KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - Buthina Khidir Mekki is a Sudanese novelist and a writer of short stories. She published five novels and collections of short stories including The palm and Singer (1993), The Ghosts of Towns (1994), Shadows of Greif (1996) and Awakening of a Heart (20019). Her books have been translated into English, French and German. Buthaina was honored with the prominent Arab Women Writers. She was the first president of Sudanese Women Writers Association. Now she is the director of Buthina Khidir Mekki Center for culture and Enlightenment in Khartoum.
Abdul-Aziz Ali Omer has selected and translated for Sudanow readers “Dreams of a Tea Seller” from her collection Awakening of a Heart:
She put what she carried on the ground and began to sweep the place with a broom made of palm fronds. She adjusted her Tobe or shawl over her head and then began to sprinkle water from an ancient bucket with a tin cup, a cup that lost its handle since time immemorial. She turned to her son, a child of nine, and in a harsh voice shouted 'Oh, Boy!, bring the chairs quickly. Here, boy, take this money to the janitor. He ran with panting breaths hampered by the malnourishment that challenged his gaunt, thin body.
From a large basket, she took out utensils which she carried in a sack and arranged them. She put on a pot of coffee, tea kettle and a stainless steel tray which had cost her an exorbitant price that she had willingly to pay to the vendor at Souk ElShabei – a popular market - she was confident that she would benefit from it on an elegant display as would she serve beverages to her prospective clients. She followed her son tripping and falling in his walk while carrying five stools bound with colorful strings balanced on his tiny head, but swaying on either side of him, wisps of his soft hair clung to his brow and over his neck. She took two steps toward him to relieve him of holding the small chairs and put them on the ground. Then she re-arranged them in a semi-circle. "Go fast and bring ten chairs" she said. Easily, he walked and returned carrying other five little stools for patrons to sit on.
Meanwhile, she was engrossed in the arrangement of utensils on a small table, the china cups, tea pot, the bowl of milk and sugar jar, igniting a small gas-burner stove and pouring some boiling water into the tea pot. She polished a big thermos flask where she spilled steaming water, added six leaves of mint and a pinch of Two Gazelles tea. The taste of the tea would be delicious after adding bits of cinnamon or cardamom pounded in a mortar.
She turned back to her 9-year old son while he was carrying another pile of chairs. She contemplated him leaping or hopping in his steps until he reached her and stopped before her. She looked at him with compassion and affection. And then, she sighed. Without him, she wouldn't have been compelled to take this profession of tea seller which exposes her to many troubles. After the death of his father, she enrolled him at school and rented a room in one of the public residential quarters. Every day, she would come to sell tea in this place after completing selling ‘Kissra' to her neighbours and customers.
She migrated from her village on the remotest fringes of the North of Sudan after falling out with her cousins, the wives of her brother and came with her son to Omdurman to live in one of shanty slums. She sighed again as she took the stools from her son and neatly arrayed them in a semi- circle around tea table. She dreamt on. May be some day, her son would be a physician. One day, she would be addressed as the mother of Dr. Samih. Her son was one of the brightest pupils. He would realize her aspirations.
A sudden up-roar and commotion started up on the shore around her. Her son came running, gasping and screaming ”Mum, the police are doing a round-up. They have poured Hajja Sakina’s tea on the ground and taken her chairs“. His mother was distraught on hearing this and hurried to try to protect her few possessions which she had struggled too exhaustively to buy. In the confusion, she tried to conceal them in a burlap bag, but before she did so the Tatar attack began. With elevated eyes, she looked at the policemen tearfully and imploringly, but they stood before her and in all their cruelty and harshness started to gather her belongings and throw them violently into their vehicle.
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