Chapter Seven Enlarge
Illustration: James St Findlay

She woke up again and again. Colin’s snapping awake and back into slumber in short, sharp bursts resembled the movements of a janky videogame. All that thumbwork on gadgets must be getting to her mind. She checked her phone, and, inevitably, the so-so manicure procured last Wednesday. Her nails remained just passable for her taste, the glower of pink a tad too lurid sunset.

Continuing to dwell on sunset, it was Ramadhan’s last week—so obviously, her mother had texted her various imams’ exhortations, in Indonesian and English, to Pray Extra Hard in These Final Days, Brothers and Sisters. Jangan Lalai Dengan Doa. Subhanallah walhamdulillah wa—

Colin sighed and stretched, decided to pray for clarity next time she remembered to. It had been weeks of so many dreams, of so many dreams in the body of Colin Clout, and not in Colin the woman she was. She’d grown to enjoy having been named something seemingly incongruous with expectations from the usual suspects, Always a good way to fuck with them, her sister Aisyah Khadijah liked to say, or rather Aisyah Khadijah Muhammad’s Wifeys, as Colin would occasionally tease her.

Look here, Colin said to herself. Maybe thinking about all the men named Colin in her life all her life—the Firth on telly, the Chen she’d fancied at uni, the Colin her namesake who’d converted after befriending her parents—had taken its toll, finally. Perhaps reading about Colin Clout in that book from Senate House Library had triggered some unknown wormhole in the universe, perhaps escape from the tatted skinhead on the bus behind her, the evening it had begun:

“..Yeah, of course, our country is fucked. It’ll be a fight to the death. A civil war is on the verge. Anyway, you ladies have a lovely day.”

1522, when Colyn Clout emerged in the written word, was the same year as the first recorded slave rebellion in the Western Hemisphere, on Hispaniola, now Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Colin had learned this in another book. Edwidge Danticat, born in Haiti, writes ‘Memories when not frozen in time are excruciating.’ What are memories recorded in order to remind us of what the word excruciating means? Excruciating circumstances. The excruciating need for freedom and relief, bodily exhalations, singular in one body, en masse. Perhaps reading of the slave revolt too had triggered this cycle of dreamscape somehow, Colin thought, the year 1522 and its associations recursive in her mind.

Had Colin Clout spoken up against the brutality of his age? Would he, she began to wonder, have had specific opinions on the Royal Wedding? She must discuss this with her friend Rosalind, who, more than tolerating rambling, appeared bemused by it.

Ros and Colin were planning to create a line of t-shirts with Southeast Asian foods and spices on them. For fun and extra moolah. Like those botanical drawings they have on the British Library site? From Raffles? Ros had asked. Nah, no. That’s not how we even think of pete or nanas or duren, Colin said, Let’s give it at least a little pizzazz, you know?

Ros was the only person Colin could picture telling about these other-Colin invasions. When Colin met Ros, all dressed in yellow, they’d been at some shitty gig of Ros’ boyfriend’s band, E.K. All the band’s gigs were shitty, to be honest. The women had been standing next to each other when some guy asked, “Are you Filipina?” to both, as though they came in a pair. They’d both said “Yes” to be done with it, and exited stage left. Ros would understand if she told them these hazes of Colin Clout had dogged her at random for weeks now, taking up almost all of the Ramadhan sleeps. What bullshit kind of message is this from God? she muttered under her breath.

In any case, Colin bravely traversed the twists and turns of these dreams, taking her on a continental sightsee, wet on a beach, drinking whisky in comfort. It appeared that when Colin Clout sunk himself into rest, the Colin she was would awake. She checked the time on the screen; after her nap, it was still an hour to fast-breaking. Graphic as the setting sun, her pink-nailed fingers tapped R, O, and auto-complete brought up Ros’ name. She dialled. In five seconds, Rosalind was on the line, Hello? Hullo?

Have you seen the movie Inception?, Colin began.

The Spice Trail: Food and Flavours from Southeast Asia, The British Library Online Gallery, ongoing


Khairani Barokka is an Indonesian writer, poet, and artist in London, whose work has been presented extensively in twelve countries. Okka has received six residencies and multiple grants; among her honours, she was an NYU Tisch Departmental Fellow for her masters, and is a UNFPA Indonesian Young Leader Driving Social Change for arts practice and research. Okka is creator of shows such as Eve and Mary Are Having Coffee, Indonesia’s only Edinburgh Fringe representative in 2014; co-editor of HEAT: A Southeast Asian Urban Anthology and Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back; author-illustrator of Indigenous Species; and author of poetry collection Rope. Her most recent art exhibition is Selected Annahs, on now at SALTS Basel. She is a Visual Cultures PhD Researcher at Goldsmiths.