A few years ago, before the architecture of the world was transfigured into ever more terrifying new shapes, Tahil Yusuf, a Somali pattern-cutter based in Peckham, South London, came home to find his eight year-old son, Zahi, crying in the living room of their modest council flat.
Tahil had been on his feet all day at the Essex factory where he worked, and the long hours, coupled with the commute and poor pay, had pummelled his spirit and made him a desperate-desperate man. This was not the existence he had envisioned for himself and his young family when they immigrated from Kenya. He couldn't quit his job because his wife Feynus, who was in bed at that moment, was heavily pregnant with their second baby. She too was ground down by a relentless hustling and bustling that essentially amounted to shilingi tano and a cup of shaah. It felt fundamentally unfair to be forced to hang up all your hopes and ambitions in exchange for subsistence living.
So when Tahil saw his young son crying, something in him snapped. The tender, fey little being that was his boy was in pain, and Tahil, having had a rough day, was ready to sucker-punch the dickhead kid who had picked on his pickney.
He held Zahi and said, 'What happened? Who hurt you?'
Zahi couldn't speak through his sobs, so Tahil lowered his tone and said more gently, 'Tell me about your day. What made you happiest today?'
Almost immediately Zahi stopped crying and thought about this question. It required consideration. 'I dunno,' said the child. 'Hooyo bought me a burger after school.'
'Did you like the burger?' asked Tahil.
'Yes, it came with a little toy, so that was nice.'
'What else made you happy today? We must always celebrate our joys when the world rests heavy on our minds. So tell me. What else made you happy today?'
'A girl called Lisa who has two dads said I might be gay,' said Zahi.
'Did that make you feel good or bad?'
'It made me feel good,' said Zahi.
Tahil was startled, but he didn't show it. 'Why did it make you feel good?' he asked his son. 'Do you like being called gay?'
Zahi thought about this for a moment. 'The way Lisa said it was so kind that it seemed okay. She has two gay dads and she's happy. Aabo, all I want is to be happy. The kids at school are mean, but I've got something of my own, you know? Being told I might be gay in a way that's not insulting is lovely.'
'Does it not frighten you to be different from the other kids?' said Tahil.
Zahi laughed. 'Aabo, I'm not going to fit in, so I've stopped trying. The boys hate me because the girls like me, and the girls like me because I treat them like people. The other boys bully the girls. And me.'
'How do I protect you from the horrors of this world, my son?' asked Tahil, clinging to his child.
'I don't want protection, I want you to love me today and tomorrow.'
Tahil smiled. 'I love you and I like you, my son.'
'I love you and I like you, Aabo,' said Zahi.
Tahil went to work the next day feeling remarkably calm and comforted. If his young child could have the courage to stand up for himself and claim his personhood, then so could he.
He handed in his notice that day, took a train to Holborn and enrolled in an evening business class at City Lit. He was going to learn how to transform his pattern-cutting skills, which he had learnt from his late father, a renowned tailor in Mogadishu, into a career that not only paid well, but kept his interior landscape afloat.
As for Zahi, he went to school the next day and asked his friend Lisa if he could meet her two dads. She invited him to come over to her house for dinner one night as she didn't have many friends herself.
Beloved reader, at this point in the narrative, you're probably wondering why I'm telling you this story. I'm breaking this sheeko down for you like so because sometimes everything is hard and heartbreaking, and we want to complain about all that's going horribly wrong in our lives, but not always. Reach out to someone in that moment — it could even be a stranger at the bus stop if you're feeling sociable — and pose the following question to them in a loving tone: 'What has made you happiest today?'
You'll be endlessly surprised by the answers you receive, and you'll have eased someone's day.
May your curiosity never dim, darling reader.
Image by DIRIYE OSMAN.
Song Of The Moment: 'Sunbeams' by J DILLA.