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PUD (Week 2)
Here are the words I pulled from my Personal Universe Deck this week: man, salt, novel, beach,discourse,baby. 

Old Songs

beach and flag

New, the way the shadow closed over her chest, the way she opened her eyes in surprise just before father placed his hand over her mouth and motioned for silence.  New, the moon casting its shadows over the rows of tents as father led her toward the central lane.

“It’s late,” Anjum said as Baba pulled her along.

Baba’s paced only quickened. As they walked, Anjum separated the sounds she heard; the shushing waves of the Mediterranean, the far off cry of a lone gull, her father’s boots scrabbling over the dirt road, her own heartbeat in her ears.  She made a rhythm of all of it.  She’d made music out of the repetitious all of her short life.  Her music, the novel she wrote herself each morning to make sense of the bombs, the shouts, the quickening of her mother’s cries.  Hurriedly packing suitcases.  Cooking rice for strangers in the dead of the night, her mother giving three quick shakes, resting, three quick shakes, resting, as the grains browned in the one pan they brought from the old house.

Old, the life she had before. In school she raised her hand and the teacher called on her to speak.  Anjum knew school answers, answers to give when the question was asked.  Now the only answer was the rhythm.  The questions ran away before Anjum could catch them.  Old, Anjum played in the shadow of her parents’ tent with her little brother.  He should still know how to play, she thought.  I play for him.

Anjum’s Oud lay on the bed she left behind in the room with solid walls.  She prayed that it would be there for her if she ever went home.  One day if she ever went back to her old home.  Once, Anjum asked her mother about going home, but the salt had risen in Mama’s eyes, and Anjum had quit asking. She was never going back to the old home again, never playing her instrument again, never singing the old songs to the old men in her home town again.  She knew this was true.  She knew it by the way the adults cut conversations and slanted their eyes when she came near.

As they hurried along the road, others joined them.  Anjum saw they were walking toward the main relief tent. Daily, Anjum stood in the tent holding a plate of food from the hands of strangers.  She sat at one of the long tables and ate with all the others. Her little brother often remarked on the food, saying, “It’s good today,” or “I liked yesterday’s better.”  She ate what was in front of her. Her taste buds had flown out of her mouth at the same time as the songs.

Baba pulled her into the middle of the tent, and to her surprise the room, now full of grown-ups, quieted.  He looked to Anjum and pointed.  There, in the center of the tent, an old man sat upon a folding chair.  In his lap, he held an Oud.  Baba squatted and made his eyes match Anjum’s.  She knew what he wanted.

“Baba, I can’t,” she said.

“You can, Anjum. You must.”  Baba’s eyes pleaded.

She tightened her mouth.  “No,” she pronounced.  Baba took her shoulders and leaned in to kiss her forehead.  Then he spoke.

“I shield you from this if I can.  But you have a gift.  Anjum. Look. If you cannot look at all these people, look at this one man.  This one here.” He held her chin and turned it toward a man sitting near the center of the circle of people.  He was pale as tenting. His hands shook in his lap. His eyes bled sorrow. “This man, this morning, had a wife. He had a child.”

She looked at Baba. “I don’t know if it will come out anymore.”

Baba smiled.  “You can try, Anjum.”  He didn’t wait for her answer to lift her unto a table.  The old songs opened her chest as the old man started to play.

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