Celebrating East African Writing!
Written by Ras Mengesha
Bismillah ir-rahman ir-rahim. Here I am again. It’s strange how everything changes, subtly like snowflakes falling, unseen at first, and then an overwhelming blanket of white change later. The woman behind me shifts her feet. She is uncomfortable. Maybe it’s the army garb, or maybe she just doesn’t want to see me here. “Please hurry up.” She does not hide her impatience. But I am in no hurry, how can I be when everything around me is unfathomable? I need time, time to think, to strategize, to understand what happened.
The glass that once stood strong, a protector of wants now lies shattered under my feet. There is nothing in the store. The mannequins pose naked, shameless nudists. A clean bullet hole sits on one of the male mannequin’s crotch, and another, a rather reckless one destroys one of the female mannequin’s breasts. They clearly had a good time. I make to walk into the shop but the woman holds me. “You can’t enter!” she barks. I move back, and adjust my hijab.
It’s hot, and it smells like loss. The supermarket down a few shops was looted and burnt. Nobody knows who helped themselves to the goods, but the eyes around me are full. The bellies under the camouflage fatigue are swollen, the guns know the feel of the floor, the hands have red lines on them, red, like they have been carrying heavy plastic bags. I don’t bother to ask her.
“Did you know anyone?” She asks. She is bored, I can tell, but I’m in no hurry. Rohil’s shop is black with blackness. It was next to the supermarket. I wonder if he has seen it. He must have, otherwise he would be here, trying to rebuild, trying to move on. “Did you know anyone?” she asks again.
“Yes I did.” I’m in no mood for small talk. Besides, the words would just hang on to my throat and refuse to come out; like my tears.
“Were they…like you?” She asks. I don’t turn to look at her.
“What do you mean like me?” I know what she means. I’m hot under my hijab, hot , burning, flames of anger singe my heart and I am filled with hatred, but that is not what the Holy Book teaches and so I calm down. “Yes, they were Muslim, like me.”
“I’m very sorry.” She says, and I feel her eyes on me, pleading with me to believe that she is really sorry, but I know she is not. Muslims died too, I want to tell her, to shout it out, to tell the two soldiers standing outside the supermarket with their lips gleaming, happy, full. Muslims died too. Didn’t they hear about the two women who even after saying the shahada still were shot, point blank, in the head? Why? Because their heads were uncovered. La Illaha Illa Allah. Wasn’t that enough, wasn’t total submission to Allah enough? Did the bullets cover their uncoveredness?
“Why are you sorry?” I turn to her. “It’s not your fault.” It’s not her fault. It’s not her fault that this happened, that innocent people died, that phones, and clothes, and watches, and flour disappeared, it’s not her fault. It’s not her fault that I cannot walk into what was once my shop, I cannot walk over to the counter where the three bullet holes are, rough dimples in the wall. I cannot touch the floor on which Khuzayma and Muntaz lay, in bloody embrace breathing their last, bleeding their last. It’s not her fault that life will never be the same, that I will never walk without people wondering if I am one of them, or my brother, or my cousin, or my uncles, or my father. It’s not her fault! It’s not her bloody fault, but whose fault is it? Whose bloody fault is it?
“Are you okay?” She pushes her gun onto her back and walks towards me. Her boots crash the glass, and the sound of emptiness falls on me and as if the weight of everything is too much for me, the world rushes up and I hit the floor, hard. She picks me up and helps me stand. “Here, have some water” she pulls a bottle of mineral water from one of her many pockets. I thank her and sip. “It’s going to be okay sister.” She whispers, and I swallow the word sister along with the water, and my tears, for the first time, let go.
The two guards are watching us, their full leaps pushed forward with concern. “Thank you,” I mumble, and then fix my hijab. I turn to her, my face wet with parallel streaks of despair and I reach for her hand, “please, sister.” She looks back at the two soldiers and then at me, and then I disappear into the shop.
I only have a few minutes, but in here time does not exist, everything freezes, froze, in here the world stopped. Dust specks stay, stuck, stoic, suspended in the heavy musky air. There is dust on the counter, but I don’t go any closer, I stare at the brown layer, then at the bullet holes below, and then my spirit sinks. On the far corner behind three more naked mannequins is a calendar, a gift from Muntaz. The picture of the Holy Land hangs unmoved, a constant reminder. One day insha’Allah, Muntaz used to say, one day. Even the calendar is frozen, stuck in time; it hangs defiantly in September, almost two months ago. I stare and I’m lost. My feet leave the ground and I’m flung back to that dark bright Saturday. I am afraid and confused, people are running everywhere, screaming, then they are falling, scrambling, then they are crying, pleading, then they are hurting, dying.
“We need to go.” Her voice brings me back. I am shaking. I walk out of the shop and reach for my phone.
Hey, I hope you are home. I’ll be there in a few. Leaving the shop now. You know what, the world might be going to shit, but still the Jacaranda flowers will come out. I send the text message to Rohil and walk past the two soldiers whose lips and eyes usher me out. I walk towards the main entrance, towards the light. November is coming, and with it, the need to move on. Bismillah ir-rahman ir-rahim.
©Ras Mengesha 2013