The Power of Words Issue

Fiction: The Peacock’s Feather

'The book had a feather.'

By Bushra Khalfan

Illustration: Canva.

When my mother placed me into the hands of Hajja Fatima, the wife of Hajj Ali, she told me that they were a good family, that they would take care of me and treat me like their own daughter, because they are people who fear the Lord. All that I had to do was be a good girl, and that my word should be ‘by God I will.’

My mother disappeared into the dust of the high passage that splits through Mount Seaali and connects Sadaab to Muscat, and then descended it to join her new husband in one of the distant villages on the coast. I went to Tawi al-Nill, where the young women bathe so that I could wash off the dust of the road put on a new dress that Hajja Fatima had taken from the case of her daughter Zamzam.

The dress was beautiful, and Zamzam did not protest that it was given to me, but she went on praising its cleanness and the beauty of the dress for many days after that.

Hajja Fatima, who, like Zamzam, had never gone on a hajj, trained me and taught me everything I know about housework. I learned from her how to clean the house, how to wash clothes so that they become clean and glimmering, and how to press them with my two small hands and smooth and fold them with care so that they can be free of wrinkles when they are worn. She also taught me how to cook, so that I became better than she at cooking Qabouli and baking Mardouf bread. She taught me how to greet the neighbours and guests, how to pour coffee into small cups, and how to make guests feel welcome without seeming nosey or anxious.

Translated from the Arabic by Sam Wilder.

This short story is part of The Power of Words Issue. To read this story in its entirety digitally click here to buy a digital copy of the issue.

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