(An excerpt from a novel in progress)

That smell.  It reminded Sam of Tomorrow. They say that when she arrived in Bamako, on the arm of Mousa Maiga, she was young and beautiful.  Tomorrow.  Maybe it was the first English word Sam learned.  She was from Tanzania.  Monsieur Maiga met her when he was doing research there, and was so captivated by her beauty that he took her as a second wife.  But she never bore him any children, and when he died in his forties, the first Madame Maiga finally released the rage that had stewed inside her since the day her husband brought that low class hussy into their lives.

By the time Sam’s uncle hired Tomorrow to do the family’s washing, she had lost her looks but had regained her sanity after several years of wandering the streets talking to spirits.  Tomorrow and Sam became friends.  She told him that her name meant “the day after today,” and that there was always promise in Tomorrow.  She taught Sam how to say “good morning,” “good afternoon,” “that’s good,” and other English phrases.

Sam cried the day his uncle told her that she needn’t come back to do their washing again. Because the clothes smelled. He accused her of using cheap soap and stealing the good soap he provided her with. And he said she was lazy because she removed the clothes from the line before they dried completely, in her haste to finish early.

Sam cried because Tomorrow was his friend; she understood his vague yearnings that so annoyed his uncle who felt that Sam should focus more on his prayers and schoolwork, and not worry about an imaginary twin brother he swore was kidnapped by jinns. Sam wanted to fly, far away, like a bird to look for his twin. Tomorrow listened, she did not laugh or scold him. 

“Maybe, mwanangu,” she’d say in her language, drawing Sam near to comfort him. Her arms were soft and fluffy, like cotton, and she reminded him a little of Mama Mousso, his grandmother. But sometimes during those embraces with Tomorrow, Sam felt something strange, something he could not describe except that he knew it was sinful and wonderful at the same time and it made him feel like a man. He would get a whiff of the smell then, that sweet, musty smell that was in her clothes too, and that Sam had grown to love.

“Maybe you will find him.” Her voice was like honey. “Maybe tomorrow.”  Then they would both laugh, because of the “tomorrow” part, not because she thought he was crazy.

Rakina Muhammed, Madison, WI