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Spoils of the Death Road by Sefi Atta

I am not jealous. The standards of Binta’s non-governmental are well beneath me, and their patron is a wrinkled old white woman with two big balloons in her breasts. She lives in Hollywood, she and her dog.


“I want to apply,” Lubna says. “I want to move to the capital.”


I stamp my foot. “What is wrong with our town?”


“It’s boring over here.”


“But there is so much to do!”


“Like what?”


“Spending time with Farouk.”


“Farouk? All we ever do is spend time with Farouk.”


Farouk is a street hawker. We help him to sell his ware. His mother raised him as a yan dauda: he speaks in a high voice like a woman. He wears headscarves, paints henna on his hands and pencils his eyes with kohl. Our tailor sews him the loveliest up-and-downs. Farouk is a lot of fun.


“Come,” I say. “Let’s go and help Farouk.”


Lubna shakes her head. “I’m tired of helping Farouk.”


“He’ll give you a Bazooka Joe.”


“Okay,” she says stretching her hand upwards so that I can lift her.


She will do anything for food this girl, or perhaps it’s the story about the other girl that walked eight miles that I find upsetting. I don’t know what comes over me.


“No,” I say backing away. “You’re a lefty. I don’t touch lefties.”


“But I never use my left hand to go,” she says.


I cross my arms. “I can’t hold hands with a lefty. I don’t know where that hand of yours has been.”


I shouldn’t have said that, but she squeezes up her face and begins to yell as if she’s possessed or something: “Go! Go wherever you want! You’re bossy! You’ve always been bossy and you have a bad mouth to boot! I’ll be glad when I’m finally rid of you!”


My best friend I have known all my life. I leave her under the acacia tree to think about what she has done.


Afternoon prayers have begun. The men and boys are already in the mosque. I can recite some of the suwar by heart: Al-Fatiha, Al-Lahab and An-Nas. I cross the exact spot where the Christian woman was burned, pass the shed where boys write Arabic alphabets on their allo boards, run past the hut where the lailai woman paints henna patterns for brides on their wedding eves. The ground is too hot to meander and I have to hold on to my scarf to make sure it doesn’t slip off. Farouk is where he always is, on the corner of the road by the millet farm.


Hajiya,” he says lifting his cigarette.


He addresses me as a married woman because he knows I’m mature for my age, unlike some I no longer care to mention. Farouk is pretty for a man. He has pointed cheeks and his eyes slant upwards. He is seated behind his stall with his legs crossed.


“Good day to you,” I say.


“And to you too,” he says. “Where is your friend, Lubna?”


“Please don’t talk to me about that girl.”


He laughs. “What happened?”


I, too, start to yell: “It’s her elder sister! She leads Lubna astray! She’s planning to sneak her off to the capital to further her education and Lubna won’t listen to me!”


“Allah sarki?” Farouk says.


“Allah, and look at their father, a man of such a high standing in society, he cannot even hold his head up in this town again.”


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Per Contra Fiction - Fall 2006