In the Land of Women

Memory: I’m seven years old; my grandfather; now passed-away; is sitting with his friends in the living room; I’m sitting next to him listening to the conversation while playing with a wooden horse and a small knight toy. My grandfather; his brother (an older man with a small cane that he uses to walk around; it has a head that looks like a monkey face. I always loved that cane); two other older men; and my aunt is bringing coffee to everyone. They are eating cookies with their fake teeth and talking.

“Oh, I remember, I remember perfectly” my grandfather says, as he puts another cookie in his mouth; his white moustache is dirty with the little crumples of cookies and the black coffee, “it used to be so original and new; I took my wife to the cinema; and I can’t even remember the title of the movie. Here she was: a woman holding a gun at a man and screaming her lungs out. She looked so scared and unaware of the powerful feeling of the gun.” His brother is coughing hard; I look up to him; staring at his monkey cane, and I hear him saying that “those were the days; that Blondie was the first woman to ever hold a gun in the movies.”

My aunt walks in; holding a tray with lots of fruits; my eyes are locked on the blueberry juice she is bringing to everyone; I calculated automatically the number of glasses verse the number of people and I was delighted to know that I was counted in to get my share of blueberry.

“Women should not hold guns; not in the movies; not in real life,” one of the men sitting says, ” they are not going to be able to control it; and you never know; they might even use it against their husbands.”

“Es-Allah (What a memory!),” my grandfather would say, while he picks the blueberry juice and I look at it with widened eyes, “these days are never coming back; I think we live in a bad time in our history; women are holding guns and going to work and supporting families; what have come to the world. I asked my wife back then to hide her eyes when this woman picked the gun up and pointed it towards the man.”

Agreement came from around the room; while my aunt is handing me, finally, the glass of blueberry juice.

Memory: I’m 9-year-old; my mother is walking the streets holding my hand in Damascus; she is chitchatting about things I can’t remember; but I remember perfectly that I was enjoying an ice cream. Vanilla ice cream covered with chocolate and dipped in sweet honey; a taste so complete I don’t think I ever enjoyed it when I got older; somehow when you get older; you forget how to taste the small things and enjoy them the way you used to do when you were a child.

My mother’s hair is brownish; just like mine; it’s wavey like a sea; and beautiful and long; dreamy hair; I always thought that my mother has dreamy hair worth of a princess or a jazz singer. I’m enjoying my Vanilla ice cream and walking besides her while she is staring absent-mindedly around the shops in the street; we were in a street unfamiliar to me; and I’m not sure where that street anyways; not even now.

However, I remember perfectly what happened later on; an old man (or at least old in my eyes; so he might be very much not older that 25) was walking besides us; and he pushed me, little small me, while he passes by me. I’m falling to the ground; and my vanilla ice cream is falling from between my fingers; I ended up face down on the group with the ice cream all over my t-shirt. The guy, however, continues his way without even looking back to the big mess he created.

“Hey, you! Watch out where you’re going!” my mother shouts at him as she picks me up and helps me to stand; my eyes are teary, painful pulses are coming from my knee and my elbow, but they are not to compare to the painful feeling of losing the vanilla ice cream that I loved so very much; and getting it splashed all over my t-shirt. “You talking to me, woman?” the guy says, while turning around; he looked angry and unpleasant; I wanted to ask my mother to step away. “Yes. I’m very much talking to you; look what you’ve done; you could have said sorry or helped the kid up!”

The man looked furious; he has a short hair on his forehead and a longer hair on his back; he speaks in an accent that I came to understand later that implies he is not from Damascus; he terrified me; and I think that since that day; that haircut and that accent still send shivers through my spin. “Know your place, woman! You Ought not talk to a man like this!” he says, while he looks more scary; but my mother did not “know her place” but rather pushed his limits. “Well, you know your place, son. You might look all tough and strong in this leather jacket of yours but you don’t intimidate me a single bit.” The guy, now with an amused smile is coming closer; people from the shops are looking at the exchange of words without doing much; the exchange did not develop yet to the point where another man has to come to defend the helpless woman (that is my mother). However, it is soon to develop there.

The guy, out of the blue, slaps my mother on the face. I hear the sound of the slap seconds before I actually see his hand moving towards my mother. She is shocked by the uncalled for development.

My mother looks at him, her face is red, I look at her; she is squeezing my fingers between hers. A second later; my mother, gets closer to the guy who is smiling still standing close by; and punches the hell out of him. The punch was fast; and it was directed towards his nose; he did not expect it or understand it; as he hit the floor, with a bleeding nose, he might have come to understand that he was just punched royally by a woman. My mother holds my hand; and starts walking; while she hears the noise from behind her. She never looks back to the guy as he stands up trying to follow us; while the men from the shops are holding him down. She smiles at me and tell me that we are going to “buy some vanilla ice cream”.

Memory: I’m 27-year-old; a man is sitting across from me that does not belong to our family; he looks nerves and generally sacred; around him; my five uncles, my aunt’s husband, my father and me are sitting; his father, his uncle and his brother are sitting around as well. We are all her for a reason today; this man, Walid, is going her to ask for the hand of my sister, Nai.

Walid does not know Nai; he saw her once in my father’s house when he visited a couple of weeks ago accompanied by his mother and grandmother; who already saw the wife-to-be a week earlier and waited for the reply from my step-mother to come and ask for her hand in marriage. The meeting was going well, according to my father’s standards, but I personally was not pleased.

The guy and I got to talk; and I asked him the simple question of “how would you deal with a disagreement between you and your future wife?” to which he replies that there is a disagreement already between him and my sister. “You see,” he says, “she doesn’t want to wear a ‘mantouh’ (a long jacket, usually black or grey, that covers a woman’s body from her neck down to her feet, together with the headscarf; the woman would be totally covered in the Syria traditional Islamic ritual). So, I told her that we can talk about it later on when we are married.” He took a moment of silence then added that she “has to wear it anyways; because, you see, it’s the most important base in the marriage; we’ll surely talk about it; but we will decide that she will wear it.”

I attempted to explain to him that his way of ‘talking about it’ with a pre-decided order means that talking about it is pointless. Yet, all my attempts seems to be in vain. He doesn’t get where I’m coming from at all.

My eldest uncle, whom is married and rumor has it in the family that he has up to two mistresses, started talking later on: “We are giving you her, but only if God is giving you her.” The verb “give” sounded heavy in my ears. He added that “We are giving you a woman from a good family of men; not a woman with no father or a brother” and finally added that “she was never kissed by anyone but her own mother” to subtly explain that she is still a virgin.

My sister, Nai, who is about to get married, was at the time sitting with my step-mother, my grandmother and my other sister, Lily, in the kitchen, preparing blueberry juice to the men deciding her fate.

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