‘First Day of Night’ by Adnan Mahmutović

Adnan Mahmutović left Bosnia as a refugee in 1993 and now lives and works in Stockholm. ‘First Day of Night’ is the story of Almasa, another refugee from his country, a young Muslim woman who arrives in Kiruna, the northernmost town in Sweden, on Christmas Eve. It’s a place she has chosen to settle, “as far as she could go without losing contact with the world. The safest place on earth”. In the course of the story we learn that she has suffered terribly in the past, having lost her family and been raped by Serb soldiers, but it’s her courage and resilience which shine through. There’s a wildness in her behaviour, and bitter humour too, as she imitates Robert de Niro in his “You talking to me?” routine, takes up with three old drunks in the street (a bizarre parody of three wise men), and gets a carful of young Swedes to give her beer when she “flips open her coat, and flashes her flat tits” at them. At times the story has a surreal quality, but it is grounded in the harsh reality of the cold and discomfort that Alamsa experiences in this alien place. But in the end it’s an optimistic tale. Despite everything she has experienced she is a survivor. You want her to carry on surviving and you’re reassured that she will in the final lines as she “smiles, laughs, guffaws and goes back to her room thinking, I’m in the right place”.

First published in Stand Magazine in 2010, and collected in How to Fair Well and Stay Fair, Salt Publishing, 2012

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