13 May 2015

Village life. Fragment from "Taboos in Arabic" (in progress)

Bisan flips through some youtube reggae songs, turning the volume up, but it doesn’t drown the loud voices coming from the room next door. ‘We can’t force her, Abu Mahmoud. She wants to make something of her life. Not like me.’ Bisan changes position, rolls on to her side on the mattress, rearranges the pillow under her head, and props up the Samsung tablet on her left hip. Turns the music down now. She wants to hear this. ‘What do you mean not like you? Have I not provided a comfortable life for you? This house, financial security, you have everything. Everyone in the village envies you, Nidal.’ The swish of small feet across the corridor, the door opening, Assia and Sham tumbling in, breathless. Bisan puts her finger on her mouth and smiles. In exaggerated slow-motion, silent giggles, the two sisters dive into Bisan’s body. She gathers their small bodies into hers, inhales their outside scent, plants kisses on their heads. ‘I can’t read or write, Abu Mahmoud! What are you talking about?’ The three sisters breathe silently. Assia and Sham understand that something important is happening. ‘They married me off to you at 16! By 24 I had four children. I don’t want this for Bisan. She doesn’t want this.’ Assia sits behind Bisan and starts braiding her older sister’s hair. ‘When we married Mina and Siwar you never said anything.’ Sham has now taken over the Samsung tablet and is looking at Bisan’s Facebook profile pictures. ‘Bisan is different, can’t you see it? There must be something more to this life other than being a housewife and bearing children.’ Assia wraps the thick snake of a braid at the back of Bisan’s head. ‘And what do you want me to do? Let her go to Haifa on her own? I’ve seen these city women. She’ll become like them. Loose. Modern. We’re not like that, Nidal. A husband will protect her. Provide for her.’ Sham points at a picture of the three of them in the back yard, mouths ‘we are beautiful’ and smiles at Bisan. ‘She wants to study, Abu Mahmoud. Get herself an education. Become somebody, min shan Allah!’ Silence now in the house. The door of their parents’ bedroom opening, someone comes out, door closing. Heavy footsteps down the corridor. Front door opening, banging shut. Moments later, a small figure appears in the girls’ room. Um Mahmoud doesn’t wear a headscarf at home. Her hair, night-black, in a thick braid. She stands in the doorframe, smiles at her girls. But her eyes are tired, sad. ‘We’re going to fight for this, Bisan. My father didn’t name me Nidal for nothing. How long do we have?’ Bisan looks at her mother, this small woman who is carrying so much on her shoulders. Did she also have dreams that were crushed? ‘Registration’s open for two more months, mama.’ Bisan gets up and walks to her mother. ‘I’m so sorry, mama, you have to go through this with him.’ Her mother’s slim body fits into her embrace. ‘Sorry for what, binti? This is your right! I was stupid enough to have others decide for me, but it will not happen to you. I won’t let it.’ Nidal saw too many young girls in her village squish their dreams and submit to the ancient ways. This was a fight for all of them. ‘Yalla, let’s get some cookies, girls.’ She wriggles out of Bisan’s body, and walks down the corridor, head held high. Bisan smiles. She is surprised at the sudden outburst of courage. This woman, her mama, who has always done what was expected of her. The obedient wife, a perfect mother. Devoted to her family is what all neighbours said about Um Mahmoud. But until now, she had nothing important to stand up to.
(c) khulud khamis, 2015

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