• Sophia Vassie

What's in ya?

What's in ya? The barista leans over the counter and peers into my eyes. I think she’s missed a word off the end of her sentence. One sugar, please. Sugar's on the table she says.


What's in ya?


I stammer. My friend grips my arm. I spit it out; my mum's Egyptian, my dad's French, I grew up mostly in England. I’m not sure if I’m European anymore. I’m North African, maybe Middle Eastern. I think geography is colonial.


She wipes the counter. Going round in circles already.


I look at my friend. Does ‘what’s in ya’ mean ‘what are you’ or ‘who are you’?

I am me I whisper, staring at my reflection in the steam behind her ears.


She looks at me like I’ve shared too much. I have. Sugar's on the table she says.


Sweet I say, stumbling off.


I thought you were Maori she shouts at my back.


A conclusion. She’s reached the end of my story before I’ve started.

Meanwhile, I’m still hesitating.

I'm overthinking my answer. Over and over I think, therefore I am. Isn’t that enough? What am I? What's in me?


What’s the answer to what’s in ya?

Is it where I was born? The country, the city, the suburb? Does it matter? It does. It does! It’s the north/south divide! It’s been flaring since the Ancient Egyptians travelled up and down the Nile.


Is it the past? Is that who I am? That’s what they say. You’re a product of your time. Is who I am what I am right now, or can I choose which me I am according to the moment?


What’s in me? Cairo. Where I am all of me and part of me at once. London. The place that made me who I am. Brisbane. Because I made a life here. Another life, and my own. Is it the places I spent my childhood? All of them? None of them?


What’s in me? Tenacity, generosity, curiosity, judgement.


How do I describe that I am a something-something? An Egyptian-English-French something. Some people get to be one thing. Australian. American. Some people can’t choose. They just are something-something. Do you know what I mean? Labels on coffee jars to let baristas know what’s in ya.


Is it the colour of my skin? Or the language and food of my parents? Is what you are someone else’s somethings? Something with hair and skin between mum and dad’s.


Something with a temper and talents between mum and dad’s. Standing between your parents in a photograph looking like the blending of the horizon. Beautiful. A beautiful family. In the middle, just right. A podium of perfection. Where are you from? What are you? What’s in ya?


Is it my name? It looks like something, but it’s really something else. What language do you dream in? Can I say more than one? Just answer the question.


What’s in me? Cappuccino. A word frequently replacing my mother’s name. Though neither word is English, it’s easier to say… apparently.


Maybe I’m a tourist. I’m not from here and I’m not from there. But I am.


I am.


I must be from somewhere. I must have something in me, somewhere? The largest part of me is an ancient, powerful part. One in millions. But when I’m where I say I’m from, I’m not. I’m from there. They told me so. You’re a tourist. When I’m there, I’m from elsewhere. That faraway exotic place. I must be because they told me so.


But where are you REALLY from?


I look at the steam rising behind her ears. What's in ya?

What’s in me? One part milk, one part coffee, two parts dust and a spoonful of sugar.


What’s in me? Pain; thousands of papercuts they call microaggressions. Healing; my mother's tongue licking my wounds in Arabic. Her name means prayer. I’ve memorised her voice and recite it like poetry.


Ramses the great Pharaoh king; your great, great grandfather, my own grandfather would say. Not Cleopatra. Ramses. He was a better king. Can you believe it? Well yes Gedou, she was a queen.


A tiny thorn from a thistle that cut my leg on a walk through the fields behind the Bronte's house in Yorkshire.


An uncontrollable sense of wonder. I am a romantic, in love with words and the world.

The echo of a neighbour as we left for summer in Cairo. Careful you don't come back looking like little darkies. The echo of a relative in Cairo; Khaliki bayda w'helwa. Stay nice and white. The word for white the same as the word for egg. There's a metaphor in there somewhere.


My French dad’s voice speaking perfect accented Arabic. The language of his love.

What’s in me? My son’s heartbeat. Or was it mine?


A translation; Descartes, Rumi. I am ruminating. I think therefore I am.

The fingerprints of my grandmother on a vine leaf. A meal she made with her love, masticated into thousands of tiny inconceivable pieces, down into my belly. I am a part of her. She lives in me. I lived in her.


What’s in me? The touch of a light breeze gently lapping around my body in an Ancient mosque in Cairo's old district.


Languages. Spilling, staining, washing my world with meaning.


My fondness for the beauty spot on my thigh. Shaped like a heart, a tiny white line through its middle. Revealing that my skin has grown with my heart, breaking and mending and stretching to fit all of me comfortably in.


Envy? One of 3% with green eyes. Green means go. Go, go, go. I am prone to overthinking. Why are you asking me this question?


A special scream reserved for baristas who ask; what’s in ya?


What’s in me? The softness of my mother’s voice as she tells me – there is no one like you.

What’s in me? The sound of a kookaburra laughing at the question.

What’s in me?

Me. I am the sum of all my parts and all the parts that made me.


She calls my name. She says it wrong.

What’s in ya?



Sophia V (she/her)

intersectional feminist | literature lover | mixed british/arab

read more from Sophia @binchickenbooks


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