She swept the streets with the tail of her coat as she wended her way across the city. While trying to haul herself from the noxious hole she had fallen into the day she was born, she had unwittingly wound up dragging a token of her misery along.
The thought of ending her life had crossed her mind more than once. At nights, she beseeched God to guard her from all the evil surrounding her, and more specifically, from her flatmate Ruhiya. She was a weird woman who spent a third of her nights mumbling gibberish while staring at the stars. Any sensible God-fearing person would have been wary of her behavior. The townswomen, however, seemed to trust her and often turned to her for help. As payment, she demanded a jar of corn, a fist of wheat—a rare commodity around these parts—, or a few cubic feet of gas for lighting. Ruhiya had moved out of her old house because her entire family had died there from an obscure disease, which her current flatmate wouldn’t have been surprised to discover they had contracted from their exposure to mold and dirt, given the appalling state in which the house could be found. She didn’t discard the possibility of the house being enchanted, given that all male offspring that had been born inside that house had died soon afterwards.
The women didn’t talk to each other much. As a matter of fact, our protagonist was scared of finding herself face to face with her flatmate. Besides, she could do without the phony exchange of pleasantries in the corridor. She had enough on her plate to be expending effort on getting to know her. She had to take care of her small children. Their father had developed an illness of unknown origin, and had only recently passed away after a prolonged suffering.
In that particular town, people kicking the bucket for inexplicable reasons was not the rare occurrence it should probably be. The townspeople barely ever had enough to eat, let alone money for a doctor, and all ran barefoot to boot. Their only access to anything that resembled medical care was provided by the town’s hairdresser, whose expert knowledge proper to the matter left a lot to be desired. In essence, people there were left to their own devices. Those who got sick knew all they could do was turn their eyes skyward and hope for a miracle. The problem was that the majority of the people in this town thought that their appeals for help from a Higher Power would be rendered nugatory and had thus, in their infinite wisdom, never bothered to learn how to pray properly. However, their disbelief had been duly noted and God let them lie in the beds they had made for themselves.
The one thing, though, which made this town no different from all the other towns under the sun was the way its women were treated, that is, like crap. Our protagonist didn’t inherit anything from her husband and had to sell her most precious valuables to bury her father in law, whose body was delivered to her after he died in prison. His friends owed him money, and at first, they seemed inclined to do the honorable thing and cover some of the costs of his funeral, but at the last moment, seeing that she was utterly powerless against them, they failed to honor their word.
That misfortune set off a chain of events that ultimately led to her being thrown out of her apartment because of her inability to pay the rent. First, she turned to her mother for help, but her conceited brother forbade her own mother from allowing her to stay at the house. Then she went to her late husband’s brother, who likewise refused to take her in. Everything had gone down so fast…Before she could realize to what extent woe—probably brought about by an evil spell—had betided her, her son was coming to pick her up to take her somewhere where they could start anew. She put on her coat, which she had just transferred from the tub to the clothesline in the basket she used to move her laundry around. Prior to that, she had spent a few minutes looking vacantly at the basket, in awe at its sturdiness, which had suddenly revealed itself to her. She had woven it from palm fronds years ago. Its original green color had turned black over time, but apart from that, it had survived the ravages of time relatively unscathed. Her coat was still wet, but she didn’t mind; it lent weight to her stumbling gait. She needed it to feel present. She couldn’t do anything to avoid being used like toilet paper, but that coat gave her a grotesque appearance that at the very least allowed her to become visible. By showing them what they had turned her into, she hoped to be able to make them get a fix on what they had had to become in the process.
Suddenly, she stopped in her tracks. Her son tried to convince her that they had to keep moving, but all his efforts came to nothing. She had become a living statue. Seeing that he didn’t have much of a choice, he took her back to the flat she had shared with Ruhiya. When she learnt from him what had happened, she offered to cover her rent, so that she could stay there. From that day on, Ruhiya took it upon herself to become her nurse and tend to her every need.
The Author, Ahmed Idres Ahmed Arrahim, also known as the Idresi:
Kom Ashkawa – Markaz Tama – Sohag Governorate
Teaching Assistant, Department of Arabic Language, Faculty of Arts, Minya University