Jamila

by Carmel Reid Mawle Read author interview October 2, 2011

The first time I went to kill my sister I couldn’t do it. She saw me walking up the road and called to me, her black eyes held my smile as she took my hand. She was cooking my favorite dessert, sheer korma, and the sweet aroma of cardamom softened my spine. Her husband welcomed me into their home, invited me to share their meal. They wanted to hear about my plans for school. Jamila said I would honor the family by becoming a doctor, not a farmer with dirty feet and old-fashioned ideas like Father. She had refused Father’s marriage arrangements, shamed our family, but my sister was happy. She sat with the chair pushed far from the table, placed my hand on her stomach to feel the baby’s foot through her cotton kameez. This baby, from a husband of her own choosing, a marriage of love. Tell Father his grandson is growing to be big and strong like him, she said.

Father said Jamila spoiled me. Maybe she did. I was her youngest brother. The only son who survived. Jamila would hide an extra sweetmeat for me, make up stories while I ate. She helped me memorize my first surah and we surprised Father with it. He didn’t remember that. She was the one who bandaged my cuts and scrapes, pulled splinters out with her teeth. Laughed when I chased the goats. The uncles said it didn’t matter, that she must be punished.

The second time I went to kill my sister, she didn’t see me. Jamila was sweeping the kitchen, hunched over with her legs splayed, her blue kameez pulled tight across her back. I thought she would fall forward, away from me, but her knees crumpled first. She fell backwards, her hand quivering as blood spread on the clean floor. Her eyes were open. I stepped into their home to make sure I had killed her. I didn’t want my sister to hurt. The one who washed my feet and kissed me good night.

Jamila’s eyes were open, staring at the white stone ceiling. Her black hair had slipped from under her hijab. I tucked it back in, brushed away a fly. And then I heard him call, the baby, calling first to his mother and then to me. Habib, my beloved, he called. The baby knew my name, its meaning. Let me out, Habib. Jamila’s stomach moved, the baby pushing, kicking at the graying flesh. Habib, let me out, he called. I laid my hand against her kameez, still damp with the sweat of her labor. Felt the pounding of the tiny fist. Let me out, Habib, beloved. One more bullet, the crack muffled against her blue cotton. I waited to see if the baby would say anything else. He was quiet. Jamila was quiet. Her eyes were open, but she didn’t see me.

Outside these walls, the sun is shining with honor. The uncles raise their fists, karo-kari. Father smiles, says I am a man now. Inside, the air is thick, murky. I hear the call of prayer as if from the bottom of a well. The striped square of sunlight swims across the opposite wall from salat al-fair to salat al-isha, pushes through the dense shadows. I’ll be out in less than six months, the uncles say. I’ll be out in time to help Father take in the harvest.

About the Author:

Carmel Reid Mawle lives in Colorado and studies writing at the Denver Lighthouse Writers Workshop. She is currently working on a collection of short stories, poems and essays based on research for a novel-in-progress which incorporates the history, politics, religion, spirituality and traditions of England and the Middle East.

About the Artist:

Gay Degani is the content editor at Smokelong Quarterly. She has had three of her flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize. Her suspense novel, What Came Before, was published in 2014.  Founder and editor emeritus of Flash Fiction Chronicles, she blogs at Words in Place where a complete list of her published work can be located.