The heat is unbearable. The power has been down for hours. The air is stale and smells foul. Indolence seems to be contagious in this worn-out city.
“What are we having for lunch?” my brother asks, sticking his head out into the kitchen, which has turned into a Turkish bath ever since he became the city’s most eligible bachelor. I don’t reply; I just go check the furnace. My head is throbbing and every activity I undertake demands extra effort. I am stressed out. I have had the feeling of running late since I have woken up this morning.
My hand is shaking. I grab a match and try to light the stove with it. I fail dismally. I try again, once more, to no avail. I think that perhaps I can manage without resorting to actual cooking, so I go take a look at the pantry. Unfortunately, we have nothing that can be eaten raw. My brother’s raised voice is suddenly behind me:
“Lunch still not ready? You are fricking useless!”
“There’s no gas!”
“Don’t talk rubbish! I told you what it costs to replace the stove. Thousands of rials!”
“Fine! And what am I supposed to do then?”
“I don’t know, cook with wood! Use your brain for a change!”
Use wood, he says! Does he want us to return to living in caves? My forehead is soaked in sweat and I am starting to feel dizzy. I can’t wait to get out of this nightmarish shit hole. My brother mutters while leaving the kitchen:
“What a stupid cunt!”
I bridle at his contempt, which I find even harder to endure than the midday heat, but he never stays to reap what he has sown and I know that, in the afternoon, he’ll feel bad for what he has said to me anyway, and he’ll try to be kinder from then on. It’s the same every day!
Since our mother died two years ago, I have been the person in charge of the house, but now I am beginning to doubt that I will be able to adhere to the unwritten rules under which I am the only one to be burdened with the responsibility of the household come what may. I return from university to first cook and then clean. I have to take care of my siblings and make sure that my father and brother enjoy what I put on the table each day. It’s kind of pointless since they never actually get around to tasting what they shovel down their throats. I probably shouldn’t give a damn about whether my cooking is to their liking. After all, they don’t seem to acknowledge the effort that goes into it.
I carry out the household chores and ignore their hurtful comments. Afterwards, I take a cold shower to try and wash myself clean from all the filth that I have been exposed to during the whole day. I am done for the day and am now free to do as I please! I grab my cell phone, which I am not allowed to use until I have finished, and the nightstand book I started early this week, and put them in my bag. Then, I head toward the only spot in the entire world where I feel I belong: the Kuud an-Namar beach, where the sky meets the sea and the clean air comforts us for the frequent power outages. Here, the air doesn’t get trapped and I can forgive this city for the harsh reality it serves us. Tears roll down my cheeks with every wave the mighty sea sends us to prove to us that it’ll stick around no matter what. I gaze at the high mountains that rise beyond the sea and wish I could swim to them.
I take the book I am reading out of the bag and play some music on my cell phone, which is about to run out of juice. Then, I get lost in thoughts, trapped in a different world. The book revolves around a Greek island, around the simplicity and humbleness of its people, around their spontaneity and madness, which makes me wonder how it’s possible that Greece belongs to Europe! Is the protagonist really describing Greece? Not Aden? As I read, voraciously, my chest begins puffing out with indignation. Is the protagonist of the book out of her mind? How could she possibly want to leave her life in America behind in order to return to the Greek island she hails from? How can anyone want to return to a place where one was leading such a miserable life? The story is making my blood boil. I notice my breathing has gotten shallow, and the racing thump of my heart is audible. Then, just before dying completely, my phone starts playing, “I can calm down now, there are no two suns in sight”. As if by magic, my body starts to loosen up.
The Author, Kawthar Alshureify: