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La Pietra Dialogues On the World On-Line
Ali Farah

A few minutes later the manager lets us into a phone booth with two handsets; the space is very narrow and it is hot as hell. We are sweating, it’s sweltering hot, the phone number endless, the international code endless, and the time it takes for someone to answer endless. I feel as if I were in a humid cave and I think that the

phone at the other end is also in a similar place, a sweltering cavern like ours and,

inside, Libaan’s mother, who has been waiting for twenty years. The phone rings, I

wait for a reply and Libaan keeps staring at me because he is afraid of my silence. He

spurs me on “You can do it!”” and from the other end I hear a voice “Halow, yaa

waaye?” “Hello, who’s calling? They are speaking Somali and I understand

everything, but until now I have only transformed Somali into Italian, I don’t really

know how to transform Italian into Somali.

From the other end of the phone we hear “halow” and Libaan encourages me again

“You can do it!”, and I see the words lining up in my head, I hear and see them all,

they are kicking around, they become encased in their hard shells, and I push with

my forehead and with my eyes to let them through. The words are hard, they slice

my head. It is the same sensation I feel when it is hot and, after drinking something

very cold, I feel a sharp pang between my eyes and have to catch my breath. Still,

the pain does not go away, so I start pushing hard again. I feel the words coming up

my throat and I touch their shapes with my tongue. I push the air out and the words

come out, whole, from my mouth.

I see Libaan smiling at me as he is saying “Mama, it’s me.” His voice is breaking, and I

repeat, my voice breaking, the same words “Hooyo, waa aniga”, and the words

“mama”, “it’s” and “me” sound the same in the new language, perhaps only a bit

sharper. Libaan is frantic and wants to talk about too many things: how long he has

been searching for her, how much he has missed her, how much he has thought

about her, but he can only say simple words and his mother repeats the same

sentences, and I am, at once, both the mother and the son.

We are in the cave and it is sweltering hot. Libaan and I are dripping with sweat and

we are each holding a corded handset. The mother’s voice reaches us both, and our

voices reach her together. The words feel whole in my mouth, I had not felt them

for so long. They are the words of the son, but also mine. Libaan and I say together

“hooyo”, mama, and “waa aniga”, it’s me.

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