A Somali father and his adult son were having the inevitable or even, penultimate, father-son talk in their living room somewhere in London.
‘Son, I think it’s time for you to get married. You’ve finished school, have started your career, and are settled enough to start a family. The time is right.’
‘Father, I think you may be correct. The clock is ticking and I can’t stop it from doing so. Since you have handicapped me and I can’t get a woman on my own I will get married according to custom.’
His father smiled.
‘I did what I could. The most important thing is for us to be watchful. And you are childless and without taint still even in your mid-twenties, ready for life now.’
The father opened up his laptop. On it were the search results on Facebook with their qabil, their tribe’s name, in the search bar.
‘Here is a list of eligible girls. All of them are part of our tribe so you don’t have to worry about their upbringing. They were all raised the same way, the proper way, within family tradition. And likewise all are of the same disposition. Take your pick,’ his father added.
The son began to take his pick, scrolling through the pages, and pages, and pages, and pages of veiled Somali girls. There were a lot of eligible girls in the family! Even after five minutes, he was still scrolling. His father became irritated.
‘What are you doing, looking for a house ?’ the father asked.
This admonishment woke the son out of his stupor and the near listless scrolling.
‘How about this one, father?’
‘Well, why not? But I don’t know what took you so long. One is the same as the other.’
‘I just got caught up in scrolling, father. You know how it is. It gets pleasant sometimes.’
‘No, I don’t know how it is, but no matter. We will send for her from home.’
The process began for bringing the son’s new wife to London from Somalia, and this process played mostly on a phone call to their ancestral village.
Soon a mother and daughter talk occurred. The inevitable or even, penultimate, mother-daughter talk. They were in their sparse kitchen that had nothing but a firepot, some charcoal, and a few utensils.
‘Daughter, someone asked for your hand. You are of age now, and I think the time is right.’
‘Thank you, mother. But who is it? Son of Adullahi?’
‘No. Stop with your playground love affairs. This is a man, rer magaal, a worldly man who lives abroad.’
‘Oh. Am I leaving?’
‘Of course. There’s no difference between one household to the next, even if it is in a different country.’
‘That’s true, mother. But at least if I stay in the village I’ll be around people I know. There I won’t know anyone, let alone the language people speak there.’
‘Daughter, I raised you so you would only need one language, the language spoken through housework.’
‘Well then, mother dearest, if that’s all I need, that’s all I need. I speak that language really well as that’s been my first language for six years.’
‘It is, and you speak it well. Mothers are like…language teachers.’ The mother chuckled slightly. ‘The most important thing, daughter, I’ll say to you now. Remember above all, remain Somali and obey your husband!’
‘Yes, mother. I’ll do as you say. I’ll obey my husband and remain Somali. But I don’t see how I could ever change my Somaliness.’
A month later the girl was flown out to London, a married woman. They purchased a marital home with a formidable mortgage but the man had a good job and had been planning for this. There were no financial issues and happiness flourished as it’s true what they say: a wife makes a home. Soon however the traits of handicap began to show itself. Not traits per se but rather the desires of a handicapped person, the desire to be like everyone else. The couple had been living together for a number of weeks and were in harmony when one day he suggested a trip to his wife, a trip to the doctor’s.
‘For what?’ the girl asked him. ‘I don’t feel sick.’
‘Don’t worry. This isn’t a doctor for those things, for sickness and health. This is a special doctor.’
‘Come and you’ll see.’
So they went to the doctor, a doctor in Harley Street. They were received warmly, compassionately, for the plastic surgeons of London had been familiar with Somalis, particularly Somali women, and the doctor assumed it would be a matter of reconstructive surgery. His eyes told her how sorry he was and how he would try to help her.
‘What a nice man,’ the woman thought. ‘What kind eyes.’
His look changed drastically from kindness to bewilderment when the husband said something about a nose job, some lip fillers, and forehead reduction surgery. The woman wondered what was wrong, what had happened, why did he look at the couple so confused now and what were they saying to each other…
‘Rhinoplasty? Forgive me. I thought it would be something else. Something related -‘
‘I know what you were thinking of,’ said the husband airily. ‘But there are no issues there for the moment. Maybe some time in the future.’
‘Some time in the future,’ the doctor repeated, puzzled, but he was a salesman and mechanically began to process a sale.
When they perform cosmetic procedures they ask a questionnaire, but the Somali woman spoke no English; so the questions asked by the doctor were answered by the Somali husband, most of the time without even turning to the woman, the subject of the procedure. At the end, he exhorted her to sign on the dotted line.
‘Sign what? Sign? What do you mean by that, brother?’ the woman asked her husband as he handed a pen to her.
‘It’s nothing, sister. It’s just something they do here. They sign a lot of papers.’
‘But sign? I don’t even know -‘ said the woman almost desperately. ‘I don’t know what that means.’
‘Just make a mark, a scribble. Here.’
The husband took her hand and guided it so that it resembled her name. The doctor continued to look at the couple nonplussed, looking on as the husband guided the woman’s signature, something he had never seen before. ‘Would that be considered as forgery,’ he mused, ‘even if she herself is touching the pen?’ An interesting philosophical question. ‘Maybe she just never held a pen before and is writing for the first time.’ He frowned more. ‘But if she has never held a pen before why would she even think of getting lip fillers? A thought of lip fillers before the thought of holding a pen?’
But a salesman is a salesman and a sale a sale. She was booked in for a month hence. The month passed quickly and in that time she learned a few basic words in English but her main language was still that of housework. She went into the hospital practically the same woman she was a month before, unable to talk to anyone there, but once she left, she would be a new woman. This is what the Somali husband, the handicapped man, wanted. He didn’t want a new wife, not so soon after marrying this one. And adultery was not an option. But he wanted a new woman, not a different woman, because he wasn’t unhappy with this one. This was the handicapped man’s desire, the desire to be like everyone else. Everyone around him his own age had had multiple women but he had been a good boy, obeying his father, and never strayed into fornication. The handicapped man’s desire never left him, only intensified within him and he desperately wanted to be like everyone else and wanted to have more than one woman on his body count. The idea came to him when he pondered his father’s question. ‘What are you doing, buying a house?’ Well, if a wife makes a home, and a home is a house that means he could change a few things about the house to make it like new and that would mean…
Lying in the bed as the nurses and the doctors fussed about her, the Somali wife knew something was going to happen to her, but she, like her husband, was an obedient child, and her mother did say obey her husband. She however couldn’t do anything even if she wanted to because the language of housework didn’t play in an operating room. The husband was with her all the way, translating Somali to English and vice versa. He was excited and happy about this new woman he would get. A handicapped man on his way to realising his desire of full function. Soon he would have had two, a respectable number.
When the drugs wore off some forty hours later, she realised what had happened, that they had restructured her face somewhat, and her husband had told her so, beaming as he did, saying that she would be pleased with it once it settled down. All she could reply to that was an incredulous moan. This moan turned into near cataleptic shock when she looked in the mirror and saw her swollen face and the new lips they had given her. Even through the bandages one could see that her nose was much thinner than any Somali woman’s and her lips had a porn star look, and blood seeping through the bandages of her lowered forehead… She was in as much spiritual pain as physical but this pain passed as anxiety kicked in once the words of her husband penetrated. She would look different once things settled. What would she look like when things were settled?
A few weeks later she woke up and felt great. She felt that all the effects from the surgery had receded and that her face had settled. She had been looking at herself in the mirror every day and had been seeing gradual improvements and her husband had been noting how new she was looking – like a new woman.
‘But why should I want to be a new woman?’ she used to reply.
‘No reason, no reason,’ he would quickly say, grinning all the while, and then adding mysteriously, ‘why not?’
She looked in the mirror to see what this new woman looked like. The nose was slimmer, the forehead smaller and the lips which were swollen before, looked less freakish now, but still too huge. These three things added up to one thing. To her husband, she was a new woman. To her, all she saw was a woman who wasn’t Somali. She remembered the words of her mother. ‘Above all, obey your husband and….remain Somali!’ She made a choking sound and couldn’t even think about deciding whether she looked good or bad, better or worse. She wanted to talk to her mother for further instruction because she hadn’t anticipated such a situation. Her two exhortations seemed to clash with each other. ‘Now what?’ she would ask her mother but sure she would have no answer.
The husband however was now a satisfied man, telling himself and others that two was a good number, especially considering the circumstances he had to deal with. Yes two was a great number, especially for a handicapped man. Great indeed, but not magical. The magic number would be three and for that he would have to make some changes….
Image – Pixabay.com
7 thoughts on “The Handicapped Man’s Desire by Hylas Maliki”
This is an eloquent and thoughtful piece. Extremely well presented and gives a fascinating perspective on a culture. I hope to see more from you.
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Glad that everyone enjoyed it. I’ll submit another soon. People should check out the novella in my bio link if they like quirky cultural pieces.
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Ironic the way the son scrolls through the pictures of “veiled women” and eventually picks one out. “They’re all the same,” says his father. They certainly are. And later the husband wants to change his wife’s look so she becomes “different.” She interprets that look as “not Somali,” but she obeys her husband. She’s changed on the outside, for sure. Kind of a horror story, in my opinion, the husband pays the doctor to create his Frankenstein monsterette. Good 1.
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He wants to be like everyone else.
I enjoyed this.
The tone and phrasing was interesting.
I liked that a few parts were very understated in a sort of polite and awkward way.
The title and the MC referring to himself as the ‘The Handicapped Man’ at first seems to be absolute and clear cut. He states to his father that it was him who handicapped him. That is maybe a slight at his own culture which he has every right to comment on. However as the story goes on, it is clear that he has many handicaps and all of them are his!
The inclusion on the issue of FGM and how it wasn’t mentioned, again, this could be a comment on the culture and could be looked at as either acceptance or ridicule of the barbaric procedure.
Any stories about any cultures can be written without any consideration about non-acceptance or acceptance, you give us so much to consider from ourselves.
This is a very clever and well thought out piece of work.
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I was curious about how people would receive a story in this format. I’m glad you enjoyed this.
Thank you so much for this story. I am Somali man, late twenties, almost done with master’s degree and unmarried. I felt sorry for the handicapped man and the poor girl from Somalia. The desire to fit in and at the same time conform to cultural expectations is what most young somali men and women struggle with. I was talking to my uncle a few weeks ago about marriage. He said that one of his biggest regrets was marrying late and having kids in his late 50s. I always considered him as a more “liberal” guy since he seemed to be open minded about a lot of things. I didn’t know him that much but spending more time with him few weeks ago changed my view about him. He looked more like the handicapped father whenever he talked about social expectations. He advised me to avoid career women as all they do is “compete with you and abandon your children”. “If you are worried about money, God will provide for you. Your wife can look after your babies.” He also said, ” Get a submissive Somali girl. Women of other races and cultures are not family oriented and will alienate you from your own people.” I have a feeling he knows that I am still with my non-Somali woman and he wants to talk about it but I haven’t brought her up knowing how that conversation would go.
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