… and with abandon she throws back her head to scream. Rolling my neck side to side, the crack that I long to hear evades me, so I grimly stare down at the china tea set, my brows furrowing at the obscene delicateness of lilies and gay peach streaks embracing the handles of each cup. Like a blooming flower, I cradle the cup in the palm of my hand grinning at the prospect of crushing it only to have a clumsy relative ram into my back. At the span of a half-winded gasp, before the ancient porcelain made contact with the insanely bright kitchen floor; spectators, idle by-standers, outsiders, eye-witnesses with their almost popping eyes, heads line at the frame of the kitchen door, dozen faces press against the window sink, shameless shamshareen create a tight circle to watch the fall of mamas precious china, and the cup sings an almost perfect pitch, pieces scattered artfully. I don’t bother to watch the cups descent but instead observe the range of distress flitting through each viewers face.
Right on cue the ferocious beast emerges, eyes narrowed, by now the crime scene deserted, leaving I, the china assassin left to deal with the rage of a housewife. I stare back with a creeping sheepish grin, widening my eyes hoping my batting lashes would fan and cool the angry beast. I can see smoke rings snaking through her nose and ears, red swimming dangerously in her eyes, acid filling her cheeks, yet she does nothing, suddenly turning away to fix her always slipping toub, while barking out orders for the shai to be served with haste. Tonight is her daughter’s engagement and nothing, not even a shattered tacky porcelain would bring her to take on the deed of scraping with her youngest daughter. And I know, that petite woman with the silent gaze that leisurely kills, would salt away this moment and summon it three to four months from now. The wrath of a housewife I have stirred, and am not sure I’d like to poke the ferocious beast into a full frenzy.
Am silently undressed and measured, my skin bearing char marks from the bride-hunting mothers. Drowning them with flattery, each scrutinizes while I walk with an extended tray, muttering silently while sipping; a bit tall, a bit slim, a bit dark, a bit rowdy, a bit sweet, a bit pretty, a bit enough to make my little boy happy. And before I could reach the comfort of privacy to massage out the almost frozen smile, I get caught and pulled to unnervingly sit amongst ogling women, smothering me with 3obalik, dismissively cackling at my ‘not after college’, sloppy kisses that get more wet, wiggling eyebrows and a shady pinch. Then the torrent of questions cleverly cloaked as statements begin; you are in University… mashAllah. Third year student… mashAllah. You’re my daughter’s age… mashAllah. Planning on staying in the states… mashAllah. You’re not engaged…. mashAllah. You made this shai? MashAllah. Sweety do you mind calling my son from outside.
The night continues in its monotone haze. I grow grimmer with each serving of shai, mixing up names and resorting to just repeating whatever a woman says. Then I reason with myself, if after playing to my hearts content the length of gold covered arms as a xylophone, use their toubs as the longest and most colorful hammock; would it be so ghastly to answer back to one of these ladies ‘well actually *7altu you have guessed right, due to me being from America and practically raised there, I am not only promiscuous but in fact a lesbian, and my partner, bless her soul, Jewish, a secular mind you. Do not look so alarmed, of course you’ve been invited to the union ceremony.’ That brings an earnest smile to my face, foolish woman brightens thinking I’d actually heard what she’d said, and I only nod not knowing or caring what I’d affirmed to.
Back in the kitchen I’d hope to find a moment to recover myself, inspect the bruises and give my cheeks a hard scrub yet find a group of younger cousins, all in that raging-hormonal stage, practically breaking their necks trying to get a glimpse of those gawky, lanky looking boys II men. Before I could retrace my steps, am assailed with giggles and unnecessary shaking, breathless remarks of finally finding the one, am so in love, wont you please beck him to me? And I blanch, frantically searching through my twenty odd years of pre-teen memories, had I been that shallow? Sighing with relief I remember my rainbow banded braces, stiff braids and thick framed glasses that covered more than half my face, but then look down with pity at these girls that I’d carried at my hip, put them to sleep with Ali Baba and the forty thieves, now looking, talking and acting older, even than me. I doubt these kids know anything of Bob but his Legends CD, but these lyrics come unbidden through the racket ‘No chains around my feet, but I’m not free, I know I am bound here in captivity, I said, what do you cry for me now, o-oh! Concrete jungle, ah, won’t you let me be?’ They ask if am listening and I answer yes, but am lying.
I commend myself on a job well done, guffawing at how cleverly I’d sneaked and became one with the shadows, slid through cracks and finally found muted silence in this mini storage room. I don’t mind the sputtering light bulb or eerie cobwebs, any other time I would’ve been spooked, but desperate means call for desperate measures. Even before I could lean my forehead against the wall, am reminded that life has a twisted sense of humor. In comes crashing a short body into mine, and am so close to take her hijab and choke her to death, but I know the voice and growl a greeting. She spins with flushed cheeks, at first I think something is amiss but then recognize that crazy glint in her eye. I take a step closer in the confined space, the light bulb swinging dangerously above our heads, and before I could cautiously ask what she’d gone and done now, she lifts her shirt and winks.
It’s close to midnight and am beginning to think I’ve made a mistake. Catching the gaze of my sitting companion, I seriously take into consideration there is no reason to vocalize my intent, just jump out of the speeding racksha. As if capturing a whiff of my thoughts, she snuggles closer and squeezes my arm. Lifting up my face I see darting eyes of the driver, who instead of focusing on the road doesn’t budge his stare from the rear-view mirror, and while I should feel flattered I only feel self-conscious, automatically reaching to cover myself to find am not only scarfless but noiselessly getting raped by his eyes. I think to hell with it, as soon as the racksha stops I’ll pull my friends hijab over her eyes, give her a shove, maybe even a kick and just sprint.
We stop. My friend and the driver agree that he should wait for we wouldn’t take too long. She sets a brisk pace while I drag my feet till she huffs in exasperation and grabs my hand, yanking me grudgingly into the fluorescent lighted pharmacy. The lady at the register is more than happy to chat with my friend, clearly a regular customer. While they buzz away with silly chatter, my mind wanders. What was it that finally made my brain click and drive to agree on this midnight escapade, even after I’d berated and chided on her appalling stunt? I squeeze my eyes shut, knocking about in my cluttered brain, but come up with nothing. No smart-a** logic, no string of poetic justification, just a headache, and feel a low rumble of anxiety beneath my skull, but instead get yanked again towards a flight of stairs.
The woman we seek languidly stretches her arms and chuckles at something, her gum popping like rapid gun shots. A group of weary looking ladies surround her, some lying on their backs, others leaning on their elbows while cracking and spitting tasaaly, clearly laughing over some of their customers of the day at the hair salon. Only one sweeps the floor from hair, noticing our entrance. She calls over her shoulder to the gum popping woman, thrusting her chin towards us. Lowering her feet to wear neon bright shishib, she pops her gum to the snap of her heels. Stopping before me boredom settles her face, a sign that she’d done this too many times and doesn’t ask too kindly for me to lift up my shirt. My friend gives my arm a reassuring squeeze and I hesitantly comply. Grabbing at a pen that had been shoved into her messy bun, she deftly makes a mark to my skin, not bothering to ask whether I liked the positioning or not. Finally she is presented with an open sleek black case, a shiny stapler looking thing resting in the middle. I have two people now holding me on each side, patting my shoulders reassuringly, my friend behind me stroking my back. I want to grin at the fact that I feel like a woman heading into labor, but before my imagination could take me by the hand to a safer place, I let out a sharp breath. The gum popping woman hadn’t even bothered to count 1 2 3.
I wear a dirty secret. I don’t know why, but I cover my belly with my arms. It doesn’t help that the racksha driver keeps looking at me through the rear-view mirror. My dirty secret must be glowing through my shirt. I’d like to think I’d done this against my will; dirty outlaws forced me at gunpoint, made me rush out of my sisters engagement party at a time when no daughter of a well respected family would head out to get her belly button pierced. Scowling I think could it be the fate of my belly button would bring the foundation of my family to shambles of dishonor and disgrace? Would my mother wail and cry, moaning why God did I deserve such a wicked child? Could it be that insulting to adorn my belly button with a fiendish crystal blue butterfly ring? I raise my eyebrow at that, and feel a grin playing at my lips, surely my future husband wont object. I focus instead on the unknown stickiness covering the racksha seat, inhale the array of dust, garbage, sweat, decay, my eyes concentrate on nothing but pick up random objects, stack of trash, a panting dog, a well lit gated mansion, blokes standing around smoking, bit by bit forgetting the sting of my belly ring.
We sit on an unstable slab of cement of a house that is still being built after ten years. With my big toe I kick at a melted bottle cap. There is still no clear answer as to why I’d gone and done it. I picture my American friends explaining that it was the suppressed Muslim woman in me, roaring for freedom, representation and some other ridiculous crap. Then I see my parents and siblings, blaming themselves for letting their daughter grow too wild, now a lost addict of lord knows what drugs and a carrier of STD’s. And then I see myself as I am, moping and questioning, letting the beauty of this moment pass me. My friend asks in a muffled tone if I regretted my decision. I look down at her guilty expression, hug her to my side and before laying a kiss to her temple thank her. Springing up, I reach out with my arms to the heavens, feel a cool breeze against my revealed midsection that now sparkles and glistens, and with abandon bear it for all to see. I let my soul scream.