She tilted her head sideways, observing how the silk fabric accentuates her glossy lips. ‘I look good,’ she thought rather surprised as she rolled her head over to the other side. She managed through the rubble of stuff to take several steps back despite the tight space, her clothes and shoes spread across bed and floor as she took an overall look at her figure.
Her dad would always complain about the mess. “I don’t know how,” he muttered once as he picked up her jacket from the floor, “you young girls live like this. Filthy!”
“I take after you,” she would respond, mischievously. She knew he was right. At least, she was motivated more by the urge to rebel then the need to remain tidy, to do the opposite of what he asked of her. He tolerated it, though. He saw that change in her so many years ago when she was just a little girl, that change from a gentle sorrow to a stubborn anger after she realised that her mother was never coming back. She looked up at him once, just one tear drizzled down her cheek and he saw the hope dying from the deep black in her eyes, the pain bounding from her beating heart that pulsated out from the side of her neck like a little drum when he told her that he was to be married again. ‘Mumma’ she once whispered in his ear as he picked her up from the couch when she had fallen asleep, her grip tightened as she clawed onto him as he tried to put his sleeping daughter to bed, enough to tear him apart that he promised never to be angry with her.
She took a few steps back despite the tight space and lifted her navy blue jeans after it had dropped down, now fitted tightly around her waist. She was a mixture of young and mature, urban and trendy with a touch of sophistication as her Adidas sneakers blasted the colours white and green like beacons calling out from the dark silhouette of her silky black shirt. ‘I look really good,’ she said as though the louder and more solid her tone the more truth there was to the statement. She turned her body around to see the back of her claret headscarf that gently flagged with her movements and turned back again.
“She is old enough now!”
“I understand,” he muttered, “but let it be her choice. We can’t force her.”
‘Damn right,’ she thought, streams of tears leaking mascara over her foundation that mapped rivers of pain across her face. She pressed her ear up against the door and continued to listen.
“You have to put some pressure on her,” he barked. “Otherwise, what would happen to all the young girls her age? They’ll go off and do whatever they want.”
“Let them enjoy their lives. We never had anything, the least we should do is given them something!”
“Enjoy? What does that even mean? She can enjoy whatever she wants, but it does not mean she should forget who she is, forget God. No!”
‘Are they insane?’ she expressed with her hands as she raised her arms in shock to her brother without saying anything. He lay silently on the bed. He loved his sister, he wanted to fight for her, help her in some small way, but who was he compared to his uncle, to his own father? She was the only thing that made him feel alive, the only living remnant after the explosion that ripped his family apart when their parents divorced. He felt a constant heaviness in his chest as though his heart were made from the finest steel shaped in a blast furnace and blackened by the smoke and carbon. It is why he always wears black.
He would watch her as she yelled at other boys in the playground, fight with the school teachers and her strength was his strength. Even if she was wrong, she was always right in his eyes. No one could tell her what to do, it just inspired her to retaliate and she inspired him.
“They can’t force me,” she wrote on her Facebook page.
Nehal Abd Manaf Habibi, what do you mean they can’t force you? Force you to do what? Who is ‘they’?
Esma Basri Yeah! You go girl!!!
Mona Fawzi Praise Allah, do what you want. Just as long as it is the right thing.
Tala Hamdan You are old enough to think for yourself, sweetheart. ❤ ❤ ❤
The more they pressured her, the more they pushed her away. The more they tried to force her to do something she did not want to do, the more her courage strengthened, her will to fight, her refusal. She was stubborn and he knew that, even though he knew she was wrong. All he could do is listen from the bed and watch her helplessly sitting on the floor, pressed up against the door and desperately confused.
“You have given her too much freedom. She thinks she is better then all of us!” Her father remained silent, their protestations continued like a carousel reverberating the same calliope and he was nauseas from the repetition, entranced in a daze and could no longer say anything.
But for her his silence was deafening. It was confirmation that he agreed, that they thought something was wrong with her. Free? How could they think that about her? She couldn’t take it anymore and stood up to face them, to make her presence known, to make it obvious she was there and she would defend herself. Her brother pounced off the bed to stop her.
“Don’t even think about it,” he whispered firmly with piercing eyes, pressing his face near her to show authority. She paused with a sigh of frustration, but she knew it was rare to see him this serious and maybe she should stop. Their movements crunched the old wood across the floor and reached the other side of the house.
“Is she here?” her uncle looked up at the ceiling, his suspicious eyes combing the room.
“Maybe you should go, I will talk to her,” her father muttered, exhausted at the same, tireless topic about his daughter.
“Has she been here all this time?”
“I guess so,” he sighed. “Come on, it is late. How often do we have to talk about this? Just be patient.”
She ironed out her waist, straightened her blouse and knew this was what she wanted and not what they wanted. Her entire wardrobe needed to change in order for the look to work. ‘Maybe a white top with a long cardigan?’ she thought as she glanced at her buttocks thinking that maybe it would be better to cover. White would blend with the shoes. She would still be cool and young yet also pass as modest. It was a win-win for her.
Bang. The front door to the house slammed. “Mona! Mona, where are you!” he howled before he kicked the door open. Literally.
“What the hell are you doing!” she screamed at the sight of her brother, his face covered by a dewy sweat from his run as he leaped into her bedroom. His hands remained clutched onto his backpack. “Haven’t you heard of knocking? I’m 16 for heaven’s sake!”
“Mona, get dressed. We need to go!”
“I am dressed. What is the matter with you?”
“Come on, we need to go, we have rehearsals.”
“I thought it was cancelled?”
“So did I, but we were wrong. Come on!” he snapped, reminding her that standing there confused and angry was not helping. She was called to action, awakened and started scrambling around the room looking for her dance sneakers, the one she liked to wear.
“Over there,” he muttered, trying to catch his breath and pointing to her bag. He didn’t even notice the change and she forgot herself from the chaos of the moment. Even if she was sick, injured or miles away, she has never missed rehearsals.
“I don’t know,” she smiled, blushing as she looked up toward the ceiling like a shy woman would to the compliments of a lover, such was her passion for dance, “there is just something about it.” Each step was her heart beating, a pirouette of happiness twirling in physical form using her body as an instrument to display an unseen rhythm that is present and alive. The same breath of God given to Adam to raise him up from moulded loam to a person of feeling, it was a current that electrified her and for a moment she was free, free from the hurt of the past, free from the worries of the future, of the arid landscape of a life that hurt and consumed her.
They tried to stop her dancing as punishment to pressure her to wear the hijab because they knew that taking dance away would destroy her stubborn will. If only they knew, it was much worse then that. Take away her vision, chop off her hands, they would have been less hurtful. Her battle with them was a battle for the Dabke.
“Habibi, you can still dance,” her stepmother told her as she gently folded her fingers through Mona’s hair. “Of course, it is odd. A muslim woman embodies stability, her body and form is quiet and pure. Dancing is not acceptable. But the Dabke is different.”
“And she is with me,” her brother defended. “We are dancing with good people, with friends who are like family.”
“I trust you both,” she said, “and so does your father. They will understand, just give them some time.” That was when she started to admire what it meant to wear the hijab, to be a muslim, a woman and a dancer. It was a symbol of her strength to follow her heart.
They ran down the street and through the alleyways between the dilapidated buildings crumbling in disrepair. A truck carrying pieces of metals and wires blocked them for a moment as the speaker howled out calls for people to bring them any loose pieces of steel or electrical wiring, but they managed to squeeze through and past until they reached the school in time.
“What?” A’isha stopped, before everyone else turned and looked at Mona as she threw her bag in the corner. She had forgotten she was wearing the hijab. They all came to her, different hands touching the ends of her scarf, eyes surrounding her with surprise and affection.
It was the first time her brother noticed too. He stayed silent like how he did over a year ago when they were both in her room. He stood in the corner and watched with quiet, but filled with pride and with love.
She look at him and smiled.
These are short creative non-fiction stories based on true accounts from women and girls at Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem that I interviewed. The names are intentionally changed.