The white girl looks over at our table. She is waiting for chowder soup while her mother waits for fish and chips. I am waiting for the man in front of me to shut up but he keeps talking so I have decided to put his voice out of my head and look through the window.
There is an Irish street outside. Yellow, pink and blue houses with green trees and old cars, and the sun cuts my eyes.
My lungs give into a long grunt.
Zach freezes. He is more or less European black, a little diluted from North Italian blood. He jokes that he also has Mafia blood. He squeals if he gets a cut finger. He says he will never visit any country of Africa. Not even mine. He is afraid to discover that we shit in holes and cut female genitals by the light of a full moon.
I made him look at me.
You see? Intact.
He laughed and said, You African Africans.
The white girl skims her eyes over us and I hold my phone just so she can see that it’s modern, flat and with earphones. Zach skims his fingers over his.
The man in front of me talks and talks. He is a friend of Eugene’s. Eugene is from Paris. He is tall, white with light brown hair, the colour of toffee. He smells of aftershave. He makes my nose twitch.
The white girl sips her chowder and chews whatever fish she hooks onto her spoon. She plucks a chip from her mother’s plate. The man in front of me raises his voice.
‘You are not listening to me.’
I cluck my teeth at him.
‘What are you saying then?’
‘I am saying that you must respect my religion.’
A black man and a white man jump into car on Zach’s phone screen and there is smoke, bullets, and hot yellow dust.
‘I am saying that you must respect my religion.’
The white girl lifts a piece of fish to her mouth, stops and listens.
‘Your what?’ I say for her benefit, to give her time to put the fish in her mouth and chew.
‘My religion…you must respect my religion.’
‘What’s your name again?’ I say out loud and louder.
‘Ibrahim,’ he says.
There, I tell the white girl in my head. There you heard. I glance over at her and her eyes cross over mine then over the back of Eugene’s head and finally back to her chowder.
‘Ib-ra-him,’ I recite.
Zach flicks a finger in my direction. It warns me to be responsible with my manner. My mother often said I was too quick to condemn. Men don’t like to be condemned Dorothea. They like to be loved.
I watch Zach’s finger until it goes back to scrolling Zach’s phone.
‘Ib-ra-him,’ I say again.
Ib-ra-him doesn’t like fish. He is disappointed there is no halal lamb or beef on the menu. He eats a salad with plain oil and sprinkled seeds. He has ultra-white teeth, large brown eyes and a scar underneath his left ear. Eugene has known him for six weeks. They are also studying medicine. They like the Irish climate. They don’t mind the lack of heat.
Eugene cuts a chunk of fish. He jerks a smile at me. He told me earlier that he was surprised that Zach had such a colourful girl. I looked at him and he went red to the faintest roots of his hair.
‘I mean…’ he said.
‘It is fine, Eugene. I know what you mean.’
Ibrahim would not touch my fingers in greeting.
Zach looks up, puts his fork into his fish, he chews and goes on watching his phone.
Ibrahim sees the crucifix on my neck.
‘Are you Christian?’
‘A gift from my mother.’
The white girl gets up from her table in search of the toilets. Ibrahim sees that I watch her.
‘At least she is not showing her arse,’ he says.
‘Or her tits,’ Eugene offers.
They laugh. Boys.
‘Why did you refuse to shake my hand, Ib-ra-him?’
Ibrahim reaches for the saltshaker.
‘Why?’ I insist.
Ibrahim smiles at Zach’s bent head. ‘Why… is she so angry?’
Zach glances up. ‘I don’t know.’ He laughs. ‘It’s a joke between us.’
You are so angry inside, Zach often says. It must be from your mother. My mother on Skype says, what a lovely boyfriend you have. I tell her that we don’t sleep together. She believes me. The fact that he is Italian Catholic makes her believe me.
‘Why?’ I insist louder.
Ibrahim looks at me. ‘It is not natural for a woman to be as angry as you.’
The white girl has come back from the toilet, picks something from her bag, whispers to her mother then returns to the toilet.
‘Excuse me,’ I say and Zach shuffles back his chair to let me out.
The toilet is nautical. Red, white and blue with passages from a novel printed on yellowed paper and framed. I recognise the white man’s whale. The white girl stands there and sprays water on her face and wrists. I visit the toilet and listen to her spray.
‘Anything hot does this to me,’ she explains when I come out. Her face is red and wet and her neck is blotched and pickled pink. I push my fingers through my hair then I pull out my lipstick from my bag and colour in my lips. She watches and smiles. My anger rumbles.
‘You like my lips?’
I like your lips, my first white man said to me. He touched them. They are like overwrought rubber.
I lean against the sink. ‘You are watching us.’
Her red skin turns redder. ‘I’m sorry.’
I put on more lipstick and my lips rubber up red. I smile at the white girl through the mirror and say:
‘They look at this and they think we are a moving vagina. That is what makes them so afraid of us.’
Zach shuffles out again to let me in. You have hooked him well, my mother whispered on Skype. He is studying to be a doctor. You are studying to be a doctor. It is a good match. How is it that you have hooked so well without your mother’s presence?
I sit before Ibrahim. ‘I’ve washed my hands. Now you can shake them.’
Ibrahim’s eyes stare at my lips.
Zach looks up from his black and white buddy movie on his iPhone. He sees my lips. He licks his.
Eugene also sees my lips.
The white girl watches.
‘God gave me my hands, Ibrahim. Don’t you like God’s creation?’
Ibrahim curls his mouth. ‘In my religion we do not touch women who are not ours.’
‘Let’s not talk too much about religion,’ Eugene says. He avoids my lips but they are moving fast on my face, smiling, pouting a little and my tongue comes out to taste my fish. I chew with careful thought. Some of my lipstick comes away on my fork.
‘I am no one’s woman,’ I say.
‘I am trying to be polite,’ Ibrahim says. ‘You are not.’
‘That white girl is watching you,’ I say.
Ibrahim looks over at her and she flicks her eyes down to her cup and spoon. Ibrahim curls his mouth again so I say,
‘She is probably thinking, ‘We don’t need his kind in this country’.’
Eugene sighs hard, ‘Let’s talk about something else. Zach…Zach?’
Zach nods his head. He is busy with his phone.
I nudge him and I smile, ‘What is on that phone?’
‘Your mother,’ he says and laughs at his joke. He leans forward to Ibrahim and Eugene. ‘Dorothea’s mother still pounds her own maize even though she could buy packaged flour in the shop. She walks barefoot in the house even though Dorothea has bought her expensive slippers. She believes she is old African. Her grandfather was Mau Mau.’
Where is this anger from, my mother asked, and why does it infest my daughter?
I shake my head and my crucifix jiggles on my throat.
‘In my religion, you are a slave to God,’ Ibrahim answers.
Eugene says, ‘Perhaps we should not talk about religion.’
The white girl is staring high above our heads and at the sky outside the window but I know she is listening. I want the white girl to see my anger. It is sweet as sugar cane with spikes.
‘I am a slave to my God,’ Ibrahim says. ‘I worship him in my house.’
‘Zach,’ Eugene says.
‘Yes?’ Zach looks up, sees Eugene’s face then Ibrahim’s, then mine.
‘You must respect my religion,’ Ibrahim says to all of us. ‘It is my religion.’
I press my crucifix into my neck. ‘So is mine.’
So is mine, I think. My mother loves God enough for both of us, and even Zach goes to his Mass when he is at his home. I keep a rosary beads in my underwear drawer. Sometimes I pray but they are strange words and they do not sop up the anger. Where did it come from, my mother wailed after the police had carried me home from a house party, where is her father when he is supposed to be here to beat sense into her?
A man had me at that party. Slick of spit and aftershave, a kiss then another then something else…no…no…no…we all say, all of the time. Even the white girl would say it. She would be red with heat and anger. Imagine her naked with a man on top. I look over at her. She would break. She would snap. She would be hung on a hook for a man to eat.
Zach does not eat. In bed, he slumbers. In sex, he moves while I lie there. You are so quiet, he says.
‘If you visited my house,’ Ibrahim says. ‘You would cover your face and head to show respect for my religion.’
‘Then I will never visit you or your house,’ I say. I slap my knife down. The white girl is leaving.
‘To show me respect,’ Ibrahim insists. ‘You will cover yourself if you enter my house.’
The white girl is at the door and smiles goodbye at me. I smile back then I laugh ‘Hah!’ into Ibrahim’s face. He spits out a salad leaf in shock. He puts his hands together then twists palm against palm. He looks to Zack. Zack blinks.
Eugene holds up his hands. ‘Let’s stop this religion talk,’ he announces.
I watch the white girl and her mother cross the road and enter an electrical repairs shop.
Ibrahim says, ‘If you were my woman you would wear a burka in the presence of other men.’
There is silence at our table. All this anger, my mother is fond of exclaiming. Why does it come out of you?
Zach puts an arm about my shoulders. ‘Let us forget religion, Dorothea.’
Ibrahim looks at him. ‘Do you respect my religion?
‘No,’ I say for Zach.
‘Yes,’ Zach says. He squeezes his hand on my far shoulder. There is noise coming from his iPhone. A white man grins at a black man. The black man gets into the car first. He drives the car. The white man shoots bullets from the passenger window. The car wheels spurt up dust and stones. It looks hot in that picture. I can see the sweat drip from the men’s faces. I can feel their hands on the steering wheel and on the gun.
‘You do not,’ I tell Zach.
He glances up, licks his lip, shrugs and mouths my name. Be quiet, my mother’s voice says in my head. Be gentle.
Ibrahim says, ‘I do not want to argue.’
I put my elbows on the table.
‘When you have a wife, Ibrahim, what will you do with her?’
Eugene pokes a toothpick out of his mouth. ‘Respect is important, Dorothea.’
The sun is warm on the restaurant glass. I want to take out my phone and put my earplugs in and dismiss Ibrahim from my head but he sits there with his face shining in the sun.
‘Or maybe you will have two wives, Ibrahim. Or four?’
For months after I was afraid of pregnancy but nothing happened. I began to choose clothes that gave me hard edges and a smart mouth. Bikinis and shorts, skirts that lifted if I ran or danced, shirts that opened to the top of my breasts.
No one will love you, my mother said.
I was sent to Ireland to study. Go back to where the priests came from, my mother told me. I was a visitor. Drunken men came up to me and said if I say the nigger word, will you hold it against me?
I said, say the nigger word and see.
They drew up their drunken heads and said the word nigger.
I spat in their eyes.
Come over in a boat, love?
Looking for a customer, love?
After that I decreased my number of white lovers until I found Zach. Coffee-milk Zach with an Italian father and Ugandan mother. Zach who handed me his laptop one day and said check out this movie. He ate an apple in front of me. He said he had been watching me.
All your white boyfriends, he said.
I drank hard on our first night together, just to keep my anger quiet. It got easier the more I shut my voice into a small place in my head.
Ibrahim picks a sunflower seed from his mouth.
‘We honour our women,’ he says.
‘And that’s why you erase them,’ I say.
Eugene says, ‘Dorothea, let’s forget religion.’
Zach looks up at me for a few seconds. This is not good, his eyes are saying. I look away from him and out through the window. The white girl and her mother have come out of the electrical repairs shop.
Ibrahim glances at them.
‘She needs an arse,’ he says.
Eugene laughs. He leans forward on his elbows to see the white girl and her mother cross to the small river canal. They have linked each other’s arms. They are talking and smiling.
‘Yes, needs an arse,’ Eugene laughs again.
The girl carries an electrical iron with her free hand. Its flex hangs down and bumps against her knee.
Ibrahim sucks his teeth then digs a seed from his mouth.
‘There,’ Ibrahim says. He presses the seed down onto his plate, links his fingers and looks at me.
I like to hate men like him. I hate you, I say in my mind and to his eyes then I look again for the girl and her mother and I see them disappear around a corner.
‘I will Skype my mother tonight,’ I tell the men around me.
They say nothing.
I look at their black and white faces and because my hate is so warm, I smile at all their teeth.