I rest my head on his shoulder, feeling his heart beating against me. I wish I could gather time around us, slowing the minutes, making them last a lifetime.I was born on the island kingdom of Ghedda, I whisper. This is a story I never told even to you, Habiba. I tell it now only because I cannot bear to leave him without the truth, knowing only half of me. I raise my head and meet his eyes. That was more than four thousand years ago. I was the eldest daughter of a wise and generous king.Aladdin stares at me, his eyes soft and curious, encouraging me to go on.When I was seventeen, I became queen of Ghedda. In those days, the jinn were greater in number and the Shaitan held greater sway over the realms of men. He demanded we offer him twenty maidens and twenty warriors in sacrifice, in return for fair seas and lucrative trade. I was young and proud and desired, above all else, to be a fair ruler. I would not bow to his wishes, so he shook our island until it began to fall into the sea.I shudder and Aladdin draws me closer.I climbed to the alomb at the top of the Mountain of Tongues and there offered myself to the Shaitan, if he would only save my city from the sea. My voice falls to a whisper, little more than a ripple on the water. So he took me and made me jinn and put me in the lamp. And then he caused the Mountain of Tongues to erupt and Ghedda was lost to fire. For he had sworn only to save my people from the sea, not from flame.
Jessica Khoury
I always had trouble with the feet of Jón the First, or Pre-Jón, as I called him later. He would frequently put them in front of me in the evening and tell me to take off his socks and rub his toes, soles, heels and calves. It was quite impossible for me to love these Icelandic men's feet that were shaped like birch stumps, hard and chunky and screaming white as the wood when the bark is stripped from it. Yes and as cold and damp, too. The toes had horny nails that resembled dead buds in a frosty spring. Nor can I forget the smell, for malodorous feet were very common in the post-war years when men wore nylon socks and practically slept in their shoes. How was it possible to love these Icelandic men? Who belched at the meal table and farted constantly. After four Icelandic husbands and a whole load of casual lovers I had become a vrai connaisseur of flatulence, could describe its species and varieties in the way that a wine-taster knows his wines. The howling backfire, the load, the gas bomb and the Luftwaffe were names I used most. The coffee belch and the silencer were also well-known quantities, but the worst were the date farts, a speciality of Bæring of Westfjord. Icelandic men don’t know how to behave: they never have and never will, but they are generally good fun. At least, Icelandic women think so. They seem to come with this inner emergency box, filled with humour and irony, which they always carry around with them and can open for useful items if things get too rough and it must be a hereditary gift of the generations. Anyone who loses their way in the mountains and gets snowed in or spends the whole weekend stuck in a lift can always open this special Icelandic emergency box and get out of the situation with a good story. After wandering the world and living on the Continent I had long tired of well-behaved, fart-free gentlemen who opened the door and paid the bills but never had a story to tell and were either completely asexual or demanded skin-burning action until the morning light. Swiss watch salesmen who only knew of sechs as their wake-up hour, or hairy French apes who always required their twelve rounds of screwing after the six-course meal. I suppose I liked German men the best. They were a suitable mixture of belching northerner and cultivated southerner, of orderly westerner and crazy easterner, but in the post-war years they were of course broken men. There was little you could do with them except try to put them right first. And who had the time for that? Londoners are positive and jolly, but their famous irony struck me as mechanical and wearisome in the long run. As if that irony machine had eaten away their real essence. The French machine, on the other hand, is fuelled by seriousness alone and the Frogs can drive you beyond the limit when they get going with their philosophical noun-dropping. The Italian worships every woman like a queen until he gets her home, when she suddenly turns into a slut. The Yank is one hell of a guy who thinks big: he always wants to take you the moon. At the same time, however, he is as smug and petty as the meanest seamstress and has a fit if someone eats his peanut butter sandwich aboard the space shuttle. I found Russians interesting. In fact they were the most Icelandic of all: drank every glass to the bottom and threw themselves into any jollity, knew countless stories and never talked seriously unless at the bottom of the bottle, when they began to wail for their mother who lived a thousand miles away but came on foot to bring them their clean laundry once a month. They were completely crazy and were better athletes in bed than my dear countrymen, but in the end I had enough of all their pommel-horse routines. Nordic men are all as tactless as Icelanders. They get drunk over dinner, laugh loudly and fart, eventually start singing even in public restaurants where people have paid to escape the tumult of
Hallgrímur Helgason