The Sun Will Set Into My Palms
A short story about a child that believes she can catch the sun as it sets. The detachable cover is a light sensitive cyanotype print that changes colour while you read it, creating a unique print of the reader’s hands.
I help my mother bring in the shopping from the market and I drop an egg, pieces of shell spattering the hot sand. I watch as it fries before my eyes. The yolk wobbles, orange yellow, sunny side up. I pick it up and eat it. Yolk dribbles down my chin and I feel sand crunch between my teeth, gritty and delicious. It feels like I have eaten the sun. Later, my mother asks why there are only 5 eggs left in the box. I tell her one had hatched.
On either side of our narrow street are small houses. They are squat, low, brooding little homes painted white to reflect the desert heat. Small areas of matting in the courtyards protect our feet from the sand, and we wear suede desert boots for outside; stiff, uncomfortable things that give us blisters and rub against our ankles. My father and several other engineers from the oil company have been brewing their own hooch to sell in the community. They sit in the shade and we watch as they slowly become foggy with drink, their eyes sliding out of focus and dipping into sleep. In the morning they will wake up early to work on the rigs and be gone for weeks at a time. My siblings and I play behind the houses, and there are no fences or boundaries between our homes and the desert. The sand stretches as far as we can see until it meets the impossibly deep blue of the sky. It is our endless backyard.
On our veranda, my older brothers are playing with scorpions, tormenting them with sticks under the Middle Eastern sun. Sometimes they carry them into the house behind their backs, and ask our Aayah to hold out her hands and close her eyes. She never falls for it, but still pretends to scream and chase them out of the kitchen.
We keep the scorpions as pets in our tree house كوخ kukh, or hut. It is made of the packing cases we used to move to Kuwait. My brothers hammered the sunbleached wood together and secured it with nails that stick out and catch on hair and clothes. A fireman’s pole has been fashioned out of a piece of scaffolding that connects the hut to the ground. I am too small to pull myself up so my brothers built a ladder. We have strung up old netting to give the hut shade, and my sister weaves brightly coloured rope and string into the holes in bright patterns. Behind the tree house is a small swimming pool made of an oil drum cut in half. It is too shallow to swim in, the torn metal edge is sharp and scalding and there is always a faint rainbow slick of oil on the surface of the water, glistening in the sun. I don’t know how to swim.
Our father found a kitten on the road home from the oil rig last year. We named her Fariah, meaning friend. She was a dirty, scrawny little thing that was probably just a few weeks old. We took it in turns to feed her scraps from the kitchen, and she tried to suckle our fingers with her gummy mouth. She grew up to have kittens of her own, but she was too weak to look after them and she died under the tree house. We only found her because of the smell.
Monthly deliveries of American food arrive in Al Ahmadi, and the Coca Cola truck is a special treat. It is stacked with wooden crates of all the flavours imaginable, but the cream soda is by far superior. Bottle caps are a currency between my siblings and I. My sister threads them together to make a curtain for our porch. They clink together in the breeze like a string of my mother’s pearls.
شكرا Shukraan, thank you, we tell the driver after some prompting from our Aayah. He plays the Beatles on his stereo and smokes rolled up cigarettes without a filter. The smoke is acrid and stains his fingertips yellow. He lets us sit in the front of the truck and sing along to the radio, even though none of us know the words.
Today there is only one bottle of cream soda left in the truck. My older sister and I fight over it, pulling it back and forth until she lets go and it smashes around our feet. I stumble backwards and a shard pierces straight through my fragile skin, severing a vein and cutting my flesh to the bone. I am carried screaming to the kitchen and my foot is sewn up, blood staining the wooden table. The Coca Cola truck stops coming after that.
We watch the Sheikh’s Mercedes travel past our house that evening, flanked by motorcycles and bodyguards with machine guns. His palace looms in the distance, wobbly and distorted by the heat. I don’t understand why he has so much money and my father says it is oil. I say that oil isn’t money and my father just laughs.
I believe I can hold the sun in my hands. I think if I hold my hands in just the right place, closing one eye to line them up, the sun will set into my palms. Once the sun dips below the horizon, I slowly open my hands to check if I have caught it, but it always slips through my fingers to rise again the next day.
Years later I give birth to my first daughter. I name her النور Eleanor, meaning ‘bright and shining, daughter of light’. Today, I hold the sun in my hands for the first time.