Read Maps Online

Authors: Nuruddin Farah


Copyright © 1986, 199, 2012 by Nuruddin Farah

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available on file.

ISBN: 978-1-61145-499-4



From a Crooked Rib
A Naked Needle

Variations on the Theme
of an African Dictatorship

Sweet and Sour Milk
Close Sesame

Blood in the



To Muxammad
my eldest brother
and trusted counsellor


Living begins when you start doubting everything that came before you,



The germs of
developed in the soil of my mind as germs generally do, although as a necessary ingredient of its culture. I introduced various organisms from other bacteria grown in other brains, other earths. Obviously, it is an impossible task to name all my sources. However, prominent among these are
The Wise Wound
by Peter Redgrove and Penelope Shuttle (Routlege & Kegan Paul Ltd) and
The Epic in Africa
by Isidore Okpewho (Columbia University Press).

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of Jos, Nigeria, from whom I received much help and encouragement when, for two academic years, 1981-1983, I was attached to the Department of English as Visiting Reader. It was during this period that I wrote not only a full-length play but also the first version of
. However, when doing this final version, I was given generous moral and material assistance from my good friends Lenrie Peters, Liz D., Hewit, and Dr. Ogba—to whom my thanks.

Nuruddin Farah


No children for me. Give me grown-ups.

Charles Dickens



ou sit, in contemplative posture, your features agonized and your expressions pained; you sit for hours and hours and hours, sleepless, looking into darkness, hearing a small snore coming from the room next to yours. And you conjure a past: a past in which you see a horse drop its rider; a past in which you discern a bird breaking out of its shell so it will fly into the heavens of freedom. Out of the same past emerges a man wrapped in a mantle with unpatched holes, each hole large as a window—and each window large as the secret to which you cling as though it were the only soul you possessed. And you question, you challenge every thought which crosses your mind.

Yes. You are a question to yourself. It is true. You've become a question to all those who meet you, those who know you, those who have any dealings with you. You doubt, at times, if you exist outside your own thoughts, outside your own head, or Misra's. It appears as though you were a creature given birth to by notions formulated in heads, a creature brought into being by ideas; as though you were not a child born with the fortune or misfortune of its stars, a child bearing a name, breathing just like anybody else, a child whose activities were justifiably part of a people's past and present experience. You exist, you think, the way the heavenly bodies exist, for although one does extend one's finger and point at the heavens, one knows, yes that's the word, one
that that is not the heavens. Unless…unless there are, in a sense, as many heavens as there are thinking beings; unless there are as many heavens as there are pointing fingers.

At times, when your uncle speaks about you, in your presence, referring to you in the third person and, on occasion, even taking the liberty of speaking on your behalf, you wonder if your existence is readily differentiable from creatures of fiction whom habit has taught one to talk of as if they were one's closest of friends—creatures of fiction with whose manner of speech; reactions to situations; conditions of being; and with whose likes and dislikes one's folk-tradition has made one familiar. From your limited knowledge of literature, you feel you are a blood relation of some of the names which come to mind, leap to the tongue at the thought of a young boy whose name is Askar and whose prodigious imagination is capable of wealthy signs of precocity—because you are this young boy!

As you sit contemplatively, your mind journeys to a region where there were solid and prominent shadows which lived on behalf of
who had years before ceased to exist as beings. As you sit, your eyes open into themselves, the way blind people's eyes tend to. Then you become numb of soul: in other words, you are not yourself—not quite yourself anyway The journey takes you through numerous doorways and you are enabled to call back to memory events which occurred long before you were a being yourself. Your travel leads you through forests without any clearing, to stone steps too numerous to count, although when you reach the highest point, your exhaustion disappears the instant you see an old man, grey as his advanced years, negotiate the steps too. You remember now, that in the wake of the old man there was a girl, barely seven, following the old man as a goat follows a butcher, knowing what knives of destiny await it.

And you… !

You! You who had lain in wait, unwashed, you who had lain unattended to at birth. Yes, you lay in wait as though in ambush until a woman who wasn't expecting that you existed walked into the dark room in which you had been from the second you were born. You were a mess. You were a most terrible sight. The woman who found you described the chill of that dark room as a tomb. To her, the air suggested the dampness of a mortuary You cried at her approaching and wouldn't be calmed until she dipped you in the bathtub she had filled with warm water. Then she fed you on a draught of goat's milk Did anyone ever tell you what you looked like when the woman discovered you that dusk some eighteen years or so ago? No?

You wore on your head a hat of blood which made you look like a masked clown. And around your neck there were finger-stains, perhaps your mother's. (Nobody knows to this day whether she tried to kill you or no.) You displayed a nervous strain and you began to relax only when embraced either by another person or dipped in warm water. When you didn't cry, you searched, with your hands up in the air, for someone to touch.

When day broke, once the woman had shared the secret of her discovery with a few of the other neighbours, the men took over and they prepared your mother for burial Alone with you, Misra noticed that your eyes were full of mistrust. They focused on her, they stared at her hands suspiciously! Your eyes, she would say years later, journeyed through her, they journeyed beyond her, they travelled to a past of unfulfilled dreams: in short, your stare made her feel inadequate. There was an element of self-consciousness in the small thing I had found, she said. It was so self-conscious it moved its hands as though it would wipe away the mess it had been in; it moved its eyes, when not staring at me, she continued, as though to apologize for its shortcomings. And what eyes! What hands!

It was not long before you tasted in Misra a motherliness which reab-sorbed you, a motherliness in whose tight, warm embrace you felt joyous one second, miserable the following instant. Again, you would try to make contact and when she did her best to return it, you would appear startled and ready to withdraw, you would shun any contact with her completely and move away. She helped you minimize life's discomforts. She groaned with you when you moaned constipatedly; she helped you relieve yourself by fondling you, touching you and by telling you sweet stories, addressing you, although you were a tiny little mess of a thing, as “my man”, “my darlingest man”, or some such endearments which would make you feel wanted, loved and pampered.

In her company, you were ecstatic—there was no other word for it. Yes, you were visibly ecstatic. And you were noisy. You displayed your pleasures with the pomp and show one associates with the paranoid among kings. But then you could be quiet in her embrace too, reflective and thoughtful—so thoughtful that some of the neighbours couldn't believe their eyes, watching you pensively quiet, your eyes bright with visions only you could see. It was when she wasn't there, when you missed her presence, when you couldn't smell her maternal odour, it was then that you cried and you put your soul into crying. appearing as though possessed, looking satanically agitated and devilishly messy. Upon returning from wherever she had gone, she would dip you wholly in water, scrub you and wash you with the same devotion as she might have used when cleaning the floor of her room. The community of relations decided that Misra, the woman who once was a servant, would “mother” you. One thing ought to be said here—you were the one who made the choice the community of relations had to approve of; you, who were barely a week old. And Misra agrees with this statement. So, begrudgingly, would Uncle Qorrax in Kallafo.

When agitated, you stretched out your hands in front of you like a blind man in search of landmarks and if you touched someone other than Misra, you burst instantly into the wildest and most furious convulsive cry. But if Misra were there, you fell silent, you would touch her and then touch yourself. It seemed to her that you could discover yourself only in her. “By touching me, he knows he is there,” she once confided in a man you were later to refer to as Aw-Adan.

There was something maternal about the cosmos Misra introduced you to from the day it was decided you were her charge, from the moment she could call you, in the privacy of the room allotted to the two of you, whatever endearments she mustered in her language. But to her you were most often “my man” or variations thereof—especially whenever you wet yourself; especially when washing you, touching and squeezing your manhood or wiping, rather roughly, your anus. Occasionally, however, she would gently spank you on the bottom and address you differently. But she always remained maternal, just like the cosmos, giving and giving. “While,” she said to you, “man is the child receiving into himself the cosmos itself, the cosmos grows larger, like a hole, the more she gives.” Admittedly this was something impenetrable to your own comprehension. To you, whether what she said made sense or no, she
the cosmos. She was the one that took you away from “yourself”, as it were, she was the one who took you back into the world-of-the-womb and of innocence, and washed you clean in the water of a new life and a new christening, to produce in you the correct etches of a young self, with no pained memories, replacing your missing parents with her abundant self which she offered generously to you—her newly rediscovered child! And you?

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