Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

An Excerpt of Echoes from the Other Land by Ava Homa

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An Excerpt of Echoes from  the Other Land by Ava Homa


“Every relative is willing to donate something, as much as they can.” I recognize Ronak’s voice, my aunt.

“I know, but it’s a high-risk surgery. What can I say? How can I make a decision like that for her?” That voice is Mom speaking.

“Trust God, dear.”

“What’ve I done to deserve this?” Mom asks. “For which sin?”

Same old questions. I lean my head against the hallway wall. Which sin? Whose sin? Who pays for whose sin? Sometimes I wonder if God hates all the people in this city, all the people who live on the border of Iran and Iraq. My father says Sanandaj is a city of revolution and mass murder, tyranny and genocide. I was in my mother’s womb when the war broke out and eight when it was finally over. I do not know what sin these people committed to deserve such horror but I know that God does not ever answer my prayers. Maybe He will in the afterworld.

“God is testing your faith,” Ronak says.

Pushing the door open quietly, I tilt my head so as to peek into the living room. The two women are sitting on the handmade carpet, leaning against the new Kurdish cushions. Ronak takes a sip of her tea and notices me in the crack of the door. “Sharmin is a sweetheart,” she says, raising her voice.

Mom’s white headscarf that she wears during prayer has slid onto her shoulders and her salt-and-pepper hair is messy. “Her situation wouldn’t run me down, if she was, at least, a boy,” Mom says. Placing a hand on her hip, she winces.

“Sharmin, dear, come here,” Ronak says. “You look nice in that shirt, darling.”

Mom coughs and pulls the scarf over her head. I hobble over and sit next to Ronak, and hide my head behind her shoulders, twisting my fingers into the hem of my blue shirt.

From her purse, Ronak takes out a book with a red cover. “Because you finished reading the last book,” she turns her head to me, smiling. “You deserve a new one.”

Good Stories for Good Kids2. On the cover there is a sketch of a young girl in a headscarf, across from a boy. I grab the book and limp hurriedly towards my room.

“Would you like to eat now? Your dad won’t be in tonight,” Mom calls after me.

“Not hungry,” I say over my shoulder, close the door and throw myself onto the bed. I open the book and position its corners on my ears.


Weekend. My uncle’s family will visit us and I pray that Azad will be with them. Mom says he is a man now and does not go out with his parents. When I am on the rooftop waiting for the days to end, I often see Azad in the neighbourhood with his friends. I do not call out and he does not look up. I have a feeling that Azad will come over today, if it’s God’s will. Please, God!

Afternoon. The shampoo slowly slips to the corner of my mouth. The bitter taste. I close my eyes. It’s not hard to imagine myself emerging from the River of Milk and Honey: luminous wings open. Azad passes by and stares. Gathering my wings behind me, I walk elegantly in a white dress towards a garden of red roses, pretending not to see him. A breeze blows through my hair. When I get to the garden, I turn and beckon to him; he has a look of adoration in his eyes. He runs to me. We walk together through the garden, hand in hand.

I begin shivering. The water always gets cold fast—to wake me from dreams, I think. No, “to save gas,” says Dad.

My underdress and puffy pants are silver. I pull on the Kurdish dress, bright red with embroidery, which Ronak gave me last year. She bought it for me in Iraq—the only dress I have that Mom hasn’t tailored. I choose to wear my short-sleeved, silver vest, which I have decorated with white sequins and glass beads tying the long tails of the sleeves behind my neck. The loose fit hides my noticeable breasts. I loop a belt around my waist and rummage through the dresser for a red headscarf and come across a vest of Mom’s that’s ornamented with sparkly charms, traditional amber, red and black beads, and gold jewelry received as dowry. In the last drawer, I find her belt, made entirely of connected and dangling gold lira coins. I have never seen my mother wear the vest or the belt. Mom and my aunts always wear dark-coloured, plain Kurdish dresses, with long-sleeved vests, and with little or no accessories. I, too, do not like to make God angry by showing off. And though I hate covering my thick and wavy hair, nobody should pay for my sins.

I am trying on the headscarf when Mom appears between me and the mirror. She frowns at the messy knot I have made of the scarf and lifts a black scarf from the drawer: “This black one will make your face look smaller.”

I examine her frowning face and then my own face in the mirror. It’s nothing like a monster’s. I am loveable.


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