Randa JarrarUSAWriting2012
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Beirut 39 Project Fellow, with Alliance of Artists Communities

 

 

AT THE ABANDONED HOUSE near the woods, Gil told his mother stories. At first Aya felt queasy watching his lips curving around words, but then the words birthed sentences, the sentences becoming images, scenes, fables and dreams, and she cradled him in her arms as he spoke. She sat in the swept, pillowed corner she liked to recline in when she was still pregnant. She noticed an iris-shaped spot of dark wood on the floor by her feet, the spot winking at her. She liked to think the spot watched and protected them both, because by now she was aware that it was no dream, that her boy could speak, and not just speak, but orate, perform, lie, storytell.


“There was once a girl,” he said, “who lost her accent. She lost him many years ago, in her scrambling effort to assimilate. She was eight and her mother had just died, and everyone was giving her unwanted attention. And the girl simply could not afford be frizzy-headed, orphaned, and accented.


“One night, she made the accent sleep outside the bedroom.

“Then, she kicked him out to the front hallway.


“Then she made him stand by the apartment door.


“Then, outside, in the shared corridor.


“Then, across the street.


“Farther and farther until he stopped coming around. The first few days, she felt guilty and put up LOST signs; stapled them onto tree trunks next to rock show posters and weight-loss fliers. She sometimes thought she saw him in the dark, crossing the main road.


“Eventually, the girl grew up, finished high school, got a job, and she forgot about him, until years later.


“She set off one evening searching for him. She knew she would have to look in the nighttime, because her accent was fierce and social and loved to party. That was how she liked to picture her accent.


“She searched in restaurants, because she knew he loved to be surrounded by friends, cigarettes, drinks, and food. She went to Georgia and looked for him in soul food joints, but no one had seen a customer of his description. She searched in falafel shops, in sushi bars, in pizza places; she looked in Greek restaurants, the woman’s face behind the Saganaki’s brandy flame shaking no. She scoured Chinese restaurants, bar-b-que places out in Texas where the line starts at eight in the morning; she looked under tables where she used to hide with her accent when her parents caught her hanging out in cheap restaurants after school with boys. But her accent was still hiding, because she couldn’t find him there. She tried bagel shops on the Upper West Side; on her toes she searched for the tip of his hair at crowded French bistros and Iranian restaurants, even inside their cylindrical clay ovens.


That’s when she knew she’d been looking in the wrong place.


“She went back. She visited the soul food joints, but this time she tried in the kitchen. ‘That guy!’ the kitchen staff said, ‘he left years ago.’ She searched in falafel shops, in sushi bars, in pizza places; they all said that her accent had worked there for a few weeks then disappeared. She looked in Greek restaurants, the woman’s face behind the Saganaki’s flame shaking yes this time, and that it was a tragedy because he made the best moussaka; people and their kids came in just for that. She went through Chinese restaurants, bar-b-que joints in the Texas hill country where people line up at eight in the morning; and those people had heard of him, said they missed her accent’s smoked ribs the most. She tried bagel shops on the Upper West Side, and the owners told her her accent’s funny lilt was like Yiddish; that he schmeared bagels for his customers so right they wanted only him. She searched for his apron at crowded French bistros and the head chef, a beautiful man named Ramon, told her in his accent, that her accent was a good chef, but that he was lonely. ‘I think the last time I saw him, he was packing up to go back home,’ Ramon said, swallowing the ends of his words. ‘He never told us where that was, because he didn’t remember. He said his home was the ocean and the sewer, the birdsongs of little girls’ teasing and bitter tears. He said he was going for a search.’


“Ramon poured her a glass of Fumé Blanc when she cried. ‘Mija,’ he said, ‘I hope to God I never, ever, ever lose my accent.’ And he pronounced it loose.”