Where’s that accent from?
The taxi-driver needs to know. I hate this question, so I say it’s a long story (which is a lie it’s more like many short ones), and he says nobody is born in a long story. So, I tell him about ghosts:
‘It’s past the scorpions’ bedtime, and Sputnik is lost. They don’t walk him during the day because of the neighbours’ comments, and now he’s run off. The moon is skewed to one side. The desert reeks of hyssop and goat dung. When the jackals howl, they worry more.
‘Sit down,’ she says. ‘Here. Dry your nose. We’ll wait.’
‘I don’t like the ghosts,’ he says and points at the hills.
‘They’re not ghosts.’
‘Then why are they blinking?’
‘It’s just some… phenomenon… because it’s so hot here. They’re normal places. See, that’s an army base, and that’s an enemy village’.
He stops crying, but she knows the truth: the people of ghost-towns switch their lights on and off all night. Their souls fall out of windows as they try to illumine the dark. Their faces twitch, dissolving into nothing and re-appearing, a million times a day. Their dinner plates blink in and out of vision. Ghost-people flicker like the static after the unintelligible evening broadcast, or like when she repeats words like ‘enemy’ or ‘borders’, or like the time when they walked in a deserted village and there were fig trees and pomegranates, and they ran into one of the houses, and it was all clean and quiet, and her head filled with a buzzing noise.
Two months ago, her world heaved and cracked, new land masses, emerged, stubborn and mournful. And Sputnik, crazy for the new smells, is the only one who liked the move’.
The taxi driver says he doesn’t know what to make of it and asks me to go back to the start. He has all the time in the world; the traffic is clogged for life, so I agree:
In the beginning there were second-hand clothes. They came in heaps of colour and mothballs; they were free; they were free for you because you needed them. The place was cramped with fast moving women. The women shouted: they needed skirts, blouses, tights, and fashionable tunics. But these words had no meaning anymore, so they stampeded. The attendants—those Barbarians who made strange sounds—backed away in disgust. You got caught between a heap of clothes and your compatriot. She came closer, her breath hot on your neck. She hurled her words at the mute attendants, shrieking at her new wrong world: ‘I need Yubka, Yubka, Yubka’.
You tried to gather clothes with dignity, and you got shouted at for being slow. You stuffed your new scraps into plastic bags and carried them across the lawns waking the sprinklers. The sprinklers moved their heads from side to side, but you looked down, because, even though it was still dark and early times of your new existence, other kids were already watching you.
Telling this story makes me shrink in size until I drown in the seat. The taxi-driver has lost interest, turned on the radio. We are in the underground parking, deep in the earth. I tell him the story about hunters:
At the edge of the forest, our elders waited as we hunted for words. The forest hid raves, people with stone faces and dances of metal. The elders ate the words raw, dripping with blood. It was almost my turn. Scarrgh I would bring, or poulnis, or kaylunjgil.
They flung us to a new place. There, language spread for miles. There were no more hunts. We walked out in a sulk and returned covered in dust, a few scraggly words sticking to our clothes.
And now, after many years, I find it hard to talk to my mom.