there is food on my table but my brain is still a brain and my heart is still a heart: the exteriors don’t always match
i tell my mother as she moulds handfuls of wet, rose water infused henna paste on each of my fingers that i don’t want to feel uncomfortable this night.
i do love the way she delicately places the henna on each of my fingers
gripping each finger like one of her glass sets
the smallest, closeted form of love we share
i don’t want to keep the henna and the cellotape and the nylon on throughout the night. i don’t want the earthy scent of a day old henna lingering on my fingers tomorrow and for the next two weeks.
“it’s just one night. you’ll sleep uncomfortably for only a night and in the morning you can take it off”
what she does not know is that i haven’t had a “good” sleep in four months.
or that my shattering began long before that.
i can’t tell her that when i place my face on that pillow and recite my shahada in case i never wake up the next morning, i secretly have a tucked prayer placed just behind all of the facade i feed myself. that when she comes into my room in the morning and finds me still in bed, that i am not sleeping, that i haven’t slept, that i am struggling.
i want to tell her that the boy i tried to fall in love with after myriam parted his lips like the ocean and swallowed me whole. and days after days he appeared only to steal things that did not belong to him like my voice. my movement. i want to tell her that i am sorry. that i kind of, sort of, allowed him to drown my voice in the ocean that is his mouth. but i don’t go back to sit with him now. maybe she will be proud. maybe she will say what the ocean mouth boy said. that i could not be depressed. that i had no reason to be sad.
“did you eat this evening?” he asked.
“a little too much” i want to confess but that would only make him jump up and down and snigger and call me the words “ungrateful”, “selfish”. and he would say he only eats breakfast and dinner because he cannot afford lunch and my stomach will want to give in then and there but like my voice, when i am with him, i try to quiet it. breathe in a little more.
the first person who heard my cries one morning was a woman who moved like a ghost.
she stood across from me until i realized that the sahra could not drown me.
i remembered my grandfather who would lay his sajjada the whole morning on the ancient yet familiar sands, quran
between his legs and head wrapped tightly in a faded blue turban.
when he got older, softer,
and could not walk through the sands lest his daughters carried him on their backs, i wonder if he had ever felt the way i do now
surrounded by grandchildren, inhaling the scent of your home sands, circled in by your daughters who played the adrin and beat tablas and sang el hawl in deep, mellow voices yet wanting the sands to drag you into it.
collect your voice.
or did he think of walking to the shores of nouakchott only to throw himself in face first
to take you back.
did he dream of going to the adrar
walking up to et toûmiyât
and taking several steps forward
did his daughters notice the fall of blood seeping into the sand
the ghost woman looks me in the eye and says:
your anxiety will not prevent you from looking like your mother
from looking like women who look like your mother
you imagine yourself as a wife and you see a woman who is withered but alive
you imagine yourself childless and alone and you see a corpse
when will you stop rejecting the things you are meant to be and the things that you are?
just because the future you want
does not look like the women around you does not make it invalid.
must i stretch and stretch and stretch
in places i do not wish to stretch any longer.
to exist in a space that only accommodates the kinds of women who birthed and birthed and remained home was a madness of its own.
the first madness i drew myself into.
my mother tells me she is worried.
she tells me: “love silently”
my skin radiates in bronze it melts away the ghost woman.
the day dimi mint abba died
loula rolls over to my side and says:
you do this often don’t you?
i ask her what it is she is talking about.
hide girls in your bedroom.
i chuckle and fumble with the ends of her hair and say:
“hide is an interesting word”.
i cannot tell you how many times a night i have burned my body like incense burned into fabric only to wake up the following morning and gather the ashes. start all over.
it never happened.
“oh lord bring apartheid crashing down” keeps playing.
the abeed walks in
in my afternoon my aunty and three cousins sit bare foot in the room
their malahfa rolled up exposing their thighs and arms
a big bottle of “fair and lovely” between their legs
they dip their fingers into the snow cream to plaster it all over
between their legs, in their armpits, on their faces
they look up at me and my aunty says:
“ah the samra’ is here”
come she pats the carpet between her legs
i don’t know why your mother does not buy you something for this color of yours
you already can’t be differentiated from the l’abeed
you have turned into a hartaniyya with the tongue of an arab
i watch and say nothing
and she goes back to rubbing her thighs until the skin there flakes off and she is left only with flesh and the coldness of the right side of her bed.
causal conversation over atay
we speak over a bowl of sunflower seeds and you reach across to caress my face.
“do you ever imagine what they would do to us if they found out?”
you don’t answer.
i shrink and faint into my own body
it is quiet
does it hurt?
where does it hurt?
she undresses and they ask what her gender is
my love blows cigarette smoke from the gap between her front teeth.
when we kiss, i carefully place sweet words in her gap and she swallows them all.
my love wears jeans underneath her malahfa and an oversized t-shirt that conceals the curves of her chest and hips.
my love chews cinnamon gum and sits with her legs wide open, her shoulders drooped, her hands hanging in the space between her wide opened legs.
my love has short curly hair and skin the color of freshly made broomsticks. she smells of christian dior’s midnight poison and places a leg over mine when we sleep.
all language belongs to us.
where revolution began for me
i wrap up my prayers with salams
turning my face right, then left and whispering
“assalam alaykum wa rahmatu ‘lah”
i feel like a visitor after each prayer
knocking on the door of my creator.
“i can’t recall the last time i prayed”
i cannot allow her to feel my shame, i tell her
“god is most merciful”
i will teach you.
malouma’s voice continued to play that afternoon
just yesterday in adel bagrou a boy was burned alive
i knew him,
he sang the athan from the minarets
his voice called men to prayer
his voice hung over the city five times a day
his voice made him stay while others broke their fasts with family
his voice did not make him worthy
hanan says aziz looked into the eyes of his brother who had caught him with an eyeliner pencil and their sister’s green lipstick for the fourth time
their father, rest his soul, used to wear liner
but his was black and a sunnah
not to imitate the women
and as they placed his body into a tire, his eyes dissolving in color blue
lips patched in green and blood from biting too hard
from fear and satisfaction
his mother watching, strangers eyes eager and charring,
“what a waste”
“what a waste of beautiful voice”
the blood orange fire seizes into the sun and carries their soul back to the only judge
and i, i go back to scratching paint off my bedroom wall
where are we?
i search “lgbt+ mauritania” and capital punishments come up
death, imprisonment, stoning to death.
there are no articles on us. no articles on the men and women and trans people living and loving in dark, almost non existing spaces.
they (are) erase(ing) us.
but on the streets, in the shadows, behind straight faces, we are here.
in packed shops and the beds of collapsing marriages, we are here.
amongst politicians and in front rows of mosques, we are here.
walking amongst you and your deadly laws
we are here.
there was almost an article on us;
a story of a man who was asked to share his experience as a queer person living in mauritania and he agreed
later, he backed out
“i don’t feel safe talking about this”
who looks like me
in my country, women are bigger than men. in my country, a woman’s hips are worshipped and the skin that lays underneath each of her arms are an invitation to prayer.
her belly a shrine.
in my country, women dance. women dance in the presence of men. in the presence of other women and small children and old people. and most especially in weddings. the flow of their malahfa drapes in front of their faces to hide their eyes but the flow of their bodies are visible. celebrated. it is magic. not sin.
in my country, a woman is honour, she is love, she is dauntless and life.
i am not allowed to (openly) love her.
Fatima Mohammed (@SEIGFRI3D ) is a Mauritanian-Nigerian student of English Linguistics and Literature based in Abuja, Nigeria. She has been an avid writer of short magical stories as well as intensively written poems but is yet to have her work published on any online platform. However,she posts personal writings on her blog: f8toom.wordpress.com. When she isn’t buried behind a book or her laptop, you can find her dipping hobnobs in black coffee and binge watching “The Mindy Project” or blaring Mauritanian jazz or Fela in her room. There’s really no telling.
Related country: Mauritania