Glass Enclave
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In the farthest corner, in a stagnant pond, near the toilets and the fire exit, a comical mechanised frog rose and fell. It broke the surface of the scum and rose, jaws wide open, to spit out the water he existed in. Down again it sank, heaved, only to obey and rise again. The boy with the jacket around his waist was there, kneeling by the side of the pond. He had a friend with him and they appeared to be greatly amused by the frog. The boy pulled a piece of gum out of his mouth, long and silvery, he made a loop of it and put the other end into his mouth. It dangled long, nearly touching the ground where he knelt. The actions that make mothers scold, Put that gum back in your mouth. Don't play with it. She had said to Mahasen, I need a focus in my life and her aunt's reply was, Your son is your focus. But she had left him behind, come here and her focus became the hospital room, watching from the window people doing what she couldn't do. Four years convalescing. If she went home now, she would bring the child back with her, if he would agree to come. She would not escape from him again.

Glass corridors led on to other rooms where there were tree barks, plants for sale in flower pots, giant mushrooms shaped out of stone. Back in the desert room, their bench was empty, the light welcomed her. No electric frog, no foliage, just the coarse, sparse aridity that was familiar to her from long ago.

The sound of running water was the rain against the glass. It was like the rain of her dream, her first dream of the present, the first time this grey landscape had found a place in her sleeping mind. Four years and her soul had dived in sleep to the past, nothing in the present could touch it. 'But if you go home', Rae said, 'you would find it hard to come back and I would not have a translator any more'. She learnt, then, the meaning of his kindness. That he knew she was heavy with other loyalties, full to the brim with distant places, voices in a language that was not his own.

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Also by Leila Aboulela

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You look like something out of the Third World.

The Way Home
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