up, up to the height of her eye. So, among humans there’s always someone who is flung away at the height of her knees, those at the height of her chest, and those at the height of her head. The person snatched up by the World Woman lives, from that moment until the final act of ascent, a happy, prosperous life, because the World Woman, believing them to be her daughter, fills them with attention.
I am not the World Woman and I don’t think destiny is simply a whim. My daughter left, but there’s a reason for it. She understood that there was no longer a place for her here and she decided to go fight with her brother – because a battle of only men is mutilated, a battle of only men is a battle destined for failure.