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learning english with fatimah  

friday morning I’m there
in her apartment
at the windy end 
of the fifteenth floor
      the place is, as usual, tornado-struck:
the floor strewn 
with socks and undies
mashed crayons 
and plastic toys
      we sit at the dining table
in broken-backed chairs
and I shuffle my books and papers
trying to find a clear spot
on the table-top
amongst the half-eaten apples
and unpaid bills
      she sighs and says
‘I didn’t do much
too busy
too tired’
and she tells me about her week:
‘ali went to hospital again
layla doesn’t like school
mohammed has the flu’
     ‘and what about you?’ I ask
‘bad this week,’ she says
‘you know, I got my period’
I rub my abdomen 
in sympathy
our months have moved together
‘I take nurofen
but it doesn’t help’      
      she pours herself a mug
of thick black tea
throws in a handful of sugar
‘I have to buy a car’
she says, ‘it takes too long
to get to islamic school
at the weekend
one hour there, one hour back
it’s not easy, you know’
      the phone rings
it’s the sister who lives in footscray
she hangs up laughing
‘we’re going to the eid festival
on saturday – she says she’s on
 – what is she?
a machine?’ 
     I laugh 
and we read a book 
about santa claus
we talk about words
like reindeer and elves
and sleigh
      afterwards she says
‘australians like christmas
but they don’t believe in god’
‘some do…’  I say
but she’s already on the soapbox:
‘but most don’t
they say they believe 
in themselves
what kind of god is that?’
      it’s the most heated
I’ve ever seen her
I think: the sugar’s hit the brain
     when she’s finished
she slurps the rest of her tea
and says
‘australians only believe in fark’
‘you know, fark – 
that’s all they say around here:
fark fark fark 
why do they have to say
all the time for?
what does it mean?’
      I open my mouth
but she carries on
‘I know what it means
it means nothing 
like that all the time
they sound like ducks:
fark fark fark, fark fark fark!’
      we’re both laughing now
rocking back and forth
almost falling out 
of our broken-backed chairs
clutching each other’s arms
and trying to hold our hysterical
moon-afflicted bellies

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