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A ten-letter African country
Short story

By Mehdi Nasrin
August 14, 2000
The Iranian

One of my college courses was "philosophy of biology". I could never overcome the urge to skip it. I did not attend even once. At the end of the term, half an hour before the last class, I was sitting in my room trying to find a ten-letter African country whose fifth letter was G, when somebody knocked on my window. I drew the curtain aside and saw my Arab friend, Ahmed, standing behind the window on the emergency exit stairs. I opened the window for him.

"Don't you want to get your door bell repaired?" asked Ahmed.

"The landlord has promised to fix it one of these days."

"I've heard that more than ten times. It's okay for me, but I don't think it makes a nice impression if a chick comes to your room through the window."

"I don't think it's a problem. Nowadays everything works under Windows."

I sat on my armchair again, put my feet on the table, and continued my struggle with the crossword puzzle. He was surprised. I don't know exactly why. Was it my feet on the table or my threadbare socks? In any case, I realized he wanted something from me.

"I came to your room at ten o'clock. Where were you?" he asked after a brief hesitation. It was a good subject to start a conversation, but I was sure my absence was not important to him.

"I had to go to the washroom," I said. "You know those things are not very patient."

"There's a washroom at the end of the corridor. May I ask why you walk ten minutes each time to go and do your business in the department's toilet? I don't think it's because of hygiene."

Of course it was because of hygiene.

"It's because of psycho-hygiene," I answered. "When you take exams and professors put some nonsense numbers on your papers, you become upset with your department. You can't break the windows every day, but you can shit there, sometimes more than once a day."

He nodded. "I see, but I don't think it's a good solution."

"And I don't think you are here to change my excretion habits."

"You should come with me to that philosophy of biology class."

I immediately put the crossword puzzle aside and said, "If you find a ten-letter African country for me."

"It's good for you too. The professor is going to talk about the exam questions."

"Its fifth letter is G," I said, knowing that the class was only good for him because he was an observer, not a registered student for that course. "Is observing all you Arabs do?"

He opened the refrigerator and said, "Keep your racism to yourself."

The word "racism" reminded me of Moses.

"So the Jewish girl is in that class too."

"I told you, it's for your own good. Come to class," said Ahmed and drank some orange juice.

Naturally the attempt to unite a Black twenty-year-old Arab boy with a White twenty-year-old Jewish girl was more interesting than finding a ten-letter African country. I took the crossword puzzle once again.

"For me, going to that class is like flying a kite in a cellar," I said without looking at him.

"For me, going there without you means that I'm kissing her ass."

Okay. Now it was a matter of conscience. I took off my underwear and said: "Please give me one of those T-shirts, and please leave some orange juice for me."

He passed a green T-shirt and said, " It's admirable that what you wear isn't important to you ."

I couldn't find any road to the Promised Land in his comment, so I imagined he wasn't flattering me. I fastened my belt and took a sip from the glass of orange juice Ahmed had given me. I was tying my shoelaces when he asked about Hillary.

"The war has entered its sixth day," I answered without looking up.

"Then be hopeful. Even God rested on the seventh day," he said, smiling.

I was happy for Ahmed and his beloved. In contrast to my beloved and I, they at least had one thing in common: a God not strong enough to work more than six days a week.

"If she asks you to take her somewhere for your honeymoon, where would you go?" I asked as we were leaving my room.

"I don't know.. I guess a Moslem Arab man and a Jewish Dutch woman must spend their honeymoon in Madagascar."

Now I was really happey. This time for myself. I returned to my room and wrote M, A, D, A, A, S, C, A, R in the crossword puzzle. G was already there.

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