Shortly after midnight the young man ascends the steep, narrow street. An orange cat sits on a broken wall and turns away its head as he walks past. The last of the old men have not yet deserted their posts along the shuttered houses and the heat of the day is still radiating upwards from the cracked tar through the thin leather sandals into the soles of the young man’s feet.
With his destroyed right hand he fumbles the key into the lock, refusing to give in to the temptation to use his good hand instead. This is training, he tells himself.
He still loves the smells of the place: flour and yeast, honey and spices. And underneath it all a hint of mildew and the sour tang of milk gone bad.
Before he puts on the kettle to prepare his tea, before he takes up the broom to start his working night, to make ready the place for his master, for the satisfying labour of bringing bread to the tables of the neighbourhood, bread, and sweets, before all that he puts the silvery disc in the old CD-Player and presses play.
The reader’s voice fills the work space, takes him away to the rolling hills and languidly meandering paths of the English language, a soothing recourse to the harsh, gusty dryness of the Arabic of his days.
And then the reader says the word.
Hoof. When I learned your language, so far away, in the neat, small school room, in long winter mornings that could have been on a different planet, I was taught that the double-o is pronounced long, like roof, and food. Hoof. That was how it took root in my head, until the day when you put the boots on my hands – they were both still whole then – and called them my piggy hooves, and I learned that it sounded almost like huff, like puff, to bring down my roof, so rough, but with love in your voice.
You put the rubber gloves on your hands when you knelt down next to me, in the muddy patch, and started feeding me the rotting offal strewn onto the wet ground.
Before I knew your name, you had taught me to call you Bastard, and you loved to be one. You never learned my real name, only a succession of preposterous aliases, but before you knew even the first of those, you taught me that I was your Cunt, and I loved that, too.
For so many years I hated my daddy, hated him with all the venom I could muster, condemned my own soul in the hellfire of that hatred, until you called yourself my Daddy. All my life I fought to prove that I was a boy, a boy, and not soft, not weak, not a girl. You taught me to want to be your girl.
You taught me a new language in which I made you happy when I cried, in which it showed strength when I was weak, in which love meant no longer hiding the hatred, in which the pain grew less the more we shared it, in which life meant to embrace death, and death meant to finally accept life.
You took away my old words and replaced them with new ones. You stole all my definitions, all my pronunciations, and embedded yourself there instead.
I betrayed you in the end, like you had always known I would. I lied about everything except about that. I told you from the first time we talked that I was a thief, a deceiver, and that I would break your heart if only you let me.
You let me.
It has been one year since the young man has last spoken with his lover. This is a new country, a new world, a new life. Nothing is as it was. Nothing ever will be. He is a man now, a boy no longer. He will not look back.
He sits on the wooden bench and refuses to cry for a long time, as the language washes the illusions from his soul.