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.