The fights are different. Baba and Mama no longer choke each other or argue. Sometimes Baba will throw a plate and that will be that. Sometimes I'll see him eating a sandwich he obviously madeuntoasted white bread, cheese, pitted olivesand wearing a creased shirt and a stained jacket. Sometimes I'll start walking to school and notice that the car is tilted sideways and when I peak inside I see Mama sleeping in her nightgown and I open the door and try to sound nonchalant while uttering a sentence like: "Hi Mama, do you have keys to get back inside our house?" At their worst, Baba stands at the doorstep with all his clothes packed into brown rectangles and Mama comes outside, tries to negotiate, gets rebuffed and goes back inside. Baba glances at his watch now and again and cusses the long-awaited pimp of a cabdriver, then folds his arms against his chest. During these Camp David-esque scenes, I play Jimmy Carter to Mama and Baba's Begin and Sadat (respectively). Baba is Sadat standing outside his Camp David bunker like an unsatisfied lover, spawning a truce. I am Cartersucceed in bringing them back together for an agreementand like Carter, I have an ulterior motive: to be rewarded by going down in history as a phenomenal dealmaker.
If and when you receive an anonymous letter saying your daughter sucks dicks, don't automatically believe it and beat the shit out of her. She doesn't. She was, technically, raped. She won't tell you this because you're strict. And when you beat her up, for the nine thousandth time, she will dare you to kill her. She doesn't want to live the life you've come all the way to America to give her. She doesn't want to live it. Reminding her how many hours you work so she can eat Oreos will not work. Attempts to gain recognition from a teenager rarely work, especially when said teenager is in a headlock. Neighbors in America don't call the cops when they see their Arab neighbor chasing his daughter around the house with a knife. But don't be surprised when your daughter runs out of the house after you're done beating her up and calls the cops. The cops will take pictures of her bruises and the marks your hands and fingers left behind in all the red places. She will take you to court. Parents in America can't get away with Everything. She will drop charges against you. She will assume you've learned your lesson. Daughters in America can teach their parents lessons. Cops in America don't like Arabs and they definitely don't like Arabs who hit their teenage daughters and chase them around the house with knives. But they'll eventually drop the charges.
It's hard to buy a house when you have a criminal record.
One weekend morning they all wake upfor a reason they can't figure outexceptionally early. They scratch their heads and look at their clocks one more time. 5:20 AM. Is it really 5:20? Mama and Nidali make breakfast and they all eat together, quite civilized. Baba brings the chimenea up to the porch and puts logs in it and he and Gamal try to light them for half an hour. Finally Baba pours Drakkar cologne on them and they light up beautifully, warm up the front of the house. They drink hot chocolate and watch a football game, even though they all hate football. When night falls and their tummies rumble again, Waheed suggests that they go out for dinner, so they all put their coats on and get in the Olds, and Mama puts on some Billie Holiday. "What should I care how much it may storm," she sings. "I've got my love to keep me warm." The first place they go to is closed. So is the second; so is the third. Come to think of it, everywhere is closed, even Whataburger, and there's no one else on the street. Theirs is the only car on the main avenue. Baffled, they go home and Mama cooks a turkey she found on sale last night for twenty-nine cents a pound. They eat it and watch more football and fall asleep on the couch and on the floor and wake up the next day to Gamal's friend calling to find out what he did for Thanksgiving.
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.
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From NYT bestselling author Ann Leary
The captivating story of an unconventional New England family.
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