The Story of Us by Hanna Ali

The Story of Us part I is a very personal poem and a true encounter that I had with my grandmother, who raised me. A fiercely private woman, there was very little we wouldn't speak of together - except the dead. This poem is my way of keeping a note of this moment; her memory that was passed on to become my memory.

The Story of Us part II is for all the former child-refugees who grew up in Europe and now live in a world where you accumulate so much to make up for that fact that so little remains from your childhood. 


The Story of Us part I

A strand of bright red henna coloured hair peeks from underneath her silk scarf.

Arthritic fingers bent, as if by the will of circular beads, moulded around her tusbax.

"Her name was Zeynab", Ayeeyo blurts out unexpectedly. I look at her with my I-need-to-

write-this-down face. 

“Who was she?”, I ask. Softly.

I wait.

“Her name was Zeynab”, she repeats, I hear her mumble the name Zeynab a few more

times, under her breath.

“She was so young, tiny in my arms”, she continues.

Still hasn’t missed a count on the prayer beads.

I decide that silence is the best move on my part.

“She was the last one, tiny, so fair”, she adds. I can tell that this will be last of it.

“What happened to her?” I find myself asking, even though I told myself I wouldn’t.

Ayeeyo blinks fast, her usual habit to avoid crying. Her eyes so hollow from the

weight that she’s lost in her face, hardly any signs of eyelashes or eyebrows anymore,

cataract eyes that look like an ocean surrounding a tiny brown island. She let me in

far today, the dead  children that I hear her praying for each day are only a statistic at

this point, a bead in a line of ninety-nine. But today I was told about Zeynab.

Zeynab. I say the name over and over in my mind. I bet her name would look pretty on



The Story of Us part II

I have seven photos from my childhood, and once I saw myself in a video as a two-

year-old in my auntie’s wedding. It was only a few second or so, a quick glimpse of

littler me watched. Quite bizarre really, to watch yourself as a child when you’re a kid.

In half or so of my photo collection, it is my second birthday and I am celebrated.

Adorned. I bet I lapped it all up, who knew that that would be the last bomb-less

year? I’m wearing a white dress (or was it ivory?) with matching ankle socks with tulle

frill. Tulle. Isn’t it odd that only your childhood and the day you become a bride is the

only time that tulle comes out of hiding? Both times meant to depict innocent joy, I

suppose. The falling into the unknown before you get burned and everything around

you is torched. It wasn’t made for this cruel world. In my current favourite photo, I am

being held, comfortably, resting on my mother’s right hip, my white patent Mary

Jane’s look bulky and glossy. This is how I will be described as an adult. Seven little

sad photos lying on top of each other in an envelope tell a tale of being a refugee far

better than I ever could. 


Hanna Ali is a PhD candidate in SOAS where she specialises in African Identity; a theme that features heavily in her creative writing. A former child refugee and a full-time citizen-of-the-world, her writings are concerned with unpacking what it means to be lost. She was recently short listed for the London Short Story Prize 2016. @HannaAli