Walla – The Wishing Ring
By Sören Olsson
Sample translation by Agnes Broome
“A fresh start.”
That’s what her dad, Hamid, had called it.
The way Aminah saw it, he might as well have called it “a fresh death”.
A new city.
“Walla…” Aminah said under her breath. She knew it would be exactly like the last time they moved.
From now on, everything was going to feel new, weird and hard for a long time.
It was always the same! Aminah sighed and stared out the window as the car rolled down a long, straight stretch leading to some sort of town centre.
“This is going to be good, Habibi”, her mum, Leila, said to comfort her.
Aminah said nothing. She was tired of moving.
“Uncle Abbe told me there’s lots of things to do here”, her dad said. “There’s a basketball team, for example. Maybe you could start playing again.”
Aminah rolled her eyes at that.
What was the point of getting back into basketball when you knew you weren’t staying anyway?
“This is going to be our home now!” her dad announced, as though he could read his daughter’s mind.
“For a long time.”
Aminah hoped that was true. Because she was sick of always leaving. In the autumn, she was starting year 8 and she wanted to at least finish her GCSEs here. Maybe even sixth form.
Her mum and dad wanted her to get a good education. She loved them for that.
She wanted to go to university and work for a living.
Two of her friends, Isra and Nayla, were already engaged and were going to be married straight out of school.
Her parents didn’t want that for her. They wanted their daughter to make her own choices in life. They thought Aminah should be allowed to decide for herself.
“We live in Sweden”, her dad would say. “We should live like the Swedes do, but without forgetting where we come from.”
Aminah was glad she wasn’t going to be married off like Isra and Nayla.
Every last part of her knew that would be wrong. She knew Nayla felt the same way, but she had been promised to a boy she’d never met regardless. Isra was different. She was looking forward to getting married and becoming a woman. She didn’t like school anyway. This one boy called Ibbe always bullied Isra and called her names because she didn’t wear her hijab in school. Isra wore it when she left her house in the morning, but took it off before getting to school. She was proud of her long black hair and didn’t want to hide it. But she knew her parents wouldn’t understand. Ibbe always threatened to tell on her to her parents. If it were up to Isra, she’d get married at 15. Then she wouldn’t have to drag herself through the final year of school.
Aminah missed all her friends so much it hurt.
She was going to put off getting married for as long as she could.
She was aware that Uncle Abbe had already found a number of potential grooms for Aminah. But her dad had, politely but firmly, told him that Aminah was free to choose for herself.
“We’re here”, mum suddenly exclaimed. “Prose Street.”
Aminah looked out the window. She could see row after row of identical houses. She wondered if she’d ever be able to find her way around here.
She figured it out eventually.
In fact, she turned out to be better at finding things than most.
Books were the only friends Moe could ever want. They had everything. Adventures, humour, friendship and love.
He didn’t need anything else!
The library in the town centre was like a second home to him. He liked it better there than at his actual home on Visby Street. At home, his dad was always fighting with one or the other of his siblings. His older sister Safiya never behaved like he wanted her to and refused to obey all the rules he had made up.
All his older brother Farouk seemed to want to do was hang out with Ismail and Jalal in the town square. Their dad was worried that Farouk was up to no good. Maybe he was. Moe didn’t want to know. His dad probably didn’t want to know either, Moe figured. He didn’t want to know if his oldest son was involved with dangerous or illegal things.
Moe found everything he needed in the books he read. There was imagination there and all the magic his family lacked. Moe liked the classic fairy tales best of all. Arabian Nights, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel and Snow White. Fairy tales the way they were meant to be, before Disney got their hands on them and turned them into ridiculous fakes. When Moe read the old fairy tales, they felt real. It was as though he were inside them, part of the action.
At the library, Moe could be who he wanted to be.
People left him alone!
Everything was quiet and peaceful, and he loved it.
He really didn’t need any other friends than his books.
Though he did have Tariq as well. But Moe wasn’t sure you could call Tariq his “friend”.
Tariq would pop by from time to time and chat to Moe for a bit. Then he’d vanish as suddenly as he had appeared. Often in the middle of a sentence. Moe thought Tariq was a pretty strange kind of friend, but on the other hand he might not be the easiest friend to have either.
He was going to be the next Zlatan. Tariq had already decided as much. Zlatan had grown up in a place that looked like where Tariq lived. Mostly immigrants. Zlatan was an immigrant too, just like Tariq. So they were practically the same guy.
Tariq was good at football too. He hated being a defender or a keeper. They never got to score!
Tariq was going to score loads of goals and make loads of money, just like Zlatan.
Tariq was going to be the best at a bunch of things.
Looking after stray cats
Hiding from anyone who got cross when he climbed roofs
Finding hidden treasure
Building computers using things he found lying around here and there. Like in the computer room in school.
Tariq thought time was a very tricky thing. He had to fit so many things in in a day.
At school, his teachers wanted him to sit still.
“You sit still”, Tariq always countered and walked out.
If he stayed put, he would never have enough time for all his tasks.
Tariq was sure that was a profanity.
And what if you didn’t want to sit still?
Did you still have to?
Maybe you could motorise the chairs in school? Then you could sit still and go wherever you needed to be at the same time.
Either way, Tariq didn’t want to sit still.
There was one thing Tariq practiced doing every day. Letting people finish what they were saying.
Tariq often felt talking took too long, so he’d finish other people’s sentences to speed things up. But his aunt had told him not to do that.
“You have to let people finish”, she’d said.
So Tariq tried his best not to interrupt. It was very hard. He figured it would take him all year to get the hang of it.
“It would help everyone out if you could learn how to do that”, his aunt told him.
Tariq lived with his aunt and five cousins. His parents were missing. But Tariq was sure they were just hiding to avoid being killed. They were from Somalia and that’s a dangerous country if you have the wrong opinions.
That was another thing Tariq was supposed to practice, not blurting out whatever was going through his mind all the time. His teachers in school were always complaining that he never kept his thoughts to himself.
The way Tariq saw it, Vivalla was way too boring. Something new should happen every once in a while. Something to make life a bit more interesting. Some new people could move to town, for example, so Tariq could look them up and talk to them. Then he could practice not interrupting them constantly. And if one of them happened to have big ears, he wouldn’t tell them. At least not at first.
Suddenly Tariq spotted some guys walking toward the football field. “Safe”, Tariq thought to himself. “Time to play football.”
Aminah was curious. She didn’t want to be cooped up inside, waiting for something to happen. She wanted to explore this new area she’d moved to, right now. Maybe she could meet new friends if she showed that she was open to talking to people her age.
She walked toward the town centre where there were a few shops, restaurants and cafes. Maybe she might come across someone there who wanted to be her friend?
Just outside the town centre, a few teenagers were stood waiting for a bus. Aminah walked up to them, smiling. But they just stared back at her like she was an alien. A guy with a ripped denim jacket shot Aminah an annoyed look.
“Oi! What’s your bloody problem?” he asked her.
“I don’t have a problem”, Aminah replied with a smile.
“You retarded or something? Why are you smiling?”
“Because I want to”, Aminah replied quickly.
“I mean, for serious, you little slut!” the guy hissed menacingly and spat on the ground by Aminah’s feet.
“You can’t tell me what to do”, Aminah protested.
“What you on about? Don’t go stirring shit up!”
Aminah could tell the guy was getting properly furious. Aminah had no idea why. All she’d done was smile. She realised there was no point arguing with him about how she wasn’t an idiot and that she had a right to do whatever she wanted. If Aminah wanted to smile at people, who was he to stop her?
She walked on, across a parking lot and into a schoolyard. It was summer so there were no students around. Just a few guys kicking a football. Aminah suddenly felt very lonely and miserable. It was as though everything she had left behind when they moved was fading from her memory. Aminah didn’t want to forget! She never ever wanted to forget her friends and all the fun things that had happened before mum and dad suddenly announced that they were moving to Örebro. “New city, new possibilities”, they’d said. Dad had found a job and it felt like things were finally working out.
There had been a time a few years ago when Aminah and her family had been in serious trouble. Mum and dad had been fighting with the authorities to stay in the country. It had been a very hard time. When they were finally told they could stay it was as though the past caught up with Aminah’s dad. Everything he’d left behind came rushing back and all of a sudden he was very sad. No one knew it, but Aminah had even heard him crying one night.
Eventually though, her dad had returned to normal. He became as happy and loving as before. Now he even had a job and so it was decided that the family would move yet again.
“Örebro”, Aminah thought to herself. “What is there to do in Örebro?”
She walked past the schoolyard and through a residential area, past a street called Author Street. Aminah looked every which way, but she couldn’t spot a single author. Moving on, she saw some tall trees up ahead. She longed for a bit of nature. Aminah felt there was something magical and beautiful about nature. She glimpsed trees and a hill on the other side of the road. Aminah came to a big road called the Vivalla Ring Road. She walked through an underpass to the other side and suddenly she was surrounded by nature.
She took a deep breath, breathing in the fresh air. Birds were singing in the trees and the wind whispered soothingly. It was good to get away from everything that was hard and just enjoy the stillness among the trees and bushes. Aminah walked past a few tangled thickets and suddenly a large hill loomed up before her. It wasn’t really a mountain, but it was still exciting to climb to the top and look out across the neighbourhood that was her new home. Vivalla.
She stood there for a long time, studying all the new and unfamiliar things. She wished something exciting would happen. Something unexpected.
Arabian Nights, or Alf Lailah oua Lailah as it’s called in the original Arabic. It was Moe’s number one favourite. It’s a collection of very old Arabic tales. He could spend hours reading the stories over and over again. Both in Swedish and in Arabic. The fairy tales never ceased to fascinate Moe. The words were hard to understand sometimes, but he liked the challenge of finding out what they all meant. The stories grew inside him and became a world that felt more alive and appealing than the real world.
The library was always calm and quiet. Moe liked it better than any other place. No shouting or yelling. Just a restful silence that let Moe sink deep into his fairy tale world and forget about all the bad things happening at home.
His older sister Safiya was growing up. That meant lots of discussions about how she should behave and who she should spend time with. Safiya thought it was mostly nonsense. She figured she should be the one to decide who she should spend time with. Their father, Hussein, was of a different opinion.
Every day, Moe left home as quickly as he could after breakfast. He always went straight to school first. He liked learning new things all the time. But he would have preferred to be alone in class. No other kids to bother him. That’s how it should have been! Then Moe could have learnt whatever he wanted, without being disturbed by other students demanding the teachers’ attention.
After school, Moe always went straight to the library. It was a good place to do his homework and read his books in peace. Now school was out for the summer and he could go straight to the library as soon as he woke up in the morning.
Moe often stayed until closing. Once, he asked if he could spend the night in the library. That way he’d be able to guard the place and make sure burglars didn’t steal any important books. But they wouldn’t let him. They told him to go home and sleep in his own bed instead.
“Fine, but don’t blame me if some crazed book thieves strike tonight”, Moe said before he left.
On this particular day, Moe had found an interesting passage in the tale of King Shahryar, who hated women and beheaded every new wife he married on their wedding night. Until he met the shrewd Scheherazade, who told him stories all night so he forgot to chop her head off. After a thousand and one nights, the evil king turned into a kind and good man instead.
Moe was hoping he could find out some good tips on how to transform his dad in a similar way. Maybe he could find a story to pull out the next time a row was brewing at home.
Moe’s reading was interrupted. His older sister Safiya had stopped by to see him. “Hey, where’s Farouk?” She asked, sounding annoyed.
“How should I know?” Moe replied. “He doesn’t exactly hang out at the library.”
“You haven’t seen him at all?” Safiya asked.
“Dad is losing it; unless Farouk comes home right now he’s going to be in big trouble.”
“Yani, as ususal?”
Safiya nodded. They exchanged a tired look. They were both sick of the fighting. But they also knew their dad only wanted what was best for them. He didn’t really want to fight. He just wanted to teach his children how to make good choices.
“It’s so easy to go down the wrong path in life”, he told them over and over again. “We have to stick to what’s right.”
Moe said he wanted to go back to reading. Safiya sighed and told him that with all his reading, Moe would probably turn into a book worm before long.
“That’d be great”, Moe replied and went back to his book.
“If you see Farouk, tell him to come straight home”, Safiya admonished.
“M’kay”, Moe mumbled and read on about King Sharyar who beheaded all his wives on the wedding night.
Maybe Moe could find a good story to use on his dad. Being able to take the edge off things at home with a story would be heaven, Moe thought.
Tariq was so angry his whole body shook. Why did people always let you down? Why were they all such cowards? Did they think they could become the next Zlatan without practicing every single day? All the time! You have to play all the time if you want to be number one. Tariq knew it was important to take it seriously. He wanted to practice all the time. 24-7, if they’d just let him. But they didn’t. And he probably didn’t actually want to either. There were so many other things he had to get done.
Sometimes Tariq wished he could have two bodies. Then one body could play football all the time. The other body could do all the other things you had to make time for. He had to run quickly around the town centre seven times every morning. And three times a day he had to run to the shops to see if they were handing out free stickers. Then he had to find time to help his cousins fix broken stuff and protect them from mean bullies in school. And Tariq had to run to the shops when his aunt needed help in the kitchen. His aunt didn’t actually want him in the kitchen when she was cooking though. Because Tariq just couldn’t keep his hands to himself and broke everything poking about.
A boy in the fourth grade was the last to call it a day on the football field.
“I have to go home and eat now”, he said.
“That’s wack”, Tariq replied. “What about practice. Do you want to be the worst player ever?”
“No, but I’m not the worst. I’m totally better than you anyway.” The boy glared at Tariq.
“Wanna bet? I’ll take you, easy, if we play another game.”
“I can’t”, the boy replied. “Told you, I have to go home, innit?”
“Ha ha”, Tariq laughed. “Then I win. A hundred to nothing. Loser!”
The boy sighed and left.
“I’m the best, just so you know!” Tariq called after him. But the boy didn’t reply.
Tariq sighed. Playing football was a lot less fun on your own.
Then he spotted something on the roof of the school building. Something bright red.
“Aha”, Tariq said. “It’s probably like a bird or something that needs help. Or whatever, something really sick.”
Tariq realised he had to climb up to the roof. That it was probably not allowed made no difference. You can’t always bother with whether somethings legal or not. If there was a an injured bird up there, it would hardly be thinking about whether or not it was legal for someone to climb up and help it.
Tariq had never climbed up to the roof of the school before. Every time he’d tried an adult had turned up and told him to stop being daft.
Tariq didn’t think he was being daft. Daft was what was going on back in Somalia. Daft stuff happened all the time there. At least to some people.
Tariq looked up at the roof. This is going to be well exciting, he thought. He’d never been up on this particular roof. It was really about time he found out what it was like up there. Otherwise he might never know!