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Liberty Walks Naked
by Maram al-Masri, trans. Theo Dorgan



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Richesses: Francophone Songwriter Poets
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Tatiana Duvanova is a writer, a world-traveler, and a Fulbright alumna. Originally from Russia, she is currently located in the USA where she is pursuing her MFA in Fiction. She teaches creative writing at the University of New Mexico and serves as the Fiction Editor for Blue Mesa Review.






Highly Commended in the 2017 Séan Ó Faoláin Competition



Get born on Christmas Eve, when the hospital is half-empty and understaffed. Be a slight disappointment to your father, who wanted a boy, and to the doctor, who wanted to make it home for dinner. From the first minutes of your life, cry as loudly as you can and never stop. Wear down both of your parents until they lose the ability to think straight. Be the reason they have their first serious fight.

Refuse to talk until you are two years old. Be driven to various specialists’ appointments, listen to your mother cry, but remain stubbornly silent and smile at your grandmothers and aunties as they shake their heads and whisper “this one is slow.” Then one day start talking in full sentences.

When you are five, go for a picnic with your parents, see them happy for the first time by a lilac shrub. Fall in love with the smell for the rest of your life, but never remember why. When your mom asks you if you want a brother or sister, throw a tantrum and tell her that you will run away if it ever happens. Remain the only child forever.

Find out that you are “fat” on the first day of elementary school from a group of “cool” girls. Believe them unquestionably, ignore the fact that they are bigger than you. Have a crush on the most popular boy from your English class, watch him “date” each of the mean girls over the four years. On the last day of school find him alone in the parking lot waiting to be picked up. Pluck up your courage and tell him that you love him. Run away and cry after he gives you a contemptuous look. From then on, always have trouble believing someone can fall in love with you.

Focus on your homework all through middle and high school. Be invisible, ignored even by bullies. Hear your parents brag about you to their neighbours, tell them how you are not like all the other teenagers who care only about parties. Smile at the impressed adults and don’t mention that you aren’t invited anywhere, and it’s not really a choice.

Get accepted to a university, receive a partial scholarship, celebrate for days. Think that now you will be around people who are just like you. Get your hopes crushed on the very first day. See that your peers are not that smart or interesting, that your classes are below your level. Halfway through the semester get an invitation to a party from a girl you worked with on your Spanish project. Have your first vodka-orange from a blue plastic cup. Discover that partying is fun and you can be charming after a couple of drinks.

 The next morning be terribly hungover and miss all of your classes. Tell yourself that you are the smartest anyway and a couple of absences will do you no harm. At the end of your first semester, have a long conversation with your parents over the phone explaining to them that you got Cs because the public high school you went to didn’t prepare you for college. Tell them that now you’ve got it all figured out, that next semester you will fix your GPA and get your scholarship back, and you’ll just take a loan and be fine, not a big deal. By the end of the phone call, almost convince yourself you meant everything you said.

Next semester go to a party on the first day of classes. Run into the most beautiful boy you’ve ever seen. Have a drunk conversation with him, be unable to remember what about later, but tell yourself that it was deep and meaningful. Change your major so you can take the classes he is taking. Become friends with him, start listen to the same music he listens to, watch the movies he mentions, go to the games he goes to. At a party before spring break, make out with him in the dark corner when you are both terribly drunk. Dread the moment you’ll have to see him again in school every day of your break, but also look forward to it.

After the break, come to campus and see that he is not in any of your classes. A couple of weeks later overhear two girls talking about him in the corridor. Learn that he dropped out and moved to a different state.

Watch spring come and go, lose interest in both school work and parties. Forget to eat sometimes, lose weight, but don’t even care. Come home for the summer. Barely notice your mother’s shock. Let her take you to a couple of doctors, hear “depression,” “anorexia.” Take the meds the doctor prescribes you, obediently force down the food.

Come back to campus in fall and be unable to walk through the corridors that remind you of him. See an advertisement for a study abroad program in Thailand. Apply and get accepted. Take more loans, take more money from your parents. At the airport security have your first “what the hell am I doing/how did I get here” kind of moment, think about how crazy you are going to Asia, but go anyway.

Arrive in Thailand and discover that you can survive there. On your first day on campus run into a group of Eastern-European students, go out with them and party like you never had before, call them your best friends by the end of the night. Pick the handsomest among them and start seeing him. Enjoy the feeling of not having any feelings, know that he will never be able to hurt you.

Find out that as a native English speaker you can have plenty of jobs without any qualifications. By the end of your study abroad, decide to drop out of college and get a teaching job. See off your boyfriend back to Slovenia. Feel perfectly alone in the giant world, but never lonely, not for a second. Work twenty hours a week, rent an apartment by the beach, fill your closet with shoes and summer dresses, feel important and successful. Learn that your Thai colleagues make only the half of what you are paid, but don’t let it bother you. Stick to your foreign co-workers who are much more fun. Go out with them every other night, lose ten pounds from constant drinking. Buy tight fitting dresses you never thought you could wear, realize that despite what you’ve been told in elementary school you are actually hot. Make the most of the discovery, never sleep with the same man twice.

On one of the rare nights when none of your friends want to go out, show up to a club alone. Get wasted on shots everybody buys you. Black out, find yourself on a rooftop. Look around, see that you are lying down on dirty concrete, that your dress is pulled up, and there’s a stranger on top of you. Watch him, as he is trying to get inside you, but can’t because he is too drunk. Lie there and stare at the sky, try to decipher the constellations, don’t feel anything as he unsuccessfully pokes all over you. Push him off, get up, pull down your dress. Watch him crawl after you, hear him say that he is “good to go now.” Climb down the stairs, find the way to your apartment somehow.

Back home, go to a mirror and see that your dress is torn, and you have scratches and cuts on your back. Get into the shower and stand there, try to wash it all away. Don’t notice that you’ve run out of hot water till you start shaking and are almost numb. Next day, throw away the dress and tell a girlfriend of yours that you were almost raped. Hear her say that it happened because everybody knows how promiscuous you are.

Feel humiliated next time you walk into a club, but don’t know what else to do on a Friday night. Frantically look if the guy from the rooftop is there. Have a couple of drinks, see that he isn’t there, and that no one else knows or cares about what happened to you. Relax, go back to your usual routine. In a week, check your injuries and see that the scratches have sealed and disappeared without a trace. Put that incident in the back of your mind, tell yourself you got over it, but cry every time you remember that night. Stop allowing yourself to think about it.

Learn that your work permit is about to expire, and your school has no interest in renewing it. Realize it’s been almost five years since you first arrived to Thailand. Walk alone in the streets, hear the language you don’t understand, smell the food you never learned to like, think that here you’ll always be farang, the foreigner, the only Thai word you ever picked up. Decide not to look for another job.

Come back home without any savings, be shocked by the prices, the blandness of food, the emptiness on the sidewalks. Discover how much debt you’ve accumulated, remember how easy it was to spend your salary on dresses that never lasted beyond the first washing, the street food you nibbled on and threw away, the taxis you took everywhere.

Stay on your parents’ couch for months until they strongly encourage you to leave. Rent a studio in the worst part of town, get used to gunshots and roaches, try waitressing, babysitting, fail to find anything you don’t bitterly hate. Go back to school, take more loans. Enjoy your classes, love what you do in college, but don’t socialize with your eighteen-year-old classmates more than you absolutely have to. Study them sometimes, listen to their conversations, especially to the girls’. Wish you could tell them that they really don’t need that much makeup and that in a couple of years they will not remember the names of the boys they think are the centres of their universes now. Wish they could focus on what is really important in life, but feel incompetent to advise, because you haven’t figured out what it is yet.

Realize you haven’t had a boyfriend for years. Wonder how it’s possible. Do math and discover that the last time you were naked with a man was in Thailand on that rooftop. Try to determine whether the trauma is the reason, or is it just because you got older and put on twenty pounds. Consider downloading a dating app, but never really get to it.

Start wanting a baby desperately. Stare at every toddler that comes your way, envy their mothers. Put your hand on your stomach and imagine how it would feel to have someone in there, think that a child will fix everything, bring meaning to it all.

Graduate from college, spend a year looking for an office job, find one. Hate it, but be thankful for the stability, the regular pay checks. Have an unremarkable colleague of yours ask you on a date, look at him, remember your mother telling you that you need “to lower your expectations.” Start dating him, discover that it’s nice to be adored. When he suggests moving in together and later marrying, second his initiatives, and tell him you want a baby. Every day of your married life be aware that you don’t love your husband, but develop certain tenderness for him, enjoy your routine in a cold, subdued way.

Get pregnant the first month off birth control. Be excited, but also a little disappointed that it happened so soon, feel that after all you weren’t ready. Give birth to your child. Look at her swollen, purple face and realize that she is all that matters. Cry from happiness, holding her in your arms, ignore the pain, the blood, the tears in your most delicate places. Learn what the true meaning of unhappiness is when the nurse takes her away from you.

When your daughter is thirteen and is about to leave the house in bright makeup and a short skirt, tell her that with the kind of legs she has she can never wear a short skirt and, since she got her father’s face, it’s best not to draw too much attention to it. Watch her cry and run to her room, listen to her call her friends and cancel the outing. Don’t sleep that night, but tell yourself that you did the right thing and that at least she is home and safe.


©2017 Tatiana Duvanova



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Read 'Collecting Unpainted Pictures' by Tatiana Duvanova in Litro

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