In my blog post about my favourite reads of 2020, I included We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan, a cinematic and brilliant debut novel from the #Merky Books New Writer's Prize winner. The book is publishing today and in celebration, this weeks' blog is an exclusive extract kindly supplied by #Merky Books.
We Are All Birds of Uganda is a dual narrative, with the modern day story told through the eyes of Sameer and the past told through letters written by Hasan. Here we are introduced Hasan...
To my first love, my beloved 15th August 1945 It is my wedding night tonight. But instead of lying with my new wife, I am sitting here in my study, writing to you. I could not bring myself to touch her; I could barely look at her. And now she lies in our marital bed, alone, whilst I sit here with a pen and paper. I know this is foolish. I know this letter will never reach you. But I did not know what else to do. I had to talk to you. The nikkah took place earlier today in the stuffy heat of our front room. A power cut meant that the fans were not working; all the windows were open, but no breeze could allay the stickiness that clung to us all. It was a small and rushed affair; just Papa, Samir and Abdullah were present to witness Muazzam Kaka confirming that Shabnam – my new wife – agreed. The imam hurriedly recitedthe fatihah and Shabnam appeared like a ghost through the side door, draped in a red gauze dupatta. A small, sickly looking child in a green salwar kameez holding a plate full of laddoos followedher. Shabnam sat down beside me, accompanied by the thick scent of jasmine, and I could feel the weight of her body depress my side of the sofa. My insides began to churn before the laddoo even reached my lips. Shabnam is twenty-one years old. I am forty. I need to explain to you how this has happened. Much like our own wedding,I did not choose this.The news of your passing reached India before I even had the chance to shed a tear.
Do you remember Muazzam Kaka, Papa’s younger brother? I am certain you do; you were always so good at remembering faces and names. He came to Uganda to visit just once, many years ago, when Samir was born. His son died last year, leaving behind a wife and two young children. When they heard the news of your passing, they appeared without a word of warning. Muazzam Kaka and Papa took me aside and explained that it was my ‘duty’, as the only surviving grandson of my late grandparents, to take care of my cousin’s family. I had never met my cousin before he died. Muazzam Kaka was as good as a stranger to me when he arrived. But I am duty-bound.
And so here I am, on the evening of my second wedding night, writing a letter to my first wife, the one and only love of my life.
I cannot begin to describe how I miss you.The pain subsides only when I am sleeping, but then I dream of you, running through the long grass towards the Nile, dupatta waving in the wind, laughing and calling me to follow you.
When I close my eyes, our wedding night comes back to me with such startling clarity, as though it took place just yesterday. Funny how twenty-one years pass in the blink of an eye. Before we were wed, I had only ever glimpsed you outside the mosque, head covered, eyes downwards, clutching your younger sister’s hand. I saw you once after our families had agreed our marriage, about a month before the nikkah. I was driving down Nasser Road, and I saw you walking past, holding bags of shopping spilling with fabrics,your fair skin flushed. I thought then that you were the most beautiful creature I had ever seen.