East London, England September 10, 1916

Prose written by Saad El-Asha on Tuesday 18, September 2018

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A fictional letter.

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Dear Mildred, I apologize for not writing sooner as I'd said I would. The nerve-twisting demands of this new task on which I stupidly embarked have turned me completely British. How is mother and have things gone worse yet? I'm still working on my English. I find it extremely difficult learning how people speak. There are too many accents and dialects hovering around here. Moreover, my neighbour is French. He's offered me newspapers, but you know I hate and don't speak French. I politely declined his offer. Taking the paper would've been meaningless and, except living itself, I refuse to do meaningless things. A few days ago, I visited Oxford with Mr. Cunningham who'd suggested I should rather take a look and meet the international students at the English Literature department. I met a few Arab migrants from Lebanon and Egypt. I wasn't surprised; Egyptians are everywhere. I was, however, taken aback when I met the only Libyan in Oxford and probably all of England. He wasn't a student, naturally, but that's another story I will be telling you about shortly. No one seems to know what Libya is, apart from a few students at the department of Biological Sciences who know well their Lybia. Each and every Englishman is consumed by the war and they certainly don't prioritize the rise of the new Italian Empire. But they, on the other hand, are often not surprised when I tell them of this lunatic old Londoner who's been living for years in the godforsaken mountains of Cyrenaica. It seems that there are many of you in India. No one is safe, Mildred, with or without war. I'm not sure whether we Libyans would eventually fall in the hands of the British Empire or what this war would soon bring your homeland. I'm not sure whether we'd revolt against the Italians whom no one seems to know what they're doing. I'm also not sure how both of our peoples would live their lives a hundred years from now. I now know that we aren't too different. I roamed London and saw that young couples aren't easily kissing in public as I thought they did. In fact, it's easier for our young people at the Naj'e. The shadows of Victoria are all over the place. You haven't missed much of your country, Millie. But I'm digressing. I find it difficult to understand the sanctity of the family and the homeland as the wives and the few fathers see those young men away. I don't believe they abhor the situation and, I'm sorry to say, I feel no sympathy, none whatsoever, towards any of these. Millie, what has changed over the month is something I don't know whether I should fear or embrace; I feel no gratitude anymore. No gratitude to whoever helped me through this new and strange endeavour of mine. Why should I? Why shouldn't I? And it seems that I've lost interest in both the answer and the question itself. All I know is that I will go on doing what I've been loving to do for years and what I've been cherishing for a month as my only solace. Teaching Arabic to the pink-faced rich isn't too terrible after all. It's this passion of mine whose origins never piqued my interest; whether I love it on my own volition or whether it is only due to chance, a chance that finds us both where we are today, living where we're living and doing what we're doing. Warmest, Your young friend.
   

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