Dates on My Fingers: An Iraqi Novel (Modern Arabic Literature)

Free Dates on My Fingers: An Iraqi Novel (Modern Arabic Literature) by Muhsin al-Ramli

Book: Dates on My Fingers: An Iraqi Novel (Modern Arabic Literature) by Muhsin al-Ramli Read Free Book Online
Authors: Muhsin al-Ramli
columns the color of tree trunks in the middle, as well as a coal stove sunk into the wall under a square chimney. Through the chimney came the sound of cooing pigeons that had settled down on top of it in the nest of storks that had migrated. There were many doors in the far walls.
    Grandfather and the sheikh sat down next to each other without releasing their intertwined fingers. In the back of the room, there was a bed made with a high pillow and a white sheet, decorated on the edges with flower blossoms. We laid Istabraq out on it, and the girl covered her. I sat at her feet, and my father sat a few feet away.
    The sheikh said something to the girl in Kurdish, which we didn’t understand, but Grandfather, whose knowledge of that language surprised me, protested, “No, there’s no need to prepare food, sheikh! Our road is long, and we want to return before sunset.”
    The girl paused, seeking further instructions. The sheikh spoke to her in Kurdish again, and off she went, whereupon Grandfather said, “Fine. As you wish.”
    The sheikh commented, “We have an excellent turkey whose meat is worthy of our distinguished guests.”
    They let go of each other’s hands, and the sheikh patted Grandfather’s thigh as he took the conversation in a different direction. “You’ve lost so much weight! But for my ever-present memory of you and the days we spent fighting alongside our cousin Rashid Ali, I wouldn’t have recognized you.”
    “Diabetes,” Grandfather explained, “and the passing years.”
    The sheikh commented happily, “Ah, too bad! But it’s only fair: you’ve been sucking on sugar your whole life, and now it’s time for it to suck on you!”
    We all laughed while the sheikh stretched out his hand to Istabraq’s forehead. She was looking at us silently, with clear, beautiful eyes. Despite the faint yellow color that tinged their whites, they were gleaming. Their magic surprised me, as though I had never seen them before.
    The sheikh said, “She was possessed by a demon, God curse it! It was feeding on her blood, so I killed it.”
    His words surprised my father and me, while Grandfather replied with the equanimity of one familiar with such things, “God’s curse is ever upon Satan and his followers.”
    The butterfly girl opened a door, out of which came a tumult of voices. She entered carrying a tray filled with glasses of steaming tea. A group of children escaped from the doorway behind her, running noisily, shooting off in the direction of the courtyard to play. She brought the tray around the circle to us, and we took our glasses from it. She smiled at me when she leaned over in front of me, and I smelled her perfume, made from plant stems. When her sleeves pulled back, two white arms like slices of cheese appeared, adorned with delicate gold bracelets and a cheap digital watch.
    She bent over the two old men, and the sheikh said to Grandfather, “This is Gulala, my youngest daughter. The last of my litter.”
    He laughed, and Grandfather commented, “God preserve her!”
    Her father asked her, “Where did you put the pen and notebook, my sweet girl?” She gestured with her head to the shelf behind him, speaking some word in Kurdish. He turned and picked up an old notebook. Its paper was yellow, resembling the paper of some of the books there, of which I recognized only the Qur’an. He tore out a sheet and put iton the notebook, which was resting on his thigh. Then he set about writing and asked, “What did you say the name of your daughter was?”
    I answered faster than Grandfather, “Istabraq.”
    He wrote and asked again, “And what is the name of her mother?”
    I hesitated because we didn’t usually say the names of our mothers: I would always just call her “Mother.” So her name didn’t come to me as quickly as my name, for example, or those of my siblings. It was the same thing for us with Grandfather’s name since we called him “Father” when we were small and

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