Twelve Days of Others #8: From 'The Ostrich' by Leila Aboulela

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

I weave paper ribbons with holes, chains; the edges of each sheet are sharp. Grapefruit juice, no one buys for themselves alone, always sharing, competing in generosity (our downfall, Majdy says, the downfall of a whole people, a primitive tribal mentality and so inefficient). Pink grapefruit juice, frothy at the top, jagged pieces of ice struck out of large slabs with particles of sand frozen inside. 'Am Ali, the man who makes the juice, has to hold down the cover of the mixer. He can make only two glasses at a time, when the electricity fails he can make none. Aubergine sandwiches, the baked plant crushed to a pulp, red hot with pepper, the bread in thin loaves. Bread is rationed now. I stood in a queue for bread every morning in the two months I was back in Khartoum.

Coming across the Ostrich in the library, his nose literally in a large book. Not for him Cost-Benefit Analysis, Rostow's take-off, Pareto's curves. He would be reading poetry from old musty books that perhaps no one looked at except him. He once looked up at me as I passed, his eyes bulging from the strain he was putting them through. He quoted the Andalusian poet Ibn Zaydún:

Yes, I have remembered you with longing, at al-Zahra,

when the horizon was bright and the face of the earth gave pleasure,

and the breeze was soft in the late afternoon,

as if it had pity on me.

I smiled at him then, wondering if he could see my smile, knowing he was memorising the poem.

Leila Aboulela

(From 'The Ostrich', forthcoming in Elsewhere, Home, published by Saqi Books, 2018. Photo by Josephine Amalie Paysen on Unsplash.)

Leila will be contributing a new piece to Others, an anthology celebrating how writers and writing can help us to see the world from other points of view. Read more from our contributors (including the rest of the Twelve Days of Others sequence) here. Please pledge your support now, and help us to raise funds against hatred. 

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