Out of It

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Authors: Selma Dabbagh
shutters were only pulled up halfway and Rashid had had to stoop as he came in. The café was dark. The strip lighting plasticised the food under the counter and a small fly kept settling on Rashid’s face. Sindibad’s was poised to destroy his good mood; he could feel it. He hoped that if it had been Khalil’s father in the Mercedes he would not have recognised him, or heard him shouting with the rest of them against the Leadership. But then again, who cared? Khalil’s father didn’t speak to Rashid’s father any more and no one spoke to Khalil’s father, not even Khalil unless he absolutely had to. What could the repercussions be? He was leaving anyway. Could Khalil’s father stop him from getting an exit permit somehow? Could he? Would he? It was far-fetched, paranoid. He was smoking too much.
    Lisa. London. Rashid sang to himself, trying to imagine Lisa in Sindibad’s, but the image was confused. He saw her legs first, the way they protruded from her light floral skirts. Her knees were square like her face. He would have to cover her up completely to get her into Sindibad’s, if he could get her in at all. He had explained that to her a million times; there were no women in Sindibad’s. None. Rashid tried to put an imaginary abaya on her imagined body, but all he kept seeing were her bare knees and the curved shadowy triangle between them.
    The fighters filled the place with a smell of exertion like a changing room and the clanking of their guns gave the café a spiky, industrial feel. Rashid realised that he’d got the group’s pecking order wrong when he had assumed that the fat one with the moustache was in charge. Now, upon examination, he realised that it was not the fat one but the thin one in the green jacket who was their leader. With just a look, the gentle closing of his eyelids, he could get the whole table to fall silent. This realisation was followed by a glow of an unfamiliar sensation in Rashid, something positive, strong but yet so intangible in its nature that he found himself clutching his fists together, as though that gesture would help him to grasp the feeling, to name it. It didn’t.
    Rashid got up and went to stand at the entrance to the café. It was midday and bright now but the outside world viewed from the doorway of Sindibad’s seemed like a parade of the walking wounded: stooped moving figures of adults run through with flurries of schoolchildren. At the corner of the road, the carrot boy was peddling mobile phone chips, and next to the boy a woman in jeans with a bare head stood staring down the road in the opposite direction with several bouquets of flowers in her arms. Her hair was vast and magnificent, but she had to be deranged to be walking around with it on display like that. Some passers-by stopped to look at her. A man approached her, but then carried on when he realised that he had achieved nothing from trying to talk to her. Rashid wondered if her face looked as good as her hair. He didn’t have to wait long. The woman soon turned towards him and Rashid found himself staring at the face of his sister.
    Walking into Sindibad’s with Iman and her bare head was not easy. It was as though she had mistakenly tucked her skirt into her knickers. Her entrance was met with jubilance by the fighters, one of whom began tapping out the rhythm for a dabka with his fingertips on the table. They only stopped when they picked up their leader’s disdain, the flick of his index finger made them shut up completely.
    The leader looked from his men to Iman, nodding at her and she seemed to almost balk at the sight of him and moved closer to her brother. Iman’s face flushed and her eyes watered as if stung.
    ‘How do you know him?’ Rashid asked when they sat down and the fighters had gone back to their own business again. The café owner had brought out a large napkin for Iman and was indicating that she should tie it around her head.
    ‘I don’t,’ Iman said. ‘I don’t

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