Mama figures it out: they are living in a mobile home. A neighbor one day notes that "this is such a nice trailer, in such good shape." Mama doesn't know how she'll take her revenge on Baba. She wants to end this, to divorce his ass, even if symbolically, like the many times he's orally divorced her. She remembers something she read once about pre-Islamic women. She calls her piano tuner, who owns a truck, and while he hitches the trailer onto his truck, she tapes the cupboards, drawers, and bookshelves shut and takes all the mirrors off their hinges. Then, she takes his keys and does it herself: turns the trailer around so that instead of facing west, it now faces east. And when Baba comes home, hea poet who reveres pre-Islamic poetrywill remember how Jahilia's women turned their tents around when they wanted to divorce their husbands. And he'll stand on the front "borch," now the back porch, and laugh a big, huge, Texas-sized laugh.
At the supermarket, which is where Mama and I get along best, they are selling holiday items seventy percent off. Mama leafs through them apathetically while I discreetly place a Marilyn ornament, featuring a pose from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, into my left pocket, and a Wonder Woman ornament, featuring a fighting-evil-while-revealing-cleavage pose, into my right. Mama sighs and almost gives up on the discount items until something catches her eye: round, light brown, and dotted with reds and greens. Mama leaps for it, breathing lustily, "Oh, ze cake with ze frooooooooooooot." The entire grocery storeits every customer, employee, bagger, butcher, stockeris staring at us. Mama piles the fruitcakes into the cart and people are looking as though she's loading up on hand grenades.
Mama buys a real Christmas tree for Christmas from a miniature forest in a parking lot. The man helps haul it to the Olds and straps it to the roof like the rug we strapped to the roof of our old car when we fled the war. Mama drives through rain badly and loses the tree halfway down the road. She flags down a truck driver who helps her put it back up on the roof, tying it tight, tying it on for dear life.
Mama arrives with it intact except it's missing some of its branches where it was tied down so tight. Gamal and I help her get it into the house and prop it up in a corner. It won't stay, keeps wavering and falling like a furry bum who's had too much bourbon. Later, we go to the store for ornaments and find a box that says "tree holder." We collectively mutter, "O-O-OH."
Baba comes home on the bus. He washes his hands and then sniffs around. He starts to sneeze. He sneezes one sneeze after another. He goes to the living room and sees the tree in the corner and blinks twice.
"Is that a fucking tree in my house?" he says.
"Yes," Mama says.
"Why? We are not Christians or pagans. We are not going to start celebrating Christmas now after years of not celebrating it. And I am allergic to it." Baba squints. "Am I imagining this or does it have a waist?"
"It has a waist," Gamal says.
"The man tied it too tight to the car," Mama says.
"Get it out," he says.
"No," we all say, the way we'd said oh in the store. "NO-O-OH."
"Damn you, I said get it out," Baba says.
"This is a democratic nation," Mama says. "Three against one."
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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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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