Book Excerpt

Book Excerpt – Ajwan

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AjwanNoura Al Noman had studied language for years— she has a Bachelors degree in English Literature and a Masters degree in Translation Studies— but she never expected to become a writer, let alone an Arabic children’s author. At the age of 45, she published her first two picture books for toddlers: “Cotton the Kitten” and “Kiwi the Hedgehog”. The books dealt with the contrast of children dealing with pets and wild animals. Noting the huge deficit in books for young Arabs, she wrote her first novel “Ajwan” which was one of a handful of science fiction novels in the Arab world. Ajwan won the 2013 Etisalat Children Literature Award for the Best Young Adult Novel. Although Ajwan’s English translation is available, Noura has delayed publishing it to give the Arabic version a chance to take a foothold. Her second book “Mandan” was launched at the Cairo Book Fair in January 2014. She is currently working on her third book. Noura is also a member of the Board of Trustees of UAEBBY.

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Her eyes open. Consciousness returns, immediately followed by the sounds of crying and wailing.
The memories return. An overwhelming tsunami, which washes over everything. It snatches the breath from her body. She closes her eyes again, and hopes for the refuge of unconsciousness to return, as it did in the past. If only to silence the sounds and wash away the memories.

But her closed eyelids fail to shut out the sounds, nor do they manage to block out the memories. The wailing continues on and off all around the compartment. Bodies crowded so tightly together in close quarters, where the survivors had taken refuge after the catastrophe. The air thick despite the efforts of air filters, working tirelessly to recycle the air.

The faces of the survivors reflect her emotions and reinforce the memories. No, it wasn’t a nightmare. They were real memories.

The lights change from red to bluish white to red again, and so they have continued from the moment the first shock wave had hit them. Their ship had rocked like a piece of plastic in a raging ocean. Indeed, it was a miracle that the ship’s hull had held. Any serious damage meant death for all of them.

For the first time it occurred to her to wonder: how many other ships like had managed to leave their home? Was Rakan able to board a ship and survive the catastrophe?

Rakan stood at the door of their flat and smiled warmly. “Oh for the nth time, Ajwan,” he said “I will be very careful with the big fish, and I’ll be nice too. This worried expression on your face is totally unnecessary. I’ve been doing this for more than 12 years, young lady, and was able to manage it all without your advice.”

She stamped the cold floor of the living room with her tiny feet all wrapped in fluffy slippers, “Stop treating me like a child!”

“Well then stop acting like one!”

Ajwan threw a triangle-shaped cushion at him. He dodged it laughing, and then rushed down the stairs, heading off to yet another expedition. She followed him downstairs to the ground floor, and watched him walk towards his bicycle. She continued to watch as he rode off and disappeared from view, and then went back up to the flat.

Switching on the broadcaster, she selected the news feed, and listened while she cleaned up. It was still too early for her daily swim – another two hours. As ever, she was looking forward to it; but continued her daily chores, suppressing the urge to just drop everything and go. Maybe today was the day her brother Ebar would call her. He’d mentioned lately interest in visiting her new home.

She could hear the two anchormen debating, “Well the National Observatory has assured us that the comet will pass by at no less than 500 thousand klicks; which they say won’t affect our weather or the tides on our turquoise planet.”

The second one barked in reply, “And how can they be so sure? Who can possibly predict the actions of a rock in space?”

“Sumri,” the second anchorman chided, “you’re always such a pessimist! Did you not hear me a minute ago? It’s the National Observatory, man. They’re the experts on Astronomy!”

“Ha! Excuse me; but we all know that our civilization has not had a lot of advances in that area.” Sumri replied, “Having landed here hundreds of years ago, we’ve not bothered much with the stars since then. Heck, even our water neighbors, the Havaiki only care about their inner space, their vast oceans, which means -”

“What’s that got to do with anything?!” his colleague interrupted, “Astronomers keep track of all heavenly bodies and they can plot their path and other stuff…” he trailed off, clearly grasping for the proper terminology.

“Other stuff? Is that the scientific term for it?” Sumri chuckled.

Ajwan hit the mute button in disgust. The Okamo were unbelievable. They had absolutely no respect for one another – they were like children most of the time. Not even the pretense of respect and decorum. Under the water, Havaiki children learned respect very quickly so they can have the honor of joining the company of adults. Those who did not learn this early must stay with other children until they matured and understood the importance of respect and decorum. That’s how civilizations are built. But these Okamo. Bah! Their civilization was based on chaos and conflicting emotions. It’s a wonder they haven’t selfdestructed long ago.

If it were not for the treaties and agreements between them and her people, ending conflicts and assigning borders and territories, the Okamo would probably have caused the destruction of this planet.

And here she was, married to an Okamo.

From where she sat huddled among the bodies packed so uncomfortably close, Ajwan raised her head in surprise. The alarms had stopped their annoying wailing, which had seemed to go on for hours. The changing lights had also stopped their maddening cycle, and now there was only the constant bluish illumination from all around. She looked at her fellow survivors in this eerie light – all of them were Okamo, not a single Havaiki among them. But there were other compartments on this ship, she comforted herself with the thought; maybe some of them contained a few Haivaiki. And yet she dared not think of her family whom she had left under the ocean. That’s twice now she had abandoned them – once to marry Rakan and join him up on the surface, and this time. But this time it was for good. There was no going back now

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