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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 36 page 02



The White Room

by Taha A. Lemkhir

Our school was couple of blocks away from the royal palace. And the little princes and princesses of our glorious homeland — according to an old tradition — at a certain age through their puberty, should be offered a glimpse of the conditions under which their obedient subjects lived outside the lavish life of the royal court. They were, if you will, to sample with their taste buds the popular soup at least once in their lifetime. They should then, so far as the tradition was concerned, experience some sort of interactions with those whom they would one day rule.

And so for a long time our deprived little school had been among the various schools providing the popular soup to tantalize the taste buds of a certain petit prince.

Very few among us had actually seen him coming or leaving the establishment. But everybody in our school knew that he used to come every once in a while, girded by a ring of bodyguards in black suits, bulletproof vests, and dark sunglasses.

It was perceived as a great honor and a privilege to our humble public school that such royalty dared to tread on the same dusty ground and walk along the same dim corridors with their gritty walls and fly-infested air as we did. We all knew the purpose of his visit, or at any rate, the exact place he made for every time he dropped by.

It was the last room in a long corridor on the ground level of the building. We called it the White Room for its brilliance, the whiteness of its frontal wall of glazed zellige tiles of many shades of white embellished with Kufic calligraphy in green. It gleamed vividly in a way that made it staggeringly distinct from the sooty other classrooms that reflected faithfully the gloomy ambience of prison cells. In reality, the White Room stood there like a dinky Neverland cottage among slums.

It had beautiful windows that reminded us of an Alice-in-Wonderland house. The sills were adorned with boxes planted with clusters of blue orchids, purple and yellow irises, white sweet alyssums, and periwinkles cascading down the edges. A special gardener was entrusted with taking care of them. He used to come every day with a small pair of shears and a watering pot to prune dying leaves and sprinkle the flower beds. The door itself was a wonder. Its wood had an intoxicating musky scent. It was horseshoe-arched and lofty. We had never seen, before then, an upholstered tufted leather door. Walking past it, no one could help but stretch out an arm and poke its spongy, scarlet surface with the tip of the index, whispering with bliss to one another as we filed towards our classrooms: “I touched it! I’ve touched it!” Though it had to be done as quickly and covertly as possible, for it was sacrilegious to fiddle with that reserved royal space.