When a boy asks you on a date and you say yes, and he says you should come over to his house, and you say you'll have to sneak out because you're not allowed to go on dates, he'll say "Just say you have an after-school activity, we can date during the day. I understand." Don't go. If you fall for this, if you go on your after-school activity to his house, he will stuff his hands down your pants and when you try to explain that you don't do that, he'll say, "OK, but I've got blue balls now and if I don't get off I'll die." Don't believe him. If you do, he will force his dick in your mouth, so don't just sit there and let your nose run and your eyes tear and your throat gag when he does, bite him, bite him and run. Fucking haul ass out of that house. When he tells everyone at school you're a whore and everyone believes him, ignore them. They are nothing. When your father says you're a whore, ignore him. He can't even get you guys a house.
Madonna is an uncool music choice. Gamal knows this so he steals Baba's credit card and goes to the record store to buy some hip-hop: Bizmarkie, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, NWA, Beastie Boys, KRS-One, A Tribe Called Quest, Erik B. & Rakim. He goes home and jams out. He remembers the stories about Arabia, how disputes over property, family allegiances, gold, and women were all solved by two warring poets who stood on top of a big, sturdy boulder. The poets rhymed until one was defeated, solving the case. Gamal knows he's not black, but he comes from the home of the original rap battle.
When one is used to two seasons, this is a miracle: in the fall, the trees turn brown the way they do in art. It really happens. Then the leaves fall down and encircle the tree like children and grandchildren, like we encircled Sido and Sitto in Jenin. The rain grinds the leaves into the grass and afterwards they get dry again. When I step on them they make a crunch sound better than any other sound in the world. I seek out the crunchiest leaves and step on them with my boot. I rake leaves and put them in a corner. The wind comes and picks them back up again. I get yelled at and told to control the leaves. I rake them into the street and hope they'll fall into the drainpipe and wash away. I come home from school and see them, dull brown in front of the house, like a pool of dried blood. I take grocery bags and fill them with leaves. The bags burst or tear. I think and think and think, and finally I get a garbage bag and stuff them all in.
Baba takes a bus home from work and at one stop sees a house split in half: a cross-section of a house. He stares at it and realizes it's a half-put-together mobile home a double wide, which means it's twice as big as his. He watches people outside work on it while the owners sit in the kitchen and drink tea. He thinks it's tea. The wife is in a robe as though the house were already put together. The husband is hanging a painting. Baba wonders if they're shooting a scene for a movie. He doesn't see any cameras. He imagines that he's got X-ray vision. He wonders if he should buy a double wide. And some cattle. And a gun. And a cowboy hat. And his dignity back.
Mama doesn't like the idea of a mobile anything. She wants a place with a foundation and the only wheels she wants should be on her car and her son's skateboard. And when did he become such a little punk skater? She fries potatoes and eggplant and zucchini and puts them in a colander. The colander is plastic and it melts. She throws it away and takes out a back issue of Awake! She doesn't want the mobile home. She never again wants to hitch her home onto a car and drive away and flee. Mama wants to stay in one place. She arranges the potatoes in the glass baking-dish. She layers lamb meat and tomato sauce on top. She arranges the eggplant. She pours more red sauce. Zucchini. Lamb. She sautés flour in oil, adds milk and cheese, boils the béchamel sauce and ladles it on top of the layers. The music is blasting from down the long hall. The kitchen is directly next to the girl's room on the left and the boy's room on the right. Mama hears Gamal rapping about something "is over, the bridge is over" and Nidali singing about "with the lights out something is less dangerous." She opens the oven door and slides dinner onto the middle rack. Mama imagines that she is in a movie and that a cross-section of her house is being filmed, with her daughter on the left side of the screen singing, her son on the right rapping, and her in the middle. Like a moving train. And in the scene, she wipes her brow and says out loud the thing she is thinking: "I can't tell which one of those kids has a bigger identity crisis."
Excerpted from A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar. Copyright © 2008 by Randa Jarrar. Excerpted by permission of Other Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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