Welcome to New Voices, a new section devoted to columns written by members of African, Spanish-speaking, tribal, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and Arabic-speaking communities. If you are interested in contributing to New Voices, please write to [email protected].

By Kifah Abdulla

This is a real short story about something that happened between me and my younger son “Khalil Kilani”
when he was 9 years old. Khalil is now a student at Bowdoin College.

A lighthearted story about an expansive imagination.

My son and I had a conversation one day when he was 9 years old. He said, with a smile across his cheeks,
Can I ask you a question?
I said, Of course, what is the question?
He raised his index finger and said, There is a condition! His eyes were moving as quickly as a sparrow.
I said, Is it a riddle? And what is your condition? Worry began to climb into my head, and I said to myself,
I will be laughable if I am not able to answer his question…
So, I said, with a voice that had a touch of hesitation, OK, first off, what is the condition?
He said, If you can’t answer the question, you give me a reward.
OK, and who will determine the reward?
He said, Me.
I said, after a chuckle leaped out of my chest, And if I answer your question, will you reward me?
He said, after quick reflection, I’ll give you a kiss!
I said, I want two kisses, and maybe three.
He said, No, that is a lot, I will give you two kisses, on the condition that they aren’t long. He knew well when
I kiss him how I do so, for one of my kisses could equal 10 kisses.
I said, after surrendering to his condition, I agree, now it’s up to you to ask me.
He said, Where is the tallest skyscraper?
I laughed and said, That’s not as hard as I expected, but let me think a little.
I began to turn the information that I knew over in my head, while he watched me, waiting for my answer.
I looked at him. He seemed assured that I would not be able to answer his question.
I said, I remember. Probably, the tallest skyscraper is in America, and more specifically New York.
He shook his head and said, no, that’s not correct.
Perhaps in Boston? No.
Then, very likely it is in Los Angeles. No.
Ok, then perhaps in Houston. No.
Do you really know these cities, my son?
He said quietly, Some of them, but the answers were not correct.
I said, Wait, for perhaps it is outside the United States, like in China!
He shook his shoulders and said, You are the one who will answer the question.
I said quickly, Yes, it is in Shanghai because that is a city like New York.
He said, with his eyes still like sparrows, excitedly flying from one branch to another: No.
Really? Even this answer is wrong?
He said, sure of himself, Wrong.
After thinking a little I said, Now I think I know the answer: it is in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.
I was there and saw two very tall towers.
He said calmly, and as if he was playing with my nerves, No.
What is with you!? You know nothing but the word No.
He said, What should I say to you but the word no, if that answer is also wrong!?
Ok, let me think a little.
He said laughing, There is limited time, and I can’t wait long.
I said, Are you joking with me?
I’m not joking with you, for there is an answer to this question, and you must be quick!
I put my hand under my chin and flipped through the information present in my head, and I investigated
the triumphant smile on his lips.
Then I said, I figured it out, and I think that my answer is correct this time. The skyscraper you mean is in
Abu Dhabi, and it is the Burj Khalifa!
He said, No, not it.
You are making me crazy, where is it then?
He shook his head and didn’t speak.
I said, frustrated, OK, I don’t have another answer. So, you have won the reward.
Now tell me, where is the tallest building?
He answered and pointed with his hand to his head. It is in your mind! You can imagine the tallest
and biggest skyscraper!
I clapped my hands together and I said, Yes! But you fooled me and got me at the same time.
We laughed loudly together, and it was the sound of his laughter and his rich imagination that most
entertained me that day, for imagination doesn’t have any limits.

Born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq, Kifah Abdulla is the author of the memoir Mountains without Peaks, and the book of poetry Dead Still Dream. He is a visual artist, performer, and teacher