Call me Shadi, Muna, Nasima… – by Iris Anne Lewis
They know the power of names in my new land. You find it in their stories – an elf spins straw into gold. His price? The Queen’s child. He hides his name.
‘Rum-pel-stilts-kin,’ says the queen. ‘That is your name.’
Rage, it eats him up. He has lost. Rum-pel-stilts-kin. The guttural sounds stutter on my tongue. A strange language, I learn it quickly.
I hide my name the day Daesh captured us. We pretend to be Kurdish but our fair skin and blue eyes give us away. ‘Yazidi,’ they yell.
They line up all the girls and young women outside the makeshift market. The auctioneer goes along the row.
‘What’s your name?’ Writes it on a piece of paper.
‘What’s your name?’ Another piece of paper. Writes it down.
My turn. Names tumble through my head, – Shadi, Muna, Nasima… I pick one at random. ‘Muna,’ I say. He hangs the piece of paper round my neck and laughs. ‘You’re pretty. You’ll fetch a good price.’
That day, it lives in my mind. Even here they keep asking my name. Once again names swirl through my mind, — Nadia, Yasmin, Shadi… Not Muna, though. Never again will I be Muna.
‘Shadi,’ I tell them. They write it down on their forms, pin them to their clipboards or stuff them in folders.
Therapist – it was one of the first words I learnt in my new language. I have met many since I have been here. Ilse is my favourite. She is a story therapist. She wants us to make up stories together — about what happened to me. But always I shake my head, stay silent for the rest of the session. So instead she tells me stories – the traditional tales of her land.
‘The cold weather is coming,’ Ilse says. ‘The right time of year for fairytales.’
She is right. They are winter tales, full of darkness with their gloomy forests and bestial lovers. But there is truth in them too, though Ilse sometimes gets it wrong. She tells me about the red-capped girl. She was visiting her grandmother but wandered off the path. The wolf was lying in bed, in her grandmother’s clothes. ‘What big eyes you’ve got, Grandma.’
I cry out, ‘No, that’s not how it was. He said “What blue eyes you’ve got, Muna.” And it was the girl on the bed. The wolf, he was leaping onto her.’ And then I remember where I am.
Ilse reaches over and takes my hand. We sit in silence.
Next time she tells me the story about the princess frozen in sleep for a hundred years. She is captive. On a bed.
Ilse reaches the bit where the prince is waking the princess with a kiss. I scream out, ‘Not a kiss, more, much more. Many men. I lose count.’
I howl like a beaten dog. Ilse gathers me into her arms and I weep on her shoulder until at last my sobs shudder into silence. The first time I have cried since arriving in my new land. Ilse leads me to my room.
I sleep the clock round. No bad dreams. No sweat soaked sheets. The sun peeks though the curtains, wakes me up.
I say to Ilse the next time she comes, ‘Spring is coming. Please. No more winter tales. My body is healing. In time, the doctors say, the scars will fade.’
Ilse suggests we go for a walk. There is a warmth in the air. The thaw is underway. I say to Ilse, ‘It’s my turn to tell you a story’. As we walk this is what I say.
‘I am a woman, still young. My face was once pretty. I shall never bear children. My eyes are blue. I am Yazidi. My name,’ I hesitate. Ilse looks at me, nods encouragingly. I continue, my voice quiet but clear. ‘My name is Jalila.’
This story was one of the prize winners in the annual Gloucestershire Writers’ Network competition 2018 and is due to be performed to a sell-out audience at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on Sunday 7 October. The story will feature – along with other prize-winning tales – in the GWN Anthology. Further details are available at https://gloswriters.org.uk