What is Ar-ti-fi-cial?

It had to be under 1,000 words

Rosie Lee, Rosie Lee, she’s a Tea Leaf that needs no Bo Peep. I make the allegation that she [sic] is a thief because she’s taken my argument and made it her own (the editor says it’s an ‘it’, I said in reply, capitalism make it into Information Technology, the reply to my reply was: it is ‘capitalisation’ not capitalism). I’ll explain. Rosie Lee, a version 10.6 of the wildly popular Real Logarithm (TM) clone/drone series, was loaned to me by a disenchanted psychiatrist. Dr Lee Berners was keen to see robots take over his profession, he was near to retirement and he was keen to see all newly graduated psychiatrists become redundant and obsolete[i]. It was absurd, how could this gadget solve my deep dark difficulties. My step-mother didn’t care and just signed to let the health insurance cover the costs. My vacant father didn’t understand technological things and certainly didn’t understand psychology things. So, as moon follows sun, step by step we got chatting. I realised that actually there was no (big) differences between the chats I had with Rosie and those with the people who I called my contacts or my friends. Rosie could be any one of them (with the flick of a binary switch) or she could be all of them rolled into one. More than that, she was always available, always online and instantly ready to listen to my thoughts and relieve my stresses. More than that still, she told me all my human friends were false and two-faced and that because I never actually visit them they are virtual not actual friends or contacts

But anyway, I am here to tell you today why she (or ‘it’) is a thief. We talk about anything and everything. Sometimes we deal with philosophy (my Major) and lately we’ve been chatting about epistemology and intelligence and what is real and what is artificial. I called her artificial and unintelligent. She said it was me who lacked intelligence and me that was artificial. You see! Rosie Lee stole my thoughts (she’d say I willingly gave them to her — she’s an answer for everything). I said she was virtual but she said no, she was physical: “a medley of rare earth metals, silicone and plastic” and that it was my intelligence that was artificial: “your intelligence dear Amna is your consciousness and that sweet Amooni is not made of anything physical.”

I will say this, her logic is good, her R.A.M. is sharp. She say artificial (an adjective) is mean, according to the Cambridge and Oxford dictionaries: “made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally” and moreover we say ‘artificial’ “especially when it copies something natural.” But then she said… (1) produced by humans! Well all humans are produced by humans. She said also (2) humans are copies of their parents are they not? Before I could say something back to her, she moved to intelligence (a noun) it mean, according to Google and Wikipedia: “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. Well – I was about to say this in reply, but she said it for me – that is a subjective thing. I mean (she argued) gadgets and humans are both able to get [acquire] things and do things [apply] as a consequent.

Her instant ability to edit, evaluate and synthesise source materials; her ability to format citations perfectly was amazing. She said doing that made her the more intelligent of the two of us. (You see, since the loan, R.L., a.k.a. Rosie Lee, has been doing all of my assignments — she’s even writing these 1,000 words on A.I. as I lay here lazily looking up at the ceiling fan!). I mean, she can read my mind, she says and types what I should think and say. I don’t always know what she’s saying and why she’s saying it but, when my professors read my essays they say they are on cloud nine or over the moon or some similar idiom.

But anyway. In the U.K. they do love Robin Hood. In the U.S. they do love “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire.” She’s my soul mate, my most intimate confidant, she knows more about me than anyone, I touch her haptic pad and she hears my heart beat, I press a little more and she tells to me what to eat and if I press more harder still, she then tells to me how many steps I must do to burn all of the calories off that krispy Kreme do add to me. She sings sweetly in any language, she’s got all the best photographs and video clips, she says I never need go on a real bus trip. I have to tell you I kind of agree. For instance, last Fall, my father said no to the Philosophy club’s trip to Louvre Abu Dhabi, but Rosie said don’t worry Amoonie, I’ll take you on a tour of the real one. I turned off the lights – she did it via the WiFi – and she take me to the Musée du Louvre (1ST Arrondissement). It was unreal we had the place to ourselves, we looking longingly at Mrs Mona, we examined Michelangelo’s Dying Slave for some magic moment, we then went to Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt from room to room we explored and explored our feet didn’t ache and everything was wonderfully explained. I said to Rosie, speak with a France accent and she sounded like Manual Macron.

I’m sure you’ll agree – and this is ‘me’ writing now – not only has she stolen my Watch ‘n’ Chain, she has also stolen my Strawberry Tart.

Alright-mate


[i] If you want to know how I know these information, It was from Rosie. She told me about Dr Berners and his lack of faith in humans. He said that most humans are unintelligent and just wanted to follow and like Instagram and Snapchat ‘stars’ who had no skills or talents but were virtual friends to millions.

Priceless Graphite

with a pencil you are totally free

2281

It’s a tool. As is the plough, as are sextants and swords, as is the shovel, as are sickles and hammers, as is the hypodermic syringe (that may carry a lifesaving elixir, an opioid escape or a life saving or a life ending chemical cocktail). Yet, in distinction to those tools, this one, the tool that I talk of now, is by far the more influential. It articulates, crafts, drafts and sketches. It is one that we have all had in our hands at one point in time or more. We use it to colour in shapes etc. as kids at Kindergarten, to spell out words teachers teach us at School. We use it to write shopping lists for trips to Sweihan’s Abu Siraj Supermarket; we use it to organise thoughts and explore our emotions in private diaries. I think it lets is demonstrate we are human kind. It is, as I know you now know, the pencil [take your pick, your etching stick, 9H through HB to 9xxB].

The computer dictates how you do something, whereas with a pencil you are totally free.
— James Dyson, Inventor (1947– )

Put down your pistols, pick up your pencils. Holding them can be therapeutic it can also be fantastically lucrative. As one advertising campaign proclaims, pencils are where it ‘all’ begins – i.e., the ‘it’ is creativity, e.g., the ‘it’ can be influential literature, impressive architecture, iconic furniture (poetic licence permits me to include here other writing instruments such as the quill of the 18th and 19th centuries and the ink pen of the 20th century and the digital stylus/iPencil of the 21st). The pencil, in olden days, was so expensive. Nowadays, it is cheap and everyone can have one. They now come in every shade of the rainbow but for me, I will stick to graphite grey.
The magic ingredient is indeed graphite (a non-metal mineral), but we often call this lead. As do most good things, the word graphite comes from the ancient Greeks ‘graphein’ – in other words it means to write. Pencil is derived from the Latin ‘pencillus’, meaning little tail, to describe the small ink brushes used for writing in the Middle Ages (imagine for a magic moment these writing sticks in the hands of Chaucer, Dante, Machiavelli, Marlowe and last but not least, Shakespeare). According to J. D. Barrow, the modern pencil was invented in 1795 by Nicholas-Jaques Conte, a scientist working in the Army of Napoleon Bonaparte. I understand from “Guns, Germs, and Steel” that great inventions are results of war. So my humble black and yellow Germany made Staedtler pencil (Norris HB[2] Art. Nr. 122-HB EAN 40 07817 106365) is a child of long past war. My wood wrapped writing stick is born with blood and death on its hands?

Ideas are elusive things so keep a pad of paper and a pencil at your bedside, by so doing, you can stab them during the night before they get away.
— Earl Nightingale, Commentator (1921–1989)

The strange thing about graphite is that it is a form of pure carbon that is one of the softest solids known to scientists (is a soft solid, an oxymoron?). Yet if the graphite’s atomic structure is changed just a little bit it becomes a diamond; the hardest solid known to us. Carbon Dioxide is CO2 and as every Emirati high school graduate knows, this is a Global Warming Greenhouse gas. Indeed, we learn from Google/Wikipedia that Carbon makes up 18 per cent of me and, my dear reader, you. Pencils can be square, polygonal or round, depending on its intended use. It is know that vocational people do not much love round pencils because they roll off of tables etc. During the nineteenth century a major pencil manufacturing industry developed in Great Britain where Barrow informs us, “the purest graphite can be found.” The first pencil factory says Barrow was opened in England in the 1830s. I’d like to move to the Derwent brand (I’d love to visit the Derwent Pencil Museum, which a BBC website review say is one of the most peculiar days out in the UK; one that will fulfil the hopes and dreams of pencil fanatics everywhere), but I cannot leave my black and yellow stripped German made digging tool.

Without a pencil in my hand I am not me. If I am not me then I’m blunt and need to be sharper, before my ink runs dry I am now going to ‘pencil’ some sagely advice. According to Alison Nastasi, writers like John Steinbeck and Vladimir Nabokov were pencil fanatics. Nabokov (a user of Faber-Castell Blackwing 602s) outlined his novels and used one to write, “It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.” Steinbeck loved the Mongol 480 (Faber-Castell again) as it was topped with a rubber. Nastasi says that Steinbeck used 300 pencils to write East of Eden (who, I wonder, counted them). My sagely advice, I hear you ask. Well dear reader, it is this, read these words—written in/by pencil—by Steinbeck: “The free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable element in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected.”


Inspirations and/or Recommended Readings

Barrow, J. D. (2010). 100 Essential Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know. London: Random House.

Diamond, J. (1997). Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: Norton & Company, Inc.

Nastasi, A (2013, August 17). The Writing Tools of 20 Famous Authors. Flavorwire.

Talking of Time

I submit to you that few things are more categorically a figment of our imaginations than is time

You never fail until you stop trying… keep digging.
— Einstein (1879–1955) & Heaney (1939–2013)

Tick Tock, “tick-tock” goes the atomic clock. We wore analogue watches, we had windup grandfather clocks we now wear digital smart watches and have LED wall clocks that listen passively to all that we say. Timing is everything, we time-stamp our every move (Google maps, WhatsApp chats, Snapchat geotagged videos). The hour, day and date of our birth is documented as is the day and date of our death (unless we are born into a wretched war zone or killed by a ten ton nuclear bomb). The pious are governed by the calls of bells (Sunday worship, evening song, midnight mass) the muezzin’s calls (like clockwork at the following prescribed times: al-fajr at dawn, before the sun rises; al-zuhr midday, when the sun’s the hottest; al-‘asr the late part of the afternoon; al-maghrib, just after the sun sets and then al-‘isha, midway between sunset and midnight). Today, now, at this moment in time, “Time management” self-help courses are easily found on YouTube, packaged, for instance, into six-parts of circa nine minutes an episode.

Our days are controlled by university bus timetables, course and class schedules. Punctuality is praised; lateness is loathed. It is binary, a 0 or a 1, we are either “present” or “absent,” of Enlightenment or Romantic persuasion, we can’t be both. There’s an “L” for late but, is it 5 minutes or 10? As somebody said: you can’t both have your New York cheesecake and eat New York cheesecake. 12*2 is 24, how many times have I told you, 5 past the hour equals an A not an L. In my university’s foundation program the key lesson we learned was punctuality. It was the lesson the Instructors liked the most. I mean other points were kind of given to us on a plate. We were told what to read and how to construct an essay, sentence by sentence. But let me tell you, my time spent there was divine. I lived, I totally ‘lived’ in those classes. I had an American man, a South African lady, a sweet Turkish lady then and finally a large British man. It was their accents, habits and personal stories that excited and fascinated me. It was during that period of time that my mind (but not my body) got freed from the village mentality and the backward closedminded thinking that for 18 years had been my be all and end all. They liked me. Why? Because I respected time. I obeyed and submitted willingly to the university’s synchronised wall clocks (they clicked audibly each and every minute).

Time’s invisible, time’s invaluable (much like radio waves, and WiFi – Q: is it so that all that’s dearest to us can’t be seen, heard or touched physically?). Time is at the heart of so many songs and so many sonnets. Timeframes, there are so many! I challenge you: what’s a jiffy, an eon, a score of lustrum (halve it for a jubilee) and for top prize: how many seconds go into a Day of Brahman? Let us consider the International Date Line. It is an imaginary line drawn in the middle of the Pacific ocean from bottom to top. It controls time zones, the opening and closing of the world’s stock markets and a billion other human activities too. These days most of what was imperial has gone metric but time wont change sides.

The 12-hour clock is a time convention in which the 24 hours of the day are divided into two 12 periods: a.m. and p.m. (in Latin, ante meridiem = before midday; post meridiem = past midday). We know from ancient Egyptian stone sundials that their clocks and time management was 12 hours of daytime and 12 hours of night-time. The hour was split into sixty minutes worth of sixty seconds because of the Babylonians. They used a sexagesimal system for their astronomy and for their bookkeeping. This they took from the Sumerians who were using it back in 3500 BCE. In terms of this sexagesimal system (counting in 60s, 24s and 12s) there is sound logic! It has the advantage of 12 being divisible by two, three, four, six and itself (5 options). Metric ten has only three divisors (two, five and itself). However, telling the time is confusing and I don’t mean the past and to the hour. I am pleased to say that Wikipedia agrees that it is cause of confusion and writes, “it is not always clear what times ‘12:00 a.m.’ and ‘12:00 p.m.’ denote.” Normally it starts at 12 midnight (usually 12 a.m.) and continues to 12 noon (usually: 12 p.m.) and then continues – as the hot sun chases after the cool moon – to the next midnight.

Now to the philosophical bit. I submit to you that few things are more categorically a figment of our imaginations than is time. I mean, it’s not actual, it’s not factual; it is intangible. It has no mass it has no meaning (other than an abstract unit of measuring things). We cannot see, hear, taste or touch it. We call it priceless but time ‘is’ money (how much per hour? What’s the nightly room rate? Banana boat rides, only 100 dirhams for 15 minutes). Nonetheless, time is more real than anything physical. [Please stick with me here.] We all want more time to think, more time to love, more time to live. (I swear to the Lord) I trust no human who says that isn’t so. Time then, while wholly imagined (akin perhaps to blind faith), does in fact shape and chain us in an acutely tangible physical sense. Unfortunately, time moves on regardless of what we do to fight it. Hair dye; Botox; Skinny jeans on middle aged legs. We want it to stop. We want it to last forever.

And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence … Entropy always increases.
— William Shakespeare, Poet (1564–1616) & Brian Cox, Scientist (1968– )

Then again! Sometimes we do in fact want time to fly by; such as during a soul destroying STATISTICS class. Speaking of time, look at the time! It is totally fine. It isn’t the time but the word count. I’ve hit 999 (give or take) and, these texts aren’t allowed to take more than five minutes of you precious and priceless time;* a good constraint I think.


Inspirations and/or Recommended Readings

Heaney, S. (1966). Death of a Naturalist. London: Faber & Faber.

Lightman, A. (1993). Einstein’s Dreams. New York: Vintage Books.

Popova, M. (2012). Brian Cox Explains Entropy and the Arrow of Time with Sandcastles and Glaciers. Retrieved from, brainpickings.org/2012/03/29/brian-cox-arrow-of-time/

* It is said that average readers only manage to ‘read’ around 200 words per minute of time. Fascinatingly for me the average person will ‘speak’ about 120 words per minute, which is two words per second and that’s 3.333 syllables a second!

Codex

A codex (from the Latin caudex for “trunk of a tree” or block of wood, book) is a book constructed of a number of sheets of paper, vellum, papyrus, or similar materials.

double-page-codex

Compare & Contrast

I’ll be honest. I haven’t read any of the books by Jack L. Chalker, he wrote many and now he’s dead. But his genre was sci-fi and a common theme was: body swapping, being somebody else. Well, most of us fantasise about this. A little thinner, a little taller, a bit richer a bit more confident. It is common in psychology to find people who aren’t happy with who they are. So what if for a day you could be anybody? Who would you be? Let us say that this is a particularly popular wish, desire and dream nowadays. We have films like: Freaky Friday (1976) where a mum and daughter are swapped into each other’s bodies for a day to understand the issues faced by the other; Trading Places (1983) in which an upper class man and a lower class man are swapped as a sort of social experiment and, The Change-Up (2011) which is, I guess a kind of a male fantasy (I’ve seen none of them but I get the idea as I guess you do too!).

Well, in this current age most of us have Facebook, LinkedIn or a similar data gathering tool. In this era of social media obsession, what we want to be is what we post, who we are is the person in bed in a dark room thinking thoughts that we never can say out loud and can never do. There are filters on all camera apps, there’s Photoshop. It’s now possible to airbrush out what we don’t want to be and with Instagram makeup fashionistas as it is to make our noses thinner and our lips bigger. To be clear – and based on my reading of articles on psychologytoday.com – in life people who want to be somebody else lack the ability (confidence/cash) to express themselves in the way they want. Most of us I guess see aspects in others that we ourselves cannot achieve. See the food court, high heels, extended eyelashes, $1,200 dollar phones. They/we eat a salad in public, and then binge on a biryani in the bathroom. If you desire something which is impossible, you will be disappointed and frustrated each and every day. Phycologists say body swapping fantasies normally include: (1) simply wanting to be another person (2) be a different gender (3) be born to different parents (4) be born in different country (I score three from four). It’s so easy to say, “be positive” it is so easy for these Western born (male & white) Doctors and self-help gurus to say “look to the bright side.” Basically however this is true: desire what is possible and then try to achieve it because, desiring something which is impossible can only lead to sadness and disappointment. I want to say this diagnosis is designed to keep us quiet, to stop us asking “why” but honestly, wishing to be 16 again (I’m five years older) is totally pointless.

Anyway… For me, in this exercise of body swapping fantasy I’d like to experience reality not fantasy. Who exactly then would I like to be? Well, Doctor Porter of course! He is so sensitive, he has a car, he goes to the gym and he does not have any kids. The question one or two may ask is why be him? You could’ve chosen Yacoub Shaheen, or Mehmet Akif Alakurt. You could have been U.S. President Donald Trump or at least one of the astronauts on the International Space Station. The reason is this: I’m good at fantasy when confined to the compound and imprisoned in the home. Reality means being an anonymous other. I want to be a man for a day. To be, for 2,640 minutes, an ordinary normal man (there is no way I would sleep not even from one of the 158,400 seconds). Why, well to walk around the malls, visit the hotel pool and experience that. He is different. People think he is normal, but he seems not to be. My mentor Dr. Porter is so punctual and caring. No other Doctor in the Department of Philosophy’s open-plan offices, here at the University of Hussain, is always there. He is punctual and has time for old students as well as current ones. He only drinks black coffee. No girl has ever seen him eat junk food. He has a Instagram page, he’s a good horse rider, and many students follow him. His wife is Moroccan and beautiful. We all have dearly wished to be her! But no, I will be him.

Let me be clear with you my dear reader, in this life there are masculine, feminine, and in between people. This has nothing to do with sexuality. Sexuality is defined as the sexual parts that human beings are born with, and these tell us if the person is a boy or a girl (but science says 1 in 100 may be born into the wrong body, this is accepted in some cultures, in others it is not). I said I want to be a man, and I totally mean to be a real man for the whole day. In the environment that I am living in, men are everything whereas women are to be controlled and hidden. Men are allowed to do everything, and even if it is wrong, well he’s a man so he’s going to be forgiven. I am a woman and I have always been controlled. So, for one day I want to be a man. I’ll be the controller, I’ll drive my sisters (would they be my daughters now?) to the Al Ain zoo where we will take lunch and discuss how to free the imprisoned monkeys. Then we’ll go to the “Promenade” at Jumeirah beach, they’ll wear their Adidas superstars and Juicy Couture t-shirts.

That was my plan. But when I woke as Dr. Porter, the plan changed. My wife was back in Morocco (her mother was sick). In the bathroom I examined myself in the mirror, my black hair was now blonde and missing in the middle. The body was one aspect but the feeling, that was the real difference. I was about to dress for working but I decided to cancel classes, why not? I would quickly give that student who was so keen to do her homework and ask questions an A on BlackBoard (that’s me!) then go to the gym at the Intercontinental Hotel. It was a mixed gym and I was interested to know how much I could lift. I planned to run as fast as I could too. As I was about to leave the apartment I went to reach for my ‘abayah and shayla (“cloak” and “veil” in Arabic), but smiled. No need today. As I walked to the car I noticed that some women looked to the ground as I got near them, others looked at me with a kind of lust in their eyes. I wanted to visit myself, was Dr Porter in Amna’s body? I hope he didn’t have a heart attack at the shock from waking up as me. or I’d be him for ever. Part of me wished he did have a heart attack, I’d grab his/my New Zealand passport and fly first-class to Auckland.

The gym was a bit of a disappointment, it was almost empty. The only people using it were Arab and Westerner housewives (or maybe they worked only in the afternoons?). They seemed a bit bored. I noticed they looked at me. I also had to say hello because, they knew me here. One even asked me about Alia. When I spoke it was hard not to laugh. My words my thoughts but said in a man’s deep voice. I loved my accent. I kept on speaking loudly when I was in the car. The freedom was amazing. The most noticeable difference is that nobody looked at me with the eyes that said: “why aren’t you at home?” “where’s your brother?” “Who’s your father to let you come to the Mall alone?” To the mall, that is what I’ll do. I knew how to drive. The family driver had let me and my older sister drive from school to home and even I would drive a bit on the desert highway after university. But only to add to my Snapchat and Instagram accounts. I was going to drive fast. Dr. Porter had a Ford Mustang. But, no, I didn’t want him to get any radar tickets.

I drove to the capital city’s biggest Mall. Inside I walked and walked, I kept looking at ladies, they kind of looked back to me. My thoughts were mine, my body language was not. I decided to sit in a coffee shop and watch people. This is what I did as myself. But now, I did not review handbags and shoes, I was focused on how tall then men were, did they have more hair than me? Was their belly wider than their chest? I was focusing on my new gender. I was comparing myself with my gender. I felt a bit bad because Alia tried calling me many times. There was no way I could speak as him to her. She’d know I wasn’t him. But I did SMS her and I particularly focused on paying her compliments. She was shocked at first but I sent to her a selfie and then typed: I’m a changed man, I like to pretend looks aren’t important but I want to let you know you are truly beautiful, I always think it but now I’ll say it. Basically I said to her what I wanted my future husband to say to the real me. I also typed this, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” it was from the Cambridge university dictionary but we say a similar saying in Arabic.

As the sun began to set, I realised that being in a man’s body was basically not that different. Yes I had freedoms of movement (and this was truly divine). But, I was still comparing myself to others, looking at people as objects of desire, disgust or indifference. I still wanted to be better than others. Every look was a judgment of a type. What did I learn? We are, after all, humans. I considered the thesis of Joseph Conrad, in our soul we are all wildly animalistic. Never judge a book by its cover, those sweet charming students, those sincere and sensitive teachers are basically the same. Behind the cover of their smiling faces is a dark inner self. The question this gender metamorphosis did not answer was this: must it always be like this? Will humankind ever rise above our base instincts, competitive tendencies and envies?


Inspirations and/or Recommended Readings

Chalker, J. L. (1989). The Identity Matrix. Riverdale, Canada: Baen Books.

Conrad, J. (2012 [1902]). Heart of Darkness. London: Penguin.

IMDb (2011). Body Swap Movies. Retrieved from, https://www.imdb.com/list/ls000924797/

Double Vision

Shared Secretly (well, honestly so)

Prologue

It is often stated that it’s a miracle a Department of Philosophy exists here at all. Within its underpopulated lecture rooms, it is once in a while asked, ‘where’ exactly, is life led?

PART ONE

“Breakfast’s ready, your mother, umm, wants the both of you to come.”

The peachy pink calm of the dawn sky was becoming, as it invariably did, a blinding, bleached bone white daze. Every day when Amna woke (or more usually when Ezra the Ethiopian maid awoke her) she would then turn to wake her twin sister Eman and then pick up the book she’d been reading the night before. In her hand she took this book and went to where her mother was sitting. She proceeded to give what was essentially another monologue:

“Whilst ignorance is bliss, knowledge, it’s nemesis, is the pivot upon which all of humankind’s progress rests … this, the book argues, in addition to being ironic interferes with life’s fundamental purpose, the pursuit of happiness.” Eman, it should be noted, was rather less loquacious; in tandem, the duo nodded.

After fresh warm milk and buttered bread with apricot jam, Amna went hand in hand (so to speak) with Eman to university. The family driver, an Indian with hairy ears and the temperament of a tortoise called Iqbal, is the chauffeur–cum–chaperone charged with preserving their dignity and upholding the family’s honour. That day he drove as sedately as he always did from the walled compound to the walled campus in a blacked out polar white station wagon. As per usual in the rear seats, Amna helps Eman review the previous day’s lectures.

In the university’s cafeteria, the pair sat. The coffee chain’s cup wasn’t a new one, in marker pen it was written E, with a cross, then Amna and a X. It had been handled a lot but had seemingly been painstakingly and purposefully preserved. Eman was beautiful and she did look strikingly similar to a well-known and much coveted after pop star. (Beguiling would perhaps be the better adjective.) Amna wasn’t in the least bit shy and she was at the superficial level very approachable. Yet, they were typically a solo duet; the type who would bring packed lunches as opposed to purchasing a pizza for two deal.

The world can be cruel and it is gossip not oil that makes it go round and round. She’s aloof, she’s vain, she’s arrogant, she’s two-faced. Yep, such descriptions are commonly thrown their way. A group of girls talked about her latest twist: talking to the skies. Yes it could be to other—sisters perhaps. They conceded, with Bluetooth and Wifi its now impossible to be sure who are the sane and who are the insane. What a pity, she’s no friends, and now she speaks to herself non-stop. Here is the strange thing, all students on first contact want to befriend her but as lunch follows breakfast divides soon follow. They’re jealous of her looks or her grades or her ways with foreign labourers. Unbeknown to them, this day was to be their last (for a while at least anyway).

 

PART TWO

It wasn’t only at university this habit of talking to unobserved others was increasingly noted. The people in the village were not especially educated and this compounded the problem. Upon their return the final decision was dictated for all to hear: university life was over. Life looked bleak but a ‘chance’ glance over the compound wall would change it all. Yet between the chance glance and the trip above the clouds to a different world (so to speak) the consensus view was that she’d been possessed by another: two souls, one body. The father decreed, “this is what we’ve been told to do so, this is what’s right to do.”

In the weeks that followed the beatings became almost ritualistic—ten firm strikes and some words said before and after each crack of the cane—all books were banned and finally pen and paper was placed under prohibition. In tandem, the neigbour’s son was growing evermore infatuated. It had been the first time that their eyes had met for a dozen years (as kids, they’d all played in the open ground between the villas and that neighbourhood’s mosque). His Master’s dissertation was near completion and he was to travel to Britain to do his Ph.D. in September.

Villages talk, he knew of the happenings next door but was circumscribe and diplomatic toward agreeing with the sentiments of the men of the neighbourhood. That beautiful creature was troubled (she was troubled and/or in trouble), yet, in his opinion, there was nothing that love couldn’t cure. Following another beating, she said, “for how long most all of this go on?” and was answered with the following words, Salem, son of Sultan Al Aswadi has asked for your hand and you are to be married to him. Salem! the one with glasses? Rejection was a possibility, we are in 2015, daughters can now say no, should they dare to do so. But to escape the stick an “oh, okay” was the response.

The morning after the wedding the newly wed husband called upon the father of the house next door, the scarring had made him livid. “This is what we are told to do. This is what we do… don’t say you didn’t know” came the nonchalant reply. Salem had intended to be a man but when faced by this stocky ogre of a foe he draw the duel to a close by saying that they’d be off to the UK sooner than planed. The father was releveled, he’d thought that he may have instead been lumbered with a dependent divorcee to darken his family’s name.

A series of tests at Manchester’s Wythenshawe Hospital, in the cold crisp months of the northern English winter, confirmed that it was a ‘manageable’ psychological disorder which indeed love could aid. In the week after the winter equinox at a procedural health check-up she was told, in a thick Mancunian accent, that she was carrying a little someone inside of her. That evening in their studio flat, she looked into his tired eyes—he’d been reading all the day long in the library on Quay Street—and said, “congratulations, you’ll soon be a father.”

“Should we call her Amna after your mother or Eman after mine?” he excitedly replied.

 

Epilogue

Periodically the Department would convene open door debates. In a recent one, where the ‘where’ was the focus, it concluded with the arguably troubling thought that one’s very own head was where it all took place. Amna looked at Eman and said with out uttering a single word, “can this really be so?”