When she tore the bread, she handed me a piece; and I, noticing she hadn't had any salad, passed her the salad bowl. Midway through the meal she got up and turned on the radio. She left it on a man talking about farming the desert. I got up, said, "Bless your hands," and went to my room. "I will take a nap," she said after me. My silence made her say things she didn't need to say, she always took a nap in the afternoons, everyone did, everyone except me. I never could nap.
I waited in my room until she had finished washing the dishes and putting away the food, until I was certain she had gone to sleep, then I came out.
I was walking around the house looking for something to do when the telephone rang. I ran to it before it could wake her up. It was Baba. On hearing his voice my heart quickened. I thought he must be calling so soon after I had seen him to explain why he hadn't greeted me.
"Where are you?"
"Abroad. Let me speak to your mother."
"Abroad," he repeated, as if it was obvious where that was. "I'll be home tomorrow."
"I miss you."
"Me too. Call your mother."
"She's asleep. Shall I wake her up?"
"Just let her know I'll be home tomorrow, about lunch-time."
I didn't want the conversation to end so I said, "We were followed today by that same white car that took Ustath Rashid. We were side by side at the traffic light and I saw their faces. I was so close I could have touched the driver's cheek and I wasn't frightened. Not at all. Not even a little, I wasn't."
"I'll see you tomorrow," he said and hung up.
I stood for a while beside the telephone and listened to the thick silence that seemed to descend on our house during those hours in the afternoon, a silence edged by the humming of the fridge in the kitchen and the ticking of the clock in the hallway.
I went to watch Mama sleep. I sat beside her, checking first that her chest was rising and falling with breath. I remembered the words she had told me the night before, "We are two halves of the same soul, two open pages of the same book," words that felt like a gift I didn't want.i
Excerpted from In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar Copyright © 2007 by Hisham Matar. Excerpted by permission of Dial Press Trade Paperback, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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