Today is International Women’s Day. There are lots of things I would like to say on this day but I can’t sum it all up in one post, so instead I’ll just quote a scene from my book The Lost I (Chapter 6) :
When dark had fallen and the bombs were falling closer, Nayla had placed some cushions and blankets on the floor so that Hayat could sit more comfortably. She had then lit a candle and sat next to her. Hayat was not shaking now like before. But she had this blank, helpless look in her eyes. Under different circumstances she would be much happier expecting her first child, Nayla thought. She couldn’t help but wonder if Hayat would be able to give birth to a normal, healthy child when she herself had turned into a bundle of wrecked nerves most of the time. Oh, how she wanted Samer home safe and alive! She wanted to be in his arms once more. Oh, how she wished they were in a different country! She knew that once they were given the chance to live outside, their life would be different. But right now, here, everything around them was pulling them apart. The war was wearing, tiring them out. Life is so fragile, she thought, and looked at Hayat again. She was lying down curled to one side, head resting on her hands. Her eyes were open; they carried the same blank expression.
“Hayat, can you hear me?” she faltered in an almost inaudible voice.
“Do you think Elie will come home alive?” Hayat asked, in despair.
“Let’s pray that they will,” she tried hard to hide the despair that was so obvious in her voice.
Hayat rose and knelt on the cushions. Then for the first time she looked at her friend and touching her on the shoulder, she said, “I’m sorry, Nayla. I’ve been so selfish. I’m so sorry.”
The tears that had gathered in her throat spurted out from her eyes and her nose and Nayla started sobbing. After some time she stopped and wiping her eyes with the back of her hand she said, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to.”
“It’s all right, Nayla. It’s good to let go sometimes. You know what upsets me the most? It’s not the bombs; it’s just that Elie had gone without even speaking with me. You know when you had gone to Chtoura, I begged him to take us to the East to see my parents and his. You were gone and there was nothing to do. He refused, saying it was too risky for me. He was afraid that the fighting would start between East and West and we would be caught up in the middle. Look at him now. Where the hell is he? What papers could be that important for him to cross to the other side at a time like this, leaving me all alone? How could he do this to me?”
“Shh, Hayat. It’s okay. I’m sure they had a good reason. Don’t get so upset, you will only harm yourself,” she said trying hard to comfort her friend.
“What if I lose the baby? What would I do then? I can’t help it. I’m so damn scared about the whole thing. Sometimes, I don’t think I shall be able to make it,” she said, her chest heaving from her sobs.
“Nothing is going to happen, you’ll see.” Then trying to sound cheerful she asked, “Did you go shopping with Maha for the baby?”
“Oh yes. I got these tiny little dresses. They’re so cute. Here let me show them to you.” Hayat stood up and wiping her eyes with the back of her hands she went to the closet. “Elie wants a boy, you know. He says boys are free to do as they please in our society; but I wish for a girl. I can dress her up like a doll and she’ll be my princess.” She came back with a parcel. The two friends admired the clothes, all of different colors and styles, so very tiny and so beautiful. Then folding each piece very carefully, Hayat took them back to the closet.
“I’m starving. How about you?” she asked as she stood up and walked towards the refrigerator. She got some Arabic bread and some cheese from the fridge and came and placed them on the table. Then, lighting another candle, she came and sat on the chair. Nayla followed her. They spread the cheese on the bread and nibbled on their sandwiches in the semi darkness, talking now and then about everything but their husbands’ whereabouts. Sometimes the sound of a bomb would make them stop and listen to it explode, dreading the inevitable. By now the danger for them had passed. Soon dawn would break and everything would be much more bearable with the rising of the sun, even the fear for their husbands’ lives, Nayla thought.
I would like to dedicate this piece to my sister in law who went through pretty much the same thing, in another time in history, even after the book was published, and gave birth to a lovely little girl, my niece, the day the Israeli bombing of Lebanon stopped and ceasefire was announced in July 2006.
Will things ever change for women in the Middle East?