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There’s an entire village that lives on top of my head

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by Hanna Ali
There’s an entire village that lives on top of my head

At night, they gather in the wide-open space of my forehead

The elderly resting on each eyebrow, toddlers hiding behind my earlobes

They’re all waiting for me to fail

Waiting for me to unbecome the person that we all agreed that I should be

(Prettier, quieter, less of myself)

They gather for a close-up of mistakes

Things like: falling in love with the wrong man or

Disappointing my parents or

Waiting for my parents to disappoint me or

Forgetting who I really am, where I’m really from, over there and not here

I hear them sucking their teeth inside my mind, mixing languages and

Causing confusion by yelling over one another, the elders demanding respect

Whilst the young bachelors sneak in a few looks

They’re all trying to out-do each other’s high notes

Sometimes I stay quiet for days, eavesdropping on the little women

The ones that enjoy tangling my hair and making art out of my weight

There’s an entire village that lives on top of my head

I can’t drown them out in the bath

I shaved my head one summer and it only made it easier for the children to run

Sometimes I hold my breath just to see if they lose oxygen

Bleeding makes no difference either, just more scars to count

So, I learn to behave, to speak when I am spoken to

And to keep my body so clean that there is nothing to gossip about

If you see me mumbling, it’s only tell them to be quiet because I am a good girl

It took a village to drag my sins out into the open

On the tip of my nose where a bonfire was set and little girls ran circles around the shame

At night, the ashes were used to mark all the places that still hurt

In the morning, this is a map of how far we’ve come

Me and the village that lives on top of my head


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. www.hannaali.com @HannaAli

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