Chapter 10

 

 

Although friends were quite important in my life, the picture of my face reflected on the window of the car made my utmost company. Oh, yeah, I loved looking at my fading picture where my eyes shine through the glass and my lips go from side to side smiling at times, crying at others. The trees used to pass quickly behind my reflection. I used to smile for that, I could see the slight turn in my lips even when I was crying or upset and I then used to raise my head up to the sky to thank He who made me smile despite my depression. Hope. It was that powerful word that kept me going despite everything. Despite the gender discrimination I have suffered, despite my lack of self-esteem, despite the lack of understanding I had with all the male figures I met in life, I was still hopeful to find that male figure that would support and love me for who I was. He would come on his white horse running towards me, catch my hand lift me up from my waist and hide me in his chest from the world. I would smell no one but him, I would feel no one but the warmth beside him. And I relied on Him who created the universe to grant me my wish of the handsome prince to come and save the Barbie from the awful dragons.

That bond between me and Him was quite strange. The trust I had for Him was awkward at hard times when everything seemed blacker than black. For He had granted me all the good persons around me; each on time and that mattered the most to me.

I literally loved everyone in my life. I loved mama for her kind heart, strong will and struggle. I loved how she used to tell me of how poor he family was and how she was such a spendthrift on us because she didn’t want us to feel lacking. I loved her yummilicious food that she had to cook at 5 am so that we can have lunch around 1:30 pm. I loved how active and clever she was. I loved her smell. It wasn’t the best smell. It wasn’t of a perfume or an expensive fragrance lotion or soap. It was the smell of sweat. Sweat that had watered our soil over the years. Sweat that smelled foul but reaped the nicest of fragrances.

I loved baba. I saw myself in his features. Not in the strength and toughness of days that had carved its marks everyday in his features but in the kindness, generosity, love, tenderness and compassion that sowed itself in his eyes. I so very much respected his life journey and experiences.

I loved Khaled, he was my haven and challenge. I would run to him for help but I would stand against him in defiance as all females would stand against all males in the world and day ‘here we are’.

I loved Basma. She was now my new sister. The sister that mama didn’t give me. She is my secret keeper, buddy and life companion. She was the one I chat with in nights for hours. She was the one I cried with about a fight or a problem. She was my soul mate.

And I loved him. The one whom Allah would grant me some day. I knew him. I dreamed of him. I felt his hands. I smelled his perfume. I knew he had to be tender. I knew he had to be respectful. I knew he had to deserve me.

And one day, Allah who had granted me many to cherish took my grandma after a painful journey with disease. Again it was one of the vacations at KSA when the phone rang. Baba seemed to have expected that. She had been too sick lately to take any more of life. His eyes filled with tears. And he sobbed again. It was such a rare sight but one of the most powerful to impact me. I shivered and cried with him. For me, it meant nothing that my grandma died except that the walls of support had shaken around me.

We had to cut our vacation off and go back to Egypt. And I felt happy my grandma died. Her death, though devastating for baba, meant I had to spend more time with my friends.

Now thanks to late grandma, two hellish months of my life were broken not because of my pleas that I didn’t want to go to KSA but because we all had to return. I believed more in the proverb that said ‘the catastrophes of some people are merits for others’ … (evil grin).

 

****

 

 

Khaled on the other hand amused himself greatly in our absence. He would go all night with his gang of boys, sit in cafes and play soccer. He had as many friends as he wanted and mama never cared to know who they were; of course that wasn’t the case with me. When baba was in KSA, Khaled could return home any time at night; of course that wasn’t the case with me. I envied him. I wished at times to be a man. And with the passage of time, that feeling had grown more in me.

I was thirteen in that vacation when grandma died. We all returned back. We spent sometime in the countryside from where baba came because the deceased usually wished to be buried with their relatives. Baba’s house in the village was a two storey small house made of mud that smelled village like. That smell I could never describe. Was it of the mud? Was it of chickens (they usually had chicken coops on the roofs)? Was it of buffalos that passed by the doors with farmers in their way back and fro their farms? Was it of the delicious pies they baked with real butter? I could never tell. It was of all mixed with the kindness and poverty of the people who lived there.

The house had one room downstairs as a reception/living/guests room/TV room. It had a small kitchen where the mud looked as grey as clay and as gloomy as a cave. The sink had no drainage pipe, so a bucket was placed underneath it and whenever it filled, women in the house took it outside and threw the water. Grandma had no expensive kitchen utensils of course; just some old pans, plastic and stainless steel dishes and spoons. The TV and the fridge that once existed were baba’s gifts for his mother. He brought her these technological presents as a confession for the mother who gave him birth and suffered for him. It was a feeling of gratitude as well as obligation. But he never knew she would have no time to use them.

Wood stairs then led to the second floor that was a roof along with two rooms. I used to love one; baba’s. It was usually dusty but it gave coziness to my heart. I used to sit on his desk, play with his old stethoscope and look at his old pictures in the army when his skin was tight and his countenance sharp. I opened all the old drawers over and over again searching for a memory of him, or maybe a memory of me when I was not yet born.

In funerals, blackness was the costume, screams were the melody. I had always known that screaming over the dead was ‘haram’ (forbidden) in Islam, but women believed that grief was most shown with the strongest sharpest screams. I didn’t spend any time with the mourners. I usually accompanied my cousins to play in the street. It was a sandy narrow street paved by the footprints of humans as well as animals. We used to run down those streets, play hide and seek behind the palm tree trunk broken and lying on the ground.

Although mama and Khaled never loved to go to the countryside with baba, this time they had to, it was a duty. I felt happy mama was beside me. I never liked that she didn’t share in some of the family occasions that concerned baba. It seemed like we were a broken family and that hurt me and gave me ultimate feelings of insecurity. A kind of insecurity that surpassed my insecurity inside my female body and mind.

****

 

 

I woke up one day in 1998 and decided I want to cover my hair. I wasn’t much of a religious girl. I should have prayed the five prayers every day, but I usually skipped three. I should have fasted all the days I broke in Ramadan, whether due to sickness or the period, right after the holly month was finished, but I usually found it hard to fast after Ramadan. I didn’t have coarse hair either. My hair was quite beautiful and silky. For the previous causes, everyone protested to and rather attacked my decision.

I stuck to my guns though. It was such a strange leap in my life. I was not the least prepared neither psychologically nor worldly. My closet was full of short sleeves shirts, miniskirts and tight trousers. The reasons for that decision seemed vague even to me. I knew that after menstruation, girls were ought to wear hijab and modest clothes as their bodies start to bloom. Ok, obeying religion was one reason. But it was more than covering my hair; it was about covering my body. I was still insecure in my feminine body that I wanted to cover it. I had a strange relation with my body. I loved and hated it. I found it beautiful but lacking. I wished I was smaller and shorter. I wished I had larger breasts. I wished I could wear bras like Rasha and Inas but what for? Thanks to the inventors of the soft bras, I found something to satisfy my overwhelming feminine need. I loved the shape of hands but wished they were tinier. I hated my feet, tremendously, they were big, not in shape, ugly, not the same as Barbie’s feet. I had one toe that was longer than the rest, I hated that toe! I still do …

Although I loved the female’s body with its bumps and curves, it gave me ultimate discomfort and insecurity. The curves, boops, hips, vagina, and all meant ‘I am a girl’ and girls don’t and don’t and don’t. Boys, less sexier and far uglier, do and do and do. So I covered it. I covered my female body for less gazes, harassments and more security.

When I decided to put the hijab on, Khaled was the only pro person for my decision. He took it of Eastern jealousy on his ‘ard’ ‘sharaf’ dignity. An Eastern man saw the women in his circle; including mother, sister, wife, cousin, as his own honor and pride that he had to take care of and rather dominate.

Baba saw it as an artificial thing and advised me to take care of my core and leave the superficialities. He wasn’t convinced but he didn’t object.

Mama felt her daughter was wearing down her most beautiful thing in her body; the crown, my hair. This way, I wasn’t going to attract suitors, I wasn’t going to be rendered beautiful amongst the beautiful girls who boost with their locks.

It didn’t really matter to me who thought what. I still wore my hijab waiting for what life would bring on.

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Chapter 9

 

When love withers

 

And the image of the weak vulnerable female figure shattered forever to me too. I looked to Yussef, looked him in the eyes, I made great effort to hold my lips from trembling and finally said “Yussef, we have no more chances together …”

He wanted to say something but I just moved my hands that he shut up and continued, I was trying to be so sane and objective

“Let’s be realistic as you have always been with me. You’re a man of actions not emotions, aren’t you?” I gave him a cynical smile and continued “Let’s listen to the sound of mind, I don’t know if I love you or not, and if I don’t, I really don’t know if I can re-love you … I don’t hate you either by the way, but that isn’t a good thing … you know … I just don’t feel you anymore!”

I couldn’t prevent the tear that forced itself down my shaking eyes and … oh God … that damn tear … it opened the door for many tears to trickle down … My chest started panting from my efforts to control myself and all of the sudden something heavy fell down on my lungs, and the dozen tears became hundred and the bitterness overwhelmed every corner in me. My voice, that had always been calm and confident, trembled and rose “know what, I don’t want to see you, I don’t want to touch you” my eyes suddenly opened and gazed in stray “I can’t sleep again with you, I can’t feel your skin touching mine. I will always remember it has touched another woman. I don’t know her, but I will always see her, I will smell her … Oh Yussef … why did you do that to me? Why did you do that to me? I loved you … I wanted a life with you … I just wanted you in my life … I needed your hug … You never kissed me before you sleep as I always asked you, oh except in sex of course pardon me, but being near gave me the sense of security. You never held my hand as I have always wished, but I tried to find all ways to get us closer … to find romance … to fill the gap … you … after all that … betrayed me with …”.

Mama came in, she requested him to go out. She held me tight to her chest. She had that smell about her … the smell that always warmed my senses. She said it was ok. But I knew it wasn’t and I knew that she felt it wasn’t either. I was shaking, feeling cold and hot, laughing and crying. It wasn’t the act of betrayal that really devastated me; it was the negligence of my pride in his mind. He didn’t think of his reactions if he just knew I talked or flirted with someone else! Oh but he was a man, I am the woman.

I took off my short black dress and wore white cotton pajamas. I choose a sports type of thing with a hood at the back, sleeves that reach half my hands and could cover my fingers if I wanted. The weather wasn’t cold. But I wanted to feel warm. I asked mama for a cup of green tea with mint … I turned on my bed light and switched off all other lights. I opened the window screens to smell the breeze. It was one of those rare days when it rains and the weather is just perfect. I asked no one to knock on my door that night. I didn’t want to stay or talk with anyone. I made a nice stack of pillows to rest my back, slid under my light cover and held the green tea in my favorite big mug with both hands. I didn’t take a sip. I just smelled the green tea and wanted the warmth of the mug to swipe and cover me. The breeze that came from the window played with my hair and drew a faint smile on my face. After all, Allah wanted to soothe me with something, even if it was air.

Yes, I always wanted to believe in a God over there. I was never convinced that there was no God. I could always see Him … in the vast sky that goes as far as the eye can see … in the vivid colors of nature that no human made colors can rise to compare … in the bright light of the sun that no light poles can match … in the unexplainable facts in life … in the endless sequential question of ‘who created this?’ that will ultimately take you to Him who created and wasn’t created … Allah.

I wasn’t the most virtuous Muslim on earth. I hardly prayed my five prayers a day. I had always rejoiced when I had my period because I don’t have to pray or fast and I could also wear manicure all the time. I rarely read Quran. I wasn’t a very good ritual praciticer. On the other hand, I always watched my tongue and eye which I believed could hurt and sin beyond imagination. I always thought about the words I said and the way I looked. I made sure I never talked about anyone in a bad manner from behind his back. I made sure I never looked at what people wore or had. I was satisfied in what I have; or more precisely tried to make myself always satisfied with what I had. I focused on morals and values like Prophet Mohamed who was the best in terms of morals.

 But God has failed me in this! Was it because I didn’t pray well?! Could it be that He is preserving something better for me? I always thought that way. I always wanted to feel it that way. That way was much more soothing. That way was much more helping.

Chapter 8

Welcome back KSA

 

When my plane left KSA and I knew I was not going back to KSA, I felt so upset. I never felt that I loved living there though. The sadness that swept me was related to my childhood memories. After all, it was that school that witnessed my very first innocent years. It was those teachers who made me love Arabic to the core. And although the country didn’t live Islam in its bestest ways, they taught the best version of academic Islam I could see until today. I thought I had waved good bye forever.

But because baba, who became a bit out of the system, chose to stay there as Egypt was not going to offer us a good sum of money to live in welfare, we had to go each year for three months to pay our being-his-kids taxes. I know it is such an ungrateful sentence from a daughter to his father who sacrificed all for his family. But it was the way I thought and felt. To take me away from my friends where I wear what I like and eat as much junk food as I wish for whole 90 days in the desert was quite a punishment for me. Baba on the other hand tried his best. He brought us a computer, another up to date Sony TV Japan made, receiver and he further took us out every day. We did a lot of shopping. I bought lots and lots of stuff that I needed and didn’t need. Still, it was the most boring month I had ever forced to live.

Khaled never came with us though. Baba and mama agreed to leave him at grandma. And whenever I complained they would say “you’re a girl and you shouldn’t be left alone at anyone’s house”. I never understood that especially when I saw how baba was a pro west cheerer. If he is praising their life styles, why doesn’t he praise their freedom and will power? The end result was that I had to travel and the seeds of jealousy, hatred and insecurity in my own nature which started soon to sprout.

I used to pack lots of books. At that time, I was fond of the series of ‘ragol al mostahel’ (the man of the impossible) and ‘malaf al mostakbal’ (episodes of the future) for Nabil Farouk. I loved the adventures but mainly I took refuge in the romance between the characters. Adham Sabry, who was an officer in the Egyptian intelligence, used to love his colleague Mona endlessly. He would rush to save her from all kidnapers. He would receive her between her arms to sob and pour all her emotions. There were no kisses and no hot scenes but pure love emotions that made my heart soar every time I read them.

Baba took much pleasure in talking to me too. He loved me dearly. He never said no to something I want. For him, I was the reason for which he lived. He did not want an ordinary daughter with dolls and beautiful locks. He wanted to convey in me a message to the world: work, work and work. Work everything and anything. Toughen to face the world because one day you might be alone just like him. In your home, be a plumper, electrician, cook, cleaner and rely on no one.

Yeah, baba was a real example for suffering and thriving in the world. He had a poor tailor illiterate dad, illiterate mother and 7 siblings. He used to look at his dad working hard to provide for his big family in the small village where they lived. His mother helped too. She sold milk from the buffalo they owned and used to make butter and cheese. She made the best version of ‘feteer’ (a kind of pie made in the villages) I have ever tasted. Baba used to tell me how she sat in front of the oven baking from dawn. Seeing his parents struggle, baba made his aim to be a physician, the first physician in his poor countryside. He did and joined the faculty of medicine. He always told us how he dearly loved and obeyed his parents. He would express gratitude through kissing their hands whenever he saw them. In his third year, his dad passed away. Although baba had an older brother, he was very irresponsible and couldn’t take the lead of the big human heritage. Baba worked as a medical representative to support his family. He made sure that his sisters continue their education despite his mother’s pleas that ‘there is no need to educate females, at the end they will get married and raise a family’. Yet, he insisted. Education and work consumed his thought that he believed leisure was an illusion and whoever sought it was deluded.  

Listening to baba was part of my pleasure; except that I believed there were leisure and fun. I respected his story and journey But I didn’t believe I was part of this sad full of work story. I didn’t want to be the completion of it. I wanted to sleep, relax, eat chocolate and chips, sleep, relax and eat chocolate and chips again. Baba to me was very strong. And I was so vulnerable; or I saw women should be so. Or the media and ancestors had extensively fed us this myth that it became part and parcel of us. Men should be strong. Women should be weak; there lies their beauty. Ah, yeah, I had always loved the sight of a woman fainting so that her lover picks her up, crying so that her husband hugs her or falling in trouble so that her knight comes on his horse to ride her off. Of course baba didn’t like that.

Although he appeared to be the model for toughness and strength, I always felt some tenderness lurking behind his strong face. That tenderness grew as the wrinkles started to draw its traces on his face. It showed whenever he hit or made me sad and came to kiss and make it up to me. Yeah, those emotions showed one way or another.

In our second visit to KSA, we learnt his mother, my grandma whom I always remembered as a flimsy picture of struggle of no impact on me, was so sick. We had to cut the vacation off and go back to Egypt. I accompanied him to the hospital. She was in the intensive care connected to tubes of some kind. She had wrinkles all over her face and hand. Because he was a physician, he was immediately allowed in. My small hand inside his, I went with him. His big tough strong hand shook at the sight of the small wrinkled body. He left my hand, bent and kissed the wrinkled hand. It took a second, but for me the bending and standing up actions took forever. His strong tough eyes wept like I never saw them weep before. His strong tough body shook like I never saw it before. And the image of the strong tough male figure shattered forever to me.

Chapter 7

 

The end of the story

 

My line of thoughts and memories once again broke by the talk and smoke. I was fed up by my father in law and baba’s bla bla bla. I noticed how everyone was stealing looks to me; trying to delve into my brain and know what I am thinking. I had to excuse myself for a minute. That was my usual way for running away; excusing for a minute and then chilling my brain out for quarter of an hour or something. I went straight inside my room. I sat down.

Knock, knock …

Yussef came in. In his eyes lied shame, sorrows, grief, excuses, and ashes of a remaining pride. He looked to me in the eyes and I saw again a whole life journey of ten years. In them were our first sweet words, touches, kisses, hugs, fights, happiness, sex, kid, traumatic accident, commons and differences. I wished I could melt in his arms and weep like never before. I would weep for the happiness and grief, the love and hatred, the evil and innocence and for all the contradictions we bore together.

I trembled; not of shyness as I usually did in front of men but of the overwhelming amount of emotions that passed into me in that instant. I clasped my hands and took a deep slow breath.

Of all the situations we faced together, I remembered our first dance together. We both loved couple dancing. In our wedding, we were determined on making the show. We chose the song and with the beats we started to sway. We swayed like never before. With the first beats, he came nearer, one of his hands slid around my waist and inside the other I slid mine. We moved slowly with the beats, taking careful neat steps together. We never counted our steps. And when the violin and drum beats rose, he and I went opposite sides but now clasping both hands. I left one hand as if leaving him but I dared not so I rolled around his arm back to his chest; my haven. I smelled his perfume and felt him panting. My heart beats rose with the drums. I could no longer concentrate if those were the musical chords of the guitar or the violin or the fingers of the piano. All I could feel was the heat beating through me. I went from and back to him. We held and left hands, he rolled and hugged. We swayed and swayed until all swaying the world finished and then we kissed. My first ever mouth kiss … The softness of the lips slightly pressing, the heat of the breaths, the rising of the chests … We loved each other like no one else did. Yes, we once did.

He broke the memories and said ‘Nadia, you know I love you. You know that quite well. You know how I have such a good husband for years. I know I made a mistake. I know I hurted you’ and for the first time in our marriage life he stammered and apologized ‘I am sorry’.

Yes, he had never apologized before. Apologies are not expected from men in the East. It hurts their pride. In this very plain way, he never said he was sorry for any deed. Someone might have pushed him to say this so that our home does not ruin. Someone might have told him ‘say sorry and then nothing will be expected from you anymore’.

I gave him a faint smile ‘I don’t want you to apologize’ … ‘I want you to go away please’.

He still thought I wanted more begging from his side. He sat on the bed beside me, tried to hold my hand. I flinched back so he rose up and pulled a chair and sat opposite to me. He didn’t talk. He just looked at me. He might have observed some wrinkles around my eyes and lips. He might have seen the dark spots of the sleepless eyelashes. He might have felt pity for me; or rather guilty for the corpse he is now beholding. Because that corpse was his own made.

Or not just his own made. It was a corpse made in Egypt.

 

Chapter 6

Real friends

In KSA, the only Egyptian friend I had ever had in school was Rasha. Besides Rasha, there were the usual friends we used to meet for barbeque on Fridays. I admit I had fun in those days. It is mostly that I had some blurry friends for a blurry phase of life with mostly blurry memories. In my new school in Egypt, there were lots of names to know; Taghreed, Bossy, Basma, Layla, Hoda … etc but few to company. For some reason God had chosen Rasha and Inas to be my friends. Why I say God chose is because there was nothing in common AT ALL. We just attended English private classes together and from whence started our friendship. We talked on the phone, laughed, walked from school together. Rasha was a bit plump girl with a humorous and bold air. She had a kind of high confidence I usually lacked in speaking although I could much surpass her in terms of intelligence and knowledge. Inas on the other hand was our quiet and sane girl. She always used her reason. The most memorable thing about her was that phase when her dad forced her to eat an egg and apple each morning. I felt he resembled my father in this. I wondered if all fathers on earth were naturalists. Lucky me, baba was far in Saudi Arabia and he couldn’t force me to eat the egg and apple each morning or give me the cucumber prize.

We decided that the three of us were never to be separated; we would remain best friends forever. We told the truth and lied at the same time for we still know each other but we are never best friends again. At times, you cling to people at a certain point of your because you think they compliment your weaknesses and make a great team with you. But when you grow older and change as well as the others do, life puts you each on different roads and makes up different mentalities. I was a strong believer in the motto ‘friends in need are friends indeed’.

Rasha, Inas and Nadia ‘the humorous serious gang’ we used to call ourselves. We took private lessons together. We walked to and fro school together. In cold foggy days of winter, I used to slide my cold hands in between Rasha’s plump warm hands. I asked her how she had her hands so warm while mine were shivering. She simply said she put cream and made her hands into fists for minutes. The cream trick never worked for me. We loved talking on the phone and chatting. Sometimes we sought each other’s advice in school subjects. Our days went smooth and easy. No adventures.

One day morning it happened. The red spot in the underwear. The cramps in the stomach. The cranky mood. All of a sudden. No preparations. My body was ready. My womb was crying for the baby it didn’t have. I had no feelings; but in the deepest of my heart I was happy. Something in my female nature was satisfied by this big body development. For the first time, I ought to wear a sanitary pad. I had always seen them in mama’s drawer but could never use them. Mama rejoiced, as a gynecologist she was now certain my ovaries are working albeit my thin body. Yet, she whispered I should never tell Khaled or baba because this is girls’ stuff and private. I was never to tell them anyway. I stuck the sanitary pad and went to get dressed for school. I wasn’t feeling comfortable. In addition to the bad cramps, having that synthetic thing in between my legs wiggling with my steps gave me the worst feeling of all. Amany’s tale about the trickling blood haunted me. What if I had such an embarrassing situation? I thought I would ask my friends to look at my skirt every now and then.

Inas and Rasha were the first ones to tell my little secret. They had had their periods long ago. Although it never occurred to me that the period mattered to me, I felt they had a surplus as females. Girls – with and without periods – were very good at gossiping, backbiting and telling fake stories, but to find a girl who would stand up for you, support you in time of your need was a rare issue. That’s why we always say ‘I would stand by you like a man’. For some reason, men were never belated in helping each other. They never waited for mothers’ approval to go help a friend in an accident. They never thought twice about timings, conditions or their own selfishness. Women did. They had to tell their mommies where they were going and the usual answer was ‘it is none of your business, your friend will figure it out on her own.’ Girls are shame in the world of friendship. But for few; I hope I had been amongst the few.

That day, it was getting more disturbing in my uterus. Too much painful contractions. I spent most of the time bending my head over the bench and could not concentrate in any single class. ‘If that is how to be a female, then hell with being a female’ I thought! Friends said it was normal to have pain. On the way home, I was trudging heavily beside Rasha and Inas. One street was between my house and their houses. I thought that I couldn’t walk alone to the door of my house. I asked them faintly to take me home and stay a bit with me until mama came back. They laughed at me calling me a ‘spoiled girl’. Everyone branched to her home. The pain in me for being alone and in need for someone beside me made my eyes tear. The steps to my home seemed very heavy. The trees were blurry in my tearful eyes. Was it their stance of abandoning me? Or was it the pain of menstruation? Or maybe the craziness brought on women by the hormonal changes? I just felt pathetic.

I took the stairs upstairs, opened the door and collapsed on the nearest chair. I was gasping. I headed to the bathroom to find my sanitary pad spotted with few drops of blood. Just very few. All that pain for that! I called mama and cried. She took it very easily and promised to bring me a good pain killer. I couldn’t wait in the home alone. I felt nauseated. I went to the bathroom, threw up and fell to the ground. I cried and cried and cried. I just felt more insecure with my feminine nature.

I felt very cold. And in spite of the hot day I tucked myself under two blankets. I rocked myself back and forth. For some reason, I held the wireless phone in my hands. I had no idea whom to call but having it there clenched in between my fingers gave me a feeling of security. I dozed off for some time. When I woke up, the pain was more intense. I thought I would better call a friend but not Rasha nor Inas; my closest friends. I decided to call Basma.

Basma was a short girl with dark brown long hair that reached her hips. She had beautiful features; wide brown eyes with long eyelashes, small drawn lips and small beautiful hands. From afar, people didn’t like to deal with her; she had an arrogant air about her character. For me, she was a mystery and a challenge. Bit by bit, I got to know her as we were making an English magazine for our school. She was quite discreet in her nature. She had sharp looks when she talked to people as if penetrating through them. Working with her on the magazine gave me a glimpse about her beautiful and kind heart though. I knew her father was dead when she was 4 years old. Her mom, though a pretty well-off woman, never thought about marrying again and fully dedicated her life to Basma and her little brother. Basma represented hence another insecure female who faced the world with toughness to survive.

‘Hello Basma, how are you doing?’ I said with a shivering voice.

‘Nadia! I am fine. How was school today? I went home early to have my penicillin injection’

‘Ah …’ I trembled

‘Are you ok?’ She asked attentively

‘No, I am not …’ I stammered ‘I don’t wish to bother you … but … if you’re free, can you come sit with me a little? … I am so sick … It is the first day in my period … and … I am so tired … and afraid.’

‘Sure. Just give me 15 minutes and I will be at your door inshaa Allah.’

The call rejoiced me a lot. The contractions were still there. But I knew someone was going to come and sit by me. Basma came over holding a bag with Fenugreek seeds. I never loved the drink made by those seeds. But I couldn’t turn her down. She made me a cup and asked if I was any better. I said no. She suggested she would make me a bag of warm water to place it at the bottom of my body. Ahhhh, what a relief! Suddenly the warmth of the water diffused like warm beats through my body. My eyelids didn’t excuse themselves in shutting off all pictures around me; including that of Basma smiling to me.

I woke up to find myself soaked in sweat but feeling more lively and cheerful the pain is over, Basma with mama sitting outside sipping tea. Mama saw my filthy status when I came out of bed with blowzy hair and pale face, her eyebrows raised up to reach the top of her forehead as she exclaimed ‘all this in your first day of period. What have come of nowadays girls!’

I enjoyed washing off the sweat and weariness under the warm sprinkles of water. The scents of shampoo, soap and conditioner revived me. And I was rejoiced at the fact I could wear nail polish now. I wasn’t demanded to pray or fast when I was in my period. I put on a transparent pink; my bestest color for tenderness and shininess in the same time.

One of the best things about Islam I thought was how tender it was to women. So odd it was to see how people were so tough to women in the name of Islam. Allah truly has imposed some tough biological symptoms on women; menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding and above all enduring men. But He had never forgotten about them. He had exempted them from all religious duties; fasting, praying and even worldly duties such as sleeping with men. However, people never thought of women as tender on those periods; they rather thought women were crazy and had to be tamed.

The cramps continued to occur but in shorter range and lighter intensity. On the second day, I didn’t look for Inas or Rasha. I automatically went searching for Basma. We were all in the same class; the one dedicated for excellent students. She was amongst her usual group that had familiar but not very close faces. I approached her, offered her some of the snacks I had. ‘Thank you for yesterday’ I said with a blush. She replied ‘oh, not at all. It was nothing’. The day passed. I was a bit lost amongst friends; between close but far friends and far but dear colleagues.

 

Chapter 5

Landing in Egypt 1996

In the airplane, Egypt looked like some brownish blocks stacked together. The air when I came out of the plane was warm, cozy and friendly. Driving in the streets was the same as driving in the fun city or knitting with the needle or maybe filling in the blank spaces. There were no rules at all on high ways. And in normal streets, we would have no option too because of the crowdedness; so it is either go as a horse or slow as a turtle. No traffic lights. No street marks. But it was still alive.

I used to travel to Egypt each year around 45 days which made baba’s and mama’s vacation. We stayed in our small house, paid visits to my grandma, uncles and aunts. I had two girl neighbors who were near my age and we played most of the days together. In the 45 days, Egypt always smelled of dust and warmth.

Afterwards my parents took the decision that mama, Khaled and I were to come back and live in Egypt where baba would stay in Saudi to make more money for our welfare. We had a new house this time; one of our own. It had three storeys, we occupied the one in the middle. The other two were supposed to be Khaled’s and mine. The house was much more spacious than our previous one. There were three bed rooms; one for my parents, one for Khaled and one for me. I didn’t like mine. I liked Khaled’s better because it had a window in the centre of the wall, it was wider too. Mine had a window, two doors (one leading to a corridor and the other leading to baba and mama bed room) and a balcony, which meant all the walls in my room had holes. I tried to convince my mom that I want the other room or to wall the door leading to their bedroom. But none of my choices were listened to. The explanation for that was awkward; they said that Khaled’s window oversaw the neighbors’ windows and they could peek through and see the only young lady in the house. And although our neighbors never opened their windows; for they too had girls and certainly the same mentality, no one got to enjoy the windows, or rooms in my case.

The rest of the house was a big reception; all rooms open to each other. The furniture was like a salad mix of a golden salon (a classic must in Egyptian houses), a black wood sitting room that was forged with copper (it was my best, I loved the contrast made by the black and copper colors), a modern kind of living room where our big Sony TV lied and mama’s old dining room. Our house was one to boost about amongst others; 170 meters house was such a rare thing. But I still didn’t like my own room.

I enrolled in a governmental girls school. We went to school mainly to learn (a minor thing), play and talk about ‘menstruation, circumcision, sex and boys’. How old was I then? I was just 11.

When I was still in Saudi Arabia, my only Egyptian friend, Rasha, once whispered to me ‘mom gets sick every month, she has blood, she has to take a bath before each prayer’. I did not understand from where the blood came or why she had to have a bath five times a day. I felt pity for her and shy to ask. In the many years that came after, I learnt that this was the menstruation and that Islam has exempted women from praying and fasting in those days. I wished I could get back in time to tell Rasha her mom shouldn’t have prayed or taken five showers a day.

In one of the girls’ circles we had regularly, a girl called Amany, who had such inordinate imagination, whispered to me ‘know what Nadia, I had a friend who had her menstruation so badly that the blood went trickling down her bench and on the floor’, my eyes stretched to their utmost and I asked ‘was the teacher a man?!’ I don’t know why I didn’t care for the girl’s health; I only remember I cared that the male teacher wouldn’t observe she had the menstruation. What a shame!!

I heard sentences like ‘this girl had her menstruation at the age of 9, oh, her body is blooming’, ‘I didn’t have the menstruation yet’, and for some reason, I sensed that the menstruation was a dream for the girls at school.

Back home, I asked mama about it. She smiled and said ‘Nadia, this is just girls jibber jabber. Menstruation comes to a girl when she is ready and everyone’s body is different’. She sensed I wanted to learn more and the same mother who refused to give me the wider room for embarrassment reasons started explaining ‘you have a womb inside you, it is one of your organs, each month it awaits a baby and when the baby doesn’t come it weeps. the tears are blood.’

And as if girls had nothing at school to talk about but vaginal aspects, the menstruation talk occasionally shifted to a circumcision one. ‘I am circumcised of course’ Amany the girl with the imagination said proudly. Most girls I knew had been circumcised proudly. Mom said she didn’t do this. But all the girls seemed to boost about it so I too was circumcised, I lied.

Sometimes, I got bored of the gossip and talk. I started to think of how to make a shift. Oh, yeah, I did, now the shift was about boys!

There was a theatre group in the school. Given my love to role play, I was so eager on taking part in the classes. Plus that attending the theatre classes meant I would skip some of the boring classes. Taghreed Abdul Rahman was the first friend I had in school, the first one who encouraged me to the theatre thing and the one whom all girls talked about as having a bad reputation. Shshshsh, she had male friends!

Amongst lots of the various things baba taught me in life was to NEVER judge persons by people’s talk. Taghreed Abdul Rahman who had dated boys each few months was the first true embodiment for the meaning of female insecurities. She was a beautiful girl with silky tall hair, wide black eyes, dainty small lips and a beautiful body. She could sing with a beautiful voice though not the bestest. She could act great scenes and shots though you could sense she was actually acting. She did marvelous belly dancing though you could sense something behind her dance; maybe that she was beautiful, sexy or desired. She had a humorous and light air. She was born to a mother (said to be a dancer) and a poor father. At one point she became an orphan and her mom brought her a step father whom she accused once of trying flirt with her. She was beaten by him and we were never too close to figure out the reasons behind his maltreatment. Alternatively, she searched for a male haven not give her love but to give her security. I felt pity for her and always sympathized with her circumstances.

Most of our company was to and fro theatre classes. I decided I wanted to be like her in the way she was devoted to theatre. Despite everything, she really loved what she did and aspired to be the best. The first thing in the theatre was a performance. A song was played in the background and we entered on stage in lines that met at one point. We should tap our feet in certain rhythm that went along with the music. Taghreed’s body was so agile in doing the moves while my body was so stiff and my feet buckled at each other. I tried hard but being brought up in Saudi Arabia with not much of a female acquaintance didn’t get me into much of the dancing, shaking and flexible community. I was much detached from gatherings where only ladies existed and every female showed off her belly wiggling skills. And although I wanted to have the skill, I did not like the gatherings idea. I did ok at the performance although I felt I was horrible.

The second theatre project was a play; three angels and three devils fighting over planet earth in a symbolic way. A boy and a girl representing the human race come out playing and we (I was chosen amongst the devils) tried to ruin their happiness. The angels (in whom Taghreed was chosen) came to save the boy and girl and fight us. Of course, we were defeated. When we did that on stage, Taghreed acted smart and improvised something to make the audience laugh. But the naïve girl who had just arrived from Saudi did not get how she could go out of the script and felt awkward; especially that my sentence was following hers. We were having a dialogue and by her joke, I was distracted. Our play was ranked top, everyone was happy. I was not. I felt I was horrible again.

In between the theatre training, we sat boys and girls together talking, laughing and chatting. I had no problem with that. I was a bit shy though. Ismail, one of the funniest in the boys’ gang, once sent me a word with Merihan, a friend of mine and a neighbor of his. Simple as this, he loved me. Ok, why not! Nothing shameful. I too loved him. We had fun times together. So, my word was sent as ‘I love you too’. Each other day, Merihan would come and tell me ‘Ismail sends you his greetings. He loves you so much’. I would blush and nod my head. But it seemed as Ismail, Merihan and love got me wrong. I was funny, shy and adorable but I am a Muslim and in Islam we don’t do things in the dark. I wasn’t going to meet him in secrecy, I wasn’t going to send him letters, I wasn’t going to touch or kiss him. When he and she got desperate, she came and told me ‘know what, he sang you a love song in the mic the other day’. I asked her this time ‘And?’ She said bluntly ‘Nadia, you’re so cold. You don’t feel the poor boy’, ‘ok, he wants to meet you. I said it was ok. Face to face in a narrow building enterance, he said ‘Nadia you don’t love me?’ I stammered feeling so hot ‘it isn’t how you think … When I said this … I didn’t mean …’ He approached me tried to hold my hand, I hunched myself down and slid from under his arm and went out of the door. And it was over, Ismail, Merihan, the theatre classes and Taghreed were all over to me. A series of insecurities from that day on chased after me. I feared men.

Apparently, I didn’t find myself in the theatre classes. I always felt terrible about them. But I felt I did great with words. Each day in school we had a morning assembly where we did some silly exercises, chanted the national anthem and attended the school radio. I used to make this school radio in my school in Saudi Arabia. My Arabic was so powerful, I had a strong voice, and I could articulate the letters in perfect sounds. I used to enjoy this. When I was back to Egypt, I noticed the Arabic and Islamic studies were not focused on and were not as strong as Saudi’s curricula for those subjects. In revers for the ‘hadith’, ‘fiqh’, ‘Quran’ and ‘tajweed’ books, there was only one book called ‘Islamic religion’ in Egypt. So, I could actually revise in Egypt what I have already taken in Saudi Arabia. That gave me a plus. But not such a big plus because I was plus in knowledge not in grades; weirdly, religion in Egypt wasn’t counted in the final score so no one actually paid attention to it. Everyone was eager to collect the highest score from the other subjects. It grew to my knowledge then that we had a considerable number of Christians in the school. Because their religion book (they too took one book) was said to be easier, it wouldn’t be fair to include religion in the final score. Religion was simply marginalized and has put the faintest lines of racism I thought.

When I could hear the echo of my sound in the clouds, I would cheer and feel my chest widens with brightness and joy. I did good in that except that sometimes my very neat Arabic was not very much appreciated at times and the girls in school did not like to bother themselves with listening to the morning radio, it was a bla bla for them. I could see we didn’t talk about sex, menstruation or boys in the radio.

I was in search for more friends after I took aside from my theatre ones. I was quite sociable on my outside but I always knew I was shy and can’t get along as a friend easily.

 

 

Chapter 4

The present and past mingled in one

My father in law interrupted the smoke in the air and with his hoarse voice ‘We have to admit that Yusef made a great mistake. You wouldn’t imagine how I reproached him. But you know it is a silly stupid mistake; nothing to ruin a family’, he looked with the corner of his eyes to me. I put one leg over the other which is indecent given that some of those sitting around me were 30 years older and I was also the youngest in the meeting. My skirt was pulled a little bit up showing some of my plump upper legs. I wished it would show my pink underwear with the black lace. But they would say ‘Nadia went nut because her husband betrayed her’.

He did! He slept with another woman. In Islam, this is adultery which is one of the biggest sins. And the punishment for this if witnessed by at least four people is to be thrown with stones until death. Hehe, your son would be dead now for a ‘silly stupid mistake; nothing to ruin a family’. But I did not say anything. I just wondered if he approached that other woman in the same way he did me. He used to love me. He used to be very gentle with me. The way he first touched my body was so shy and tender. He first clasped my hands very slowly, came nearer, lifted off the few hairs on my face and started putting small kisses over my face. I felt the heat of his breaths over my face, smelled his perfume and closed my eyes. The first time wasn’t the best in terms of excitement. It was the best in terms of respect. He respected the sacredness of my body and I respected him back.

Which perfume was he wearing when he approached her? Was he so keen on getting her as he was on me? Was he as gentle? Did he enjoy it better than he did with me?

Some of the salty water gathered in my eyes but I closed them, swallowed the tears back and gulped them into the inside of me.