Dates on My Fingers

Dates on My Fingers: An Iraqi Novel

MUHSIN AL-RAMLI
Translated by Luke Leafgren
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 192
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt15m7frd
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  • Book Info
    Dates on My Fingers
    Book Description:

    Saleem, fed up with all the violence, religiosity, and strict family hierarchies of his Iraqi village, flees to Spain to establish a new life for himself. But his lonely exile is turned upside down when he encounters his father, Noah, in a Madrid nightclub after not seeing him in more than a decade. Noah looks and acts like a new man, and Saleem sets out to discover the mystery of his father’s presence in Spain and his altered life. In doing so, he recalls formative moments in Iraq of familial love, war, and the haunting accidental death of his cousin Aliya, Saleem’s partner in the hesitant, tender exploration of sexuality. When the renewed relationship with his father erupts in a violent conflict, Saleem is forced to rediscover his sense of self and the hard-won stability of his life. Through Saleem’s experiences and reflections, the fast-paced narrative carries the reader between Spain and Iraq to a surprising resolution.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-552-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. CHAPTER 1
    (pp. 1-14)

    I wouldn’t have been able to write my family’s story and expose its shame if my father hadn’t encouraged me to do so while cutting my hair in his Madrid club. “Write whatever you want,” he said. “Nothing will happen worse than has already happened. This world is all fucked up.”

    At the time, I didn’t comment on what he had said, forced as I was to focus on his razor, which nearly took off the skin behind my ear.

    The story began on the day that my father, Noah, went with my sister Istabraq to the doctors in the...

  3. CHAPTER 2
    (pp. 15-25)

    I loved my father without understanding him. I sensed there was more than one Noah inside of him, but he was able to harmonize them perfectly.

    My mother’s duality, however, was clear. This made it all the easier to love her, even though I only realized the magnitude of my love for her when I was away from her, during my time in the army and now too in my exile. She was always there to absorb our anger, and to share in our pain and our joy. She always took care of preparing our food, washing our clothes, and...

  4. CHAPTER 3
    (pp. 26-35)

    Like the rest of my siblings, I never called him “Father” until I was ten, when I was able to make the distinction. Before then, we would call him by his first name, “Noah,” and we would call Grandfather “Father.” That was because Grandfather was the one who was always home with us.

    My father, on the other hand, was usually away, working in the oil companies in Kirkuk. He only came to us on weekends, carrying his bag filled with gifts, foreign books, and dirty clothes. Whenever Mother wanted to encourage us to work harder, she would say, “Look...

  5. CHAPTER 4
    (pp. 36-50)

    I didn’t leave my apartment the whole evening. I ate three eggs and some salad since I didn’t feel like cooking. I spent time thinking about my father and remembering, trying to work out what had happened so that I might understand my new father who was here. I got up more than once from my bed, heading to the kitchen to make coffee and smoke cigarettes in the window that overlooked the square courtyard, small and deep, enclosed by my building. Lines stretched between the windows for hanging out the wash to dry. In the courtyard below, there was...

  6. CHAPTER 5
    (pp. 51-69)

    After considering the matter in a halting, conflicted, and wavering way, I made up my mind not to sleep with Pilar. I would avoid falling into sin that night as far as I was able.

    I had never slept with anyone before her. Yet I wouldn’t let her know that I was still a virgin because she wouldn’t believe me. She would laugh, or she would be afraid, or I don’t know what. I was also afraid of God and Grandfather and Aliya. And my confusion, my lack of experience, and the likelihood of failure.

    I would be satisfied with...

  7. CHAPTER 6
    (pp. 70-87)

    I decided to go to my father’s club that evening too. I had to find a convenient opportunity to talk to him, or else we could agree on a time to meet. At the very least, I hoped that I would get to know him better.

    After coming to this decision, I went over to the kitchen window that looked out on the neighboring building. It had a shabby-looking roof on account of the pigeons having taken over its rain spouts for nests. I had tried so many times to destroy these nests with a broom handle, but they were...

  8. CHAPTER 7
    (pp. 88-99)

    I arrived at the club at a quarter to midnight in order to beat the rush. As with every other club, the dancing started after one o’clock and would continue until the first rays of dawn appeared to dispel the dark.

    Club Qashmars was in Veneras Street, on the left-hand side as you approach (as I always did) from Plaza de Santo Domingo. It was in the basement of an old building, and it may have been used as a storage basement at first and during the days of the Spanish Civil War. But at some point along the way,...

  9. CHAPTER 8
    (pp. 100-114)

    I couldn’t fall asleep until very late. I stayed up smoking and recalling what had happened, what I had learned that day about my father. So, he still had the Qur’an memorized. And he was proud to confess Grandfather’s method of naming in our family, which he considered to be names chosen for us by God.

    He had made Fatima memorize the Cow Sura, yet he spanked her whenever she passed by him. And it was he who had raged like a bull and turned our entire life upside down on account of a guy grabbing my sister Istabraq’s butt....

  10. CHAPTER 9
    (pp. 115-124)

    I woke to someone ringing the bell from the main door. I looked at the alarm clock next to my head and saw that it was quarter to six in the morning. I got up and went over to the receiver for the door phone. “Yes, who is it?” I asked.

    A voice came to me: “It’s me, Fatima. I’m sorry to disturb you, but I need to talk to you. It’s urgent.”

    “Oh! Fatima. Come on up. Come on up! I’m on the fifth floor.”

    I left the door open and heard her steps coming up the bottom flights...

  11. CHAPTER 10
    (pp. 125-132)

    I stood in front of the door to my father’s apartment, filled with uncertainty. My heart and my breath were both racing. I strained my ears to hear what was going on behind the door. Nothing. Just silence. Should I ring the doorbell? Should I pound on the door with my fist? Should I steal away and escape? Or should I just open the door and go in? Perhaps that was the very reason Fatima had given me the key. But how could I enter a house unannounced? That was not something I had done since leaving our home in...

  12. CHAPTER 11
    (pp. 133-141)

    The village buried its sons’ bodies. Then it submitted to the orders of the government, whose institutions applied the pressure necessary to rapidly transform it into a normal village like all other Iraqi villages.

    “There was some satisfaction in burying Grandfather at the highest point of the cemetery. They put green banners above his tomb, as well as jars of salt for visitors seeking a blessing to lick. The sick would cut strips from the banners at his grave to tie around their necks or forearms, like consecrated amulets. The people were satisfied as to Grandfather’s heavenly reward, he who...

  13. CHAPTER 12
    (pp. 142-149)

    I certainly didn’t think anything at that moment. I just reeled from the sudden shock. My father, who clearly noticed my surprise, didn’t insist upon hearing my immediate impression, nor did he object when I changed the subject. I invited him to come out with me and pretended to focus my thoughts on resolving Rosa’s fury.

    He said, “You go ahead to the club and wait for me there while I call her now. We’ll see what happens.”

    I found the club’s outside door half-open. I stuck my head in and called to Fatima, whose voice came back to me:...

  14. CHAPTER 13
    (pp. 150-164)

    When he heard my assent, I saw his eyes flash with a restrained desire to jump up and shout for joy. He reached for his wallet and said, “Take a plane to Barcelona. It’s faster and more comfortable.” But I’m one of those people who prefer traveling by train.

    It makes me feel as though I possess the freedom for long reflection, which flows easily with the rhythm of the train’s motion as it darts through various landscapes. How pleasant it is to sit near the window, looking out at the movement of the ground and the trees, rivers, hills,...

  15. CHAPTER 14
    (pp. 165-175)

    There are people who are happiest when living in a constant state of activity. That’s why they talk about many projects, even if these projects will never see the light of day. They fill their closely scheduled time by lining up promises, appointments, and engagements that are only words. Some of these people appear very busy when actually they are not, for at the very least, making you think they are pressed for time gives them a feeling of importance.

    On the other hand, there are people, such as myself, who prefer the details of their lives to be clear...

  16. CHAPTER 15
    (pp. 176-185)

    When Fatima came that evening, she found me completely naked, submerged in the bathtub. After my father had slapped me and slammed the door behind him, I remained lying on the floor for a while, sobbing. His palm had paralyzed my face. I reached out to the lowest of the pictures and pulled it down. I began to rip the pictures off the wall and tear them up, bitterly running on at the mouth, “ I don’t want a homeland. May God damn it and everything else! I’ve only known pain there, and I’ve only carried pain away with me....

  17. CHAPTER 16
    (pp. 186-193)

    After we left the mosque following last Friday’s prayers, my father shook my hand. “May your prayers be acceptable in God’s sight!” he said, giving the customary blessing. “Thank you, Saleem.” After he was quiet for a while, he added, “I didn’t expect to find so many Muslims here, or this beautiful mosque.”

    He was calm, as though his heart were made of still water. A halo of spiritual contentment clearly enveloped him. I felt at the time that I had regained my father, finding him much as I remembered him to be. So I decided to stop digging up...

  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 194-196)