Published on September 27th, 2016 | by Lisa Lim



my-egyptian-fortune-cookie_mutha_page_01AngieStory_final.pdfMy first memory of my sister, Angie, was in my mother’s small hands. She looked like a raisin, but caterwauled like a cat in heat. She was crying because my mother cut her fingernails too short.

AngieStory_final.pdfI tried to look for similarities between us. She was half Chinese, half Egyptian. Half our mother and half my stepfather, Mohammed, but it was hard to tell because her face was all squashed from crying. I remember feeling sad that I was no longer my mother’s only daughter, but I also felt sad that my little sister’s fingers were bleeding.

my-egyptian-fortune-cookie_mutha_page_04Shortly after Angie was born, her father took her to visit Egypt. My stepfather told my mother that it was only a family visit, but days turned into weeks. And soon, weeks turned into a month. My mother begged for my sister’s return. But my stepfather said, “No, she is better off in Egypt with Mama Haddiya.”

my-egyptian-fortune-cookie_mutha_page_05Mama Haddiya was Mohammed’s mother. She took care of Angie for her first five years in Cairo, Egypt. My sister remembers how soft and doughy her grandmother was and how easily she would get lost inside Mama Haddiya’s big belly folds. How her grandmother would eventually find her from the jingling of her baby gold bangles.

my-egyptian-fortune-cookie_mutha_page_06Occasionally, my mother would receive photos of my sister. She always looked like an Egyptian cherub princess. Dressed in red velvet and lace. Her neck choked in gold necklaces and her wrists and ankles in gold bangles. Her eyes lined with the blackest kohl meant to protect her from evil demons and desert sand. The photos made my mother miss my sister even more feverishly.

my-egyptian-fortune-cookie_mutha_page_07It all started the day my mother met Mohammed on a bus going from Upper East Side to Chinatown. My mother was swept away by his large cooking knives. Mohammed was a chef and believed a good chef always carried his knives with him. She was sad from having just divorced my father and separating from me and my brother. She saw us on weekends, but still, she was mostly alone. My mother was hungry for love and an escape from loneliness. Mohammed was hungry for love, and a Green Card.

my-egyptian-fortune-cookie_mutha_page_08Shortly after, Mohammed and my mother married at City Hall. At the altar, she wore a cotton wedding dress that stretched far enough to fit the girl growing inside her. She was six months pregnant with my sister, Angie. In her hands was a bouquet of bodega red roses with the sharpest thorns. In Mohammed’s hands was a suitcase full of sharpened knives. I remember it was raining something awful that day like the sky was bleeding.

my-egyptian-fortune-cookie_mutha_page_09I never understood my mother’s attraction to my stepfather. His hands always smelled of lamb, lard, and garlic. Like every piece of meat and spice he touched was lodged inside his fingernails.

my-egyptian-fortune-cookie_mutha_page_10His Drakkar Noir cologne drenched the apartment air and all the furniture. It was so strong, it made everything he cooked taste like Drakkar Noir. Drakkar Noir lamb. Drakkar Noir chicken. Drakkar tenderloin. I had to take many baths to get rid of the smell.

my-egyptian-fortune-cookie_mutha_page_11He was strange. I remember how his curly hairs would mottle the bathtub floor. “Yuck,” I’d scream. My mother told me he couldn’t help it. “He has to shave his legs to fit into his pants.” Plus, he had to wash all the lipstick stains off his neck, she would whisper underneath her breath.

my-egyptian-fortune-cookie_mutha_page_12You see, my stepfather had many mistresses he called his “sweet habibis” which means “sweethearts” in Arabic. And my mother made friends with each one of them—Sophia, Anne, Merriam, Sharon, and Lena. Yes, it was strange, but it was the only way my mother could cope with his infidelity.

my-egyptian-fortune-cookie_mutha_page_13There was one mistress my mother called Saint Lena who swelled with compassion for my mother. She told Mohammed that if he didn’t give my mother back her daughter, they were over.

my-egyptian-fortune-cookie_mutha_page_14Mohammed loved his mistress, but loved money even more. The next day he demanded an enormous amount of money in return for their daughter in Egypt. My mother desperate said, “Yes,” but that it would take some time.

my-egyptian-fortune-cookie_mutha_page_15You could say extortion was the straw that broke the camel’s back. So, my mother packed her bags, unable to sleep underneath the same roof with a man who slept with other women any longer. A man whose mistress forced him to give Angie back to her mother. A man who wanted money in return for their own daughter. How could she?

But truly, how could he?

* * *

This is an excerpt from a longer comic titled “My Egyptian Fortune Cookie,” which was originally published in the Nashville Review. It is a story about my mother and my sister who is half-Chinese and half-Egyptian, half my mother and half my stepfather. It is a tale about love, loneliness, extortion, jealousy, and how two sisters come to find a common bond despite growing up in different worlds.

PS: LISA LIM is one of the MUTHAs appearing at LitCrawl on October 1st in NYC – see you there!


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About the Author

Lisa Lim is a comic storyteller born and raised in Queens, New York. Her work has been featured in Guernica, PANK, The Rumpus, PEN America, and Mutha Magazine. Her short illustrated story, “The Hunger” was featured in an anthology edited by Joyce Carol Oates, Cutting Edge: New Stories of Mystery and Crime by Women Writers. Find more of her storytelling here.

11 Responses to MY EGYPTIAN FORTUNE COOKIE: Comics by Lisa Lim

  1. Aurea Nelson says:

    This story is a Biography & I cannot accept it as Fiction. It is a story told to me exactly as you have written it. When I first heard it I became depressed & saddened that Rosie could have such poor judgment about choosing the right man, but I realize that we are all different in our way of thinking & choosing our long life’s Love. All Cultures are different, Act Different & Define Differently for that I was able to Accept what she had gone through and prayed for her that she could become a Stronger Minded person & not deny herself the right man for the right reason. Rosie has always Loved all her children who was the Focus of her Existence if nothing more. I am so happy you have written such a Touching, Realistic & Heartfelt story of Angie so that people could feel what I did. God Bless…I Love you!

    • Lisa Lim says:

      Thank you Cookie for your sweet and generous words. You are a good friend to my momma. Thank you for always looking out for her. Love and hugs, Lisa

      • Abdulrazzak says:

        Middle eastern guy here. I cant help but fee awful for what your father did. 🙁

        I wan’t you to know what he did(cheating) is unaccceptable in Middle Eastern cultures.

        • Lisa Lim says:

          Thank you for reading my story and your thoughtful response. I know that infidelity is not immune to any culture. And understand that his decision to cheat was unique to him, not a culture. Best, Lisa

  2. Aurea Nelson says:

    Please keep me posted on future stories!!! <3

  3. Debashri Bhattacharya says:

    Poignant, sad and your stark reality… kudos to you for presenting the story the way you have!

  4. Rachel says:

    How awful that your family had to go through that heartbreaking mess. I am so sorry. I had never thought to tell a story like that with comic book style illustrations, they are beautiful.

  5. Carole says:

    I love your storytelling in pictures…..fabulous. The stories are compelling too.

  6. This is such a powerful piece. The high contrast graphic drawings are just as strong as the story. What a complicated and wonderful piece.

  7. D Jordan says:

    Unfortunately we as women when we were in the cradle we were told a man , we had to have a man to take care of us. So when we give up our education , our voice, our bodies to do what is best for our kids . We also give up our freedom of will, our education , our dreams , our bodies whatever it takes (we think) to give our kids a home , food in their bellies and their mom and maybe a man that may at least be kind. We must strengthen our daughters to know they should want a partner and to educate themselves first start a career then think about men. If a woman is educated and independent she will raise the bar of the type of man she is willing to share her life with. I was that woman and in my early forties decided enough is enough and I went back to school. I didn’t have a high school diploma. I received my GED then graduated with two degrees.

    I love my two kids but they knew I was staying for them I thought I had hid it but I didn’t. Women are tough and we have to be.

  8. Ioanna says:

    Incredible story, thanks so much for sharing!

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