It was Eid morning and through Facebook I was able to look at pictures of all the stunning Eid caftans my friends posted. I opened my closet and tried on my caftan and a couple of dresses that I had bought this year. It was quite lovely seeing my clothes neatly folded, taking up considerable space in a closet that was always empty when I was a child. Not in a million years did I imagine owning so many clothes, many of which look new. Growing up, I was used to handme downs from the older boys in the family. I dreaded wearing them because many of those same boys bullied me, and it stinks to get beaten up in your bully’s castoff shirts.
It wasn’t like my parents never bought me new clothes; they bought me one new outfit once a year before Eid alFitr. Mother, being profoundly superstitious, lived in fear of the evil eye; a sinister look usually caused by envy that has the power to cause great misfortune. It was a superstition shared by many, and everyone dealt with it differently. Mother preferred that I wore hideous clothes so that no one would ever have any reason to envy me and thus I would always be protected.
She always bought me my Eid alFitr outfit from the back of carts and not stores. Those outfits always bled into my skin and for days after Eid my skin would be blue or red or purple or whichever the colour of the outfit was. Father, didn’t share Mother’s fear of the evil eye. He believed that people must always look presentable when meeting family members and that having his daughter runaround in clothes that bled colour everywhere reflected poorly on him in front of elders in the family. On my sixth Eid alFitr, I asked my parents for a new outfit that came from a store and not a cart. Father agreed while Mother remained against it.
We went to a clothing store, and I tried on a few different dresses. I felt girly and princessy and happy. He bought me a beautiful dress. As soon as Mother saw it she begged me not to wear it. “Something awful will happen to you if you do,” she said. But I promised her to recite prayers at the Eid party for protection. I was in love with this dress to the point where thinking about it consumed most of my day dreaming time, every chance I got I would peek into the closet to look at it, and it made me euphoric. If I could’ve, I would’ve played and slept and eaten in it, and never have taken it off. Similar to Miss Havisham in Great Expectations or my cousin Alaa, who cried with excitement when her mother bought her new slippers and wore them everywhere all the time until they got muddy and torn and fell apart.
Eid began and ended as beautifully as I expected. I tucked my dress neatly in plastic and hung it in the closet. I was happy. School started after the holiday. There was one crucial thing that I loved about school; uniforms. In my uniform, I felt somewhat equal to the other girls and it was quite a comforting feeling. Aside from getting to wear uniforms, I disliked school. I got picked on and beaten quite a bit and was given an odious nickname “white girl” by teachers and students—who probably had no idea that my unusually fair complexion was partially due to anemia and malnourishment—The teachers were always angry and yelling.
"What is this? Why are you spelling girl without an e?" screamed the English teacher while shoving my notebook in my face.
"There’s no e in girl," I said.
"No e in girl? I told you there was. I wrote it on the board last week. Do you think you’re the teacher?"
"So is there an e in girl?"
"That’s it! Put your hands on the board, someone get me a broomstick!"
She took the broomstick and whacked me with it four times, each time asking once more: “is there an e in girl?” Each time I gave her the exact same answer.
As soon as I got home, I coiled up in the fetal position on the couch.
“Why are you still in your school uniform?! Go change!” said Father, oblivious to my being coiled up and sad.
“I’ll do it in a minute,” I said.
“No, you’ll do it now.”
“I can’t do it now; I am too sad to move.”
“How dare you talk back!” he said, lifting me in the air. “When your father tells you to do something you say yes I will and go do it!” he yelled and threw me against the wall with all his might.
I landed on my left arm with a popping sound and sharp pains that got me screaming and crying. Mother heard the noise and ran in.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“Your spoiled brat of a daughter doesn’t listen and when she gets the punishment she deserves, won’t shut up!” said Father.
As they were arguing, I tried to move my left arm but couldn’t so I used the other arm to carry it.
"It’s not moving, it’s dead,” I said.
“What do you mean it’s not moving?” she said with concern.
“Don’t indulge her; she is obviously making this up to gain your sympathy and avoid being punished,” said Father.
They went to argue in another room, and I fell asleep in that position. The next day, I woke up to hear both of them screaming at each other.
“I’ll take her to the hospital,” said Mother.
“You know you can’t do that,” said Father. He was afraid of what people would say. Father, who worked as a physician, built an amiable image of himself outside of our home, and something like lifting his daughter and throwing her would hurt that pleasant image of a kind, calm, and very together doctor.
“I’ll tell them she fell,” said Mother.
“What if she blabs?”
“She won’t, I promise!”
After doing Xx-rays at the hospital, they found out my arm was broken. Father was becoming more and more apprehensive. While things like this aren’t taken that seriously in Egypt, in a small city like Port Said, breaking his child’s arm could damage his medical reputation.
Mother came with me to school and talked to my teacher. “You know how weak and pale she is; so simply rolling off the bed at night just broke her arm,” she said to my Arabic teacher. At school, I wasn’t just too pale anymore; I was bruised and in a cast and even the meanest of the girls who used to bully me looked at me with sympathy. A third grader walked up to me asked what happened.
“I fell,” I said.
“Yes, I fell; now leave me alone!” I said. I attempted to run away but lost my balance and fell in the mud. I expected the girls in the yard to laugh and mock me as they usually did but instead everyone was silent, and I heard an older girl say “that poor kid!” Nothing is worse than having your own bullies take pity on you, like you’ve become so tragic and feeble that even the cruelest of children can’t justify hurting you anymore.
"I’m fine, I’ll be moving my arm in no time, so you shouldn’t feel sorry for me or anything," I told the girls as I got on the bus.
I told Mother about what had happened at school and asked when I might be able to move again.
"Reem, we just don’t know yet, you might never be able to."
"Oh." I saw how sad that made her and wanted to cheer her up. "Well, Mother, if I can’t move it again, I think it’s only fair you buy me a robotic arm."
"You know, like, in grendizer, those things are cool!"
We both laughed and then she turned serious. “I think someone saw you in Eid alFitr and gave you the evil eye because of that damn dress,” she said. She fetched a pair or scissors and began to cut my dress into small pieces. “It must be destroyed and rid of its evil,” she said over and over again, while I sat there with my broken arm, watching the destruction of the only source of joy I had that year.
Read more of Reem’s writing at http://reem-unveiled.blogspot.com/ and http://www.centreforsecularspace.org/sexual-violence-and-islamist-propaganda/
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