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Timbuktu 1

Najati Al-Bukhari

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17

1) The road has already been prepared for Amir, the black boy of the farm-house, to start his real professional journey in this life. On the other hand, and in his daily family life, he was more and more attached to his mother. Amir liked the white teeth of his mother which, between now and then, attracted his attention and his admiration. Frequently, Amir looked at his white teeth in the mirror of his bedroom just with the main purpose of assuring himself of the similarity between the teeth of his mother and his teeth.

On the other hand, the more he grew in age and became more and more a young man and no more a small boy, the more he had the feeling that he should not be living all the time during day time inside the house and inside the limits and the outer boundaries of the farm. Amir was becoming conscious of the charming aspects of life in his community. Day after day, Amir was realizing that life was not only confined to intellectual endeavor, to books and to academic pursuit. Amir was gradually feeling that he liked to see people other than the members of his family who were becoming day after day as old as his mother or even older than his mother.

By now, he should have accustomed himself to a daily life in which his aunt, Helwa, would not be there because of her marriage. The other three wives of his father attracted his attention by their fair color as well as by their beauty and charm. In spite of the fact that all of these women were about to be in the forties of their ager, Amir was still looking at them as if they were in their twenties or thirties of their age.

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The black son of Jawhara had the feeling and the conviction that all the women of the family, wives, concubines and maids were nice to him and that everyone treated him as if he was the son of all. The women of the house had a smile on their face whenever any of them happened to see Amir walking in the house or working in his room surrounded by his books and papers and manuscripts. The black boy, the prodigy, the son of the black woman of the family, could observe that there was something hidden in the eyes of the women of the farm-house whenever they saw him somewhere in or around the house.

Of course, in the years of his early childhood, he could not notice that the looks of the members of the family, the women, the wives and concubines, hid and concealed some strange ideas, doubts, suspicion, skepticism, surmise, uncertainty, disbelief and question marks. Gradually and with the passing of time, of months and of years, the growing intelligent and gifted boy could see more easily that those women with whom he was living and coexisting had many things to tell him and to ask him. So many times, and specially during the preceding years of his life, he had the feeling that he should discuss his observations with his mother who was the only member of the family with whom he could talk frankly and in a straight forward way.

The whole atmosphere of the family life was becoming to the young black boy more and more complicated and more and more confused and more and more intricate. Yet Amir, the black boy, the prodigy, and at the age of seventeen, could not see any justification or reason for exploring and discussing this problem with his mother. However, it was the mother who has been noticing that her son was suffering from some kind of a confused situation. Jawhara thought that she should talk with her son something about his life sorry. She was the only who one knew the truth about his origin. How could she tell her son, Amir, the whole story of his conception and his birth, and why? For several days and long weeks, Jawhara, the mother of the black boy, was not knowing what to do and what to say to her son. Was it her duty to tell her son the truth about his roots and his origins? Should she tell her son about the Holy City of Timbuktu?

After much contemplation and deep thinking, Jawhara decided to keep silent and to continue watching the whole situation and the development of events inside the farm-house and even around the limits and boundaries of the farm. Her only son, the unique son, Amir, had the age of seventeen years and so far nothing serious has taken place which could have disturbed the smooth running of events related to his personal life. The most important thing to Jawhara was the smooth running of the days of the life of her son. This was what the mother believed and thought that her son, the prodigy, was whole heartedly devoting his life to intellectual activities and pursuits. The life of the young adolescent, Amir, could have contained some events which have been completely emotional and sentimental.

2) Once, in one of these nice summer days while the black woman was taking lunch with her husband and nobody was with them except the maid, Zahra, who was waiting orders from her master, the husband, the farmer, said to his wife.

Listen to me, my dear Jawhara. I have to tell you what is going on nowadays concerning the medical professional study which Amir will pursue in Istanbul. Academic authorities there have not yet heard of our part of the world, the frontiers region of the Ottoman Empire that lies in the eastern parts of the Valley of the Spirits. We are very far from the important and strategic regions of the Empire. It is only recently that the authorities of the High Porte have started to give some attention to the territory which they call as Transjordan. The Turks of Istanbul have only recently got awake of the existence of the frontiers territories. said the farmer to Jawhara, the mother of Amir, the black boy who was about to join a medical institute somewhere in the Ottoman Empire.

Please, my dear husband. Stop talking about the Turks, the Ottomans, the Frontiers territories and the application of the Law of Lands. I never heard you talking like this in the past. Just tell me where my son Amir would go. You said Istanbul. Well tell me about this City. Would the Turks accept, I mean welcome, our son, Amir, to be amongst them for the coming seven or so years. said the black woman in addressing her husband.

You must listen to me. I am telling you things that will happen and you have to listen and try to understand and comprehend what I will be telling you. Amir, our son, for sure, will be well treated there. In few days time all persons of the academic medical institute would highly admire and respect Amir. I am sure; those Turks could never have seen a young man like Amir. They will be surprised and astonished to find the academic and the intellectual superiority of Amir. Be sure that the medical institution of Istanbul would be seeing for the first time in its history such a highly gifted student. Don't worry my dear Jawhara. Amir as a prodigy will be treated in Istanbul like a prince. Don't worry my dear wife, Jawhara. Be happy and joyful, your son will be treated as a respectable scholar. said the farmer of the quarter to his wife, the black woman.

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Listen to me. I do not think that you are telling me the truth. There are many things which you are hiding from me. You try to look very optimist and nothing else. Don't forget that this is our only son. Cannot you find a nearby place in which Amir can learn medicine? Istanbul is very far and I want to visit my son whenever I want. Please, choose a nearby city to make it possible for me to visit my son whenever I want. You have a number of choices, Beirut, Damascus, and Cairo. Amir would feel at home in any of these cities. Sending Amir as far as Istanbul would be an adventure. Isn't it so? Tell me. said Jawhara while trying to eat something from the plates which were offered to her on the low round table. The husband of the black woman could not react to what Jawhara said.

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The farmer kept silent for a while. He did know what to say to his wife who was determined to send her son to a nearby place where she could visit him at any time she wanted. Talking was not resumed between the two, the husband and his wife, who continued eating and were about to have tea that was served to them by the maid Zahra.

3) After lunch, the farmer of the quarter went out of the house in his way to the main market of the quarter. The black mother of Amir was left all alone in the hall that was used as the dining room of the farm-house. Of course, she did not stay long in the hall because she decided to go to her room to have some time for some contemplation and thinking. After looking around to be sure that nobody was around in the corridor, she entered into her room and closed it by key to as to prevent anybody to enter her room without her permission.

Looking around in her room, Jawhara was somewhat suffering from some headache and from some confusion and perplexity. For the first time she came to know that the time for being separated from her son had come. This was because of higher education and medical studies. Her son would be most of the time in a far place which she never heard of before. The absence of about six or seven years which was the duration of higher medical studies would be long for her and she would be suffering for that. Between now and then her son would be coming back to his native land in the East Bank for spending sometime a long summer vacation. But it would not be certain that Amir could come back at the end of each of the seven or six years of his studies to his native land.

However, and taking into consideration the awkwardness of the present arrangement for her son's medical studies and the insistence and the determination of the farmer to send Amir to Istanbul, the mother of the black boy would try her best to change the place of his medical studies from the far off city of Istanbul to the city of Beirut to which Jawhara could go from time to time to visit and see her son, Amir. The mother would try her best to have Amir in Lebanon and for seven years.

On that day, the black mother did not go out of her room for the whole afternoon. Most of the time, she sat in the only chair in her room and was looking on the marvelous mirror that was there on the wall in front of her. Although she sat in the chair for a long time, the black mother was not able to see her forefather, her ancestor of the Immortal City of Timbuktu. May be it was not the proper and the conventional time to call and see somebody far away by time and place. The sun was almost disappearing and the evening was announcing by various ways its arrival. Birds were flying around and coming back to their nests and homes in the various trees that could be seen around the farm-house.

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Before the room was all filled by the darkness of the night, the black dreaming woman lit the oil lamp which was reserved for her use in the room. Although it was a little bit early to use the lamp, the black woman preferred to have more light than that sent by the penetrating rays of the twilight.

At that particular moment, the black woman heard some knocking on the door of her room. From the way the knocking was carried out, the black mother was sure to know that that was the knocking of her son. The mother could recognize the sound produced by the knocking of her son. Obviously, and as expected, the mother rushed to the door and opened it with excitement and enthusiasm. In a very quick manner, Amir, the tall young handsome black boy or man was inside the bedroom of his mother. He first of all kissed the hand of his mother who was accustomed to have her right hand kissed by her unique son. The kissing of the hand was an expected gesture on the part of the mother. But to the surprise of the son his mother was not satisfied by the kiss on her hand by the son. Suddenly, and really in a very unexpected way, the mother pulled her son to her, to her breast and embraced or rather hugged her son in a very unanticipated, abrupt way. The mother put her hands on her son's shoulders and then on the upper part of his back and started to press him towards the upper part of her chest.

The son, the seventeen years old young man, could not but reciprocate. He hugged her not knowing what was going on in the room. The black boy could feel the heart of his mother palpitating rapidly. The son thought at that moment, while he was embraced by his mother, that there should have been some new astonishing event that happened to his mother. What was that??!! The black boy, or rather the adolescent, put his head on the right shoulder of his mother. Was he really remembering his days of early childhood when his mother carried him, sometimes on her back and sometimes in her breast?

The events at that moment were taking place very quickly. What happened to Jawhara and her son Amir happened also to most mothers and their children, specially their sons, in all communities and in all cultures in the world.

Yet for Jawhara and her son Amir, this hugging and embracing took place for the first time. No doubt, after listening to her husband that her son would be absent for seven years, she was totally overwhelmed and deluged by deep emotions and sentiments. The son, her only child, would be leaving to a very far place, city. Above all, he would be absent in this very far place for seven years. The black mother was afraid that she will lose him forever. The mother of Amir would have preferred that her son would study medicine in Beirut or some other city which would be very near to the home-land of her black son.

4) "What happened, mother, tell me, if you please?" said the son who was surprised to find his mother behaving and reacting in this emotional and disturbed way. As a matter of fact, the son was pleased to have been embraced by his mother. Why not? Mothers so often embrace and hug their sons, their children. Why not? It was normal that his mother was embracing him in such a motherly way. No doubt, Amir said to himself, that there should have happened something serious to his mother.

Room on Roof
Above artwork is by the author's son Nawaf Al-Bukhari... See more!
© 1980-2017 by Nawaf Al Bukhari, Amman-JORDAN and Dubai-UAE

What happened? I am going to tell you just now. You just have come into the room, so be patient. Let us sit there on the mattresses and the cushions and let us start talking to each other. responded the mother who was still disturbed and somewhat trembling. All the time she was looking at her son with admiration and esteem. She was reacting as if she did not see her son Amir since a long time.

Here, I am, mother. There is no reason to be disturbed and nervous. Calm down, my mother. Here I am, your son. I am still happy to see you. said Amir who was sitting on one of the many mattresses that were found in one corner of the room of the mother. The mother of Amir could not believe her eyes that she was sitting in front of her black son, the prodigy, the gifted boy who would be in the near future a doctor.

You know that next year you will not be here amongst us. You will be somewhere else, my dear son. said the mother.

I know that, my father told me that I will be a student in a newly established medical school in Beirut. This medical institute has so far established for itself a good reputation in the region. This is what I know. Is there anything new? said Amir to his mother.

This is what I know also about your study destination next year. Your father made a special trip to Beirut to carry out all the preliminary arrangements for your admission to the medical school in Beirut. I was happy that you would be staying in Beirut for your medical studies and training. It is also a suitable and a charming place. All of us know where this city is situated. It is there on the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. It would be easy for you, for your father or any other person, including myself to travel to Beirut and come back in few days time. Isn't it so? said Jawhara to her son who was looking at his mother with admiration and respect.

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Then what is wrong in that? Do you disagree to this arrangement? It is more or less easy to go there, to Beirut. All of us would be very happy and satisfied. said the black boy to his mother.

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This is not the end of the sorry. To-day in lunch time and while I was taking lunch with your father, I was completely surprised to be told by your father that you would be studying medicine in the famous Institute of Medical Studies of the city of Istanbul. You would be going there in few months time to start your first year. Frankly speaking I am not aware of any detailed arrangement for this plan regarding your travel to Istanbul. Have you ever been told about this plan by your father, or what? I am just in a total confusion. I cannot imagine that you will be going to this far away city for the study of medicine. It is possible that you will be absent in this far away city for seven continuous years. In my case, I am going to get mad. In no case I can accept to be far from you for seven long years. Imagine how I could live for seven years without seeing you. No doubt, I will die to be far from you while you are staying in Istanbul far away from the East Bank, your home and the home of your mother and of your childhood and the place where you have been born said Jawhara, the black mother to her son, Amir.

Jawhara started to cry and her tears were coming out of her eyes and running down on her illuminating black face. Her son was totally confused and disturbed. It was not possible for him to understand what was happening to his mother. Several questions were raised in the mind of the son. What was wrong in the choice of his father? His father did not make any mistake in deciding that his son would study medicine in the famous city of the Ottoman Turks Empire, Istanbul.

Listen to me mother. Why do you cry as if you are suffering from something? When I see my father I will tell him that I would like to be a student in Beirut since you want me to be there, in Lebanon and not in Istanbul. Don't worry and don't cry. You will be seeing me very frequently when I will be in Beirut. said the black son in trying to appease and calm down his mother who was wiping her eyes with a white handkerchief.

Excuse me my son, Amir. I know nothing about Istanbul. What I know about it is that it is a very far place from the spot in which we are living now. I have the feeling that it is a very far place. Why not Beirut? By now it is sure that Beirut has a well known medical institute. said the black woman to her son Amir.

Don't worry my mother. Let us forget this problem of the study of medicine. I think that this matter will be decided by my father and he will certainly take into consideration your wish. I am sure he will decide to send me to Beirut because this decision will please you. said the black boy to his mother who has already calmed down and was breathing in a normal way.

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The black mother had again the usual beautiful smile on her charming and fascinating face. Her son was very glad to see his mother smiling again. The black mother never so far met her son without having a smile reflecting her happiness and joy to see her marvelous son. Jawhara noticed that there was a specific purpose for the sudden unannounced visit of Amir to the room of his mother. He had some ideas to talk about other than books, science and technology. He usually did that whenever he wanted to tell his mother an idea which he could not say in the presence of others, the other women. Between now and then, once a week, Amir had the habit to come to the room of his mother to talk to her about some events which should be told to his mother. This time, Amir came to tell his mother some special and personal events, maybe some problems.

5) Of course, in the past, the black boy told his mother many times about his occasional meeting with some of the grown up girls, daughters, of the farm laborers whose houses were located within the special area in which the farm-house was located. In fact, the seven women of the farmer, four wives and three concubines, did not give the farmer a single child during the last twenty years with the exception of Jawhara who gave him in mysterious circumstances, Amir.

The neighboring three families of the agricultural laborers continued to engender children since their first year of the married life. The number of children of the three laborers who were living in the three annexes could not be definitely counted because of the frequent and continuous child birth that used to take place in the homes of the three laborers. On the average, it could be said that there were about eighteen children of various ages belonging to the three laborers.

Some of these children naturally were girls and some others were boys. One or two of the children of each family got married, some others were of the age of Amir, about five and many others were still young children. At least three girls were of the age that ranged from fifteen to eighteen years. All of these female adolescents were good looking and had the possibility of getting married at any moment. Families of other agricultural laborers in the East Bank got interested in the girls of these agricultural laborers of the farm. The marriage prospects of the girls of the three laborers were all the time excellent.

One of these girls was almost fifteen years old and was fair colored, tall and more beautiful than all her sisters and cousins. Her black eyes had a special charm and her black hair was always raised in its totality on her head like a crown. Of course, like all children of the quarter, this young girl had the chance to go to the mosque school for girls. This beautiful girl of the neighboring laborers living in annexes of the farm was called Zainab.

Like all girls in the families of the East Bank of the Holy River, Zainab devoted her life and her time for the service of the family. Of course, she began to help her mother starting from the age of six or even less than that. With her, there were other sisters who were older or younger. In looking at her sisters and cousins of various ages, Zainab could learn and know what she was and what she would be. The daily life cycle of Zainab was totally illustrated for her inside her house or outside in the courtyard of her house.

Zainab was accustomed not to go further than the limits specified for her by her parents and more specifically by her father. The farthest and the remotest place, spot, she could go to daily was the water well from which the families living around that place got their daily supply of water for their daily use.

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From time to time, Zainab could see a charming black boy who looked to be more a young man going around that place where the well was located. From time to time, Zainab, when she was six or seven years old and when she was permitted to go to the well with her other grown up sisters and cousins, was able to see Amir, two years older than her, going around that place and looking at things pensively that were found in his way to the well of water.

Of course, the chance of seeing this black boy was also open to all the other girls of all ages of the families of the three agricultural laborers. All these girls, either while playing in the courtyard or while going to bring water to their families from the farm well, got interested in the charming black boy who was considered as the son of the farmer of the quarter who was the employer and the master of their fathers. The several charming girls who were usually assembling around the well looked at the small black boy who was growing day after day, month after month and year after year.

Some of the girls by the age of fifteen, sixteen and even seventeen years looked like small young women specially in their stature and the attractive shape which their breasts were taking. All of these girls, the grown up ones, were dressed in robes which were decorated by some embroidered artistic shapes and designs reflecting various kinds of local cultural artistic traditions. Most of the girls were bare barefoot, yet sometimes one or more put on their feet some kind of a sophisticated sandals used by young women in the Valley of the Spirit and in the various parts of the East Bank. Some of these girls had their hands and feet decorated with some sketches made out of the henna powder. However, all the girls of all ages had their eyes lined and covered by the black kohl powder.

All the girls carrying jars to be filled with water on their heads could walk in a very seductive, exciting and inviting way. Their manner of walking was more harmonious and artistic when they were going back to their homes with their jars carried on their heads filled with limpid water. The heads of some of the grown up girls were covered in a very attractive way by a white scarf that covered some parts of their heads.

Girls in their way to the well and in their way back to their homes talked and laughed. However, the most exciting moments of the adventure to the well of the farm was when they saw Amir, the black boy, coming to the well or just passing by. The son of the black woman has been seeing these girls of the three annexes for the last ten years. Some of the girls he was accustomed to see frequently carrying the jars filled with water have suddenly and abruptly disappeared from the scene because of marriage.

Yet, the black boy, the son of the charming black woman, Jawhara, continued to see girls going to the well or coming back from the well. With the passing of days, weeks and months, the handsome black boy could know the approximate time in which these girls were found around the well of the farm. Amir, the intelligent black boy, could somewhat arrange his time available for him between his reading and research activities and his occasional desire to see and watch the young and the attractive girls of the three agricultural laborers employed by his father.

6) With the passing of days, Amir, the black boy, discovered one day that of all the girls he was seeing during the last few years, the girl called Zainab attracted him more than all the other girls of her age. Was it because lately this girl was frequently smiling to him and looking at him with some interest and curiosity? With the passing of more time, Amir found himself completely interested in one girl only and not in several of them. Zainab attracted him more than the other beautiful and charming girls. Obviously, he did not know why he was attracted by Zainab only.

One day, and by a very strange coincidence, Amir was having an early morning walk around the farm-house. The whole world around him looked absolutely asleep. Nobody was awake in the farm-house or in the annexes attached to the main building of the farm. The sun was just rising from behind the horizon of the hills filling the landscape which presented itself to Amir with life and light.

During the previous night, Amir had many pleasant dreams, very strange dreams. In one of these dreams Amir saw himself to be a small boy, virtually seven years old and was dressed in a white robe and was running in between houses all built out of mud. Strangely enough and in this dream, he saw around him many black people, or only black people. Amir, in this dream, did not see except the black color decorating all the persons he had seen in his dream which gave Amir the first chance to live in a pure black community. Amir saw in this dream an old black man who stopped Amir and told him that he was the great-great-grandfather of his mother Jawhara and that he, Amir, was, in fact, in the Immortal City of Timbuktu, the place where the origins of his mother were rooted.

Here, this dream of Timbuktu stopped, and another dream presented itself to Amir as a young man. He dreamt that he was walking to the well of the farm in company with Zainab only and dreamt also that he talked for a long time with this beautiful girl. Amir was not sure whether Zainab in this dream was married to him or was she only a friend and an admirer of Amir. This dream ended with no more details.

After remembering some of his dreams which he saw yesterday night, the young black boy continued walking around the farm-house and nearby the place where the well of the farm was located. The moment Amir was there in front of the well the black boy was surprised to see the young and the beautiful girl trying to fill her jar with the limpid and crystalline water of the farm well.

Of course, this was not the first time that the black boy saw Zainab. Several times in the past and during several years he had the chance of seeing this girl since she was a small little girl. Zainab grew up and grew up. They knew each other but they rarely spoke to each other for a long time so far. Zainab was just one of the girls of the three laborers whom he had the chance to see between now and then.

Yet this meeting of this morning was the first time that Amir saw this girl all alone without being accompanied by any of her sisters or her cousins. At that moment when the black boy saw Zainab he did not find obstacles and objections if he spoke to her. So he had the courage to address himself to this beautiful girl, the daughter of the neighbors, the simple agricultural laborers employed by his father, the farmer of the quarter.

Good morning Zainab. said Amir to the young girl who was still carrying the empty water jar on the waist under her right hand. She had the kohl on her charming big eyes and she was dressed in a very beautifully decorated black robe by various shapes, sketches and designs of embroidery work.

Zainab had with her the usual white head scarf which was at that moment, when she saw all of a sudden Amir in front of her, stretched on her broad shoulders. The moment Amir said good morning she did not want to respond to him in words, so she only smiled to him and lowered her head letting her black hair come out of the white scarf that was covering her head. Zainab put down the jar near the mouth of the well. Then she stood up and said to Amir.

Good morning Amir. It is nice to see you at this early time of the morning. said Zainab in a low voice while Amir was looking at her with amazement and astonishment.

It is strange to see you coming early in the morning to have water for the family. Usually you come with others, with the other girls to the well. I am lucky to see you this morning. said Amir to Zainab.

Don't worry and don't be surprised. Occasionally I come early in the morning to the well to fill this jar with water which is urgently needed by my mother. This is the first time that I see you at this early time of the morning. I am very glad to see you now and to see you at any other time during the day. We, the children of the laborers, your neighbors, heard a lot about you. You are a highly gifted human being and you could read and write and speak fluently in four important languages. said the young girl Zainab to the fascinated black boy.

Thank you very much. I like to see you and to talk to you, Zainab. You are really very beautiful. It is easy for you to carry this jar full of water over your head, and daily. I wish I could help you in carrying this jar for you. said the black boy to the beautiful girl, Zainab.

Please, let us end up our meeting because my mother is waiting for me and for the water which I am carrying in this jar. Good bye Amir. I hope to see you very soon either here or somewhere else. I am very eager to see you and to talk to you. said Zainab to Amir who was still standing nearby the opening of the water well.

7) This was for the first time that the black boy, the prodigy, came in contact with this charming peasant girl who was very attractive and charming to the heart of the black boy. No doubt, she captivated him. The young girl walked slowly while she was carrying the water jar on her head. The captivated black boy was standing and smiling and was looking at Zainab while she was walking towards her destination, her house in the farm. The girl, Zainab, was only fourteen years old and Amir was seventeen years old.

The young girl while walking carrying the water jar has been moving her body in a very fascinating and captivating way. No doubt, this girl, Zainab, was a perfect girl in the eyes of the young black boy, Amir. Before going far from the place where Amir was standing, the girl, who was carrying the water jar on her head, turned herself backward and said to Amir in a very embarrassed manner. 'I will be coming to the well all alone early in the morning every Saturday.' Then the girl continued her leisurely walk towards her home in the farm.

Since that first meeting between the young white fair colored girl of fourteen years and the black boy, there took place some other meetings, not only early in the morning but also in some other time and places arranged and agreed upon by the two, Amir and Zainab. Practically, nobody noticed this emotional relationship between the two, the black boy and the white girl. Probably, the mother of Zainab was fully aware of this special relationship and intimate friendship between the boy and the girl. The mother of the girl could not do anything and was not in a position to put an end to this relationship that could be considered scandalous and disgraceful by the community at that time.

Fatima, the mother of Zainab could not tell the father about this relationship between her daughter and Amir, the black son of Jawhara. If she had done this, her husband would have killed his daughter without any hesitation. On the other hand, it was certain that nobody else, besides the mother of Zainab, who knew about this intimate friendship between the two friends, Amir and Zainab. Even Jawhara, the mother of the black boy, never knew anything about this sentimental and sensational relationship between her son and the daughter of the agricultural laborer.

Every Saturday morning, the two close and intimate friends, the girl and the boy, were meeting without the knowledge of anybody. During one year time Amir was about to complete his seventeen years of age and Zainab was about to finish the fifteenth year of her age. The two friends have been meeting frequently, not necessarily on the Saturday of each week, but also in some other places and time arrangements. Their secret meetings did not last, each time they met, for more than half an hour.

Sometimes, both of them were satisfied just to see each other and exchange few words. Amir liked always to be silent and to listen to the words coming out of the beautiful small mouth of his friend Zainab. Nevertheless, the girl also preferred to listen to her friend speaking and not to let him wait words to be coming out of her mouth. The two intimate friends gave preference to early morning or sometimes late in the evening for their sentimental and friendly meetings. Their meetings were difficult to arrange during the winter and the raining days. Having rain, thunder and lightning were enough obstacles and barriers for not going outside the house.

The young and the beautiful girl put a sign somewhere in front of her house to indicate to Amir that she could not be able to come because of some family reasons or because of bad weather conditions. Fatima, the mother of Zainab cooperated so far with her daughter in the management of the time and the place for a forthcoming meeting between the two intimate and faithful friends.

The mother of the girl was living a life of nightmares because she thought that one day her husband would discover what was going on, and for a long time, between his daughter and the son of the master of the farm. In fact, the father of Zainab was excitingly looking for a husband for his daughter, Zainab, who was already perfectly marriageable.

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Sunlit Window
Above artwork is by the author's son Nawaf Al-Bukhari... See more!
© 1980-2017 by Nawaf Al Bukhari, Amman-JORDAN and Dubai-UAE

8) One morning and in an unusual way, the father of Zainab in the early morning of a summer day looked for his daughter in the house.

Fatima, Fatima, where is Zainab, I do not find her in the children's room. Where is she now? It is very strange, where she could be now at this time of the day? said the father of Zainab to his wife. Fatima, his wife, was surprised by this unexpected question regarding the whereabouts of the daughter. The mother knew that her daughter was outside the house having a meeting, a rendezvous, with her friend Amir.

Really, I do not know that she is not in the house. Perhaps she went out to the well to fill the jar with water. Sometimes, she goes to the well without telling me. Be sure she will come back very soon. said Fatima, the mother of Zainab, to her angry husband.

Don't be worried, I am sure she will come back very soon. I just looked for her because I forgot to tell you yesterday that Abu Ali, the shopkeeper in the quarter and the husband of three wives asked me three days ago whether he could have Zainab as his fourth wife. You know he is still young, just forty five years old and he is, as you know, very rich. I have decided that this man will be an ideal husband for our daughter. After all, in one or two month's time our daughter would be sixteen years old. She is in the right age for marriage. Most girls in our community marry at this age. I hope you are happy with this news, this marriage offer from a well known man in the community. Abu Ali, the groom of our daughter wants to have Zainab in his house in three months time. Besides, I have agreed with him regarding the dowry.

Then the father of Zainab kept silent. He was hoping that his wife will not make any comment. Her husband did not ask for her opinion and he did not expect her to speak and to react. Suddenly the father of Zainab was surprised in seeing his wife about to speak.

Don't you think that it is too early for our daughter to marry a man who has already three wives? Don't you think that we should wait for one or two years when our daughter would be ready for marriage? Besides, let us hope that somebody else would come and ask for her hand, a young man who is not yet married or at least is married to one wife only and not to three wives. Do you really want to put our beautiful and charming daughter as a wife for a man who is already married to three wives and may be to several concubines? said Fatima the mother of Zainab.

What right do you have to talk to me in this way? Close your mouth and don't say any more nonsensical words and ideas. You have no right at all to interfere in this matter; I mean the marriage of our daughter. Here, in this house, it is I who decides. said the father of Zainab angrily and in a loud voice. While he was going outside the room he pushed his wife violently aside. The weak creature, the mother of six children, was about to fall down. She covered her face with her two hands fearing that her husband might hit her with his hands on her face. Once, in a similar situation and circumstances, the husband hit his wife on her face in front of her children.

While the father of Zainab was leaving the room he told his wife:

Tell our daughter Zainab about my decision concerning her future and her marriage. She will be in three months time the wife of Abu Ali, the husband of three wives. In three months time she would be in the house of our neighbor, Abu Ali.

Then the father of Zainab, the agricultural laborer, went to his work, his daily work, in the plantation fields. In a short time after the departure of the father, Zainab came back from her secret meeting with her friend, Amir. The moment she was inside the confines of her house she noticed that the abnormal atmosphere in the house was full of tension and was almost full of nervousness. The mother was there in the area, behind the threshold of the house. Fatima, the mother, neglected the entrance and the sudden presence of her daughter inside the house. Some kind of an invisible veil was separating the daughter from her mother.

It was obvious that after the departure of the father to his work, the mother was in full confusion and anger. On the other hand, Zainab did not know at all what happened few minutes ago between her patents. Of course, the daughter did not know what her father told her mother, Fatima. At last, the mother and the daughter were facing each other. They had to look at each other and to talk to each other. The young girl could not know or guess what was there in the mind of her mother who was closing her eyes between now and then and was trying to avoid looking at her daughter.

Mother, what happened? I see you to be very nervous and about to lose your consciousness. You are about to faint and fall down. What did my father tell you? Did he say anything about me? Please mother, tell me immediately. It is very risky not to know what my father told you. Does he know about my frequent meetings with Amir, the black son of the farmer of the quarter? said the young girl to her mother who kept silent. Then all of a sudden, Fatima took the hand of her daughter and told her to go to the bedroom where they could talk without having the risk of being overheard by anybody. They would talk there for a long time. Really, there was a lot to talk about.

Last Wish
Above artwork is by the author's son Nawaf Al-Bukhari... See more!
© 1980-2017 by Nawaf Al Bukhari, Amman-JORDAN and Dubai-UAE

9) Fatima let her daughter sit on a chair and she, the mother sat on the side of the bed. The daughter was expecting that her mother would talk to her about the secret meetings with the black boy, Amir, and how the father was not yet in a possession of evidence about the secret meetings. The surprise of the daughter was absolute and complete when she came to know that the father never mentioned anything about her relationship with the black boy, Amir, and that the father was not aware at all that his daughter Zainab and the black son of his master were meeting secretly very frequently.

Just by chance and by luck, the secret contacts of Zainab with Amir were not known by anybody, including the father. Then the surprise in the talk of Fatima, the mother, came. What the mother told her daughter was extremely annoying and disturbing. The surprised daughter could not believe what her mother was telling her. In summary Fatima told her daughter, Zainab, the whole story of the intention of her father to give his daughter Zainab, as a wife for the rich man Abu Ali who was already married to three wives.

The shocked daughter could not believe what her mother told her. Was it true that her father was in agreement with Abu Ali and that her father promised his future son-in-law that in two months time she was to be the fourth wife in the house of Abu Ali? The mother emphasized the fact that the decision of the father was final.

Zainab, the abhorred, the frightened and the terrified young girl did not know what to tell her mother. As the traditions followed and respected in the community, Zainab had to obey the decision of her father. The daughter had no choice. Her future was already determined by her father. The problem which the young girl was facing was not a simple one. She was not the only one involved and implicated in such problems.

What could be the reaction of her intimate friend, Amir, the black boy, when he would know the reality, that his girl, Zainab, his intimate friend, whom he really loved, was destined to marry in few months time. However, it never happened that in any of these repeated secret sentimental meetings between Amin and Zainab, the subject of marriage has ever been mentioned or discussed.

Zainab took the decision of stopping to have the secret meetings with Amir, the black boy. She was afraid that her father would impose on her a new way of daily life according to which she would not be at all permitted to go outside the house. Yet, before stopping going out, Zainab preferred seeing her friend Amir once only. This would be the last meeting with her friend.

In one of these summer evenings and in a hidden corner of the outside fence surrounding the farm-house, the two friends who loved each other met, supposedly for the last time in their life. Amir arrived first in that hidden spot of the locality, of the site in which they met several times in the preceding year. The waiting for Amir was very long and torturing because his friend, Zainab, did not come yet. Was it really possible that his friend, his adored lover, Zainab, would not be coming? Was there a reason, a simple reason, for her possible absence?

Still Amir argued with himself that it was only a delay, some kind of a retard that could be justified by simple family reasons. The solution for him was to wait and to be patient and nothing else. His girl would be coming. The darkness of the night was becoming dimmer and dimmer and he was thinking that his friend, his girl friend, would not come. At least it was too late for the girl to come.

Then, all of a sudden, and abruptly, Amir saw a kind of a phantom coming towards him. It was easy for him to witness that it was Zainab who was coming and who was walking in very slow, leisurely and lazy steps.

In her case, she could see that her young friend, the handsome black boy, the prodigy, was waiting for her impatiently in the customary and the agreed upon place. Before arriving at the spot where Amir was waiting Zainab was thinking what she should tell her black friend. Would he understand how her father decided to give her as a wife to a man who was about twenty five years older than her and who was already married to three wives. Before making the first step for her arrival in front of her black friend, she decided to tell Amir the whole truth and nothing else.

In this field of the determination of the future of a female member of the family, it was the father and always the father who decided. The moment the young girl was standing in front of her boy friend, Amir took her to his breast and embraced her. Moreover, he had the courage to kiss her warmly twice. It was for the first time that he kissed his girl friend. Of course, the kissing did not last long and the girl found some pleasure, joy and delight in kissing Amir who released his friend from his hands and his inflaming body.

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What happened to you? You are very late. I thought that something has happened to you or to your family. You look pale and worried, agonized and tormented. This is the first time I see you in such a strange shape. What happened to you? said the black boy in a somewhat low voice. He was afraid somebody would hear them, would listen to what they would have said. The young girl could not say a single word and it seemed to Amir that his girl has lost the ability to talk.

Oh! Nothing, nothing!! It is something which happens to any girl in our community. If you are well aware of what goes on in our community of stories and events you would not be surprised when I tell you what happened to me. said the girl to her friend while keeping the right hand of Amir in her two warm small hands.

Tell me if you please without any introduction or deviation. Come please to the point. Why were you late this evening? This is a simple question to which there should be an answer, any answer. said Amir in a somewhat nervous way.

I do not want to make any introduction to what I consider as the gist, the essence and the core of the whole story. I was informed that in two months time or around that I will be marrying a man, forty five years old, rich, and already married to three wives. Yet, he is not as rich as your father, the farmer of the quarter. As expected, this man has many children, boys and girls, and works as the main shopkeeper in our quarter. This is the whole story. Naturally and obviously, I was not consulted at all. I was just told so as I should prepare myself for this important event. My angry mother told me the news, the shocking news. She was asked by my father to convey to me the news. That is all. said Zainab to her boy friend, Amir.

At the end of telling her story, Zeinab cried and cried and the tears began pouring out of her eyes and running on her cheeks. Amir did not say anything. The young girl just sat down on a small rock nearby her friend and put her small head on the shoulder of her friend.

Really, this is a problem and a sad story which is repeated every now and then in our society. This is what had been happening in our community since generations and generations. Men have been behaving in the same way as your father is doing nowadays. I am sure you could not do anything. How could you escape this trap? All the doors are closed around you. What a disaster for both of us. I am planning to tell my mother what is going on between both of us. I am sure that my mother knows nothing of what has been going on between us for the last one year. I do not know what my mother would say. Most probably, she cannot do anything. Nobody should know anything at all about our secret meetings. said Amir to his charming young girl.

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He did not want to stay more time with his girl friend. Confusion and the unexpected news of the forthcoming marriage of Zainab shocked the black boy tremendously. This sudden new development in the life of Zainab was not expected by Amir. For a while, silence prevailed in the place where the two friends were meeting and there was not enough time for them to discuss the problem which they were facing.

All of a sudden the black boy, Amir, said to his girl friend:

Why don't I marry you? You will be my wife. I am already a grown up young man. My mother will be ready to discuss this problem at any moment. As soon as I see her I will tell her about the problem we are facing. You know, I am planning to pursue my higher education. My field of interest as you already know is medicine. I would like to be in the final analysis a doctor. My father and mother are nowadays discussing where I should go to study medicine. Once I told you that I want to be a doctor, a medical doctor. By now, I know what I should do after I finish my medical studies. As far as I can know, my father would send me to Beirut. Some few years ago a medical institute had been established called the Protestant Medical School. This medical institute has been operating, if I could remember, since 1850, the year I was born.

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We can get married and then you can accompany me to the charming city of Beirut as my wife. There is no problem in that. Sometimes, you could stay here in the farm-house. But on the whole you could stay with me there in Beirut and for seven years. said Amir to Zainab who was at that time about to resume crying and shedding her tears.

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Listen to me, my dear friend Amir. The problem we are facing is very complicated. My father will never agree that the present arrangement already made for my marriage with Abu Ali can ever be changed. My father is already determined to give me as a wife to this rich man, as his fourth wife. Nothing can convince my father to change his mind. Really, I cannot tell you how much is the amount of dowry which Abu Ali is offering to my father. It is said that it is composed of many pieces of gold and some livestock. I am not aware if there is anything hidden or unknown as part of the dowry.

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Then the girl stopped talking and while looking at the darkness around her she whispered to her friend Amir that she was seeing a ghost coming towards them. Her friend Amir looked at the direction which was indicated by the girl. Nothing could be seen coming and the black boy was sure that his girl was only nervous and imagining things.

I cannot see anybody coming and everything is calm. Be sure that we are in a safe place. I think we should now and immediately leave to our homes and without any delay. Please give me more time and let me talk over this whole matter with my mother. You know that I respect and obey what my mother would tell me. Very soon, I will tell you what will be the reaction and the position of my mother. In the mean time, in your case, you have still two more long months. I will go now to my house and you will go to your house. In my case, I promise you that I will talk the matter over with my mother. I am sure she has a lot of ideas to tell me. said the black boy to his girl in a whispering manner.

The two friends, the two lovers, kissed each other in such a warm and unusual way to the extent that it would have been thought that this was the last time they would be having the chance of seeing each other away from the monitoring eyes of the community.

10) The mother of Amir was expecting that her son would be telling her some stories about the place chosen for his future medical studies. Was it the City of Istanbul, or was it the City of Beirut? This was the main problem which was disturbing Jawhara. For her, Istanbul, chosen by her husband, the farmer, would be very far, and she, as the mother, would not be able to see her son. Beirut was preferred by the mother because she would be able to visit her son whenever she wanted.

To the astonishment of the mother, her son was not at all worried about the place of his studies. His father will never take any action in this respect without taking into consideration the wishes and the preferences of the mother. The father would take into consideration the wishes of the son who would be the one to stay for seven years either in Istanbul or in Beirut.

The face of Amir was reflecting what he had of troubles inside his mind and his spirit. Why was his mother throughout the years of adolescence of her son not aware of the fact that Amir had another life to live besides the intellectual and academic life? Was Amir only created to devote all his time to the reading of books on the scientific and technological heritage of his culture and that of the world?

Although the black boy grew in a place and in an environment where he was the only child of the family, he could see that around him and within or outside the limits of the farm-house, there were children, boys and girls, belonging to other families who were playing in the courtyards starting from sunrise till sunset and the arrival of the darkness of the night. It was normal and expected that Amir permitted to himself to spend some of his time outside the house to integrate himself amongst the groups of children. Being black, Amir was always visible to the other children who wanted to play with him or to ask him to come and play with them at whatever time he wanted.

Part of the daily activities of children was to go, specially the grown up children, to the well of the farm so as to fill the jars and take them back to the various families living in the neighborhood and around the farm. It was in such circumstances and opportunities that Amir, the black boy, was destined to have some kind of an intimate friendship with Zainab, the daughter of the agricultural laborer family. Zainab had the chance to see Amir on a daily basis near by the well of the farm or somewhere else.

Nobody could explain how the mother of Zainab was in fact well aware and informed about the friendship and the sentimental relationship which tied her daughter up to the black boy, the son of the master of her husband and the black woman, Jawhara.

As the events developed, the mother of Amir was not aware of this sentimental relationship that existed since quite a long time between her son, the black boy, and the young and charming and almost blond girl of the neighbors. The black woman was under the impression that her son was devoting all his time to books and to all kinds of the intellectual endeavors and pursuits.

Amir, the gifted and the intelligent boy, never thought that he should have told his mother, Jawhara, all about his friendship and his sentimental relationship with the daughter of the neighbors, Zainab. Yet now, Amir found himself submerged in a problem from which he could not come out without the aid of his mother.

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The mother was sitting on some of the mattresses and was expecting her son to take the initiative and start talking to her. The silence continued prevailing in the room of the mother. The atmosphere in the room was both pleasant because of the presence of the son, Amir, and disturbing because the mother felt that her son was having some very serious and annoying news to tell her. Actually, the black face of Amir was very clearly full of worries, anxiety and uneasiness. A visible simple smile was there clearly decorating the face of the compassionate mother. Yet the mother continued to be silent in expecting her son to start talking.

What is there, Amir? Why do keep silent? Is there anything bothering you or causing to you some trouble? You just feel free and safe and start talking. Please, start talking and don't hesitate to tell me everything. The mother stopped talking and moved nearer to her son who was at that moment somewhat absent minded. The gentle and the compassionate mother put her hand on the shoulder of her son and begged him to talk. The boy at last opened his mouth so as to talk and explain his entire problem to his mother.

Don't hesitate. Please, tell me what is wrong with you. This is the first time I see you in this miserable and lamentable condition. Please, tell your mother what is bothering you, if you please? said the mother.

It is nothing, mother. However, it is some kind of a long story. I do not know from where to start telling you the story. said Amir to his mother while he was avoiding to look at his mother.

Is it related to some books which you have asked your father to procure for you but you did not get them up till now?? You know your father tries always his best to bring you whatever you want in the shortest possible time. You know by now we are living in a somewhat remote place in this wide spread Empire. We are far from the centers of modern culture and knowledge. Besides, it is difficult for your father to be in travel all the time so as to bring whatever you want of books and manuscripts. Then the black boy, Amir, interrupted his mother.

Mother, stop talking only about books, manuscripts, knowledge, science and technology, stop talking about these things of the intellect. I never complained in this respect, that is talking about books and manuscripts and their being available or not. I have everything that I need for my intellectual growth and development. I repeat, I never complained. Mother, it is something else. said Amir, the black boy.

Tell me if you please what is your problem. Look at my face. I am ready to listen to you. Please start talking. said the mother of Amir.

Mother, it is about Zainab. said the black boy to his mother.

Who is Zainab? To whom are you referring now? Who is Zainab? This is very strange. said the mother in a suffocated voice.

Zainab is the daughter of Fatima, the wife of the agricultural laborer. I am sure, mother, that you know Zainab, the beautiful young girl. I am sure you have been seeing her going to or coming from the well carrying the jar of water to her house. I am sure you know her mother also. said Amir to his mother.

O! Zainab is the tall beautiful girl who lives just few meters from the farm-house. Yes now, I know her. Tell me if you please, I almost see her everyday and whenever she looks at me she smiles in a very mysterious way. I don't know why she behaves in this strange way when she sees me. said the black woman and the mother of Amir.

Mother, don't be worried, don't be disturbed. She is a nice and a gentle girl. said Amir to his mother.

Why do you talk in this strange way about her? How could you pass value judgments on her and her behavior? This is very enigmatic. Do you know this girl, Zainab, my son, tell me? said the amazed mother to her son, Amir.

I think you are right, you are justified to raise all of these questions about Zainab. said Amir to his mother.

Then why don't you speak to me in very explicit and frank way. Tell me just now what is going on in this farm-house, my dear son. Tell me what is going on. said Jawhara to her son, Amir.

We, Zainab and I, are friends. said the son to his mother.

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Though I don't know this except at this moment, I ask you what is wrong in that if you and Zainab are friends. What is wrong in that? said the mother to her son.

We are very close friends. We are very intimate friends. said the black boy to his mother who opened her eyes in complete astonishment. She was about to say something, but, anyhow, she did not say anything, but kept silent, taciturn and reticent. Then she said:

Please elaborate more what you mean by intimate friends. Are you in love of each other, my son? asked the amazed mother.

Mother, since about one year we have been meeting secretly in places which are completely hidden. We have been meeting very frequently. said the son to his mother.

I ask you my son and you have to answer me frankly. Do you love this white girl? said the amazed and the bewildered black mother to her black son.

I love her and she loves me. I think so. We have not yet told each other that we love each other. This is why I told you that we are intimate friends. This friendship has started since one year. I kissed Zainab once or twice. Yet we are very close friends and I want just to tell you this fact but this is not the whole story. What I told you is nothing but the simple facts concerning our story, my story, I, Amir, and her story, that of Zainab. So far the story does not tell about the spirit of this story. said Amir to his mother. But the mother started crying. Tears were pouring from her eyes on her black face. Amir was troubled when he saw his mother crying.

My dear son, why don't you tell me the whole story, what is going on in the farm-house? Tell me without any hesitation and without trying to hide from me anything that is happening to you said the troubled mother to her son.

The most important part of this story, of our love story, is that Zainab is going to marry in two months time to somebody. Abu Ali, the shop keeper who is married already to three wives is the future husband of Zainab. said the boy to his mother.

Then what, let her marry Abu Ali. I am sure that this marriage is an arranged affair between the father of the girl and the shop keeper. Isn't it so? This is what happens in our society, not only here in this remote spot of the Ottoman Empire but everywhere. said the black mother to her son.

Mother, I think this is unfair. This arrangement is to the disadvantage of the girl. She does not want to marry this man. She does not like him, she does not love him. Besides, the family she would be living with is already composed of three wives and several children. said Amir to his mother.

What is wrong in this? Nowadays, this is a common way of getting married. You could find a number of families composed of several wives in a family in addition, in some cases, of a number of concubines. said the black mother.

Mother, my dear mother, I am really very surprised and even amazed you are taking this unjust and unfair position. I propose that my father goes and talks over this problem with the father of Zainab. Perhaps, my father could convince her father to let his daughter free and not oblige her to marry a man whose age is three times the age of Zainab. said Amir to his mother.

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I think we should leave the father of the girl to take whatever decision he likes regarding the future of his daughter. We do not have the right to interfere. said the mother to her son, the prodigy.

Mother, I told you that we are friends, intimate friends and I am planning to marry her. said Amir to his mother.

This is a surprise to me. I never expected that you aspire to marry at this early age. Besides, my son, I warn you not to mention, to tell, your story, your love story with Zainab to anybody. I expect if her father knows that his daughter is having secret meetings with you during one full year he will lose his mind and he might hurt his daughter. I think you already know that your friend will lose her life if her father knows that she has been in some sentimental relationship and contact with you for the last one year.

There have been tragic stories in our community in which young girls were victims of false, fallacious and fictitious accusations. Girls, the victims, were accused of tarnishing the honor of the family and the community by way of certain wrong and false accusations. Let her marry the man who was chosen for her by her father. Her father, according to our traditions, has the right to choose for her the future husband. I repeat; I am surprised that you think it is possible for you to marry at this early age.

My son, Amir, let us forget this story and forever and let us concentrate our thinking on your academic and professional future. Of course, marriage is very important. But let us make it a next step after you come back from Beirut as a well recognized doctor. Now and for some few years to come, let us concentrate our thinking and efforts on your future as a doctor, as a man who would help others to survive and to conquer death. said Jawhara to her son who was listening to her with attention and some amazement.

Mother, how can I leave Zainab to accept a certain destiny for her life which would be decided for her by others, other than herself? I promised her that I will marry her and that I will take her with me to Beirut where she would be staying with me in a house of mine. Isn't this a possible solution, a logical way of thinking? Please mother; try to understand me. said Amir to his mother.

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Please, Amir, don't propose things that are not practical, that are impossible to implement. Don't forget that you are a black man. According to my tradition, I mean the tradition of the black people, I never heard that a black man married a white woman, or married outside his race. A black woman can marry a white man. Examples of this observation, this practice, could be found in our present contemporary time as well as in history. Many black women have been marrying white men either as a free woman or as a slave. It is a rare case where a black man married a white woman. Perhaps this is a dogma. As a young black man, you should never have in mind or contemplate the idea, to get married to a white woman. A black man should marry a black woman. You should not be an exceptional case. Wait for some years to come until you become a doctor and then you would have the chance of meeting a black woman with an absolutely black blood who would be your wife and the mother of your children. The mother stopped talking all of a sudden.

In front of the black woman, the mother of Amir, the black prodigy, there was nobody. Nobody was there in front of the black mother, Jawhara. The room, the bedroom, was vacant and her son, Amir, who was listening to her attentively just few moments ago, was not there. The black boy disappeared leaving his mother all alone in her room. Was Jawhara talking to herself only or what?

The black mother, Jawhara, looked around hoping to find her son somewhere in the room. The mother of Amir for a while remembered the history of her life and was wondering whether her son would be experiencing something similar to events which happened so far to her during her exciting and mysterious life.

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