Omar, are you awake?' I shook his arm
that lay across
his face, covering his eyes.
'Get up.' His room was wonderfully cool because he had the best air conditioner in the house.
'I can't move.' He put his arm down and blinked at me. I moved my head back, wrinkling my nose at his bad breath.
'If you don't get up, I'm going to take the car.'
'Seriously, I can't . . . can't move.'
'Well, I'm going without you.' I walked to the far end of his room, past his cupboard and the poster of Michael Jackson. I switched the air conditioner off. It died down with an echo and heat surrounded the room, waiting to pounce into it.
'Why are doing this to me?'
I laughed and said with glee, 'Now you'll be forced to get up.'
Downstairs I drank tea with Baba. He always looked so nice in the morning, fresh from his shower and smelling of aftershave.
'Where's your brother?' he grumbled.
'Probably on his way down,' I said.
'Where's your mother?'
'It's Wednesday. She goes to Keep Fit.' It always amazed me how Baba deliberately forgot my mother's schedule, how his eyes behind his glasses looked cautious and vague when he spoke of her. He had married above himself, to better himself. His life story was of how he moved from a humble background to become manager of the President's office via marriage into an old wealthy family. I didn't like him to tell it, it confused me. I was too much like my mother.
'Spoilt,' he now mumbled into his tea, 'the three of you are spoilt.'
'I'll tell Mama you said this about her!'
He made a face. 'She's too soft on your brother. It's not good for him. When I was his age, I was working day and night; I had aspirations . . .'
'Oh no,' I thought, 'not that again.' My feelings must have shown on my face because he said, 'Of course you don't want to listen to me . . .'
'Oh Baba, I'm sorry.' I hugged him and kissed his cheek.
He smiled, 'Paco Rabanne.'
I laughed. He cared about his clothes and looks more than any father I knew.
'Well, time to be off,' he said and the ritual of his departure began. The houseboy appeared from the kitchen and carried his briefcase to the car. Musa, the driver, leapt out of nowhere and opened the car door for him. I watched them drive off and there was only the Toyota Corolla left in the driveway. It used to be Mama's car but last month it became mine and Omar's. Mama had a new car now and Omar stopped using his motorcycle. I looked at the garden and the road beyond. There were no bicycles on the road. I had an admirer who kept riding his bicycle past the front of our house. Sometimes he came past three or four times a day. He had hopeful eyes and I despised him. But, like now, when the road was empty, I felt disappointed.
'Omar!' I called from downstairs. We were going to be late for our lecture. At the beginning of the term, our very first in the university, we used to go well ahead of the time. Six weeks into the term, we discovered that the sophisticated thing was to appear at the last minute. All the lecturers turned up ten minutes past the hour, and swept grandly into halls full of expectant students.
I could not hear any sound from above so I ran upstairs. No, the bathroom was empty. I opened Omar's bedroom and the room was, as I had expected, an oven. Yet there he was fast asleep, sprawled snoring. He had kicked the covers off and was drenched in sweat and listlessness.
From Minaret by Leila Aboulela. Copyright Leila Aboulela 2004. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Black Cat, an imprint of Grove Press.
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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