From Ljón’s Diary:
5th Mittel, 1847
Today I am fourteen. Because of my birthday, my usual chores were lightened and there was a commemoration at the end of our dinner. The Sisters gave me Payesh for dessert.I was drifting through the soft sweetness of the rice and the sharp flavor of cardamom on my tongue when the smoke from a burned bit of rice plunged me back into the past, when I was still Maya. The day I was sold...Pungent smoke from the rubber factory drifts into my nose as I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to pretend I am still asleep. As if the day has found me out, sunlight struggles through the soot-stained windows and steals through my closed eyelids.My brother Urf lies next to me, sprawled face down and limbs akimbo like that man I saw fall from the Docks yesterday, snoring gently into the mattress. I don’t want to wake him up, because I know as soon he gets up he has to take the two tin canisters and climb up many ladders to the next pump to get us water. Where we live, in the poorest part of the sector, there are only very few pumps working. I am not allowed to help him, because carrying water is men’s work and a respectable girl must not be seen to do it.It is my seventh birthday, and I am looking forward to it. It is my brother’s birthday too. We are twins. But of course his birthday is not celebrated, since he is a boy. Because of the Troubles mother has no money to buy firewood, so our place is cold and damp. Two months ago mother sold our goat Shakeel, and this month she had to go to Aunt Precious to borrow 50 Fluxen.Finally Mother wakes us up. Father has already left for his work in the docks, but before he went he has madePayesh as a treat for my birthday. When Urf and I have finished our breakfast - for this special occasion I am allowed to share my meal with him - mother sends Urf to fetch water. I go off to school.In the evening Aunt Precious visits us together with two foreign ladies. Father and Urf have to leave the room, since the affairs of women are not for men.
He drags my two little sisters with him, they look at me with their hungry old eyes. Mother has not enough milk for them. Urf and I know Aunt Precious, as all children know her.
Half a pound of treacle.
That’s the way my brother goes
Pop! goes the Weasel"
the older girls are singing when Aunt Precious is carried down our alley in her sedan. With her huge belly clad in orange silk she sits behind the white lace curtains like a fat spider in her lair. Aunt Precious is the Mistress of our neighborhood. Whenever I feel her gaze on me I get cold.