“You look beautiful in blue,” the Ostrich says to Sumra in Leila Aboulela’s 1997 short story named after him (Aboulela 5). Sumra is remembering her schooldays with him while she lives isolated in London. She walks away from his compliment, not needing or seeking his admiration. She remembers that it must have been evening classes because in the morning was white and in the evening the tobes were colored. She walks remembers the relaxed routine of evening lectures and walking in groups of other girls tobes “snapping chewing gum and kohl in [their] eyes” (Aboulela 5). In London,
however, her husband doesn’t allow her to wear the tobe that was so part of her life before, and so she imagines it as she walks.
I keep coming back to this page five section of the story because it seems such a simple representation of Sumra’s life in Khartoum and how it directly affects her life in London. Her husband, Majdy doesn’t allow her to wear the tobe on the ground that people in London would think he was forcing her to wear it and they wouldn’t believe it’s what Sumra wanted, but we see in her memories the freedom she felt walking with her friends on leisurely days. They were not exceedingly modest girls with their heads down and kept cloistered away from men at all times. They wore jewelry and makeup, snapped gum. They styled their hair and their tobes sometimes slipped right off of it as the passed boys in the street. She looked and felt beautiful, which is something in the previous paragraph she struggles with in London. London, which is where everyone wants to go and is supposed to be so much freer and lovelier. In this scene we see the
ordinary paradise of Khartoum.
Aboulela uses hyperbole to describe how Sumra feel walking without her tobe on the London streets. She feels naked. “Unclothed” (Aboulela 5). In a run on sentence that seems to imitate Sumra’s nervousness, she imagines the feeling of the tobe on her hair and skin and she adjusts her posture and movements to accommodate. This reflects how exposed and unprotected Sumra feels in London. She knows there are enemies in the city, but she doesn’t know who they and feels she has nothing to hide behind or protect her. She has nothing familiar to grasp onto, so she imagines one. This is a foreshadowing of sorts to when her husband admits his jealousy of her ability to keep home withe her while he loses his ties to Sudan. Even when denied the tactile fact of her heritage, Sumra is able to keep a bit of home in her thoughts.
Aboulela, Leila. “The Ostrich.” Intangible Publications, Intangible Publications, Inc.,1997, www.intangible.org, pp. 1-9. Accessed 29 March 2018.
Blog Post 5