– excerpt from the novel –
The next day I went to the khalwa1F again. After the classes, Sheik El-Faki ordered us to drink water from the bucket, the holy water to cleanse from God’s suras. I was the only one who refused to do so. He hit me on the head and body with his stick again. He seemed to be afraid that my refusal could cause a rebellion with the other children. They stood motionless for several moments, and then they started to drink, while he hit me as hard as he could. Nevertheless, I did not drink of the holy water.
So Sheik El-Faki again informed my father of this during his evening round of the village, when he took care that the fathers punish their children before they went to sleep. My father sprang on his feet and in his very own theatric way started to scold me: “You scum, you stupid boy! You haven’t drunk from the holy water? Oh, God, he’s the son of the Devil!”
Then my mother’s voice came from the kitchen: “God’s words are not in the bucket, Sheik El-Faki. God’s words are in the books and in the heads. They should remain in the head rather than in the stomach.” My father responded quietly agreeing with the Sheik: “Women’s nonsense. They miss reason and region.”
I was happy with my mother’s support. Since then, he ordered other children to drink after he would give me some task and send me somewhere or when he would turn his back to me. Only Ilyaas Wadd Farah quickly told our “master” that Hamza had not drunk from the holy water. Sheik El-Fakis would curse me: “May God punish Hamza and his devil, may God punish this stupid left-handed person who will enter Hell straight!”
Then he hit Ilyaas with his stick. The poor guy never betrayed me since. Still, I protected Ilyaas from the punching of my best friend Uthmaan Darab Sidru who waited for him in the evening to revenge for me, and because Ilyaas was always on our “master’s” side and spied on us although he was not good in memorizing and writing.
Uthmaan Darab Sidru was also named because of his courage. His mother told that he would punch his chest like a gorilla when he would get angry. When he grew up he did the same thing when he wanted to fight somebody. We were all afraid of him, but he became my friend. I often watched his father beating him fiercely, as if he was his enemy. This man and his poor wife who was the biggest and strongest woman in the village when she was young had a child every year. While she was completely exhausted with much childbirth, he always showed, proud like a peacock, his eight children. He always walked the streets dressed in impeccably clean clothes, with a carefully wrapped turban and nobody would ever think that he lived in such a poor house. For a long time I grieved because Uthmaan no longer came to the khalwa and didn’t play with us. He lost a lot of weight and something was wrong with his kidneys and his bladder. He had pains when he urinated, and there was blood in his urine. The poor guy had to endure various treatments without defending, with nettle, holy oil massages or endless prayers. There was no doctor.
Uthmaan died when he was eight or nine, after he had drunk a dozen of buckets of holy water. He was a handsome boy, in his face he looked like his father, in his body like his mother. His father often hit him for no reason and spoiled his beauty. In time, Uthmaan’s face lost its glow and only the wounds, the traces of the blows and his scars remained.
I remember all of this while I see Hakiema using her left paw to grab the piece of bread and play with it.
These events spin in my head one after another, horrible stories and inherited traditions that are imprinted like stains, turned my left-handedness into a sickness and my left hand into a Devil’s one.
1. Khalwa (Arabic) – a separate room, barrack, tent. In Sudan, it is a school where the Koran is taught; it is attended by children who have turned three. Most often it is a simple cottage or it is in the open, under a porch.