In this country, a boss should always be bald and have a big belly. My uncle isn’t bald, he hasn’t got a big belly, and you don’t realise, the first time you see him, that he’s the actual boss of a big office in the centre of town. He’s also the boss of the family, at least that’s what he tells me every time we visit his villa. I like where he lives. There is so much space, unlike our house with its cracked floors and leaking faucets. His floors are so shiny you can see your sweat-drenched face in them. Outside, beyond the courtyard’s shade, the tiles are so hot my toes start hissing whenever they dangle out of my sherbet-blue flip flops. It feels like the sun itself is my uncle’s houseboy. From his gold nugget teeth to the light pouring in through his windows, there is light everywhere. Sometimes, after jumah’s last lessons, I tell hooyo a palm-sized lie. I tell her I have left with Hanad to the market seeking crushed ice to lick off our fingers as we make our way home. Instead, I’d visit Uncle Abshir. He would rarely be there when I arrived, but a kind woman that says she works for him would let me sit on the patterned ottoman and ask me what I would like to eat. Hooyo says many people work for Uncle Abshir. I think that means many people love him. People do things for you when they love you. Things like calling you by the name you want to be called by. Sir. Boss. Mudani. Before he even enters the room. When I was younger, and knew much less, I thought he had many names. Each he’d chosen for himself. I can’t wait to be old enough to wear a suit, too. Then, maybe then, the older boys wouldn’t call me by other names. Everyone acts as if I can help one of my legs being shorter than the other. Well, I don’t care anymore. Uncle Abshir says his father, my grandfather, was the same and he owned boats from here to Aden and back, so there. Aden must be very far away so I don’t think he walked. Uncle Abshir says this means I should study hard and avoid market boys with glue in their pockets. That he knows I’m a daydreamer, like my father, but I shouldn’t let anything get to me. I once asked him if he and my father had ever gotten into neighbourhood fights and he didn’t answer. He was silent for a long time. In that way, even Uncle Abshir is like all adults. They all grow quiet when I ask them about Aabo. Even now, when I’m ten years old and old enough to be sent to the pharmacy for ayeeyo’s medicine. I even collect what habaryar Safiya sends from Amreeka. I always know where to sign and, as you can probably tell, I have the best handwriting in class.
Momtaza Mehri (@) is a poet, essayist, literary studies researcher and meme archivist. Her work has been featured (& is forthcoming) in DAZED, Buzzfeed, Sukoon, PANK Magazine, Bone Bouquet, VINYL, Poetry Society of America, Mask Magazine and Poetry International. Her poetry has also been anthologized. She is a Complete Works Fellow and winner of the 2017 Outspoken Page Poetry Prize. Her chapbook sugah lump prayer was published in April 2017 as part of the New Generation African Poets series. She also edits Diaspora Drama, a digital platform showcasing international immigrant art.
This story was published as a finalist of the AFREADA x Africa Writes Competition. Writers had to produce a 500-word story from the first two sentences of Alain Mabanckou’s novel, Tomorrow I’ll Be Twenty. Read the winning story here.
Related country: Somalia, #TIBT