Qissat

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Authors: Jo Glanville
was all over before I had even woken up.
    I had spent the previous day staring at the house across the road. It was crouched on the ground like a space station poised for launch. Dad had been in a mood with me and had just watched the news and talked a lot on the phone in Arabic about a meeting in Jeddah. I can feel that boredom now radiating from the pages of my sticker-adorned diary –
1990 Page-A-Day Diary.
An angry pen has dented the cover into a moronic teenage Braille. More than twice the age now that I was then, I can still feel it:
God damn the boredom of being stuck in Kuwait all summer.
    The house ejected cars from its underground garage and delivered them onto the road like tapes from a Japanese video. The greased iron entrance slid along the concrete wall without a sound. But the object of my surveillance (coded as ‘Sh.’ for Sheikha) preferred to use the side gate. From the detective notes I had made I can see that Sh. had left and come back twice that day. Her
abaya
was always black. Her face was always covered. Her bags were always full of high-class shopping.
    01.08.90 14:46 Sh. Reappears in brown Chevrolet Impala.
Dropped off.
01.08.90 16:24 Sh. Leaves in blue BMW.
    My diary also records the movement of four Pakistani migrants and two Afghanis walking across the wasteland between the blocks of dust-clad housing. If the Afghanis were in fact Pakistanis or vice versa (it was hard to tell from a distance) I had made a note to show that the total was (6).
    I had also spotted our gardener, Bustanji. Abu Waleed.
    Bustanji did not sweat. Bustanji had leather skin. Bustanji had a head that squeezed out large and burnt from the band of white hair that remained. I liked Bustanji’s waistcoat with the cotton pellet buttons and white lining. Polyester fibres shone his back black through the leaves of the eucalyptus trees.
    01.08.90 17:24 Bustanji watering plants at their base.
    I can’t remember why we called him Bustanji (‘gardener’) even when we spoke English. Could it be because it emphasised his Arabness? I am sure Dad just loved the idea that he was putting earth back between the fingers of a fellow Palestinian.
    It was my friend Nada who had told me with long, black, flying African arms (although she assured me that the Sudanese were Arabs, not Africans, and also that they were brown, not black) that there was far more going on in the space station house than I thought. I could tell that she had exaggerated the story, sure, but I didn’t care. I needed something to do. I sure as hell was not going to do any revision. Dad was treating me like a child sticking me in Kuwait all summer. Treat me like a kid and I’ll behave like a kid. No revision for you Baba dear even if I did screw up my exams.
    When I touched my nose to twist the stud the scab would loosen itself from the stem. Ow.
Owww!
It had hurt so damn much getting it pierced.
    Next to the Sheikha’s house was the Hajji shop where I bought cigarettes.
    ‘Don’t call it Hajji,’ says Nada, ‘that’s just what the English say.’
    ‘No, it’s not. It’s because they’ve done a pilgrimage. Then they come back and set up a shop.’
    ‘That’s rubbish. That’s just what the expats say and you English.’
    ‘Don’t call me English,’ I say.
    ‘Sorry, I forgot. Your Mum’s from where, Romania or is it Hungary?’
    ‘Whatever,’ I say.
‘Whatever.’
    Hajji had bulging fingers like dog willies and he did not look at me when he gave me cigarettes from the shelf but kept his neck lolled back to watch the screen while feeling out for dusty notes from the wooden drawer. There were fewer rolling bodies in trenches by then. Hajji was from Iran but he could just as well have been from Iraq because they both filled their TV channels with pictures of young men blasted limbless or rigid with gas. Looped images of bodies with stretched bare tummies and grasping hands in raw earth holes. Marching songs and drum beats played over the footage

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