The Driving Spiral

When Eid repeats in Nightmares

I’m in the London underground and the train stops at Shepherd’s Bush. I’m scared. I’m not familiar with London, but in the dream I am. I walk out and I see grey lambs, mammoths and roosters marching their way out the station. It’s stifling and packed and I get lost in the midst of their wool, feathers and stale scent. The animals run at a heightened speed and I can’t seem to follow them to the exit. Perhaps they are fitter. They use their legs more than I do. I hear the bleating of lambs and I bleat with them. My legs transform from pale skin to wool. They become as heavy as tires.
Bah bah, I ask one lamb for directions. Perhaps if I get along with them, I’ll be able to run as fast. My iPod stops playing the song I was listening to, so I sing the lyrics myself. I transport from the station to a dinner table. It’s Eid now, and I’m served a generous amount of lamb. I hear a continuous sound of a woman singing the very song that was on my playlist. It’s the sound of my own voice in my head. “This is a gift, it comes with a price. Who is the lamb and who is the knife?”

Cinderella Uses A4 Paper Too

He writes down the number 11 on a piece of A4 paper, draws an arrow and scribbles down another number, 4.
“You will have the driver from 11 AM to 4 PM. I think that’s quite reasonable.” She listens carefully, wanting to make sure she doesn’t say anything wrong given that she and her father had only recently reconciled. She doesn’t say anything and lets him explain further.
“He will drop your brother and his wife off at work at 8 AM and return for them at 5 PM.”
“But Faisal drives,” she verifies. She’s still arranging her thoughts while answering, and adds information her father is already aware of. She goes on:
“They work in the same office. They head to the same place. They work for the same company.” She speaks slowly and reviews her words as she utters them aloud, as if reassuring herself that she’s not mad.
“He’s not finding parking,” her father retorts confidently.

She stands still and imagines an unbalanced scale with one side painfully heavier than the other. That very heaviness is lying on her shoulders now. Gathering her senses back into place, she thinks of her current status in life. She is unemployed, and her country is suffering a financial crisis. She figures that she does not have the luxury of defying his decisions. She is also very aware that she is a woman in a country that holds a male guardian as a vehicle of freedom. While there is love, there is also a calculating subconscious that turns this love into a pounding worry. She’s frustrated that, as a twenty-five year old adult, she has to ask for permission, in fear of losing whatever she has all together, rather than make her own choices. After all, he could tell her not to use the driver at all. The driver is under her father’s sponsorship. She is as well. She couldn’t afford to pay for a driver herself, nor could she demand one without his consent. She doesn’t even have the choice to cut costs and use a transportation system. A spark of resilience in Raghad searches for the strength to foster gratitude – even in this impossible situation. Nonetheless, she nods in defeat. Her father notices her reaction and insists on proving his point again. He takes another paper out and scribbles for the second time, ‘11 AM’ and draws a leading arrow across.

The Earth in Caravans

There is a paradox of solitude alongside community when in the subway. It doesn’t bother her that people are pushing against her. In fact, she relishes in the interconnectedness of life, seeing a myriad of people going about their day. The old man shuffling a deck of cards to pass time, the child grabbing the hem of his mother’s shirt asking her a puzzling question, the woman retouching her lipstick multiple times, the young adult looking at his shoes to avoid eye contact with strangers, and the usual businessmen who are always in a rush, checking if they have signal on their phones, even though it’s hopeless. Raghad notes the notion of distance and how it can set humans apart. She reflects upon certain houses and the rhythm of the streets – how they’re constructed in a retiring manner, to create distance or security rather than proximity. Breathing with wonder as though she’d reached a mountain peak, she adjusts her hold on the handle not minding the neighbors surrounding her. To her, this feels like earth – everyone from every part of the world in one space – except that the train is moving forward instead of rotating. She turns up her music.

That Kind of Day

Well, it’s not as if he didn’t pick her up. He actually decided to change directions while he was on his way to pick her up. “Inta gareeb?” she asked her driver over the phone. Her question made him furious, “Wallahi wallahi ana Ghareeb?” He hung up on her and started ignoring her calls. This is when she felt urged to order a Careem.
The Careem driver arrived promptly to her surprise. He spoke loudly on the phone while driving, and his voice was harsh and raspy; you could tell he’d smoked for years. She assumed he’d quit since the car didn’t smell like cigarettes. She was relieved because she didn’t want to smell for her interview. The driver was bald and wore an overpowering amount of oud, which perfumed the car quite intensely. He didn’t seem to be a private person because as he drove, he spoke on the phone about the intricacies of his life – from finances to marital problems to the question of which school he should enroll his son in. He kept telling his wife how much he loved her, and he thanked her for the oud she bought him as a gift. This explained the overbearing smell. He asked his wife if she wanted to move somewhere else. He probably meant another country, not another apartment. The wife seemed unhappy and he was trying to cheer her up. Raghad approximated he was on the phone with her most of the day. He seemed to listen to her like she was music, as though she was speaking from a divine sound system. Raghad thought it was sweet.
He admitted that he hated his job as a Careem driver and promised to find another job on the side. She couldn’t help but listen. The backseat suddenly felt like an intimate tea room. She became immersed in the conversation and sort of relieved that her own driver hadn’t picked her up.
She finally had arrived and thanked the driver, “shukran.” She experienced an urge to call him by his name after unintentionally eavesdropping on his whole conversation. She stared at her phone to search for his name on the screen “Shukran Ka-reem,” she pronounced his name as if she weren’t correct and tried to hide her smile. He didn’t hide his. He smiled knowing that his name is ironically the same name as that of the company. They both laughed at the unintended pun and she hoped that the interview would be as interesting as his phone call.

Interviews as Autopsies

When she was a professor, she was told never to consider “the driver excuse” as legitimate. She thought it was unfair, but at the same time, it was the easiest and safest excuse to give. Whenever she gave it for good reason, she felt as if she were lying even if she wasn’t. As she walked towards the interview, she nervously repeated that infamous line which we guiltily say so often – the line we dread the most, sawwagi itakhar. Raghad cringed, but it was the only truth.
The man looks at her CV and carefully dissects it, “don’t you feel that you lost your direction?” she wonders if he is talking about her life or the ride – don’t they both carry the same metaphor? Agreeing with him would be lying because she didn’t have a choreographed answer to his question. It seemed he expected her CV to have been perfectly constructed, like the pyramids – an uninterrupted utopia. But Raghad had many bumps on the road. The situation she’s cast in feels artificial to her. She clears her throat in angst, and begins to explain why her life and ride didn’t fall as consecutively as a domino effect.
The man inspected the document as though it were a fragile human at an airport check in. His surgical scrutiny filled the air with intimidation. It was only paper, though many of life’s most important decisions are filed on pieces of paper. Documents. The idea of her resume serving as a GPS disenchants her. The image of her father drawing arrows comes back to her. Line after line, stripe after stripe, the arrows fade into a harem of African zebras as crossing pedestrians, animals she has yet to see in her nightmares.

The Lying Ingredient

Raghad doesn’t like hearing herself lie. Although it would be a good weapon to have at times, she just never learned how. She had tried to, but she was terrible at it. She also believed it was unethical not only because her parents had advised her that it was wrong (“habil el kizib gaseer”, they used to say), but also because she had been lied to before. Experience taught her that lying catches up with you. It certainly did with her brother, every single time. Her longtime friend, Samia, told her that lying was a defense mechanism. “It’s innate in us Saudis; we’re supposed to have secrets.”
Samia was obviously not as severe as Kant when it came to the moral status of lying. Kant believed that if a murderer was looking for their victim and asked us to reveal his whereabouts, we should tell the killer the truth. He thought of the truth as a duty. We lie to mold whatever needs fixing, Raghad guessed. She saw where Samia was coming from but disagreed with Kant’s theory, of course. Samia also said that if you live in Saudi and you blame being late on the driver, it’s a white lie; it doesn’t really count. Raghad laughed at this remark. What was a white lie anyway but a sugarcoated lie? And even though sugar will always remain sweet and childlike, it certainly has its downfalls.

She returns home after a long day and finds a copy of Sharq Alawsat by the door. Her father usually picks it up first thing in the morning, but it was just lying there by the door that day. She grabs the newspaper and walks up the staircase to find her father sitting in his usual spot on the couch, drinking his daily cup of tea. She goes up to him and hands him the newspaper. He thanks her and teases her for her particular attentiveness. She shares a cup of hot tea with him. She figures this is the best time to talk to him. He is calm when he drinks anything warm. She complains about her brother and feels like a little girl. She’s in the living room but it feels like a courtroom with comfortable chairs. She tells her father that Faisal doesn’t want to drive to work and pokes holes at his pitiful defense: “Even the CEO uses a driver to go to work!” Raghad asserts to her father that the reason the CEO uses a driver is because he is the CEO, and thus has probably earned it. Her father sips from his tea making a gargling sound to warm the water with his tongue. He listens with one ear.
She asks her father why he fired Zuhair, her previous driver. “Zuhair used to chat with women on Facebook all night,” he confirms. Raghad wonders how her father is informed of this supposed fact and defensively asks how he retrieved such a detail. He tells her it’s none of her concern. Raghad tries convincing her father to rehire Zuhair and reminds him that her new driver, Younes, detached the seatbelt of the car because he assumed that it wasn’t necessary in the backseat. He has done it more than once already. Her father takes another sip of his tea, makes the same gargling sound and says,“inti bs salli Istikhara.”

Al Thaqab Al Mithli by Muhannad Shono

جلستْ القرفصاء، تتأمل متفحصةً من خلال ثقبٍ في وسط الحائط العالم الآخر،أقصد الجنس الآخر.
لهذا الثقب تاريخٌ طويل، لا بد أن أرويه لكم هنا، هذا الثقب كان عبارةً عن ثقبٍ قامبه عاملُ الكهرباء، لكي يمرر من خلاله سلك المروحة المعلقة في السقف، حينماكانت هي طفلة صغيرة. ثم تم الاستغناء عن هذه المروحة فيما بعد فتم سحبالسلك وإزالته، وبقي الثقب في الجدار -كما نستغني في مسار حياتنا عن أشياءكثيرة لكن تبقى آثارها في وجداننا- ولكنها لم تنتبه لهذا الثقب الصغير في الحائط.

حتى جاء يومٌ سمعتْ فيه ضجةً عالية وضوضاءً ملفتة، وتحرقت لمعرفة ما يدورفي فناء مدرسة الصبيان الثانوية التي تقع خلف منزلها، حينها فقط لمحت الثقب،ألصقت عينها فيه فما رأت غير بصيصٍ من ضوء، وأشباح تتحرك لا تكاد تستبينها.كانت وقتها في الصف الرابع الابتدائي، نظفت الثقب بكافة الوسائل فاستبانتالرؤية من خلاله أكثر. ثم على مدى الأعوام المتتالية عملت على توسعة الثقببالسكين وبالقلم وبالمبرد، وبكل ما يمكن أن يسهل عليها الرؤية من خلاله.

وحينما وصلت للصف الثالث المتوسط كان هناك مهرجان مسائي للحرف في فناءالمدرسة وكانت وحدها في البيت، حاولت أن ترى أكبر قدر ممكن من الشباب،لكن الرؤية كانت ليست في الجودة المطلوبة أولاً من أجل أهمية الحدث، ثانياً منجهة عدد الطلبة الكبير المشاركين في المهرجان، وثالثاً لأجل عمرها الذي يمتازبالفضول والرغبة في الاستطلاع ورؤية التفاصيل، حينها كان لابد من أن تستعيرفي هدوء الثقاب الكهربائي من عدة النجارة الخاصة بأخيها الكبير، لكي توسعالثقب إلى ثلاثة أضعافه، فكانت تحفر ثم تنظف، ثم تجرب الثقب بالنظر من خلاله،ثم تعود للحفر من جديد، حتى شعرت بأن حجم الثقب أصبح مثالياً للرؤية منخلاله بوضوح فاكتفت، وأرجعت الثقاب الكهربائي لخزانة أخيها بعد أن أزالت آثار الاستخدام.

وفيما تلى ذلك من الأيام كانت تستعمل الثقب للرؤية والمراقبة ثم تسده بمناديلورقيّة حتى لا تتسرب من خلاله الهوام لحجرتها.

كان هذا الثقب الذي تتقرفص عنده فتحل واجباتها المنزلية، أو تشرب عصيرها أوتتناول عشاءها، كان منظارها للعالم الآخر، أقصد لعالم الشباب. منذ الفصل الرابعالابتدائي بدأ برج المراقبة العمل لكن بطاقة استيعابية صغيرة، كانت فقط تنظر منخلاله عند حدوث أصوات ملفتة أو تشجيع أو نداء متتالي في الفترة المسائيةللأنشطة الشبابية، لكن مع مضي الزمن زاد الوقت الذي أصبحت تقضيه في برجالمراقبة، وأصبح البرج هو تسليتها الحقيقية في النهار لو غابت عن مدرستها لأيسببٍ من الأسباب، وخاصةً في أيام المراجعة قبل الاختبارات. ثم أصبحت تقضيكل فترة النشاط المسائي في المراقبة فلا تخرج ولاتتحرك من حجرتها إلا معنهاية النشاط وانتهاء المباريات، وتتعلل بحل الواجبات وقراءة الدروس.

في المرحلة المتوسطة كانت تدعو صديقتيها المقربتين للمشاهدة معها والتحليلوالنقد لهذا الشاب أو ذاك الفتى.

لكن عندما دخلت المرحلة الثانوية أصبح للبرج كينونتة الملتصقة بها فشعرتبملكيتها الخاصة له. فأصبحت تحب الانفراد في المشاهدة والنقد والتحليلالفردي ثم تنقل مشاهداتها لصديقاتها في المدرسة. فتتزعم الحلقة وتستمع لهاالزميلات بإنصاتٍ شديد وهي تصف ما يدور في أجواء الفناء الخلفي لمدرسةالأولاد الثانوية التي تقع خلف بيتهم. كانت تصف الأشخاص بلبسهم وسلوكهموانجازاتهم وفي مراتٍ قليلة جداً تستطيع نقل حواراتهم. كانت تضفي صفاتالبطولة على هذا الشاب وصفات السفالة والنذالة على آخر، والمستمعات يطربنوهن يسمعن وصفها وتحليلها، فتثير تخيلاتهن وتبني معهن أحلامهن.

هذا الثقب الذي من خلاله كانت تقريباً كل يوم تتخير الولد المثالي. وكانت المثاليةالتي تبحث عنها تتطور مع تطورها العمري ونضجها الفكري، في سنوات الابتدائيةكان المثالي هو المتفوق الذي ينجح في مباريات كرة القدم بمهارة، ويحرزالأهداف.

عندما أصبحت في المتوسطة أضافت الوسامة المعقولة والقوة الجسدية لمعيارالولد المثالي، ثم عندما وصلت للثانوية أضافت القيادة للصفات المثالية فأصبحالمحترف في لعب الكرة الذي يسبب الهدف أو يتسبب به، الوسيم، القادر علىالمحافظة على هدوئه وأخلاقه في الملعب، الذي يساعد المصاب ويتحلى بروحرياضية هو الولد المثالي.

حين وصلت لمرحلة الدراسة الجامعية بدأ الثقب يتنحى بهدوء من حياتها، بداوكأن ثقبها لم يعد كافياً لها، لم يعد يتسع لأحلامها، وأصبحت تحتاج للانتقاللمرحلة التجارب الحقيقية وليس فقط المراقبة والخيال. وبمرور السنوات أصبحتلاميذ المدرسة الثانوية عيالاً في نظرها، وكانت قلما تتأمل بعض المعلميين فيالساحة. أصبحت تتطلع للشاب المثقف المتعلم الذي يبهرها بطلعته ويشلتفكيرها بذكائه وحججه.

لم تعد تنظر من الثقب البتة حتى صار الثقب يبحث عنها ويشتاق لجلستهاالتاريخية معه. وفي يومٍ من الأيام جاء عاملُ البناء بناءً على طلبها، ورقع الثقبَبشئ من الجبس الأبيض ثم دهن الحائط كاملاً بلون جديد.

اختفى الثقب، لكن في الحقيقة زادت عدد الثقوب التي حفرتها ورقعتها، فقد تغيرت أمورٌ كثيرة بعد أن اختفى الثقب. سافرت، تعلمت، خالطت بشر كُثُر لكنعيناها التي ألفت النظر من الثقب واعتادت صناعة الأوهام والأحلام، بقيت دوماًلا تأنس لرؤية الآخر إلا من خلال ثقب..

Burdensome Boys

Burdensome Boys by Norah AlSubaie

I woke to the dreadful sound of drilling right outside my bedroom wall for the sixth time this week. The difference between today and the other days was that today was a Saturday – the only day of the week when I actually could sleep in, but alas here was my sleep being ruined. All so that mom’s stupid office could be renovated. I groaned and looked over at my alarm clock, which flashed 7:43 AM in violent red light. I sighed. May as well get up and have some breakfast; there was no way I’d get any sleep while the construction workers were going at the walls like that.

I got out of bed and slipped on a plain white t-shirt over the boxers I’d worn to bed the night before. As I headed down the hallway towards the staircase, I wondered if my parents were awake, and if they’d let me go to the beach with the guys later today. My parents were overprotective, to say the least, and they were especially strict when it came to me going places with my friends.

They worried about transportation, always preferring that my twin sister, Rania, drop me off where I needed to go instead of me riding alone with our driver, Fatima. Rania got her license last year when we turned seventeen, and mom bought her a car a few days after our birthday. I got a new pair of RayBans and some cash.

My parents weren’t just strict when it came to transportation; they worried about my reputation, too. That was the main reason getting permission from them to go out with my friends was always so difficult. Once, last year, my mother’s friend from work spotted me at Chili’s with a group of my guy friends on a Friday night. We were laughing loudly as we inhaled our cheese fries and chocolate milkshakes. She was so offended by the mere sight of us that she immediately called my mother to make sure that she knew I was there with such a “rowdy” group of boys, “who were clearly just trying to draw attention to themselves by laughing loudly and causing all the girls to stare down at them from the singles section of the restaurant!”

When I got home that night, Mama lectured me for what seemed like hours on choosing my friends wisely, and on the dangers coming to be seen as a mafloot or saye’e boy in our community. Mafloot roughly translate to free, or uninhibited and in motion. And saye’e is sort of a party boy – a wild and untamed mess of a man. I explicitly remember Mama telling me that no “respectable woman” would ever consider taking me as a husband if I picked up that kind of reputation and kept up the “wild” behavior I’d exhibited that night. I asked how any of this was fair when Rania – who was my EXACT same age – was allowed to go out with her girlfriends whenever and wherever she wanted. “She doesn’t even have a curfew, Mama!” I cried in frustration, feeling my cheeks turn red and my eyes start to burn. Mama simply glared at me and said, “That’s none of your business, Hamza. And please don’t ask stupid questions.”

I cried after she left my room that night – I was only having fun with my friends. We didn’t even notice the girls looking down at us; they were in an entirely different section of the restaurant anyway! I remember my father coming in to see me the next morning. He sympathized with me, telling me that he knew it wasn’t easy or fair to be a young man in this society. Nonetheless, he encouraged me to apologize to my mother for my behavior, and to promise her that I wouldn’t behave like a mafloot boy again. Though I protested and explained that we were only laughing at our own jokes and having a good time, Baba insisted it was better if I apologized: “It’s better if she’s pleased with you, habibi. That way, you’ll be able to do more of what you want. You have to stay on her good side…she’s in charge at the end of the day. That’s just the way it works.” I sighed. He was right.

Back to what I was trying to say: my parents were strict. And they were especially strict about the beach. Mama hated the beach. The skin. The fresh air that filled our lungs with zest for life and belief that anything could happen. The skin. Mama was against skin showing at all, really. She even made me wear longer shorts in our own house, and she was always absolutely furious when she caught me walking around in my boxers. She’d tell me I lacked any sense of “decency,” and that I was grossly un-shy – that I should feel more protective over my own body and show it to no one. It’s funny, because when my sister, Rania, walks around the house in shorts, Mama is totally fine with it. But God forbid my hairy legs are exposed! I hated that there was such a double standard between the way girls and boys were treated. Just because I was a guy, I had to cover up, come home early, and apologize when I did nothing wrong.

I decided that I would ask Mama as sweetly as I could if I could go to the beach with the guys – Adam, Dani, Yazeed, and Louai – when she got home. She’d probably gone out to have breakfast with her friends along the corniche; they did that a lot on weekends. I was careful to put on a long pair of sweatpants on before she got home around 10, and I made my bed for good measure. I heard her pull into the driveway and quickly came down the stairs to open the front door and greet her:

“Hi Mama! How was your morning? You look extra beautiful today.”
She glared at me suspiciously.
“Hi habibi…thank you. It was good. Have the workers left?”
“Uh. Yes. I think so. But…Mama, I wanted to ask you something about today.”
“Sure, what is it?” she turned to face me.
“The guys and I wanted to spend some time at the beach today. We really haven’t been in a long time and have been stressed with school and it would be really nice for us to just rest by the water for a little. I was thinking maybe Rania could drop us off…”
“Hamza! You know how I feel about the beach. All those girls will be roaming the sand just waiting for a group of young and attractive boys like you to walk by. Are you kidding me?”
“Please, Mama! You know we aren’t going for them and we’ll be careful, I promise! We just want to see the water and get some sun. We won’t speak to anyone, and like I said Rania can drive us there and make sure we’re settled before she leaves. Please! Please, Mama! It’s been months since I’ve been to the beach.”
She hesitated and I could see her considering it in her head. She gave me a look that read if you do anything crazy, I’ll kill you, and then she sighed and said “O.K., but only if Rania takes you and if you’re back here before Maghreb.
“YES! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” I kissed her on the cheek and ran upstairs to text the guys that we could go. And to beg my sister to drop us off.

It took me thirty minutes to get Rania to say yes, and she only did so on the condition that I’d wear my waterproof shirt the whole time I was at the beach, and that I’d do her math homework for her for the next two weeks. As glad as I was that I’d gotten her to say yes, I can’t help but imagine how much easier my life would be if I was a girl. If I could just drive myself around! I wouldn’t need to rely on anyone else, or wait around to be picked up or dropped off, or to do anyone’s homework but my own. I jumped into the red dodge and smiled at my sister, who already looked annoyed. I took a deep breath and tried to focus on what was important: at least I was getting to leave the house.

After we picked the guys up, the mood got a little lighter – my sister is always nicer around them. We collectively rapped along to Drake and Russ until we reached our destination, about twenty minutes later. As everyone piled out of the car and grabbed their belongings from the trunk, Rania poked her head out of the window to check out the scene. There were clusters of bikini-clad women sprawled all over the beach. They were giggling and splashing one another in the water and looking over at us already. I could tell this scene was making Rania uncomfortable, so I desperately looked around for any sign that there were other boys on the beach. To my luck, I noticed another group of guys further down the shore, appropriately dressed in t-shirts and long shorts, and pointed them out to Rania. I told her we’d go and sit beside them. Rania reminded me to keep my shirt on and not to do anything risky before she drove off.

As soon as she’d driven away, two girls from the group to our left began staring at us as we walked towards the shore. It was as if we were specimen under a microscope in a biology lab. They let their gazes linger as they looked up and down our bodies. They both paused for a long time on Louai’s biceps, slowly moving their hungry eyes up and down his arms. Louai proceeded to subconsciously wrap his arms around himself, and I could tell he was questioning his clothing choices, probably wishing he’d worn a looser shirt. I could tell he felt naked in this moment. Their nasty gaze had the power of doing that, unfortunately.

“Hey man. Just ignore them. We’re here, so let’s have some fun!” I put my arm on Louai’s shoulder and steered the guys in another direction. We couldn’t let a group of promiscuous girls ruin our day. We found a perfect spot on the sand, not far from the other group of boys, and laid down our towels and belongings. Danny immediately brought out the snacks, and soon enough an array of cool ranch Doritos, MnM’s, sour candy, and coke bottles were neatly aligned on his blue and green striped towel. “Man, didn’t you just have breakfast like two minutes ago?” asked Yazeed. Danny replied with a series of mumbles at first, but then clarified that he just wanted us to stay energized. Yazeed grinned like an idiot and deliberately pointed out that the coke would only dehydrate us even more. I was used to their quarreling, so I laid down on my towel and took a deep breath as I felt the sun’s rays greet me. I turned up the volume of the wireless bose speakers Adam brought along until French Montana was practically thundering into my eardrums.

I opened my eyes to a sight that made me jealous: the women on the other side of the beach had begun applying tanning oil, and were embracing the sun with their bare bodies. They looked perfectly content and confident – free in their swimsuits and comfortably sprawled out on the sand. I swallowed my pinch of jealousy and figured I’d do the same; it wasn’t fair that they could get perfect tans while I had to end up looking like a farmer. I yanked my shirt off and immediately felt like a vampire as the sun’s glistening rays shined across my pale chest. Louai, Yazeed, and Danny followed in my footsteps, but Adam remained fully clothed and gave us a mildly disapproving glance. He’s the fatherly figure of our group.

Just as we all began to relax, a new group of girls settled into a spot just a few meters away from us. They were quiet at first, and peeked at us from behind the shades of their sunglasses – which, by the way, didn’t do a good job of concealing what they were looking at. I immediately felt threatened, but I didn’t want to show it. Soon, they began catcalling us: “Ha ya muzz, esh ragamak?” a woman with bountiful brown curls and wild eyes asked. Another one, dressed in a revealing electric blue cutout one piece, waved cheekily and pointed to her ring finger. One of the women even took her phone out and began taking pictures! Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, a curvy brunette bit her lip and kept her eyes hovering on my bare stomach and slightly downwards. Waves of frustration, fear, and disgust took over me as I frantically wondered what to do. By now we could hear the girls’ nasty comments about our bodies clearly.

Louai suggested flicking them off, but we all knew that wasn’t the smartest move. How could we guarantee that giving them the finger wouldn’t inspire them to come over and continue harassing us from our own little spot? I felt trapped. As I was contemplating yelling out “Angal3o ya 7meer,” a middle-aged man who’d been sitting with his family came to our rescue. He wasn’t very tall and had a slightly hunched back and grey hair, but he did the trick. The girls stopped calling out at us as he sternly looked at them and called out, “should I call the police or your parents?” and took a seat beside us. We could tell he was angry and started to put our shirts back on, waiting silently to see what he’d do next. He looked at us with an exasperated expression and sighed.

“Those girls should be ashamed of themselves” he began. “Acting like animals when their families raised them well. None of them would accept that kind of behavior towards one of their brothers or male cousins, but here they are doing to other men in the community. Such a shame.” We began to agree with him, and to say thank you, but he quickly changed tones and added that we, too, “should be ashamed of having been shirtless on the beach and asked for their attention in such a gruesome manner.” He told us that we should, “really be more careful from now on.” We sighed and thanked him for his help. Deep down, I felt hurt. How could this be our fault? How could we be blamed when we were the ones who were just sexually harassed? How could the existence of our bodies be a cause for that kind of behavior?

In spite of what had just happened, Yazeed convinced us all that the day wasn’t over and that we should try to forget about what had just happened and focus on having fun. Louai suggested jumping off the kobri into the deep water. Adam merely groaned at the thought of jumping into the deep, blue, and unknown. He had a fear of swimming in the ocean, which he wasn’t so fond of admitting. The four of us had to yank him out of his comfortable spot, and persuade him to accompany us on another of our episodes. Thirty minutes later, we’d managed to convince him to jump into the water with us, which was pretty miraculous considering we’d never been able to break him before.

I reflected on Adam’s little change in behavior as a bigger concept. To me, his acceptance to try something new triggered something within me I didn’t even know existed: hope. Adam’s willingness to face one of his biggest fears to join us symbolized something beyond words. My friends would’ve laughed their butts off if they could have read my thoughts in that moment, but I couldn’t help but consider the idea that our society could change too. What if we, as a community, tried to make small changes to our lifestyle day by day? What if we addressed some of the ideas that scare us? What if I didn’t have to dream about driving myself around, or about making decisions for myself? My head spun around a dozen different “what ifs” as I lept off the edge of the dock with the boys. The salty water of the red sea tickled my toes, the light breeze filled my lungs, and the sun’s rays embraced me. I seemed to forget everything in that moment – from the ills of society to my own name. I felt only warmth. I’d pick up where I left off tomorrow.

Nights of New

Nights of New by Akram Al Amoudi
Nights of New by Akram Al Amoudi

“Shit, shit, shit!” I hissed as my straightener met the bathroom floor with a loud clank! Without thinking, I stuck my burning thumb into my mouth, and immediately spit it out. I’d forgotten about the fresh coat of “Berry Naughty” Essie nail polish on my nails – which though is a beautiful color, tastes very ugly. Between the spitting, coughing, and the clank of the straightener, I wasn’t doing a good job of keeping quiet.

I crept to my bedroom door and pushed my ear against it. No sound. Good…they’re all still asleep! I returned to my post at the bathroom mirror, and put the final touches of my black eyeliner on, grateful for the silence. When I finished, I stared at the reflection before me. A girl with flushed cheeks and sharp features stared back at me; she had shoulder length chestnut hair, high cheekbones, and hazel eyes hinted with hesitation. I recognized myself, thought it was as if the expression on my face was warning me against what I was about to do. I shrugged it off and finished styling my hair, opting for a minimal part down the middle, and then applied a final coat of matte, dark red lipstick.

Suddenly, the Marimba ringtone of my phone echoed throughout the room. Argh – why didn’t I put it on silent?! I rushed to my bed to find the phone and silence it, but it stopped ringing almost immediately. When I did find it, the screen flashed: 1 missed call from Nourah. Was she already here?! I quickly shot her a text saying I’d be down in a few minutes, and I turned to my closet to grab my black clutch (“borrowed” from my mother for the night) and heels.

Without forgetting to rub on some perfume, I turned off the light in my room and carefully pulled the door shut behind me. As I tiptoed down the hallway, heels and clutch in hand, I prayed that no one would wake up. I applauded myself for making it down all 27 steps safely – and quietly – whilst keeping my hair and makeup in tact. I walked to our abaya closet, the final step for most women before leaving their homes here in Saudi, and I hastily pulled out a burgundy abaya and a matching cream-colored lace tarha. I slipped the garment over my head, and threw the scarf around my daringly exposed neck. Finally, I emerged from the back door, quietly pulling it closed behind me and locking it to conceal any evidence of my departure.

Most nights I walk out and the humidity and heat don’t fail to provoke me, but tonight was strangely different. Perhaps this was a good sign? Regardless, it was good for my hair. There was something special about the light breeze, and the formation of bright stars that were laid out in the sky, arranged as if by the tip of an airbrush. The air was laced with euphoric sensations, with an ecstasy of possibility. I felt just the right amount of guilt – the exciting amount that comes with something new and forbidden.

I wondered if every night was the same in this city – if I just didn’t sneak out enough to know nighttime. But then I realized that couldn’t be true. Tonight is different because you are different, Layal. Usually, I play it safe. I ignore that my name gives me the right to the dark time of day, and I stay in with the lights on. I do homework and watch movies. I don’t even look out my window. Today, I’m embracing my name for the first time. Embracing the freedom given to me at birth, but quickly revoked by a culture of fear and walls.

I caught myself before I went too far off in metaphysical thought, and I tried to focus on the task at hand: spending the night out without getting caught. I pushed open the heavy front gate of the house to find Nourah’s car waiting for me. My heart was racing as I pulled the gate shut behind me, pausing to make sure I had the key before I closed it all the way. I opened the back door of the silver jeep with tinted windows to find Nourah angrily glaring at me. “Sorry! I thought you would be late,” I chirped as I climbed into the car.

Her forehead was a mix of stern lines and the glimmer of tinted moisturizer. She looked stunning, and pulled me into a friendly hug whilst simultaneously yelling at me for making her wait in the car. We plugged the AUX cord in and blasted our music as always, trying hard to pretend that this was a normal outing. But I could tell she was nervous, too. Her breath was slow, and her smile seemed slightly forced. A few minutes passed and she suddenly turned down the music.

“What if we get caught?” she asked.
“It’s possible, but just don’t think about that!”
“What do you mean don’t think about it, Layal! We could be in serious trouble…is it worth it? Should we go back?”
“No! I don’t want to spend the rest of my life fearing the consequences of having a little bit of fun every once and awhile…even if it’s not the kind of fun my parents approve of.” I responded.
She followed with a “you’re right” sort of sigh and a contemplative frown.
“Just don’t worry” was all I could manage after that. My own mind had suddenly gone to all the possible negative outcomes of the night ahead. I felt the sudden urge to turn back around and return to the comfort of my own home – the comfort of what is familiar.

Though I didn’t actually want to turn back around, I couldn’t help the thought from popping into my head. The others were already waiting for us after all; we couldn’t just bail on them now. I shrugged off the thought and selected Beyonce’s Grown Woman as the next track, sure that the song would get us back in the mood. As I sang along to the chorus – I’m a growwwwn woman! I can do whatever I want! – I felt lighter. I could tell Nourah did, too.

After what seemed like forever, but in reality was just a fifteen-minute drive, the driver announced our arrival to Beit Sarah – as we had falsely informed him. I reluctantly stepped out into the blackness of the night, and looked up once more to the sky for guidance. She seemed to understand my fear, and she looked down at me with a mother-like kindness, cradling me with her winds, whispering: just go!

And so, we did. With our elbows linked together, we waived off the driver, and rang the old doorbell at the big metal gate. A buzzer sounded and the gate swung open. We stepped in, taking comfort in the late night’s approval, and turning our backs on the sleeping world behind us.

‫ عندما ولدت كانت تتعلق بي آمالٌ كبيرة فقد مات أخي الأكبر متأثرًا بالحمى الشوكية وظلت أمي بضع سنين كسيفة البال عليه حتى حملت بي؛ كانت تشعر أثناء رحلتي في رحمها أني زورق نجاة أرسله الله لها بعد أن فقدت كل أمل في الخروج من غياهب جب الحسرة الذي كانت غارقةً فيه حتى أذنيها فقررت أن تسميني هبة .‬

‫استغربت لأن هذا ليس اسمي لكني لم أعترض وقتها فكما يقولون: ( لكل حادثٍ حديث)، توالت شهور الحمل وهي تناديني هبة دون اعتراضٍ صريح منِّي إلا في بعض مرَّات حينما أكون متأثرةً بمزاجها المتعكر حيث أطرق على بوابة بطنها كي تكف عن مناداتي بغير اسمي ! ‬

‫عندما وُلدت خلتُ أن الأمر انتهى عند هذا الحد و كنت على يقين أن أمي ستعرف اسمي من تخاطري الروحي معها لكن يبدو أنها كانت تخشى عالم الأرواح ربما كانت تظنها أشباحًا ستسوقها إلى الجنون إن تواصلت معها.‬

‫عندما رأتني أمي للمرَّة الأولى بعد ولادتي انبهرت ببشرتي الحريرية البيضاء وشعري المخملي الأسود و عيناي اللوزيتان بلونهما العسلي المضيء فقررت أن تغير مخططها وتطلق عليَّ اسم بديعة. أصابتني حالةٌ من الذهول، ثم أخذت في البكاء المتواصل وأنا أصرخ : (يا أمي هذا ليس اسمي!)، لكنها كانت تلقمني ثديها أو تسقيني مغلي اليانسون لاعتقادها أني أعاني من مغص.‬

‫وكي يزداد الطين بلَّة قررت جدتي أن تطلق عليَّ اسم مي فقد راودها خاطر أنَّ النابغة كان يستشرف قدومي للحياة عندما أنشد ‬
‫يادار ميَّة بالعلياء فالسند … أقوت وطال عليها سالف الأبدِ‬
‫لم أعرف كيف أُفهم هؤلاء النسوة أنَّ اسمي مها!‬

‫قررت أن أهدأ قليلًا وأفكر، نظرتُ إلى أبي وتوسمت فيه خيرًا ، يبدو أني سأستطيع التواصل معه بالتخاطر الذهني ، على أي حال هذا هو الأمل الوحيد المتبقي لدي فأنا لم أتقن التحدث بعد أمعنت النظرإليه وقلت: (أبي العزيز اسمي الذي اخترته هو مها أرجوك ساعدني!) ، عاودت النظر إليه مرَّةً أخرى و بدا لي أن جهودي بائت بالفشل فتكوَّرت على حزني وقررت الاستسلام للنوم، لكن قبل أن يسحبني تيَّار النعاس إلى دوَّامة النوم سمعت صوت أبي يقول: ( ما رأيكم بالقرعة؟ )‬

‫وافقت أمي وجدتي فهذا هو الحل الوحيد منعًا لاندلاع حربٍ أهلية قد تقتدي بداحس والغبراء في طولها وبعد أثرها.‬
‫كتب أبي الأسماء المُقترحة وأضاف أسماءً أخرى وبدأت القرعة الميمونة، عندما قرأ الورقة كنت غارقةً في ترقُبي حتَّى قال: ( مها) ، كدت أقفز من الفرح لكنهم قرروا إعادة الكرة ثلاث مرات حتى يتأكدوا أنه خيارٌ إلاهي وليس من تخييل الشياطين، بعد نجاحي في الجولة الأولى شعرت أنَّ العناية الإلاهية تؤيدني لأحقق ما أريد و صدق حدسي عندما قالت الأوراق مها مرةً بعد أخرى.‬

‫ لم أعرف حينها أن الاسم هويّة أشترك فيها مع كثيرين غيري خُيِّل لي أنِّي الوحيدة في أرض الله التي سيطلق عليها هذا الاسم و أضجرتني تلك الحقيقة لأنِّي أحب طبع ما يخصني بطابعي المميَّز فقررت أن أرى ما سآخذه من هذا الاسم وما سأضيفه له! ‬

‫يُقال أن لكل شخص من اسمه نصيب و قيل لي أنَّ نصيبي من اسمي هو عيون المها الواسعة و جدائلي الطويلة التي تقوم مقام قرونها المميزة؛ لم أقتنع بوجود علاقة بين الشعر والقرون فالمها تستخدم قرونها التي تشبه السيوف في الدفاع عن نفسها وأبنائها، كيف سأدافع عن نفسي بشعري الحريري؟ ‬

‫لابدَّ أنَّ هناك سرًا ما ! تفقَّدت رأسي فلم أجد أثرًا للقرون، (ربما ستنبت لاحقًا) قلت لنفسي . ‬

‫صدق حدسي واكتشفت فيما بعد أنَّ قرنيَّ ينبتان كشجرة الفاصوليا الخاصة بسام عندما يضغط أحدهم على أزراري الحمراء وتتجلَّى مع ارتفاعهما روح البقرة الوحشية التي تهدد من أمامها بالويل والثبور وعظائم الأمور جزاء اعتدائِه على حرمها. ‬

‫حسنًا، إذا كان هذا إرثي من اسمي فسأجري تعديلًا جينيًا على الثروة ، قررت تغيير سلوك الظبية التي تهرب من الأسد لأنَّها تخشى أن تكون مخالبه أقوى من قرونها، فكما يقولون: ( هزيمةٌ بلا قتال هي هزيمةٌ منكرةٌ حقًا) من الآن فصاعدًا ستقف المها بثقة أمام الأسد في معركة متكافئة القوى! ‬

‫ترددت في أذني كلمات الأغنية القديمة (أسامينا شو تعبوا أهالينا ت لقوها وشو افتكروا فينا ، الأسامي كلام شو خصِّ الكلام عنينا هنِّ أسامينا)‬

‫لم أستطع إلا أن أتسائل هل الأسامي مجرد كلام، أم أننا نميل للتبرؤ مما أثقلنا به الأقدمون-مهما كان قربه لنا- عندما نشعر أننا سُجنا داخل النص الذي كُتب لنا؟‬

‫لا أعرف إن عرفتم أسماؤكم منذ بداية رحلتكم الأرضية مثلي؟ لكني أعرف من رحلتي مع اسمي أنه أكثر من مجرد كلام.‬

رائحة القهوة العربية تملأ المكان، وكأن الهواء أصبح بدلاً من أن يحمل في ثناياه مختلف الغازات أصبح يحمل مختلف البهارات، رائحةُ الزعفران والقرنفل والهيل والقهوة خليطٌ عجيبٌ من الروائح التي ترتبط في الذاكرة بالطفولة، بنشأتنا في بيوتنا الحجازية القديمة.

ارتبطت رائحة القهوة ومكوناتها برائحة البخور الشرقي المحترق، بمشاعر الضيافة وحضور المناسبات الاجتماعية المتنوعة. قمة الرفاهية فما كان يَختصُ بالبيوت أصبح له وجود قوي في الفنادق العالمية وصالات المناسبات المنمقة كذلك.

ترتبط الروائحُ بالذاكرة كما ترتبطُ كافة الحواس فتنتعش ذكرياتٌ معينة، وجدتُ نفسي أحلقُ بعيداً، لا زلت أذكر كافة تفاصيل ذلك اليوم للآن.

كان ذلك منذ أربعين عاماً، كنتُ في السابعة من عمري، وكانت التجهيزات في بيتنا على قدمٍ وساق، صوت طاحونة الهيل يتصاعد من المطبخ، ووالدتي الحبيبة يعلو صوتها كذلك بنبرةٍ آمرةٍ ناهية، والصبي العشريني اليمني الجنسية يتنقل بخفةٍ بين يديها ملبياً أوامرها وتعليماتها اللانهائية. امتلأ البيت بدخان البخور المحترق، وضعت والدتي القهوة العربية على النار الهادئة وشرحت للصبي كيف يسكبها في الدلة الذهبية الملئى بالهيل الطازج المطحون منذ دقائق، واختلطت الروائح.

 رن جرس الباب وساد الهدوء فجأة، ومرت والدتي بنظرات سريعة تتأكد من أن كل شئ على ما يرام، وربتت على شعري تتأكد من أن شعري منظم وممشط، فقد انشغلت عني طوال النهار بالإعداد لهذه الدعوة، وقد بدأن صديقاتها بالتوافد، غرفة الاستقبال تمتلئ بضحكاتهن وقفشاتهن ومداعبتهن لبعضهن.

كنت أبغض فترة الإعداد للضيوف حيث  يسود البيت جوٌ من العنف والتوتر، كنت أشعر أن والدتي تتمنى قبل وصولهن أن تربطني في كرسي ريثما يكتمل حضور الضيوف، ثم تُطلقني من عقالي بعد أن يدخلنْ ويرينْ البيت مرتباً ونظيفاً. فأنطلق ومهما اقترفت أثناء تواجدهن فلا يوبخني أحد. رن جرس الباب من جديد وكانت صديقة والدتي المقربة ومعها ابنتها التي تعودتُ على اللعب معها، ارتسمت ابتسامةٌ واسعةٌ على محياي، وأخذتُ صديقتي من يدها وانطلقنا، كنا أشبه بالقطط التي حُبِست في قفص ثم فُتِح باب القفص وأُطلقَت، فأخذت تجري في كافة الاتجاهات بلا هدف إلا إخراج الطاقة المحبوسة بداخلها وبلا رقيب. هذا بالضبط كان حالنا في تلك الليلة منذ أربعين عاما.

كانت غرفة الضيوف قد امتلأت بالسيدات، ورائحة القهوة العربية قد طغت على المكان مختلطةً برائحة السجاير وبقايا البخور العالق في الجو، قررنا أنا وصديقتي أن نلعب الاستغماية، كان الدور عليَّ وكنتُ قد اختبأتُ خلف مقعد في مدخل البيت، واكتشفت صديقتي مكاني فخرجت أركض بسرعة مستهدفة “العُزِّيزَة” والتي كنا قد اتفقنا مسبقاً أن تكون هي غرفة المطبخ، كنت أجري بجنون، والخادم اليمني يخرج من باب المطبخ حاملاً دلة القهوة العربية الممتلئة والتي قد ارتفع دخانها بسبب الحرارة العالية، رأسي الصغير ارتطم بقوة في بطن الخادم فسقطت دلة القهوة من يده في حركة تلقائية على كتفي اليمنى، صرختُ وصرخ هو كذلك. صرختُ ألماً وصرخَ هوَ فزعاً، وجدته يهرع لمنشفة لكي ينظف بها القهوة التي انسكبت على السجاد الأبيض اللون، وأنا أبكي بكل قوة، وألمٌ شديدٌ يجتاحُ جسدي كله.

كانت والدتي تقف على رأسي وصديقاتها معها، لا أعلم ما الذي دار إلا أن إحدى صديقاتها كانت تقص الفستان من على ذراعي، وتعري منطقة الصدر والذراع، وقد تحول لون جلدي إلى الأحمر القاني، وزال الجلد من بعض الأماكن، وامتلأ كتفي مباشرة بفقاعات مائية، وتورمات وتقرحات.

لم تمر دقائق أخرى إلا وأنا محمولة في سيارة والدي ملفوفة بكمادات الثلج منقولة إلى المستشفى ورائحة القهوة العربية تملأ السيارة. كان والداي معي كلاهما، استوعبتُ أن الوضع خطير وإلا ما تركت والدتي البيت مليئا بالضيوف وهرعت بي للمستشفى مع والدي. كنت أشعر بأن ناراً تأكل كتفي وذراعي ولا تتوقف. وأبكي أريد أن أُزيل لفائف الثلج والماء البارد الذي غُطِيتُ به، فتزداد والدتي بالضغط وتقبلني بحنان بالغ وتطلب مني أن أدع الثلج ولا أمسكه.

كان الألم شديدا والطبيب الشامي اللهجة،  يحاورني ليشغلني، ويظهر الألم على قسمات وجهه وهو يعالجني في غرفة الطوارئ التي اختلطت فيها رائحة القهوة العربية كذلك برائحة المطهرات والأدوية. رأيت فستاني الجميل ممزقاً فزاد تألمي.

تلك الليلة نمت مع والدتي على سريرين منفصلين في غرفة بيضاء صغيرة في تلك المستشفى العتيق، كانت رائحة القهوة العربية مازالت تملأ الغرفة وقد اختلطت بروائح أخرى متعددة منها رائحة جلدٍ محروق.

مرت فترةٌ طويلة وأنا أُعالج، ووالدتي حريصة أن تعمل ما في وسعها حتى لا يُترك جسدي مشوهاً. وبالفعل قد كان، خفت آلامي، طاب جسدي، وبقيت نَدْبة صغيرة في حجْم الأصبع على أعلى الكتف الأيمن ذكرى تَجربةٍ مؤلمة. لكن علاقتي مع القهوة العربية انتهت فلا أشربها ولا أذوقها ولا أُعِدُها ولا أُقدِمها لضيوفي، أستعيضُ بتقديم القهوة الأمريكية والفرنسية والإيطالية والتركية والسورية والكينية أو قهوة پالي، وأملك أكثر من جهاز لصنع القهوة إلا القهوة العربية فلا دلة لها عندي، يبدو أني قررت الانتقام منها بأسلوبي الخاص، فحرمتُها عشرتي.

واليوم يوم زواج ابنتي، ورائحة القهوة العربية مختلطة برائحة البخور الكمبودي الأصلي تملآن أنفي وجوارحي، أرتجفُ خوفاً والصبايا يتراقصن بالدلال الذهبية بين أيديهن، وصوت المغنية العريقة “سميرة توفيق” يملأ الآذان:

يلا تصبوا هالقهوة وزيدوها هيل
واسقوها للنشامى ع ظهور الخيل
و النشامى نلاقيها و نحيها
ويلك يلي تعاديها يا ويلك ويل

أنا أعادي القهوة العربية يا سميرة، بل عاديتُها عمراً طويلا، وخفتُ منها، كما تعلمتُ منها كذلك أن أكون في قمة الحذر أثناء تربية أبنائي وبناتي. طوال سنوات طفولتهم لم أكن أشرب ساخناً إلا في حال نومهم أو عدم وجودهم، ولم أكن أدع طفلاً يستوطن المطبخ إلا على كرسيٍّ مقيداً فوقه، فقد كان ذلك هاجساً عندي. وما فضلتُ ضيفاً على أبنائي مهما حدث، ولا تكلفتُ لزائرٍ مقابل توتر وقلق أهل بيتي وخاصة صغاري، فلعلها تلك هي الحكم التي تكمن وراء تعرضي لتلك الحادثة.

واليوم أعلم علم اليقين أن ابنتي تُزف أمام عيني وأنها ليلتي وليلتها، فرحتي بها وبعريسها وهي تمسك يده بلا حدود، سأصالح الكون من أجلك يا صغيرتي، سأصالح القهوة العربية وهيلها وزعفرانها وقرنفلها، لن أدع الخوف يسيطر علي في ليلة فرح، لن أدع الغضب يشتعل في صدري، وسأستأجر للحب والسعادة سكناً في وجداني هذه الليلة وكل ليلة.

سأشرب القهوة العربية من الدلال الذهبية وسأرقص بعد ذلك رقصاً شرقياً لائقاً بفرحتنا، وسأغني مع سميرة وأهتز طرباً وفرحاً، فاليوم عيد.

Why My Coffee is Green

Hail pounded
in mortar & pestle,
pale powdered beans
tempered
with the barest heat.

I sip this brew
because dates marry
the taste of cardamom
& life is as simple
as this taste, this place.

Mornings were bitter
cold & the drive to school
was glassed in to keep out
the smell of sewage.

Men near the school gates
in an open air café
drank qahwa & smoked shisha,
exhaling clouds of
smoke white as their thaubs.

Wind off our Red Sea
shoreline stung us
with salt, nights
at the beach house
in winter meant coffee
in fenajeen with ginger
grated in. Zenjibeel

I said, tasting the word,
the spice travelling
through my body.