I picked up the phone after the third ring. I didn't want my parents or my brother, my tall angry brother to get to it before I did. I knew it was Ahmed calling. He calls everyday at the same time and we agree on where to meet. He calls me after iftar in Ramadan, the holy month. This time, I was holding a glass of red hibiscus. My mother prepares hibiscus juice every day. It was the traditional Ramadan drink along with abri, or what I call paper juice. When you soak its leaves in water, they look like little pieces of shredded paper.
" It feels great to be stuffed with good food! " he said before I could even say a word.
I laughed and I remembered listening to him complain the whole time on the phone. He swears he is going to break his fast every single day, but for some odd reason, he never does.
He thinks it is pointless to fast since he doesn't pray .
I told him to fast for the poor and hungry.
" Let's meet next to the green mosque in 45 minutes" he said. I imagined him smiling in his room.
" What should I tell my parents? what should I tell my brother? He still lives in the 11th century! " I argued defensively.
" Tell them you are going to pray tarweeh....tell them you need some alone time with god. It's next to your house, they wouldn't be too worried" he said. I hated him for always having the best excuses.
I felt like a child, he always tells me what to say and what to do.
" Ok, I will call you back in 10 minutes. Two rings means yes and one ring means no , ok? I have to go now, bye" .
I looked down at my hibiscus juice. For a second, I imagined it to be red wine. I've only seen women drinking wine in American movies. They looked so classy with their crystal glasses full of this dark red drink. Lips painted red , they took long slow sips , followed by flirty giggles. The men sitting next to them (usually very close), were usually unattractive. Now, I had to stop myself from thinking about wine and pretty American women with red lips . I scolded myself very quickly. I wagged my finger at myself , slightly attempting to imitate my bossy grandmother. I quickly reminded myself that it's Ramadan. It's Ramadan and I'm thinking about wine!
I said" I'm not going to be late. Tarweeh prayer only takes an hour, I think". I slipped into my black abaya and covered my hair with a black scarf. It was a chilly night , unusual in Omdurman. It was the blessings of the holy month, claimed my father .
I walked to the mosque next to my house, after three blocks of fancy houses built by Sudanese living abroad, I stopped for a second in front of the blue house, I didn't find it special because of its bizzare color. I've heard of purple houses, but blue? The house was shaped like a boat. Rumor has it, the owner was so obsessed with Titanic, he wanted to build his own Titanic. This was Sudan in 1998, there was absolutely nothing to do. Actually, I should avoid jumping to conclusions, we did have Titanic to watch, over and over again. I remember watching it. The endless sobbing when Leonardo Di Caprio died. I remember running upstairs , standing on the edge of my roof and screaming "I'm the queen of the world"
I took a quick turn after three blocks, I could see a big plot of empty land, where the boys play football on fridays.
I saw him. One hand in his pocket, the other hand was holding a cigarette. I remembered him telling me how much he craved a cigarette the whole day, he didn't mind not eating or drinking.
I imagined him placing a cigarette between his lips just a few seconds after the azan at sunset.
My Ahmed looked older. He exuded this energy you get from bus drivers in places like Sudan, exhausted and frustrated at the corrupt system that takes away 30% of their profit and the bad roads that cause their cars to break down in a matter of weeks.
He was back from the South, after high school, every dutiful Northern boy is sent to fight there. They were told it was their duty, after they take their final exams, they are huddled together like sheep on their way to the slaughterhouses a day before Eid starts.
Most of them, at the age of 15 and 16, don't know what they are going to face there and what they are fighting for or who they are fighting. Mothers stand far from the big trucks with bags full of sandwiches ,sweets and fresh juice, only to be turned away from the legendary Martyrs Square. The lucky few smuggle delicious tuna , falafel and braided cheese sandwiches, only to be caught later and forced to eat all the sandwiches in less than 10 minutes. When the poor kids throw up, the officer's hearts don't soften one bit, I tell you that. They don't budge, they don't give up tormenting young boys...... they stand there and yell "more, more,eat more" like Americans you see on tv cheering their friends at hot-dog eating contests.
" How was your hibiscus juice?", he asked.
I couldn't utter a single word.
" I think we should go pray, I thought about it and I don't want to cause you any problems. Your parents think you are there, if they asked your neighbors, you are going to be in trouble young lady"
I protested in silence.
I let him hold my hand as we walked in silence. I smiled to myself, my Ahmed was back and he was alive.