The Sweetness of Dates By Zvezdana Rashkovich

May 11, 2015 Comments Off on The Sweetness of Dates By Zvezdana Rashkovich

Mila thought about chicken while she waited for the bus. Her classmates haggled with scarred-faced women over the price of roasted peanuts, but she always bought her peanuts and nabag from the Fellata woman wearing a head wrap the color of sunset. The woman sat apart on mat of palm fronds. Mila’s friends said Fellata are sorcerers and are possessed by the jinn. She didn’t care. The woman sold the crunchiest peanuts and softest apple-shaped berries.

Mila’s uniform stuck to her thighs, and her armpits itched. The other girls huddled in clusters like clucking hens on a farm. Everything reminded her of chickens. The smell of their blood and innards would linger in her nose and mouth even after she chewed Gum Arabic or drank syrupy tamarind juice.

She cracked a peanut shell open, coaxed the salty nugget into her mouth, and chewed. Still, she could smell rotten meat.

“Oh, you are in the chicken business.” People would nod approvingly when father told them. He left out the unpleasant details. After all, he wanted people to buy his product. He didn’t tell them how, on dusty nights, heavy with humidity, Mila would follow him into the hangars, stepping gingerly among a thousand chicken souls. Here and there, a rooster’s wattle stuck out, like a candle on a mango cake.

Soon, a trail of evidence would lead them to the victim: splayed on the floor, intestines forming a circle around its stiff carcass like a wreath. The perpetrators were easy to spot. Their beaks were long and sharp, hooked like an owl’s claw. Father’s face would be dark and his eyes would flicker in the light of the gasoline lamp. His body a grotesque shadow against the walls, clutching sizzling iron tongs as sharp as scissors. He would show Mila how to grab the murderer’s head in a vice grip, and then in a single deft move, slice its beak. The tongs glowed red like a jinni’s eye. Mila could feel the fear inside the hangar, smell it in the excrement and stale hay and dozens of dead animals, but she’d hold steady — panicked chickens’ feathers in her face, vomit in her throat — one and then another and another while the transistor played songs on Radio Monte Carlo. They’d spend hours chopping, after which they’d release the hens to waddle into the populace, dazed and beakless.

Today, the Fellata woman wore a turquoise head wrap. She smiled through tobacco-stained teeth and placed a fat date into Mila’s palm along with her purchase. Her yellow eyes crinkled in the corners like dry banana leaves. Mila took the date and nodded in thanks. See, Fellata are kind, she told her friends.

On the bus, Mila carefully sucked on the date. It stuck on her teeth and gums as its gooey sweetness mixed with her saliva. She chewed and chewed on that date all the way home.

Afterwards, she couldn’t taste chicken anymore.

© 2014 Zvezdana Rashkovich

Zvezdana Rashkovich is an American writer born in the former Yugoslavia and raised in the Sudan. Her publications include among others, The Missing Slate, Inkapture, The Huffington Post, Gone Lawn Journal, When Women Waken Anthologies, New World Writing and a collective memoir: I am Subject. Currently, she lives in Dubai via Oregon and Qatar and is a mother of four.

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