My flesh is my uniform, keep the flags for those who sleep in’em
don’t you gimme a gun, I’ll be making a spring wreath out of it
and using wooden sticks to make some music.
I don’t have weapons, I have tools;
my voice, some smiles, a pencil and lots of dreams,
you know, I’ll ask the enemy if he wants some of my bread,
and if he says “no”, I will let him go.
I’ll sing loud enough to cover the sound of bullets taking the lives
of men,and women,and children who asked for no war,
I’ll be dancing with my fellow soldiers, I’ll teach them some
latin moves, and we’ll be mocking you, Sir, for sending us to war, Sir,
so your bank account will grow bigger, Sir.
Cause this is not what I asked for, Sir,
and I refuse to embrace death and hatred and violence,
I can only write words, Sir
and I smile, a lot!, Sir,
I cannot destroy what I love, Sir
I’m a woman, I give Life, Sir.
At war, I would be a horrible soldier, Sir.
A whore named George
She had the look of someone who was done with life; as if life as a whore was plain. She had tasted the fluids of many men, heard the names of many women as they came. No one had called out hers.
“I’m not tired. I don’t feel sorry for myself. I would have killed myself by now if I did. I’m a man who wears make-up and skirts and high-heels, I had to sell my ass to pay rent. Would I have done it differently? I don’t know. At 17, I only wanted to be free. I didn’t feel free as George, I didn’t feel free at home. I was nothing more than a naïve little boy who thought that people wouldn’t mind that I had a penis behind my skirt. I feel lucky though, I’m still alive at 53. None of my friends made it. Some took their own lives, others overdosed, others threw away their skirts and killed themselves while pretending to be happy. Was I ever happy? I’ve had my moments. I even fell in love. Four times. Four times I believed I had found the one who would have saved me from this life; that was before I turned thirty. I didn’t work on the night of my 30th birthday. I blew out three candles; one for each decade I had endured. I blew out another one before I slept; it was a sort-of goodbye to my lovers. And that was it. No more love for me. Do I love someone? I loved everyone who was ever important in my life. And my parents, I love them even though they are gone. I used to go by my house in the early hours of the morning, after work. I still had my key and sometimes when I was hungry I would sneak in and have a taste of my mum’s food. Six years after I left home I discovered my sister had given birth to a little girl; I saw the picture in the frame. There were still pictures of me in the house but the one I took a few weeks before leaving home had a candle next to it. Every time I went in the candle was lit. I think my mum knew it was me who sneaked in, she would have changed the locks otherwise. She would still cook my favorite dish every Saturday. I mostly sneaked in on Saturdays, not only because of the chicken though; men went holy on Saturdays; they’d go to church on Sundays. I sometimes went to church too, I wanted to see my parents, I wished they would see me so they could see I wasn’t dead. Maybe they did think I was dead, I don’t know. They never saw me, but I saw them a few times. I can’t blame them for not accepting me. God had given them a son and they loved me so much. They had dreams and expectations; a wife and a career and kids and grandchildren and family Sundays. At least my sister fulfilled their dream. You know, I didn’t even know that my father had died. I sneaked in on a Saturday and there was no chicken. I thought my mum was ill so I sneaked back in the following Saturday and there was no chicken. But there was another frame and another candle and my father was smiling through it and I smiled back and I said “I love you”. I knew my mum would soon follow. My dad was her everything. I bought a newspaper and I flicked through it till I saw my dad smiling again; the pain was unbearable; I had been selling myself for years and I had endured abuse beyond your imagination; but my parents’ death was the most horrible pain I ever had to go through. Sometimes I even wish I will die soon so I’ll get to see them again. And we’ll all be in paradise, screw God, I deserve to be in paradise. And when they see me there they’ll know that it’s OK to love me when I’m wearing skirts.”
what lays beneath?
Plain white bedsheets cover your bodies,
they don’t know your favorite colour or if you prefer a print design or something more flashy.
1000 and still counting, the usual casualties of war; you’re famous now although your names are not really our concern, I mean.. who would go on and read all of your names had they been available?
Pictures of your bodies, covered by those damn white sheets, are all over the internet; regular statistics ( X number of children and women, X were old people, X were men) are being discussed in forums and your deaths were on our chi-chat agenda today; “Have you seen the news/read the paper/ saw on FB? what happened today?” No one wondered what your favorite dish was. Your death, somehow , matters more than your life.
Adieu! little girl; you loved to dance and your best friend was your neighbour and you hated coffee. May you rest in peace.
Adieu! baby boy; you had not yet mastered the art of speech but you smiled all day long and you made your mamma happy. You were the first son of the family. May you rest in peace.
Adieu! Daddy; you always said you’d die for your family, you never thought you’d die with your wife and children in bed. You loved them with all your heart. May you rest in peace.
Adieu! Mamma; you enjoyed the scent of roses, you loved cooking too but you hated washing up the dishes and your husband made fun of your sixth toe. May you rest in peace.
Adieu! Grandpa; you were a bit grumpy and you had no idea what sushi was. Your daughter used to call you “Papi”. May you rest in peace.
Adieu! Grandma; you sang sweet lullabies to your grandchildren every night and you were complaining about your missing teeth. You were still beautiful. May you rest in peace.
Adieu! best friend, lover, bride-to-be, ex-boyfriend, uncle, classmate, bus driver, colleague. Adieu!!
Adieu! cats and dogs and adieu to all the creatures that someone dared to have you
ADIEU. These words might make people realize that you are not just another number to the X number killed in Syria, in August 2013.
“Are you married Brit?”
She shrugged, “No ma’am, I’m not”.
I looked at her again; dark glowing skin, irresistible brown eyes, heavy eyelashes and thick long hair. A young, Indian pretty woman. She was distant at first, ready to do what she was told without a word. I could tell that she was Indian but I asked anyway; I had to start a conversation somehow. I said “I like your hair” and she smiled, she said “No I like yours” and then I looked in the mirror and studied our reflection; we shared the same hair colour but mine was sleek and smooth and hers , wavy and uncontrollable was held in a tight braid. I observed her features discreetly, we look alike I thought.
She preoccupied herself with preparing the cream while I casually undressed myself. With soft long movements she evenly applied the mixture on my body and I waited for the burning sensation to kick off. “Have you ever tried bleaching before Brit?” “Yes yes, it’s very..” she couldn’t find the words so she grimaced instead and I knew she had indeed tried bleaching before. I wondered if she had tried it back at home or if it was a newly-acquired habit she had picked up when she started working at this beauty saloon, so many miles away from home. I trailed off while Brit was silently reapplying more cream, brushing at the same time the one I already had on me. I thought of my Arabian friends who were the only ones who understood my mission to find a good beautician when I was studying abroad and they used to giggle saying “English girls don’t even bother to wax, they don’t even care if they have dark hair on their arms!” Brit and I kept for ourselves for a couple more minutes when I broke the silence; “Are you married Brit?” “No ma’am, I’m not”.
“No ma’am, I’m not”
At that word I shut my mouth embarrassed by the ease she had called me that. She didn’t seem to notice. Without her realizing, she had put up a fence, one that I didn’t know how to cross.
“I like your colour Brit”
“What?” she asked puzzled. Her sparse knowledge of the language restrained her from asking more. I wondered if it was the unknown words that puzzled her or my statement.
“It’s dark Brit, you’re lucky” I said. I touched her arm, caressed a spot for just over a fraction of a second and I felt it soft under my fingertips. “Your skin, the colour, it’s dark. I like it!” I tried to explain. She briefly looked at my exposed body noticing my bathing suit marks and my tanned colour.
“No, dark not good. Yours good. White better.”
I didn’t reply. I remembered I read somewhere about bleaching beauty creams that take your colour off, as if someone’s skin’s colour could ever be as ugly as body hair, skin whitening creams. I smiled bitterly at the thought of the sun lotion in my bathroom that assured “deep tanning in just a few hours” but provided no protection from the Mediterranean sun’s rays.
Would you still call me “ma’am” Brit if you knew I’d love to have your skin’s colour? That I sunbathe for hours and hours on end and I never find myself tanned enough? I’m risking my health just to have your colour Brit. If you want to have my colour and I yours then surely you know that I’m no better Brit. I’m just a couple years older Brit. And I’m a young woman too Brit. My country was under British colonial rule too Brit.
We were alone in the beauty centre’s dimly lit bathroom, I was naked and she was clothed and as she kept applying the cream on my naked body I thought of us exchanging skins. I would get some of her colour and she some of mine and then we would mix them up and we would both end up with the colour of our chosing. We would then apply it on each other’s naked bodies, just as you did with the bleach Brit.
I looked at her again.
Why did you call me “ma’am” Brit? My name’s Valentini.
The Wall and I
I was born and my already prescribed history
rushed to claim me;
a newborn female
of “Greek- Cypriot” descent
and of “Greek-Orthodox” religion.
Imposed on me like a stamp, as a girl, I felt
I had to live up to it.
My schools narratives took up my education,
textbooks provided the malice done to us from those that occupy the land
but they failed to inform me of their side of the story.
Growing up with an imaginative wall diving my city,
I grew aware of an inner wall
that built itself along my education;
I now call it ignorance.
As a young woman, about to grow out of my teens
I met for the first time some of the people I had wrongly considered the enemy for so long
and I felt my inner wall trembling as he said “I’m Cypriot” while we shared pasta.
They all lived in Nicosia too, though in neighborhoods I had never heard of.
I was full of silly questions, “Do you have nightclubs?” “How many airports do you have?”
yet they eagerly provided all the answers.
We exchanged our versions of history
and we tried to rationalize the way our island’s history has been distorted.
I had to know.
A hot summer’s afternoon I crossed
walking through the deserted deadzone, no man’s land,
not knowing what to expect, unable to absorb the images before me;
a brief encounter with the city and I walked back again.
A couple of years later, a sweet summer’s night
we crossed and
it was just us and the city for hours;
she observing us, we, discovering what it felt we should have known.
“Do I look foreign to them?” I thought,
as we kept strolling around, inhaling the city ;
the tranquility, the sokaks, the architecture,
and one magic neighborhood that lured us in.
I didn’t have the courage to talk to the old couple
and at that moment I realized,
I was a tourist.
Long time before, Kyrenia’s little port was the impossible
but a random Sunday, it was me in the picture, I had jumped in the picture
the imaginative and reality became the present
and I were there where I thought I would never be; I was at the other side.
Here was I again, pass midnight, in an empty occupied city,
in the company of a boy I knew almost nothing about
discovering the mirror image of the city I grew up in
only, everything was different.