Black History Month 2020 Highlight: Part 3 February 20, 2020 – Posted in: Author Highlight, Black History Month – Tags: Black History Month, The Youth of God
You might recognize The Youth of God by Hassan Ghedi Santur from Canada Reads Longlist! In its telling, this novel reveals the alienated lives of Somali youth in an environment riddled with crime and unemployment, while still in the grip of bitter memories of a home left behind.
Hassan emigrated from Somalia to Canada at age thirteen. He has a BA in English Literature and an MFA from York University, and an MA from Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. He has worked as a radio journalist for CBC radio and his print journalism work has appeared in the New York Times, Yahoo News, and The Walrus, among others.
“Bismilahi rahmani rahiim.” Nuur mouthed these words as he washed his right foot in the sink of the boys’ washroom. He had fifteen minutes to perform his ablution, pray, and get to Mr Ilmi’s biology class.
As he washed his foot, he caught a glimpse of himself in the smudgy mirror above the sink. The lanky frame, the dark complexion and narrow, pointy nose separating his high cheekbones—his features, he thought, lacked the grace and charm that drew everyone, especially girls, to his older brother Ayuub. But Nuur had made peace with his appearance, for he recognized that there was more to him than what appeared to the naked eye. He carried a secret world inside him that no mirror in the world could ever reflect.
He heard voices outside. Quickly he finished washing, and just as he was jamming a bare foot into his black sneakers, the door swung open.
James Calhoun entered, followed by his entourage of two, both overweight and overdressed for early October, in baggy jeans and hoodies. They had a habit of walking several feet behind James, who liked to stroll the hallways of the school with the swagger of a tin-pot dictator.
James had a big, bald head like that of a cross between a baby’s and a pit bull’s. “You better not be doing what I think you’re doing,” he said, as he made towards Nuur with his usual stylized and menacing limp.
“I’m not doing anything,” Nuur said in a quivering voice.
“Don’t lie to me, bitch,” James snarled, his breath smelling of nachos and cigarettes.
“I’m not lying.”
James turned to his sidekicks, both grinning with anticipation, ready to do whatever was required.
“You were washing your stinking feet in the sink, the same sink we use to wash our hands and faces. That’s fucking disgusting,” James said, his voice louder with each word. “What do you think we should do about this, boys?” he asked, without turning to look at his posse.
“I was just making wadu, to get ready for prayer,” Nuur whispered, hoping to elicit from them some respect for God, or failing that, com-passion for his devotion to God.
“Making what?” James seethed.
“The fuck is that?”
His two friends sniggered.
Nuur felt a panic rise up from deep within his guts, telling him to fight or flee. Fighting was out of the question. That would be like slapping a pit bull in the face. As soon as he tried to move, he felt his slender bones, for he had no muscles to speak of, crash into the large, surprisingly soft body of James. Nuur struggled to maneuver his way between James and the other two boys.
“Where the fuck you think you’re going, bitch?” James said. With his warm sweaty hands, he grabbed Nuur by the back of his neck and shoved him towards the middle of the three stalls of the washroom. Nuur stumbled onto the linoleum floor, his head an inch away from the hard marble of the white toilet bowl. His kufi, the small white cap he always wore, fell into the toilet with its several large, brown residues left by the last flush.
“He looks thirsty, boys. You think we should offer him a cold, refreshing drink of water?” The two sidekicks outside the stall chuck-led approvingly.
Nuur felt James grab a fistful of the collar of his qamiis, the long brown robe under which he wore a white t-shirt and pair of khakis. It was an ensemble that made him look like a darker, smaller version of Osama bin Laden and the butt of jokes in the school’s hallways. He was used to kids calling him Osama or Bin Laden or Al-Qaeda Boy in class and in the hallways and most especially on the rare occasions when he was brave enough to venture into the wild, wild West that was the school cafeteria. He had resigned himself to the endless taunting and name-calling that came his way for wearing a qamiis to school; for growing a big, bushy beard at seventeen; and for wearing a little white head cap that gave him an air of piety and screamed weakness when all the other boys at the school looked like extras on the set of a Kanye West music video.
Nuur knew that no amount of begging or appeal to the better selves of the three bullies would save him from getting his head dunked in the filthy water. He also knew that a speck of toilet water would be enough to nullify the absolute state of cleanliness that his prayer required.
It was a swift, unpremeditated move. As soon as he caught a glimpse of the space between the floor and the metal divider between the stalls, Nuur shrugged off James’s clasp, dived onto the cold, dusty floor, slid into the adjoining stall and locked the door. James and his minions pushed and pounded with ferocious anger. Nuur stood up on the rim of the toilet bowl, lest they grab his legs and drag him out.
Any one of them could have mustered enough force to break the door down and retrieve Nuur from his hiding place, but apparently it seemed to require too much effort for the meagre entertainment value of roughing him up. Nuur thanked Allah for their lack of resolve.
“I’ll get you, bitch,” James muttered.
“Yeah, bitch,” another boy echoed.
“Better fucking believe it,” boy two chimed in.
Nuur heard them shuffle off one by one. He waited a few moments until he was sure they had left, then stepped down from the toilet bowl and lingered in the stall for a moment to recite the Fatiha in his head and offer his gratitude to God. He made sure not to let any of the Quran escape his lips, the boy’s washroom on the second floor of Thistletown Collegiate Institute was too profane a place for the holy words to be spoken out loud.
He came out of the stall and looked around. All was quiet. Confident that the three bullies were gone, he opened the door of the adjacent stall and stared at his lovely, white kufi sitting in the smudgy bottom of the toilet. There was no hope of rescuing it. But come payday next week, he would go to the Somali flea market on Rexdale and Martingrove and buy himself a nice new kufi.
Suddenly he felt better. The prospect of buying another, better kufi gave him just enough strength to go to his afternoon biology class even if it meant being in the same room as those thugs. Biology was his favourite subject. He wasn’t going to surrender it to those boys the way he did his head cap. The possibility of learning something new fortified Nuur and lifted his otherwise dim spirits.