by Salma Hussain
Desi expat brat growing up old apart during the Gulf War, I sit at the beach spitting watermelon seeds into the sea making my demands on Allah –
Oh Allah, more Muppets and Barbapapa and less of the puppets on the ten o’clock news. More afternoons at Safa Park on playground slides that heat up like knives. More mint lemonade, plates of za’atar on labneh, shawarma around the corner. Please and alf shukr and lakh shukriya and lakh lakh dhanyavaad and toda raba lakh. Less Breaking News and This Just In with polished British newscasters delivering conflict and sanctions in crisp, clipped tones. More Pass-the-Parcel and Simon Says at birthday parties. More whirling to Girls Just Want to Have Fun, and it’s ok little sis we’ll McGyver our way out of the bombs, and us versus them, and you’re either with us or you’re with them, and are there really no third spaces for third culture kids. The dining table is buckling under the weight of these Ramadan feasts. Our mother under the strain of these unwashed dishes, driving tests postpartum doldrums, the Partition pulsing in her veins, her nerves fraying as this mother of all battles.
Call the travel agent and book that return trip summer vacation to the Motherland, so and so is getting shaadi-ed. Use this trip to gauge Possibility of Return. But can you Back Home when you are the one who fled, when there is load shedding and blackouts for three hours every day, between the call for Asr and the call for Maghreb? Hayya alal Falah and the vegetables are wilted, the girls are banging tin lunch boxes against bare brown knees, are being catcalled on the walk to school.
The newspapers are not printing all the stories. Kithhē the journalists? They are rounding up the editors and reporters and photographers and distributors and readers, and if and when they come home, the knuckles are bloody, the eyes black and blue. Deaf and mute and their wives, sisters, mothers, weeping, wailing nightmares at daytime. Quick, black out the haraam-shaped bodies, the maps with redrawn borders, the letters with jokes to your democracy loving leftist friends. Burn your copies of Rushdie and Chughtai and Faiz Ahmad Faiz and bury your dear diary under the sand. Stack tight and slide Shan masala packets into the sides of suitcases.
This is the mother of all blues. Before they fire the first shots, the Kurds, the Kashmiris, the Shias, the dreamers, the questioners, the kafirs fall; the gas chokes courage, is battered black and blue, bloody and bowed. The newspapers are saturated with ads on immigration to countries where they yell at us, Curry Go Back Home. Haan ji, yes ji, the heads of our states and the states of our heads are exploding, ji. Tell us, ya manicured newscaster madam ji, where are they least likely to carpet bomb next, please. Verily we will walk, fly, swim there, innit. Masala be damned, slather that marmite on toast, mate this tongue can live without tingles. Sticks and stones not welcome, eh, but the bombs will obliterate the children, so, howdy y’all.
Oh, Allah, more channels. Better channels. Funnier channels. Please and thank you.
Salma Hussain writes fiction for adults and children. She grew up in the U.A.E. to parents from Pakistan and immigrated to Canada during the second Gulf War. Her debut novel, THE SECRET DIARY OF MONA HASAN, is a funny (and maybe haraam) coming-of-age and immigration story about a Desi Muslim tween. Salma lives in Toronto.