from They Will Drown in Their Mothers' Tears by Johannes Anyuru
One. She knows she is Muslim. Two. Swedes have killed Muslims in some sort of camp. Three. There's this name, not hers, but it means something: Liat—someone she loved. Four. Swedes are pretending it's peace time, and that the death camps don't exist. Five. She has talked it all through with Amin, trying to figure it out.
Hamad arrives. Snow blows in through the door that's slamming shut. He and Amin shaved off their beards the night before, and his bare cheeks makes her think of a bird skull—he looks bony and cruel. He's wearing a black quilted jacket and a blue beanie with the logo of an American hockey team on it—a shark—he takes it off and stuffs it in his pocket. By the cash register, he puts a black gym bag down at his feet.
Thirty or so people are now in the shop, standing around in groups or sitting on folding chairs, their outerwear balled in their arms. Christian Hondo, the shop owner, a long-haired man in a worn yellow T-shirt, turns on the microphone. Feedback wails from the two loudspeakers that have been set out for the event.
"I suppose it's time to say hello and welcome to you all." The voice sounds flat and booming, doubled, as it spills from the speakers.
Göran Loberg emerges from a door behind the cash register. The audience turns around expectantly, their attention verges on devotional.
Loberg is older than Hondo, around sixty, stooped and weatherbeaten. She notices something hard about his mouth, contempt or ire. Bushy white hair, plaid shirt. He puts a notebook and pen on the table.
"We're here to discuss your latest project," says Hondo, "The Prophet: your collected satirical comic strips, which were published weekly online, and which contain caricatures of the prophet Mohammed and other, shall we say...objects of blasphemy?"
Göran Loberg nods and scratches his stubble, his entire being emanates sloppiness and a flighty disinterest in himself and his surroundings. She's at the back of the venue. She misses some of what they're saying. It sounds like they're in another room, like their voices don't match their bodies. Floating sounds.Hondo unrolls a poster. Holds it up for the audience to see.
A group of turban-wearing hook-nosed men are bent in prayer, cruise missiles stuck in their anuses.
It's like she's out of body, watching herself, like in a dream.
The bomb vest is strapped tightly across her chest.
One. She can't remember her name. Two. She doesn't remember her real parents, who she has reason to believe have been murdered. Three. When she looks in the mirror she sees the wrong face. Four. She gets a feeling, like right now as she's looking at this picture, that she's been here before, here where an important event, an historic event, is being re-staged.
She notices that Amin has come in and positioned himself by the front door. His face is slick with sweat even though he's just come in from the cold. Several people in the shop seem worried about the young man, miserable and marked for death, and whisper to each other. Amin glances in her direction but pretends not to recognize her.
She goes over to him.
"Amin," she hisses. He ignores her, unsure of how to react: the plan was to spread out in the venue and wait for it to fill up. They are absolutely not supposed to talk to each other.
"Amin. Amin." He doesn't even look at her. Reluctantly he lets her grab his hand. She weaves her fingers into his, squeezes. "Everything is wrong." She's not sure what she means by that. "Amin, everything is wrong."