Omen ᎒ Child

 

Wherever you are in this world, & for whatever your labor may be,

If at any moment you look up and see an end, go outside and look up again.

And if even a star is seen at night, move and look to where there is nothing in sight.

For when your gaze becomes lost in the endless sky,

 you will entrust that you know nothing except the fact that you know nothing,

and your compass gifted by The Most High is buried inside.

 

***

 

“Where are you from?” said the old man of fruit stand

 

᎒ “I am from here.” said the girl

 

“I have sold apricots from this stand each year when the sun dances, but when it turns cold they stop growing. So, I have adapted. When the fruit crops are dead I sell bread. I keep the people of this town fed, but I have never seen you.”

 

᎒ “I am from earth, so I can say I am from here, just like you and your foremothers. But your suspicion is not void, for I am also from there too, and so are you.”

 

“Where are your forefathers from?” He asked with a raised eyebrow, “That is where you belong.”

 

“What makes here different from there, aside from different colors on a flag, or military men to secure land? It is a man who tells another where he can or cannot stand. But I am a woman and If I say I have all earth to span, then I can.”

 

The old man frayed the tip of his miswak with his thumb and spit over his right shoulder, letting it land in-between him and the young girl. She didn’t move. He did not understand why she could not give a straight answer and blamed the new regime for making women even more difficult to listen to than they already had been. He decided on telling her to get lost and find food elsewhere, but then he remembered that she had not even asked for his food to begin with. It was him who had started a conversation with her.

 

“If you are from everywhere, then why are you here of all places?” He questioned

 

᎒ “If I am from everywhere then why wouldn’t I be here of all pla…”

 

“Enough! I don’t understand you, you talk too much and you’re making me want to smoke”

 

᎒ “Then why won’t you smoke?” she laughed at how the old man could bring himself to frustration

 

“My wife, she doesn’t let me kiss her anymore, and she blames the smoke for making Mubarak cough”

 

᎒ “Your grandson Mubarak.

 

“How did you know that Mubarak was my grandson! He could’ve been a nephew or the neighbor’s child.” He watched her more closely now.

 

She wanted to use this as an opportunity to fool him into thinking she could read lives and the future, he was already convinced that she knew something substantial, although it was just a guess. She may as well make a profit from it if he accepted having his future read through his palm. Of course, she did not know how, but she was a good actor and that made her a jack of all trades.

 

A funny wind passed by and it made her fear the hellfire. She remembered that the one who engaged in fortune telling would have their prayers rejected for 40 days, and it was in times of traveling or sickness that she’d observe prayer sincerely— making up for all the times she had been deluded by comfort. She was to leave for her voyage into Somaliland at dawn, and could not afford avoidable sins to diminish her chances of getting there safely. She let the idea pass and told the man the truth.

 

᎒ “Because you’re an old man and you look like the type to live in a home of three generations.”

 

“You certainly are not from here; the girls here do not tell an old man that he’s an old man.”

 

᎒ “Why do you only mention the girls, if I were a boy and called you an old man would that have made a difference?”

 

“Yes, if you were a boy I would have laughed, but you are a girl and so you can’t.”

 

᎒ “You know old man, I liked you more when you were silent and polishing your fruit.”

 

“That makes two of us.” the old man reached into his pocket for a cigarette

 

᎒ “Give me a cigarette.” She smirked

 

“Maxaad ii tidhi! (What did you say!) You’re young enough to be my granddaughter, I will not!”

 

᎒ “It’s ok, I actually have my own pack, I figured I’d ask you first in case I may be able to save one of my own, money is tight when you’re a traveler, and I guess you want to be a selfish old man.” She winked.

 

She brought out her goatskin satchel and unzipped it—taking out a cigarette. The old man stood in bewilderment at how casually she took one out. She continued to look through her satchel and pulled out what he thought would be a lighter but was instead a pair of sunglasses. She put them on and stuck the unlit cigarette in her mouth and then leaned against the tree but lost balance and fell in the sand.

 

She called to him mockingly in an exaggerated crackly voice, “Little girl, help an old man who has fallen, my back! I think the angels have come to collect my soul! Make sure my sons get 2/3 of my inheritance and my daughters only get 1/3 if this bad back kills me!” She got up and started laughing at her own performance.

 

The old man tried to stay frustrated at her but could not help but laugh a hearty laugh. He realized she knew she had no manners but didn’t care, and that was oddly refreshing. He had not laughed like that in years. Laughing with his family was short-lived when he remembered how much more fruit needed to be sold to make rent. Laughing as a boy was always interrupted by the desire to be stern so that he could be taken seriously like a man. But here, as he stood with his fruit and the young girl, he couldn’t help but laugh freely at the way she mimicked James Dean with a sly smirk and obnoxious confidence. ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ was one of the only movies he could remember seeing some time ago at a theatre. The subtitles didn’t help much because he could not read. But that did not matter so much because who could ever have forgotten the smirk of James Dean.

 

᎒ “What is so funny old man?” She asked rhetorically

 

“ You know, if you didn’t look so silly, I may have slapped you for disrespecting an elder, but because you don’t actually smoke, I’m a bit relieved and can laugh at your playfulness”

 

᎒ “What makes you so sure I don’t smoke old man?”

 

“Listen, call me by my name, I am Abshir.” He suddenly had more patience with her now

 

᎒ “Ok, Abshir, why do you care for whether I smoke or not?”

 

“Because it is not good for you, young one”

 

᎒ “Abshir, call me Rihan. Now Abshir, why fear my affairs with a cigarette if you yourself smoke?”

 

“Rihan, sometimes, the things we bring upon ourselves are not what we wish for others, it’ll make sense when you grow older. How old are you anyway?”

 

᎒ “Do you want my years in how long I’ve been in this body, or by how much I’ve experienced?”

 

“Because I know you like to talk a lot, give me both.”

 

– “12, and just born.”

 

“You are just born in accordance to how much you’ve experienced?”

 

᎒ “Yes. How much we experience is not about quantity, that is the delusion. Experience is about undergoing something more profound than you had yesterday and letting that override all you know. I detach from yesterday if I’ve witnessed something grand today. And tomorrow Abshir, if I meet someone in another town more fascinating than you, I will forget about you and I will live in the moment my new friend gifts me. So, I am always being revived and reborn.”

 

“You didn’t make any sense at the start of our encounter, and I’m afraid that hasn’t changed. But I like you now, I hope God keeps you safe in wherever you venture to next.”

 

᎒ “How can you assume I won’t build myself a house in this town?”

 

“You’re a 12-year-old girl Rihan, my dear, what house can you build alone?”

 

᎒ “Fair point, but you’re an old man, so we’re both unable in that regard.”

 

She smiled at him and he smiled back. They found common ground.

 

“It was nice meeting you Abshir. I hope you stop smoking just as you warned against it for me. It’ll make your wife happy, and when the women of the world are happy, the entire world is at peace. Empower your daughters as you do your sons. Be equitable, not traditional.”

 

“Rihan, you are perhaps the most interesting person I’ve met in the years I’ve been at this bazaar, can you at least tell me where you are going so I can give you some money according to the distance you must travel, you have made me laugh and for that I must repay you.”

 

“I would tell you if I knew, but I only know one thing.”

 

And she recited for him,

 

Wherever you are in this world, & for whatever your labor may be,

If at any moment you look up and see an end, go outside and look up again.

And if even a star is seen at night, move and look to where there is nothing in sight.

For when your gaze becomes lost in the endless sky,

 you will entrust that you know nothing except the fact that you know nothing,

and your compass gifted by The Most High is buried inside.

 

 

The old man was moved by the young girl’s words and began to weep.

 

She took off her glasses and put it on his face and said,

 

᎒ “I know you like looking manly, so do not let others see you cry. But know that because I’ve seen you cry, you are the manliest of men to me. Be more vulnerable from time to time, your masculinity isn’t so fragile. Be well Abshir. I am an orphan and will keep you in my prayers. The prayer of an orphan is of the most sacred.”

 

“Rihan, don’t go, my wife and I can adopt you as our own. You won’t make it very far alone!”

 

᎒ “The moon & the stars have already done so, you mustn’t kidnap me, that would be a crime. Also, who are you to say I won’t make it far alone without having known how far I’ve already come? I am never alone.” She smiled and left without turning back.

 

The old man wept and called after her but did not run after her. He knew that a traveling soul could never be captured or kept at a standstill. He knew that he himself had been still for too long in the box of custom and tradition. His masculinity was not fragile and he quit smoking that very moment for his wife’s contentment.

 

He admired the young girl. The world was hers and she belonged wherever she set foot. This, he now understood.

 

Peace and Blessings,

Karima Osman

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