• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 01
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The Hotel in Two Cities

On the island where I was born, the names of the streets have changed a hundred times. They morphed from Eteocypriot, to Greek, to Arabic, to the secret tongue of the Knights Templars up through the winding narrow lanes leading to their castle, and back down the hill in Ottoman, and Turkish, and Kurdish, and Hausa, and Yoruba for the Nigerians who are sold dreams of Europe from its divided beaches. But, despite the many tongues, my street only had a number for a name: “74 B.” 74, for the year my birth city was cut in half, and B, as if to mock us with another possibility.

I grew up staring at the barbed wires crisscrossing Nicosia, all the djinns, vampires, and the gülyabani were relegated to the other side. This is what I learned from my grandmother and her stories of escape, from how they left their olives and feta at the breakfast table, from how the dishes remained unwashed so that they could find a safe passage. The soldiers marching with guns and the threats they rained down on us in a familiar language. When I first saw them from afar, the people walking on the other side, I was surprised to see grace in their movements, a hint of wind in their hair. Surprised that their almond eyes mirrored mine, as did their hatred.

But the soul travels to where the body can’t. For years, my dreams were tinted green and blue, and in them I travelled to the past and right across the border. Repeated journeys until I turned thirty, which is when I decided to cross for real, one foot before the other, through the Green Zone. And I walked with all the languages I had learned on this island, a suitcase full of words in Kurdish and Yoruba and ancient Greek and when we met, you complimented me on all the weight, on all the history, and on all the disappointments I had overcome.


The Hotel in Two Cities

And I wanted to ask you, we who were born on two sides of the same city, do the sky and the eight planets, the asteroids and Chiron on its wild axis, look different to you on the other side? Do my palms? Do our reflections in the mirrors hanging on the two houses, one lost, the other occupied? Was Mercury also rising at your birth? Are our destinies two sides of the same coin? Did you also grow up dreaming the past in tints of blue and green? Are you surprised at my grace and almond eyes and at my ephemeral hatred? But instead of the important questions we discussed Eteocypriot, the most ancient language of the Island, neither Greek, nor Turkish, a mystery unto its own.

I spent my thirty-first birthday thinking of you, at the bar in Nicosia where we had met. And for a brief moment you leaned against the railing of the hotel that lived in two cities and looked into my eyes.