Related Strangers

My Story – Middle East Rose

Nexta Press. © Reserved. 2016

Illustrations and copyright by Sage Designs ©

Published in the United States by Nexta Press

Library of Congress

ISBN xxx-x34-9876-0

Printed in the United States

First Edition

Dedicated to my beloved grandmother

I see you through the mirrors, dimly. I hear you through the echoes of time, faintly. I feel you in the quivering of my bones, coldly, even as my trembling heart reaches out to grasp at the straws of your shadows.

You left without a farewell dance and I am shunted into the gaping cold arms of related strangers. Though beloved, they become aliens that would have me conform. The traditions of home and the vestige of cultures embedded, I, abandoned without an embrace.


My name is Aisha and I’m in mourning. To be precise, I have been in mourning for the past 5 years. Deep inconsolable mourning. That’s when the only person that really mattered in my life sailed into the 12th of never and left me for greener pastures. I’m in mourning and I don’t enjoy it but I can’t seem to shake off the ignominy of this feeling nor totally embrace its awesome freedom. I love it and I hate it and it is driving me mad.

This mourning thing, melancholic as it is, has produced some remarkable side effects. For one, it allows me to be tough and unbothered, much like Teflon. I am like… a rock. I have become a rock – detached, withdrawn, often aloof but, more importantly, annoyingly objective. I allow nothing to bother me and nothing gets to me. I can take whatever life throws at me and I can fight for my corner more than once. That’s how I am. That’s what life has turned me into and oh! How I enjoy this! In this state, “I touch no one and no one touches me. I am a rock. I am an island…and rock feels no pain and an island never cries”. Don’t you just love Simon and Garfunkel?

I have become something of a misnomer though. I am quite confused because, in many ways, I miss my former self. My old self. Loving. Caring. Gentle. Kind. Approachable. Less suspicious of people and more trusting. I long to change. I so want to change. I long to regain myself lost amongst the tombstones of time. I want to embrace me again and hear reassuring words whispered in the quietness of the evening breeze or the rousing of the dawn. I want to run with the energy of the wind. I want to burn with the exuberance of my youth and assurances of home. I want to see my hair sway in the wind of the sea and the warmth of the desert. I want to enjoy the quietness of a story time at the feet of my beloved and nap in the arms of unconditional love. I want to share enjoyable gossip without being paranoid about it.

These, I want. These, I do not have. These have eluded me and I can only think of them in daydreams and watch with bemused amazement when I see people in their rest. These, people! I see them. I stare at them. I ignore them. I secretly admire them but, mostly, only to do so from a respectable distance.

What happened? Well, I will tell you. Perhaps, in the tragedy of my tale, you will find solace. Amusement. Bewilderment, even relief. Perhaps, you too will find love and a meaning to your conundrum if you have any. And I suspect you do. You too, in some ways, must be part of a culture or a system that, for all its protestations, stifles you with love and affection and from which you struggle to break free – at least, in part. And, it could be physical as well as mental or both. In my case, it is more mental than physical and I always have that look in my eyes of the caged animal whose potential only needs to be imagined to be appreciated.

So, come. Come with me on a journey. A slow, undulating gallivant through life. Across the minefield of emotions and growing up, the changing scenes of values, the suffocation of culture and the liberating effect of self-discovery. Come with me and experience the surging madness of growing up, the startling restrictions of adulthood and the empowerment of isolation. Bear witness to the confrontation with the mirror and the preserving sanctification of a mind that is, finally, begrudgingly, awake.

Maybe, just maybe, you will be entertained. Perhaps, you will learn a thing or two. Maybe, you will laugh even as I do through misty eyes or cry through the clenched teeth of stilled reluctant laughter. Who knows? Have you ever known it? Laughing through your tears? That’s not so bad. How about crying through your laughter? That can be very confusing. But…maybe, you won’t be moved. This is probably just my own madness rearing its head up and not for the first time either It may just be me thinking that I have discovered the pot of gold at the tail of the rainbow. But…it doesn’t matter anyway. Just read with an open mind and then, see if you can rearrange your prejudices if you have them. Or simply, stare at the pages and…let your imagination create your own story.

I am twenty-nine years of age and sometimes, I think I am living in the wrong time or arrived too early or too late in history. I’m not quite sure.

 I belong to and live in a society where traditions are revered and cultural affectations are almost impossible to break free or change. To be sure, I embrace my culture and deeply respect it. It is all I have and it is what has preserved our people to this day through the ages of conflict and human revolution. It is, nonetheless, just a culture. Like everything else, it is a construct and subject to change albeit very slowly. Even at that, I vote that much of it be changed and fast. I can’t wait. The trouble with my culture is that it is, largely, made, re-enforced and safeguarded by men and women with odd perspectives. To be fair, most of them mean well and only want to be sure that our way of life is preserved as well as providing us with stability.

But…but…much of it…stinks and should be discarded even as some of it is embraced. Much of it is retarded and in their enforcement, deprive us of some basic freedom. These custodians, for the most part, refuse to look forward. They are guarded by an injurious loyalty to the past and a deep suspicion of the future and the youth in particular. This is particularly galling in a changing world. This is also quite hard when your stage is the globe and the medium of the internet overshadows everything – cajoling, seducing, demanding that you move forward, adapt. Change. More importantly though, is the fact that times have changed – whether we like it or not. The genie cannot be put back in the bottle. Would he even want to…even if the new world in which he finds himself scares him witless?  a world with which he is at sixes and sevens. The customs that eventually become the laws of the land are slow to change and even slower to reason with.

This is not a story of teenage reckless abandonment or growing older disgracefully. It is not a soppy story of love and infatuation nor is it mushy with romantic, albeit adorable, nonsense. It is not even a story of trying to find myself at all. I never lost myself. I never knew myself well enough to lose me. It is a story of my coming of age. It is a story of my collision with the process of growth and the not so subtle battle marks I bear as a result. It is my story – a true story.

It is, also, the story of my grandmother, my confidant, my rock, my mentor and my coach. The woman who raised me and taught me all that is good and virtuous. I promise you, I know a lot of bad things but…those, I learned all by myself. My grandmother had nothing to do with them and would be mortified if she actually knew how much bad things I know. But…that’s by the way.

The woman whose milk of human love strengthened my soul and whose warm heart nurtured this frightened little girl was no mere mortal as far I am concerned. Her fingers molded the clay of my character and supplied my needs. Her teachings placed me on higher ground. Her words, spoken sternly or in jest, added much needed agility to my steps and quickened my spirits without fail. My song is love unknown. My song is for and to her.

Chapter one:

Let me introduce you to the awesome women who raised me and inspired me to be what I am today. I don’t claim to do them justice either by my life or by my choices. However, I claim them for me and I love them with every sinew in my body. I stand in their shadows and embrace their spirit. If I have travelled further, it is by walking in their shoes, as unworthy as I am.

Fatima! My grandmother was a formidable woman! The great matriarch was the one that took care of her 3 brothers, (Salem, Abdul-Aziz and Faris). She was a strong woman with an intermediate level of education. She was stoic, single-minded and proud. Fatima never asked for help from anyone. She had an unwavering belief in herself and all her decisions were made with no hints of regrets.

She was a beautiful woman too. Don’t just take my word for it though. I tell you, she started getting wedding proposals right from her childhood. Crazy, right? My thoughts exactly! I mean, who would want to propose to a child? Well, not a child exactly but…remember that claptrap about my culture? It so happens that my people arrange marriages from childhood so…it’s not so strange after all. And guess what, ours is not the only culture that does that. Many others across the world do the same. I’m not sure that makes it okay but…it is what it is.

Before you misunderstand, please, know that this doesn’t mean that the children (bride and groom) get married and set off into the twilight. Good grief, NO!  It simply means that if both families agree to this, they are joined together, mentally and in other ways too, in raising the engaged children according to this arrangement. It is the coming together of two families in more ways than one. It has tremendous benefits. Like all things though, it also has some foreseeable drawbacks. I won’t go into those. You can figure them out yourself, right?  The good and the bad. One bad sticks out though. What if you don’t like each other as you get older? Or, in the case of boys, they want to play outdoor for a while…you know…see what “they’ve been missing?” Well, for the most part, many of us just get on with it. After all, the groom might turn out to be quite handsome and rich and from a well-known family too. What more can a girl want, huh? Yea, right! But, what if he is all that and she still doesn’t want him? What if he doesn’t want her? What if there are ambiguities about…you know…feelings etc.?

Anyway, that’s where things get interesting or not so interesting if you must bow to culture. I remember a poem I read once by a friend of mine. It was about conforming and how your loved ones can become strangers. Related strangers. It’s odd really, that you can quickly become alienated from your people just because you happen to disagree with them or they disagree with your choice. Mostly, it’s not a big deal but, if this happens often enough, hmm…the drip-drip effect soon mounts and as you get older, well, you tend to start avoiding them like a plague.

Back to my gran. Well, her family wasn’t too amused by the idea. They argued that she was too young for all that marriage nonsense. Good for them! My grandmother needed to enjoy her days of childhood irresponsibility. Don’t forget, she wasn’t born a grandmother. I mean, she was just a girl!

In time though, her father and uncle decided to marry her off to her cousin, Sulaiman, who, at that time, kept a small shop with his father. They were into the import/export business of goods like dates, wood etc.

When my grandmother turned 18, family, tradition and culture decreed, as is usual, that it was time for her to adjust her status from single to that of married woman. I doubt she was actually ready but, what could she do? At that age, she was probably just waiting to conform like all other girls. What was a girl to do in the face of the decree of the fathers? She was beautiful. She was a young woman on the cusp of life. She had just discovered life as an adult. She was spoken for. My grandmother, at the tender age of 18, was taken. Mixed emotions but…onwards and upwards!

In the mid-1930s, women and housewives went to live with their husbands and were primarily tasked with household chores such as cleaning the house, kitchen, cooking, tailoring, taking care of their children and going to the sea for laundry. Yes! They went to the sea to launder their dirty linens and clothes. Well, what did you think? This was the 1930s you know. No pipe borne water in the house, no family mansions and, certainly, no laundry rooms in the homes. So, off to the sea we all went. Actually, it was also a kind of recreation. After all, you could spend some considerable amount of time doing laundry work at the Arabian Gulf. It was a kind of gathering for the chattering mothers and a chance to get away from home anyway. Imagine that today! The poor Arabian Gulf. Just think about it. Noisy women with their young children in tow, beating, thrashing and thumping their fists down on the clothes spread out on the benches. The ugly brown dirt, soaked deep with suds and soap, sliming its way into the sea and meandering along the banks till it got mixed with the waves. In its wake was the muddy brown discolor of dirt and dye. With carefree expressions, the mothers would chatter endlessly to each other and return to their chores. Quite a sight it must have been. The dust of the time, coupled with limited infrastructure, must have made the period a very interesting one.

Well, it so happened that almost all the rich families at that time had domestic helpers that attended to the household tasks. My grandmother, although raised in a rich family, was having none of it. She refused to sign her domestic tasks to anyone else. A proud stick-in-the-mud sort of woman, she took pride in laundering her own dirty garb. Good for her, I say! She always got her way anyway.

After few months of marriage, she got her one and only baby boy, Dawood, my father. He was the first grandson of the family in a long time and was given the royal treatment as a result.

Three years later, my grandmother had had enough of the married life. She decided to end it all and return to her father’s house. This was a shock to everyone. It was also quite rare for a woman to do this and she was the talk of the town for a while. However, my grandmother was renowned for being headstrong and single minded. No one knew why she chose to fly in the face of tradition as she did. No one had the right to question her though and she did as she pleased. She never confided her reasons in anyone. Except between her and my grandfather, her reasons remain a secret to all. My grandfather, for his part, was depressed. He just lost the love of his life and was inconsolable. Yet, he elected to make no fuss but instead, give her the room he thought she craved in the hope that she would eventually see sense and return to him. He was quite prepared to welcome her back with open arms. You might think that he is a poor man, but I know he did something unforgettable that she kept it as a secret and blow with the wind. In this regard, he was certainly deluded. It made no difference. Her decision was final. No one challenged it and she let no one, either. There was no going back. It was strange. There were no signs of marriage trouble or unhappiness. It was just one of those things. So much for a patriarchal culture. She defied it all and…won.

She took her baby, my father, home to her parents with her. Her brothers and father took very good care of my father, the new baby arrival. My grandmother was to spend the rest of her life unmarried, having turned down the charms of any love-struck young man that allowed the wind to blow him in the direction of her family home. Most of the marriage proposals were flatly rejected and the suitors sent home with just a tad of embarrassment. She waited. No one knew what for or whom. But, it seemed she was waiting for and wanted a second chance from her ex-husband although she never made mention of it or indicate that she was. Still, that chance came, eventually. When it did, it seemed to re-enforce her decision. She turned it down too, flat. No amount of pleading, begging, pleasing or fine speeches would sway her. So, he gave up and decided to marry and set up home with a different woman. A rich, well-known person who will refuse him, especially at that particular time, since most of the families were suffering from poverty and needed to have some money to live their life, at that time.   One cannot be expected to wait forever. Love never waits either.

During that time, my grandmother’s brother, “Abdulaziz” went into business in India exporting wood and importing pearls. He informed his sister, my grandmother, that he would be moving with his family to India. This was, in some ways, quite exciting news. India was so much like an exotic far away land with lots of mysterious stories. I had heard so much about this country and seen so many of its people, I practically know the place. Or so I thought. There are so many Indians living in our country and we have so much in common. Why, we even used to have an affinity with the Indian Rupee.

In any event, my uncle suggested that my grandmother should join them and to share the house with them in India. The point that they had just lost their father made the suggestion more enticing and persuasive. The point of losing their father was poignant but, in some ways, also made the suggestion repugnant. Well, my grandmother wasn’t about to throw away an opportunity to get out of town for a while. She was actually thrilled by the idea of moving to India to stay because she felt she needed to move away from her family pressure. She was, after all, still, a very young woman who now had a baby to take care of and the rest of her life ahead of her.

They never let up their attempts to persuade her to return to her husband and rebuild their life again. She let them talk and was closed to anything anyone had to say on the subject. Support, however, came from her uncle Fahad, who gave her permission and encouragement to travel and live with her brother in India. My grandmother was ecstatic with this development. She had feared that the patriarchal pressure would be brought to bear on her forcing her to adopt the wishes and orders of the senior male members of the family. However, they simply let her be. How she pulled this off, remains a mystery to us all. I guess no one really wanted to take on the tigress of the family.

Grandma Fatima’s uncle Fahad was married to her Aunt “Aisha”. It might be confusing for you to understand with all these names and family marriages. Let me try to explain. Trust me, it is confusing to me too. All these cousins, uncles, brothers etc. Patience! Virtuous patience!!

Fahad had a brother called Nasser. Fahad and his brother decided to get married at the same time. Their father sought and found a family with two girls about the same age. Off he went to propose to the families with two sisters who were, as it happened, ready to be married off. Fedha and Aisha. It may surprise you to learn that some families consider this part of their custom – to be married to a certain family that had more than one daughters.

Anyway, it turns out that Fahad was a very smart businessman who made a fortune out of nothing together with his brother, Nasser. They were educated in my country but from their childhood, had helped their father with selling grocery at one of the famous local markets of that time. Then one day, he and his brother, Nasser decided to set up a small business importing woods and selling it in the market. Gradually, taking their work seriously, they became one of the famous woods suppliers at that time. Their wives, Aisha and Fedha, before marriage, shunned the limelight and preferred to be left at home to attend to their chores. It was customary for daughters to spend time with their mothers before getting married.

Recall that I mentioned that Fahad was engaged in a business venture with his brother. Thus, following his brother’s death, all his belonging, per custom, fell to his wife and children. This meant that they became business partners with their uncle. So, Abdulaziz and his family, moved to India. Salem, however, insisted on staying with his mother back home. Faris, for his part, was completing his studies in Egypt at the time. He saw no compelling reason to abandon it and elected to continue with it.

Salem had a job working as a part time interpreter at the time with His Highness, The Amir. In his spare time, he also helped his uncle, Fahad, with his business. He was married to the daughter of a well-known merchant. The marriage, however, sadly only lasted for few months. They divorced because his wife was considered a greedy woman and a spend-thrift. She always wanted something but was unwilling and unable to give any in return.

As for Faris, he nursed a great ambition to join the diplomatic unit as an ambassador at one of the embassies. He thus decided to go to Egypt to get a bachelor of political science degree and to pursue his dream.

Meanwhile, my grandmother was now happily living in India with her brother. She was there for 5 years during which time she took good care of her son, my father, and Abdulaziz’s children. Like all good things, this one too, came to an abrupt and lamentable end. There was a fight. A big fight. The sort that families have with no holds barred. The sort that makes WW1 & WW2 seem like child’s play because the battle field is very small and the enemy is your family.

Anyway, the big fight was between Abdulaziz’s wife “Hessa” and my stoic grandmother. When it was all over my grandmother decided to go back home with my father. The fight was a sort of catalyst for her and everyone else. You know that feeling – when you feel you’ve overstayed your welcome and the other side feels the same but no one says anything. You just walk on eggshells until, one day…Bham!! It all explodes and you end up saying things that have been bottled up and, for the most part, things you instantly regret saying but cannot take back. I’m not quite sure what the matter was or what sparked the fight but, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.

You see, Hessa was a very aggressive person. She made all her decisions independently and without consulting anyone – not even her husband. I found out that she ordered her children not to have any communication with my father or even my grandmother. That’s partially what caused the fight. It was one of those silent treatment things you get in some families when communications have broken down. In any event, my grandmother decided, right afterwards, that it was time to move back home and live with her family again.

Fahad, for his part, didn’t have any children. As time went on, he had a strong feeling of his own mortality. Ever the mindful person, he organized a family meeting with his wife and his brother’s children.

At the meeting, he decided to bequeath all his belonging to his wife and his brother’s children after his death. His wishes were carried out by his family. It was also quite a timely decision and action because just a few days later, Fahad passed away. It was very sad but his life was celebrated and we hope he went to a better place. “RIP, UNCLE FAHAD”.

My father Dawood, was, apparently, a big troublemaker as a child and a brilliant, talented young man. He was also known for his great sense of humor and for playing pranks and practical jokes on people. He would do silly things or tease people mercilessly.

My grandmother often regaled me with stories of how dad played pranks on people and always got away with it. He was so innocent looking and so serious that everyone believed his blank expressions when he denied accusations. He just never got blamed for anything. All his classmate were victims of his jovial nature.

Once, at the university, I recall the professor read my name out loud and added “I hope you won’t be like your father, I don’t want to be a victim anymore”. I found it both embarrassing and funny. I chuckled while trying to look very serious. The professor went on: “one day, your father got me punished because he hit the teacher with a robber eraser and then, blamed it on me. I was given corporal punishment even while I was screaming my innocence. He was a mischievous one, your father, but a good friend.”.

As a teenager, my father was sent to a boarding school. He would stay there for the week and then go home for the weekend. He loved the experience because he had much opportunity to tease his friends mercilessly. It also made him feel grown up since he didn’t have his parents to tell him what to do and when. Yes, there were rules and hierarchy but it was all like a club of equals and those were his friends and mates. Besides, he learned much about himself and his mates. Great place for developing special skills.

My father achieved high grades at his high school exams and graduated with honors. He went straight to the university where he graduated with a bachelors’ degree in business administration. Right after that, he joined one of the ministries where he spent most of his life.

When that inevitably happy time arrived for him to choose a bride, he proposed to quite a few women. Each time, he was denied. Evidently, the families had some disquiet about my grandmother’s strong personality. They were terrified, actually. Her reputation preceded her and everyone felt inadequate. Besides, gaining a girl’s hand in marriage is no mean feat and not just a job for the poor suitor. Families…OH! That wonderful gift from the Almighty always has much to do with it. In fact, more than one would prefer but…here we are. You choose your friends…even choose your bride but, family? Well, that’s quite another matter.

Anyway, one day, he met my mother. The world stopped for him. That chance encounter at the grocery store changed everything. Although he had proposed to many girls before, you could say that none of them really stole his heart. This one did and, judging by her reaction, he stole hers too. He ran home, hopping, skipping, jumping. Breathless and sweaty. He couldn’t stop himself as he thundered through into his mother’s presence, puffing and hyperventilating. He knelt, then, prostrated right before her, hugging her feet, he looked up to her face, hot tears streaming down his face and flowing into his quivering lips, eyes blazing with pleading and his heart pounding with nervousness. His eyes were blood-shot with tears and his face grim with anticipation, he opened and shut his mouth, unable to speak. He swallowed hard and wiped his brow with his elbow. Then, his hands drooped by his side, almost in surrender as he twitched with nervousness. His mother bent down to scoop him up. She wondered why this young man would burst into her presence with such energy and subdued but eager exuberance. She looked into his eyes as he rose slowly to his feet with her still holding his face. When he finally got his voice back, he had a few false starts and words tumbled out through stammered flows. “Slow down’, she said, in a most tender voice, concerned at his faltering tone. “What is the matter?” she asked, still holding his rosy youthful face. She ran her fingers through her son’s brow and wiped them with her palm. Then, she caressed his hair and brought her middle finger to rest on his temple. His eyes misted up again as he found his quivering voice.

“Mum’, he began, “I’ve found her…at last…” He added, like an after-thought. His voice was surprisingly calm for one who was visibly nervous and unsure, much calmer than he appeared. “I found the girl I wish to marry. She is beautiful and…oh, mother, please, say yes. Please, let me marry her. She is the one and….” He trailed off, losing his breath and composure again. He started sobbing. His chest heaving up and down with great alacrity. It was like his heart was about to explode.

Then, he hugged her again and held tight, his tears soaking her long flowing elegant robe. She held him too, in that tender mother-child embrace. His heart was beating faster than he had ever felt it beat and she could see that this was a special moment for him. She didn’t hurry him. They just held on. It was a special moment but one filled with tension and anticipation. He sobbed. She understood. There was silence.

Suddenly, he released her and unlocked himself from her embrace. She seemed a little surprised but sensed he was gearing up for something more. He wasn’t done yet. He stepped back a few paces and looked straight at her with his head held up, his left hand by his side and his right hand across his chest. His eyes swept the room in a quick youthful motion and finally rested on her eyes. He fixed his gaze on her as he stepped further back a pace or two.

Then, he dropped to his knees but kept eye contact with her. He then addressed his mother with an unwavering voice. He He  begged, implored and cajoled my grandmother’s acceptance of his dream girl. He spoke with much confidence and composure but with tears, hot and streaming, down his cheekbones, around his lips and dropping down his square jaws to soak his shirt. His monologue was punctuated only by his feeble attempt to catch his breath. All the time, deeply reverential but there was no mistaking the resolve in his voice and etched on his youthful face. He was as nervous as hell but retained his composure and resolve. Tears might have filled his eyes but he spoke through them, never losing sight of his objective

The poor woman regarded him with much affection and wisdom. Across her face was a smiley frown – that halfway between admiration and uncertainty. This was uncharted waters and needed to be handled with much tact and wisdom.

“Who am I to stand in the face of love? Anyone that makes you feel the way you do now deserves my approval. You have my blessings and my respects…provided she will have you”. She sounded like a mother witnessing the coming of age of her child. Unable to stop herself and unprepared for the occasion, she found herself stifling a tear and steeling her nerves as she thought of the coming days and years ahead. A pang of anguish shot across her face and was quickly replaced by bursts of joy. This is progress. This is the way it should be. This hurts a little. A lot, actually. But, it also feels right. My son is getting married and, very soon, Inshallah, I shall be a grandmother. O! the thought of that. Makes me feel old but, progressive too.

With those words to him and in that encased statement, the walls came tumbling down. The unthinkable had happened. His mother had said “YES”. There is God, after all. Wait. There is God.

With a rapid stride that she didn’t anticipate, he got off his knees and before she could brace herself, he was encircling and embracing her with a huge cry of relief and gratitude. He kissed her cheeks and her forehead as he towered over her. Then, he took her arm and twirled her around in a quick waltz. Her robe flowed and her eyes glazed over. “Gosh, I’m getting too old for this” she thought as she regained her composure. “Behave yourself” she scolded him. He didn’t let go at all. He twirled her some more and then caught her as she seemed to lose her balance. He walked her gently to the chaise lounge and made sure she was comfortable. Still giggling and dizzy with excitement.

He let go just as quickly as he had grabbed her hands and with one or two more quick strides, he was out the door, running and screaming with joy.

“You shall have grandchildren…many grandchildren. Then he stopped by the hallway. He spun around on his heels, hands akimbo. “well, maybe, not too many…mother”. With that, he was gone.

She giggled and laugh after him in total bliss. She swayed and cooed. She fell on the sofa feeling energized and drained at the same time. Strange. She had lived in anticipation and dread of this day. In fact, ever since the first proposal came and she flatly rejected it, she had often rehearsed her brief rejection speech of every other proposal that was coming. She was sure that she knew what sort of wife her son needed and he was incapable of making that choice. It was always going to be her choice.

Now that the day was here, she felt a mixture of relief, pleasant expectation and a tinge of trepidation. Has she done the right thing by saying yes? Had she been right all along by saying no? Will her son cope with marriage and all that comes with it? He was only a child. So many what ifs and so many things that could go wrong.

Then, she shrugged her shoulders. “The die is cast. We shall see”.

Later, that evening, my grandmother glided up the stairs to my father’s room. She hesitated by the door, as if she had second thoughts about the question on her mind. She stood there for a moment as she gathered her thoughts, then, knocked, softly on his door. “Come to the kitchen”, she called. I’ve made your favorite dish.

She had barely made it back to the kitchen when his door flew open and he slid down the bannister, flew across the hallways and crashed, headlong, into the kitchen, breathless and with excitement. “You have, mother?” He called out. He could hardly contain himself. Today just couldn’t get any better.

“Of course, I have but…if you change your mind…” Ha! Change his mind. This was a dish to die for and the last time she made it, it was his birthday. Seemed like ages ago.

“Eat slower, Mr. You will give yourself indigestion”. He wasn’t listening. He was engrossed in the food and couldn’t stop gulping it down. “Mama, this is so good. I don’t know how you make it but, it is so delicious”.

She watched him eat as if he’d never eaten before…as if he’d just returned from the desert after a hard day’s work. She smiled and slid him a tall cold glass of water. He smiled, baring his food-filled mouth at her. “Yikes’, she called out. You are awful. He smiled again. Hidden in that smile was a heart full of gratitude and love for his mother. On her face was much pride and joy. At last, the family was moving forward. She couldn’t contain her own joy!

The two families had work to do now. They started by getting to know each other and to formerly ask for my mother’s hand in marriage. With that out of the way, they set the wedding date. Oh! What a wedding it was to be!

My mother! She is an extraordinary woman and very kind too. She was 17 when she got married and freshly graduated from high school. Due to her low grades, she did not pursue further studies at the university.

She later took up employment at one of the schools. Her failure to go to university did not sit very well with my father who strongly suggested that she should at least get a diploma. This would help her get a better job that would help to increase the family’s standard of living. Furthermore, my grandmother had told my father that she would withdraw all financial supports unless the young family came to live with her in the same house. The poor man obviously wanted to assert his own independence with his family and as much he loved his mother, wasn’t too keen on living with her in the same house. He put pressure on my mother to further her education so as to assist.

My father’s new family started to grow rapidly. The first child, “Yousef”, was born soon after the marriage and a few years later came my second brother “Bader” followed by my sister “Salwa” in quick-fire succession.

Meanwhile, as time passed by, Salim, my grandmother’s brother who lived in Lebanon, passed away. My father travelled there to bring back his body. A few days later, tragedy struck again. Both Aisha and Fedha passed away on the same day. The circumstances were as tragic as the outcome and surrounded in some mystery which is no more known today than it was then. My grandmother was left alone now for the first time since her marriage.

In spite of this horrendous tragedy, there was hope. There was faith. My mother entered the house with a bigger smile on her face and the biggest surprise ever: “I’m pregnant”, she announced. That made my grandmother’s day and helped her to wipe away the tears. It was a phenomenal turn of events and she was able to laugh through her tears.

Chapter two:

September 4, 1987. A new member joins the family. It was me. Noisy. Irritable. Crybox. I arrived with much fanfare. My father offered sacrifices. In Islam, when a boy is born to a family, two sheep must be offered as sacrifice. If it is a girl child, however, only one sheep will do. I’m not sure why there is this disparity but, it’s whatever. I’m so over it.

Anyway, my family was so happy to have a baby girl that they made an offering of two sheep instead of the usual one. At the lavish party that was thrown to celebrate, there was singing and dancing and much more going on. Everyone was so happy. My grandmother was overjoyed and celebrated more than anyone else. She named me Aisha after her own late mother. Her joy was boundless and she was as proud as any grandmother could be.

However, the joy was very short-lived. Soon after I was born, the doctor was alerted to the difficulties I was having breathing. Apparently, this was consistent with a suspected high fever so they rushed me to the Intensive Care Unit of the local hospital under the supervision of a consultant pediatrician at that time.

 It was a bizarre turn of events that saw me stay at the hospital for almost 2 weeks. Then, the doctors decided to discharge me because they were persuaded that I had made much progress.

My grandmother visited me daily at the hospital and on the day of my discharge, she held and carried me in her arms for the first time. She gently covered me with her abaya (cloak) and took me back home where all the members of the family were waiting for the smallest princess to arrive. It was quite a day – from what I hear.

As we arrived home, there was this woman waiting…apparently, for me. She later went on to be one of the closest people to me. She looked different from the rest of my family and was the only one that waited on me hand and foot. I gradually got to know her. She was my nanny – a woman who dedicated her life to taking care of me.

Upon seeing me, she said: “As soon as your grandmother arrived, I was asking for the whereabouts of the new baby. She responded that you had not yet been discharged from the hospital”. She completed “Disappointed, I was heading back upstairs when she stopped me with mischief written all over her face. “Here is the little kitten…and… take good care of her.” She paused for a moment and then added “You were too small and too fragile for me to carry; I was afraid I may not be gentle enough with you”. She flushed, looking rather sheepish and apologetic. “Since then, my only task has been to take care of you under your family supervision”. She now beamed…as if she had been in charge of the very crown jewels.

Throughout my childhood, I suffered from several health issues. One of these was febrile seizures. This particular ailment can be very frightening for any parent and normally occurs most often in children between the ages of 9 months and 5 years.

A febrile seizure may be as mild as the child’s eyes rolling around or as severe as limbs stiffening. Symptoms may include any of the following:

  • Sudden tightening of the muscles on both sides of a child’s body.
  • The child may bite their tongue.
  • The child may stop breathing and may begin to lose color and turn blue.

A seizure lasting longer than 15 minutes, is in just one part of the body, or occurs again during the same illness is not a normal febrile seizure. It is symptomatic of some other health issue.

From then, my health became a major problem for my family. Solving this problem also became my family’s number one priority. In time, it took its toll on me, my family and my friends. To a very large extent, my health issues helped to define that sort of person I have turned out to be.

We were later to discover that there were no quick solutions for my specific situation. My family was fast losing confidence that a cure would be found or that they would be able to manage me properly. Their greatest fear was that I may never be a normal kid. From the time, I was 7 months to 4 years old, I was often admitted to the hospital as a way of reducing the frequency of the attacks and managing my condition.

I recall a particularly enjoyable vacation to Germany in the 1990s when I had a really miserable attack. It would be funny if it wasn’t almost tragic. My father, faced with the prospect of losing his daughter, had also to grapple with the challenge of explain the matter to Germans at the local hospital in broken English. It was all lost in translation. He did not understand and they sure didn’t understand him. For the most part, my father is a very patient man but even this great virtue has its limits. He lost his patience and, grabbing as gently as he could, he made for his car.  Once there, he threw me into the backseat and took off. The hell with translation. His child was dying and he would be darned if he stood there trying to make these Germans understand his predicament.

The, he drove. He drove, quite literally, like a bat out of hell. He ignored red lights and warning signs. He drove through signals turning right and left. He drove down the wrong way of a one-way road, through potholes and ditches, through traffic lights and past stopped cars. He ignored police warnings and caused other road users to flee for their safety. He drove as if life depended on it. Indeed, it did. My life.

Well, this is Europe. This is Germany, to be precise. You can’t do that sort of thing and expect that the police will not take notice and follow suite. So, they did. Quite frantically and with great resolve.

My father raced down the road as the evening disappeared into the arms of darkness. Nothing would stop him. He had to save the life of his only daughter. Besides, it was too late to stop. The police were already convinced he was either crazy or a criminal. They kept a close and effective distance behind him.

He led them, fast and furious, on a scary drive through the streets of Germany to the other hospital where he hoped he would get the help he needed. He also figured that since the police was in hot pursuit, they might be open to reason once they saw where he was heading to. It is always easier and better to ask for forgiveness than for permission. Their sirens, wailing mournfully and piercingly though the night, were very useful in clearing the streets and made the run much fun.

He came to a screeching halt as he swerved into the parking lot of the hospital as close to the entrance as possible. His destination was the ER department. His car door flew open with a demonic speed and nearly yanking the hinges off. With one swift move, I was in his arms, cradled, in nothing more than a bundle, and he was racing, on foot this time, down the corridors of the ER. The police arrived but kept a respectable distance. By now, they had concluded that this was no ordinary speedy Gonzalez. The man was on a mission to save a child’s life. Why else was he heading to the ER and what was that bundle in his arms cradled like a child? took me that time. Their attitude turned from fierce anger to understanding and even some admiration and hope for a happy outcome. Still, they had to do their duty.

When it was all over, my father shuffled his feet to the police officers and sked for their forgiveness. Well he had no choice really. They didn’t leave so, he had to go talk to them. They were very interested in talking to him anyway.

He acknowledged that he had broken the law and then tried to explain himself. He admitted that he had ignored traffic lights and jeopardized many people’s life. He did not want to lose his child and did not pose a lasting danger to the public. What is a man to do? My father was nervous and sweaty even for that tome of the night. He hoped for some forgiveness but also expected a harsh treatment. There was no denying what he had done and he was expecting he would be spending the night in jail.

The Senior police officer listened without expression. Typical to the German spirit. He as stoic and military. He betrayed no emotions at all but looked every bit as official as any dispassionate police officer would be.

Then, he raised his face and in a surprising gesture, expressed his understanding and sympathies. He decided not to take the matter any further. He shook my father’s hand, wished him well. Then, assuming an official posture once again, he raised his voice and in typical police fashion, stern and uncompromising, addressed my father: “Don’t let me catch you doing this again in my town”. He sounded menacing enough. Lots of emphasis on the ‘My town’ bit as if to remind my father he was a foreigner. But then, in a gesture of solidarity with a fellow father and in a rather touching move, he leaned forward, grabbed my father by the left shoulder and hugged him. As he did so, he whispered: “I would have done the same as a father…and I wish you and your daughter well. Go your way and good luck. There’s no harm done today”.  My father sighed in great relief, held the man tight and swallowed hard. His mind was racing. He didn’t know what he would have done if his daughter had died. Until then, the profound effect of the police hot on his tails had not bothered him…or at the very least, his focus had been on his daughter. With the words of the police officer ringing in his ears, he suddenly realized what huge trouble he had just been rescued from. The man was thankful and everyone could see it. The other officers did a slight salute as if to show understanding. A few eyes got misted up. They slapped my father on the back as they climbed back into their squad cars and left. Their shiny black BMW cars forming a slower convoy through the silent dark streets of Cologne.

And me? Well, I was forgotten…for the moment anyway. The nurses were in charge of me and they did a splendid job. German efficiency extended to their health care. When my father returned, still trying to dry his misty eyes and avoiding a direct eye contact, the doctor informed him that I needed to have an urgent surgery to remove my tonsils.

For a moment, dad just froze and stared at the doctor suspiciously. It seemed he was trying to size up the situation or, perhaps, he thought the news did not turn out to be as bad as he had feared. But, then again, maybe, he thought the silly little girl is full of surprises. He might have been considering dumping me somewhere to be done with all this hassle. Tonsils? What are they anyway and where the blazes did she get those from? Why couldn’t she get something that she could keep? He caught himself just in time and smiled at the doctor as if in relief. Reading his mind, the poor doctor was rattling through his explanations of what tonsils are and how they are easily removed without trouble. My father was past that.

Just like his mother, dad was having none of it. He insisted the surgery would be best performed when we returned home. I think he was a little bit scared I might not make it. He would have a mighty problem explaining it to my mother and my father is not for such things. Well, not when it came to his beloved daughter anyway.

The following month, September, we were back home. I was admitted to the hospital and prepared for the surgery rather sharpish. I was only 4 years old. Yet, now, I have a vivid memory of myself crying and holding unto my grandmother on one hand and my nanny on the other. I was pleading with them not to leave me. I was so scared I thought my heart would explode.

My grandmother was softly sobbing into her handkerchief and playing with her prayer beads. The doctor tapped on her back and said “Don’t worry, she will be ok, I promise”. He smiled and added “the nanny can go with her in the operation room if you’d like”. As soon as she heard this, my nanny ran to me. She took my hand and held it tight. My nanny was a very kind woman who had instinct for my happiness. She seemed to sense when I was in dire emotional need and always knew what to do without being asked and without saying much. She drew close to me and whispered in my ears, “it is ok, not to worry. I’m here now”. She even understood the power of her words and the magic effect on me. Next to my grandmother and my mother, my nanny was the only other person that could have that sort of effect on me. That was just what I wanted and needed to hear. With that, I was calm. My fears gone and I was at peace. Remember, I was only 4 years old! My nanny was all but a mother to me.

They began preparing me for the surgery starting with the anesthesia application after having me slip into the surgery gown. I was out like light a few minutes later.  I am sure I started dreaming from then onwards because I remember nothing else.

However, I remember when I came to. I opened my eyes and saw my mother in deep prayers, oblivious to what was around her. I cast my eyes around the room. Toys! There were toys everywhere in the room and many more distributed all overs. My grandmother and father were seated next to my bed with big grins on their faces. Warm smiles of welcome as if I was emerging from some strange land. It felt good to be back and to be looking into the eyes of people I loved and who loved me.

Days passed into months afterwards and I continued to make strong progress. The doctors were happy. My family was happy and, at long last, it looked like the sickie princess was going to have a normal childhood after all.

Soon, I graduated from kindergarten. There was quite the celebration. My school decided that I should wear be clothed in the female traditional garb – the “Dara’a” while the boys would be adorned in the traditional “Deshdasha”. Yes. Tradition would be the order of the day.

When the day came, my grandmother decreed that I should also wear a crown of gold as worn by brides on their wedding. I still remember that day. She took me aside, looked me in the eyes and said that she hoped that one day, should be there to attend my wedding. It was such a tender moment. Joyous and expectant. We both shed a tear and I hugged her, tightly. She embraced me with a motherly hug and kissed my forehead. I felt like I was walking on air. Yet, even at that tender moment, I felt a tinge across my heart. I’m not sure if it was a premonition or what but, I was never able to set aside the feeling I had that day.

And suddenly, Middle or Intermediate school. My goodness. How time flies! The holidays are always too short.

I loved intermediate school. I was an excellent student and was recognized by my teachers for my hard work and always trying my best to get a grade 80% and higher. Of course, there was always a caveat at home. Failure to make and sustain that grade would mean some sort of punishment. This could include something like no summer vacation and summer school to make up my deficiency and learn from my mistakes.

I still remember in 1998, I got lower grades. I was devastated. My parents decided to send my siblings, along with my grandmother, for a vacation to London. I had to stay back home to attend classes at the British Council. They examined me and found out that I was way above the average grade in English for my age. Wow! What a surprise. I had only been saying this to everyone for a while.

They told my family that based on my examination results, I would have to be put on the same level as the of high school student. This, however, would not help me to improve my English since there was much new vocabulary to learn along with English grammar.  They said, “We will keep Aisha with students similar to her and in her age group. That might help her somehow”.

Three weeks after that, I got my first certificate with “Excellent” level in reading, speaking, listening, writing and grammar. My family was ecstatic and was now persuaded that I was a brilliant student. They decided that I had learned from my mistakes and had taken the first steps towards the improvement of my learning experience. It was the beginning of a growth spurt during which time I got a much better understanding of my abilities and potential. My family understood a little bit better.

Chapter Three:

In the four years of intermediate school level, I maintained a 92% grade on average across my subjects. My family was so impressed that they decided we should travel to the United States of America for a much-deserved vacation. Sadly, however, one of my brothers developed a heart pain and was admitted to the hospital. We had to cancel all the plans. I also developed a sympathy sickness not least because we couldn’t travel as planned that summer. Everyone felt bad. It was our summer of discontent!

Enter my uncle. He got fed up looking at long gloomy faces. The prospect of that all summer of glum faces filled him with dread so, he decided I should accompany him and his daughter to Dubai for a 3-day shopping spree. Actually, she was about to become a student at one of the Emiratis Universities there. He insisted that I should accompany them to have some fun.  I was voluntold. The joy would be even greater since it was to be my first time traveling by myself. My parents, however, rejected my uncle’s offer out of hand the first time. My grandmother has other thoughts. She persuaded my parents, with the support of my uncle, by arguing that I needed that time since I was in the cusp of my teenage years. I should be allowed some privacy, she argued.

I packed up my suitcase full of clothing for a three-day trip. Then, came a surprise. We were going for a week. I was surprised but elated. My uncle later changed the last destination to be in Bahrain for 2 nights after which we would then return to Kuwait.

During our travels, my cousin, Monira and Uncle Ali played many tricks on me. Some were funny. Others, I considered cruel but all were played with the best of intentions. My young mind was still getting used to being in the adult world. I was a bashful young teenager who had never been outside the watchful eyes of her parents. What did I know about the real world and tricks played on you by your uncle and cousin?

We went out shopping one day and I remember they left me at one of the shopping floors. I was tasked with making restaurant arrangements for that evening. I had to choose from a list of excellent eating houses at the shopping mall. I headed to one of the restaurant and was engrossed in reading its menu. Next minute, I looked up in horror only to see the elevator doors close. They had gone to another floor leaving me standing there like an idiot.

I panicked. I thought they had abandoned me and I couldn’t understand why. I spun around wondering what to do next and half expecting them to reappear giggling. But, they were gone. I stared up the elevator housing as it disappeared up the floors. I started to scream but found no voice. Halfway between tears and anger, I wondered around with a very hot flush creeping up and down my body, my mind started to race. For a flash second, I wished for my parents and could not but wonder what they’d say to my uncle and his daughter. Just then, I found one kind lady who also seemed lost albeit for which expensive store she was looking for. I asked her if she could ride with me in the elevator to the upper floor. I looked sheepish and out of my depth. She looked at me and noticed my trembling hands. “Of course, dear”, she said, with a motherly smile, “no problem at all. Let’s go”.  As soon, I reached that floor and got out of the elevator, I saw both my cousin and uncle waiting for me and laughing. My cousin started to make funny jokes about me and how panicked I looked. I was furious because I did not see the funny side of things at first. They meant no harm. They were simply having fun at my expense but all in good humor. Once I understood that, I relaxed a bit. Only my ego got dented and my sense of adventure. It was, however, a rather full frontal attack to my confidence. Welcome to traveling alone. I was determined to get my revenge on my cousin and I did all I could to follow her around at the hotel just for a chance to do just that. If the truth be told, I’d never been so happy to see my family before as much as I was just then. The relief was incredible.

A few days later, we headed home. It was a very enjoyable trip and I really liked the idea of being a grown-up even for a few days. I found my family waiting for us at the airport. I was overjoyed. I didn’t realize how much I had missed them in a very short space of time.  I was even happier when my grandmother told me that our next travel destination was the United Kingdom. Apparently, my brother needed to see a health consultant.

That trip to the UK was incredibly memorable. For the first time, I was running around London without my family. It was just me, my nanny and my grandmother.  No one else. What more can a girl want?

From then on, I knew my grandmother and my nanny were the only ones that could bring brightness to my life. They cared so much about my happiness and made sure nothing soured my day at all. My health, my whole life. I was often amazed at their devotion. They never left my side. They never lost patience. It was as if they were created just to ensure I sail through life without any hiccups. I think of them now and I get misty eyed. I have been loved and cared for. I have been spoilt and treated with the most affection anyone could ask for by two women whose sacrifice was second to none. I owe them everything and I am eternally grateful for them.

I was, indeed, a spoilt child with a temper to match. Perhaps, because I had everything.  Strong role models. I had no patience for weak people…especially if they didn’t measure up to my grandmother. I had no patience for weakness or shoddy behavior. I had no appetite for people who prevaricated. I had no tolerance for those who could not make up their minds or were too weak to even know it. My world was one of strong women who showed their great ability to rule their own nests. I developed into a no nonsense woman with much self-confidence and pride to match. I was raised well in a loving environment. The world was my oyster. I think I might have been a little petulant. I like that word. Not sure what it means but I read somewhere that one of the princesses of England was petulant. Well, if it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me. What? can you blame me? My grandmother indulged me so there…

Through the streets of London, we went, day and night. I couldn’t get enough. My grandmother allowed me much freedom but always kept a watchful eye on me. She was no fool, after all.

We went shopping, cinemas, funfair. We took in the zoos, museums, oh, Albert and Victoria Museum, The Museum of Mankind, the Natural History Museum…the Tower of London, London Dungeons, Madame Tussauds, London Eye…I could go on and on…there was just no end to it all. Then, there was shopping, the West End, Trocadero, Oxford Street, Trafalgar Square and the Docklands. Dining, Hyde Park, Tottenham Court Road. I could live here forever. All those famous places that everyone dreams to see in London one day. Whitehall and Parliament. Big Ben towered above and in front. A walk on the embankment. This is as close to bliss as I could have imagined and no one stopped me or checked my carefree spirit.

Two weeks! Two very short weeks. Oh! they passed so damned quickly, I didn’t even notice. It was soon time to return home and back to all that humdrum. It wasn’t all tedious really, just the tyranny of the familiar and those wretched customs to observe. Ah! Well, it could be worse, I guess.

My thoughts turned to school and preparation for return. I needed to buy some stationary – this time, for high school. High school! The difference between this, elementary and intermediate schools couldn’t be more stark. Where we once sat and awaited each teacher with a new course, this time, the situation was reversed.

Here at high school, it was a different sort of fun. I could make new friends, meet new people, change my seat and seating position whenever I wanted and as often and as I wanted. It was a little confusing at first but, I soon got used to it…much like all other students. It was our lives now and we had just begun. We were the world. We owned the world.

My high school days were the best. I made so many friends. I still see some of them these days although we no longer hangout anymore as before.  I really spent much of my time with my grandmother – shopping for groceries or household items.

I was an “A” student but I also had my father’s streak. I played tricks on my friends and teased them no end. I even did not spare my teachers. Some saw the funny side of things. Others simply had no sense of humor.

One fine day, I decided, for some mysterious reason, that it would be funny not to attend of one of my classes. Unfortunately, my mother picked that day to come inquiring after my grades. Actually, I think she was out shopping and decided to call on her close friend, the Vice Principal. The two women were sashaying through the corridors of the school close to my classroom when I came bolting through like someone possessed. They dived to avoid a head-on collision, clutching their bosoms in mutual pity. Once they got their breaths back and realized who it was, their vocal cords opened up. I’ve never heard such dramatic shrills in all my life.

The next day, I got a detention. For my sins, I was to stand in the middle of the class hall for 3 hours without access to chair or water. That was hard. I could make no eye contact with anyone but they could all stare at me. The walked, filed past me. Some giggled. Others pities me. Most thought I was crazy but fun. They threw paper planes at me. The boys wolf whistled.  The girls, most of them anyway, just put their heads down and walked past. I wasn’t sure how to feel. Tired and uncomfortable, certainly but…what else? A little angry and anxious but quite sheepish. This was ridiculous…standing here waiting for nothing…watching paint dry. Terrible idea for punishment.

In any event, I believe I learned my lesson though. When I told my grandmother what happened, she started to laugh. She laughed so much, I joined her. Seeing her laughing so much, it was hilarious. I forgot the gravity of the event and just laughed my head off.  But, my grandma was no fool. Sure, it was funny but still, deserving of the punishment. She told me so in no uncertain terms. Then, she laughed some more and decided I had been punished enough. A girl must have fun and I certainly did. No harm done and that was that.  I was only 15 years old after all.

It was a great age. I had very few responsibilities in the house and was, pretty much, allowed to be myself. Yet, I was old enough to be seen and allowed to mingle with the adults in a semi-responsible way.  I started to attend weddings parties and loved it when my grandmother introduced me to her friends as her daughter. My mother would usually busy herself with finding a bride for my older brother Yousef. For his part, he chose one of her friend’s daughters. That made my Mother’s Day. Sara was to be my sister-in-law.

Sara was the first daughter-in-law in that family after my parents’ wedding. She was treated like a princess and, deservedly so. She is a very kind lady and we became close friends quite quickly. Sara found out that I wasn’t too attached to my parents because they didn’t have much time for me. They had the opinion that my grandmother provided enough care and attention for a teenager. Apparently, their thought process was that too much care would backfire on the family. Interesting thinking but, ah! well, it’s… whatever. I didn’t care. I had my grandma. That’s all I ever wanted and she had all ten time in the world for me anyway.

My brother Yousef was, at the time, a petroleum engineer at one of the oil companies. He was a very ambitious and determined individual who always got what he wanted. I thought Sara was very lucky to have such a man who was resourceful and dependable – the stuff good husbands are made of.

Sara turned out to be quite the catch herself. She always asked Yousef to take me on a day out with them and to treat me as their daughter rather than a sister. One day, Sara and I went shopping and she told me that my brother gave her orders to take very good care of me. Then, she turned around and beamed a smile at me. We hugged and I felt the sincerity in her. It wasn’t an order y brother, her husband, had given her. She was teasing. Suddenly, I started to see her in a whole new light. She didn’t just marry my brother. She is a very good person. That made me feel that my brother cared about me so much, I was overwhelmed and got quite emotional over this. When we got home that day, I directly went to my grandmother and told her how happy I was. She was thrilled and that made me even happier.

Then, came December. I saw my father looking lonely and withdrawn. I asked what was wrong. He said that my grandfather, Sulaiman, was very sick and had been admitted to the hospital in critical condition. My mother and I decided to go and visit him the next day. That was my first time of seeing him. We didn’t live with him.

That next day, I went to school very happy that I will see my grandfather for the first time. During my English class, a teacher came and told me that my mother was waiting for me downstairs at the office. I got excited as I thought it was about time to see my grandfather. I ran downstairs, eager to get to my mum quickly. The sight of my mother stopped me in my tracks. She was dressed in her traditional Abaya. Ladies usually wear the Abaya if they are heading either to funeral or to going to one of the traditional places. I looked closer at her and noticed from her countenance that something bad had happened. My shoulders drooped along with my head as I walked towards her, my eyes searching desperately for a clue.

My mother held my hand and beckoned me to sit beside her. I did, still not knowing what was going on. “Sorry my dear, but your grandfather just passed away.” She blurted out the news. I think it was one of those moments when tact went out the window. How do you break such news to a teenager anyway? There was no other way to put it. I was caught by the unapologetic candor. I was unprepared for it. I immediately went into a dizzy spell. I felt unable to stand or sit any more. But…for some reason, I was unable to cry …. or speak either. Just…dumbfounded. All I wanted at that point was to go back home and to talk to my grandmother. But, then, my mind started racing. Death. My grand-father!! I never really thought I’d hear those two words in the same sentence.

I shifted away from her so I could face her by turning my body. I stared at her as if she had the explanation. I had questions. Lots of questions and they all came rushing at me with such speed. I was confused and, suddenly, felt the anger rising up within me.

“What do you mean dead? What does that even mean anyway? I mean, what kind of man dies without seeing his grand-daughter? Such selfishness. I mean, I never got to play with the man. I would see other children playing with their grand-fathers and I hoped that one day, mine would love me and hold me and give me gifts and play with me and comfort me and…My thoughts went on and on. I couldn’t stop. I was miles away and still soaring as only a child’s mind does.

My mother, sensing my emotional state, drew closer to me and was wiping my eyes of tears I didn’t even know I was shedding when I came to. It was the warmth of her hand and the dampness of my face that brought me back to the present. I was startled and in turn, startled her with my jump. Our eyes met. Mine, big and forlorn. Hers, mellow and sorrowful. I saw that look. It was so different from anything I had seen before. It was the look of tiredness and deep sadness. I embraced her and buried my face in her bosom. She held me there for a what seemed like a comforting eternity. I felt warm and safe. I held onto her, trying to shield both of us from the cold hands of death. When I looked up again, she rose and without another word, we both picked up our bags and headed home.

My mother took me home. We drove in silence which was only punctuated by the blaring horns and the revving of the engines. Silence. I had never met my grandfather. Now, I will only see him in death. I had all sorts of riotous emotions. I kept wondering what he sounded like, what it would have been like to see him, play with him, tease him. I mean, it was strange to get to know your own family at the point of death.

 When we got home, I saw my grandmother sitting, looking lost. For the first time, I saw her crying. I was confused. Perhaps, she missed him. That would be rather curious given that she left him after 3 years of marriage and never returned. How could she miss him after so many years? She never talked about him with anyone, not even me. Sure. She was a strange lady but…. I had never seen her quite like this and it bothered me.

The mourning lasted for 3 days and many people came to express their condolences. I had never seen so many people at our place in my whole life.

However, just a few short days after that, a new member joined our family. It was a boy, Fahad, my nephew, a bonny boy. We would usually have a baby reception for the new born but we couldn’t at this time. Celebrations were muted because we had just lost my grandfather. It seemed inappropriate. To be honest, a celebration is what we all needed to get over the gloom…but… I said it was inappropriate and so did everyone else… so, don’t ask!!

I remember that day. I had been lounging around the house all day, getting a little irritated because I didn’t have much to do and my grandmother seemed too pre-occupied with some other house business to even throw a second glance in my direction. It was a hot and humid day and I felt like melting. I was in this teenage glum state when my brother burst in excitedly. He proudly announced, although with a subdued tone, “Hey! Sis, great news, I have a son, and you, my girl, will be the cutest auntie in the whole wide world.” That was such great news, I started to tear up. I hugged my brother like I had never done before. He had to extract me from him in his eagerness to run spread the news. Later, when I saw the baby for the first time, I was overjoyed. I started hugging him and kissing his tiny cheeks. He looked like a tittle cute bunny. Adorable and kissable. The little bundle was loving all the attention although he seemed oblivious though. All he did was sleep. I wondered about that.

My father and brother started to offer scarifies to the Almighty for His kind blessing of the newborn. Everybody started to buy gifts for the little man. There were clothes, toy cars, more boy toys and all the things a new born baby needs plus a whole lot more. There were even bikes he couldn’t ride for a few years yet. It was like they were releasing their pent-up emotions since the death of my grandfather. Generosity ran amok. I found it quite amusing and distracting.

In June of 2005, I graduated from high school with a GPA of 3.08. I majored in science and was going to apply to study medicine abroad. I had always been interested in medicine and saw myself as a medical doctor someday. What a nightmare! My grandmother decreed against it. She was having none of it. She even cemented her decree with the water works – full on. The sight of her crying at my choice was enough to melt my heart. The medical profession was not for me after all. I had to choose a different path. Genetics. I liked the idea. Even this choice was also thwarted. This time, by my mother.  I’m not quite sure what her reason was but, she raised as much hue and cry as my grandmother did. What can I say…it runs in the family! Subsequently, I found myself gravitating towards business administration…in the footsteps of my father. It seemed safe and I was somewhat attracted to it anyway. It helped that my formidable grandmother and my less scary mother did not try to dissuade me from this path. In fact, they appeared non-bothered at first. I never quite knew why but, there was peace and that was fine with me.

Chapter four:

This business of academic pursuit was more of a burden than a pleasure. I mean, trying to decide what you want to be when you grow up, choosing a course and then having your family oppose you? It was tough going. No fun at all. For a while, I just wanted to drop the whole idea and abandon studies altogether because I thought my dream of being a medical doctor or geneticist was demolished. And what was I going to do instead? Why, get married, of course…and be a kept woman. After all, a girl could do a lot worse. There’s always the man’s millions. Hmm. He had better have it. On second thoughts, that’s not really me. I can’t just sit around and wait for some man to provide for me. Sure, I’ll probably love him and all that but, really, c’mon. To wait for a man to take care of you? So dehumanizing. Well, I guess it has its perks but, so not me. I mean, look at me. Look at my grandmother and my mother. Now, look again at me! Not going to happen. Wait. Will he love me? I mean, truly love me? Well, who cares, huh? Love’s got nothing to do with it.

“Aisha…stop daydreaming and answer me”. I was startled back to reality. I had been soliloquizing, I didn’t even notice my brother, Yousef, enter the room. Apparently, he had been attempting to talk to me for a few minutes without success. He even turned the TV on, and commented on the soccer match going on. I still didn’t notice. I apologized and snapped out of it and made some excuses. To be fair, I was facing the window and looking out. So, I wasn’t all that blind or deaf or …whatever. Then, I swirled around the chair, got up and made for him. It was his turn to be startled. He wasn’t sure what I was up to and braced himself for a sudden burst of attack. I did a teasing wascom on his hair and giggled, calling him a so and so for disturbing my thoughts. I thought of the look on his face and smiled…in victory. It wasn’t easy to scare my brother. Just then, he was cowering.

He threw a glance at me and wrinkled his face. Then, he said something I didn’t quite catch or understand. I regarded him for a few seconds, then turned for the remote control to change the channel. I came to a halt. My brother, Yousef, had just given me an idea. “What did you just say”? I demanded in that shrill and excited tone of voice. He took his gaze away from the TV, shielding the remote control as he did so. He looked up at me wearily, fully expecting a full frontal attack. I loved my brother especially when he was scared of me. He spoke slowly and deliberately…not sure if he should repeat what he said. He couldn’t tell if I was upset or about to explode. But then, he saw the glint in my eyes and got bolder. He cleared his throat and suggested that I should go to the university with him and see if I could sit in on some classes in business administration. He thought that would help me decide.

“Yousef, this is unlike you. That’s brilliant. I think I shall do just that. My goodness, Yousef, this is a rare moment for you…a rare moment of brilliance, indeed”, I said, as I hugged him, planting a slobbery kiss on his cheek.

“Yikes”, he snorted, as he struggled to extricate himself from my grip. “So rude”, he cursed, as he wiped his face. ‘How dare you kiss me”? I let him answer that as I skipped out of the room to find my grandmother. She thought it was a great idea and I came running back again to tell Yousef. I demanded to know when we could begin this great academic excursion. From the look on my face and the tone of my voice, he dared not put it off.

By now, he was so engrossed in his soccer match on the TV that he could barely take his eyes off to talk to me. So, I stood in front of the TV and danced. In frustration, he agreed we could go the next day. I could hang out with him and his friends and he would introduce me…may be even find someone to take me off his hands. After that, depending on how I felt and what I learned, I could decide if I was capable of studying that particular field or…liked that particular boy. He said it with mischief. I wasn’t listening anymore. I ran out of the room again to my grandmother. Then bolted right back. Tomorrow sounds great. I’ll go tell grandma. Yousef shook his head. His sister had a problem and he had no idea what it was. Actually, he thought he did. She was crazy…but adorable too. Anyway, he was happy. He had the TV to himself now and hoped she would take longer to come back this time. “Just don’t tell anyone we are related,” he thought to himself.

“I won’t, she called back. She read his thoughts. Well he said this to her often enough that she could tell when he was thinking it and always responded even if he hadn’t verbalized the thought.

Well, it seemed to make sense. I didn’t know that I could do that. So, we agreed. The next day, I saw Yousef, waiting for me and he said “Now, we will go to faculty of business administration, then, other faculties and later on, grab some lunch. How’s that?”. I thought it was a good idea because I needed that time alone with my brother anyway. He took charge of the situation and shepherded me like a big brother. I felt safe and reassured. I still gave him hell but he didn’t seem to mind.

As soon as I arrived there I saw a couple of friends waiting for me at the faculty hall. Seeing them helped calm any jitters or shyness I might have had about being here. At first, I was excited about going but, on the morning, I wasn’t so sure until I saw my brother and now, these friends. They decided to show me around starting with some class rooms. I remember I attended 2 classes in math and management. I had some fun. I felt like one of the students and thought it was a great sign for me to apply at that college.

After 3 hours, we headed to the faculty of Petroleum Engineering but I didn’t really see myself there, so I told my brother. “Yousef, I’m tried and need to have my lunch now if you don’t mind”. He smiled at me and we went to a restaurant. We sat down to a great sea view and a chilled environment. It was a haven from the scorching heat.  I ordered something nice and a chilled drink. My brother settled for whatever it is big brothers settle for. I didn’t care. I was just exhausted. Then he asked me “So, Aisha, do you now have a better idea of what you want to do and what college to apply to?”. “Not yet… I need some time to think” I replied. “You have the right to do so, but don’t hesitate to ask me for any help”. “I won’t, my brother, don’t worry”. He added “You know, Aisha, I always thought I will see you as some famous businesswomen one day, I think you might be one in the future”. I still remember those words in my mind. I believe it was the catalyst for me to decide to join the college of Business Administration, “CBA”.

The next day, I woke up quite early in the morning. I went to the dining room and my saw my mother having breakfast alone. She motioned for me to join her and I did. Then I started: “Mom, I think I want to apply to the CBA”. She looked at me and her face took on a serious but tender look. “Are you sure?” I said “Yes I am.” She looked at me and smiled and said “I knew you would come and tell me that. I know my daughter but I had never thought it will be so soon.” So, that’s what she wanted? She wanted me to follow in the footsteps of my father. No wonder there was no hue and cry when I mentioned business administration. Unlike my announcement about medicine. Hmm. Curious.

 We then left, after breakfast, to the CBA admissions department. I got an approved schedule for this term under certain condition:

  1. I had to attain and maintain B+ and above to transfers this subject to the next semester
  2. 90% attendance is an obligation to pass
  3. The fees must be paid, although studying at the regular condition will be free later on.

So, if I achieved all the above condition, I will be more than welcome to be a regular student at that faculty.

I happened to look up just at the right moment. My eyes met with my mother’s. It was one of those looks of sheer delight and pride. If anyone ever asked me to define happiness, I would simply show them a picture of my mother’s face. No words. A picture does really paint a thousand ones. I am a believer! The look said it all. In point of fact, that look helped to launch my career in business administration. I always wanted to see it that way and I could do nothing to take that away. She was happy that I had achieved her dream by joining that faculty. For a moment, I thought my feelings were at odds with hers but when I saw my family’s insistence and expectations that I joined that faculty, well, who could resist? Besides, it wasn’t cheap. My family paid much money for the privilege of my education. High price. High value. High expectations. Who am I to dream otherwise? The die was cast. My fate was sealed and my obligations defined. It wasn’t entirely their dream, of course, but I didn’t realize it was one I shared until I saw the look on their faces. As my friend once said, I was “voluntold”. I adopted that dream as mine too. I wanted them to be proud of me.

I saw myself studying but not with passion the same way I did at high school. However, it was important that I achieved much. As far as my family was concerned, and I, for that matter, I had met all the requisite condition, directly joined the faculty and became a student. Of course, it would have been the crowning glory if I had also achieved higher grades than I actually did. I thought of that faculty as a microcosm of the wider society because almost all the well-known people of my country tend to seek for admission to that college for their children. This made me think that it was the appropriate time to build my personality and my brand. I could see no reason why I shouldn’t be a member of the group that was eager to be a candidate of Student Affairs at that college.

Student politics and affairs. A whole new awaited me that I had not thought about. It was amazing. These students approached politics with zeal I had never seen and one that almost entirely absent from the real world. They campaigned, passionately for their causes. They lived up to the spirit of democracy and embraced all the ideologies to be found therein. Not surprisingly too, many were as phony as any real politician could be – promising things they knew they could not deliver and attempting to smear their opponents.  It was quite enlightening and incredibly educational. It was also exciting. It wasn’t entirely professional but it was, in some ways, liberating.

After a very long month of student politics, we were beginning to feel the pressure of the heat of the elections as they drew closer.  A date had been set. The campaigns entered their final runs and voting was about to be underway. The frenzy of it was unreal. We treated it like it was the real world. I guess it was but, I had a hard time accepting that anything we did here mattered. I mean, this is a university, not the real world! It was a great training ground though.

Finally, the election day arrived and we all trooped down to the polling booths. Dutifully. It’s amazing what happens when students get energized and inspired. If the same zeal was displayed in the real world, we would probably have an amazing and inspired democracy. But…that’s another story altogether and…for another day!

A few hours later, we saw one of our fellow members running and screaming “We Won…We Won.” I was extremely happy at that time watching him so elated. Then, the guy came up to me and said “We are so lucky to have you in our group. You are the one with the highest score in the most wanted candidate! You are incredible. Congratulations, Aisha, you deserve it”. I was amazed at what he was saying. I had no idea I had been noticed but, there it was…for all to hear. Then, I looked around and saw the other students making a beeline to me screaming “congratulations”. I was floored but lapping it up. I decided there and then that it was time to throw my whole weight into working with the student that had asked for my help. I decided also to fully support the university to achieve rights for each student. My life as a student activist had just begun.

In that period that I worked with student affairs, we accomplished much – way more than I could have hoped for or expected. We had seminars, courses, open days and exhibition under my supervision. I was amazed at how much one could get done when there is focus. Our performance evaluation for the year showed strong evidence of our work. I was very proud.

In the first three years, I received awards because my GPA was around 3.00. The highlight came when I was honored by the National Assembly President for outstanding work. That made me somehow proud of myself. No, really…it was Awesome!!

Well, you know how it is. Nothing lasts forever, right? It turned out that I was getting carried away working for other people and losing focus of myself. My grades started to drop because I was spending less time taking care of the basics. My grade drop was a major problem between my parents and I. Of course, it also led to much misunderstanding. For the life of me, I actually thought that they just didn’t want me to be happy. I was very resentful. I was doing so well and they just couldn’t let the grade thing go. I do all this stuff and they complain about grades. What else is a girl to do? I was being silly, of course. My understanding was very shallow and I knew even less about what life was about. After a while, it hit me and I realized the opposite as actually true. Perhaps, they didn’t have the right to interfere with my decisions but, I understood that I couldn’t have better advocates and that they and that they my best interest at heart. I just didn’t see it at first. I was too dumb…to consumed with my own rightness and cleverness. You know how it is. Girls just wanna have fun!! I had adjusting to do.

With my grades sliding, I decided to resign from the students’ affairs office and set out to inform them accordingly. I needed to refocus on my studies and improve my grades to where they were meant to be or even better. My senior year was coming up. I dared not mess it up.

They weren’t having it. I was somewhat taken aback. I wasn’t expecting the response I got from them They turned down my resignation and instead, asked me to stay on till after the next year. I could quit then. It would be over and we would all graduate and move on. Well, I was flattered. I was angry. I was…bemused. I gave some thought to their suggestion and decided I did not mind. Kinda cool to be needed, especially by the student body.

In 2008, the election cycle came around again. The same group of students contested and won again. They did so handsomely. I decided that my work with them was done now and promptly resigned to focus all my energy on my studies and a better GPA. my head was held higher than when I had started.

At last, I graduated from College of Business Administration in 3.5 years with a GPA of 3.22. I majored in finance which I loved. I was ecstatic. I look back with a great deal of fond memories and a great feeling of achievement. All thanks to my mentor, Dr. Rashed. He inspired me and was instrumental in the path of life I have chosen.

I recall my confusion when I was trying to choose the right course. I was moving towards MIS (Management Information System) because I was fascinated by computers. Dr. Rashid, however, saw a different vision and a different understanding. He suggested that I might consider that to be a hobby thus, not as a job because later on, I was likely to get bored and would hate it. Given that I was good at analyzing events and forecasting the future based on an interpretation of statistics, he suggested I would make a better economist than a computer geek.

Dr. Rashid helped me in making my choice of subject. He also encouraged me to apply for a subject with a training course at one of the ministries. There weren’t any examinations but weekly and final report that needed to be submitted a day before the final exams. I thought it will be a good thing to do during my summer class and I follow his command. It turned out to be a great suggestion as it helped me stay focused and greatly improve not just my grades but also my mental state as to where I was headed. It is always good to have great mentors. I have been very lucky to have had some great ones in my life – my grandmother, Dr. Rashid and even my brother Yousef!

Up until my graduation, I thought of Dr. Rashid quite often. He was and remains my idol and I hoped to be like him one day and achieve some of the things he did.

   Right after graduation, my best friend, Hanadi and I decided to celebrate our bachelors’ degrees by applying for an external course in the UK. We planned it all out and agreed to share a place together in London should we get the place at the London Stock Exchange. We planned for everything except our parents. My parents, to be specific. I might have expected it but I was so wrapped up in my adventure, I didn’t even consider that, even after graduation and for a grown woman, I still couldn’t do much independently. They still had the power of veto. It was incredible. We are born into this and grow into it. As we get older, the absurdity of it all leans heavily on one. Then, we grown further and become complicit in perpetuating the tyranny. A woman never really grows old enough to determine for herself. She is always subject to the parents or the fathers or the brothers. She has a voice, alright. She speaks through the men and only if they approve. It can be downright irritating but…what can I say, in the end, we embrace it. God help us from ourselves.

My friend and I had to plead with my parents. Comical but it was the only way. We both understood our culture and that we had to eschew trendy pride and plead with them. Summoning all our powers of persuasion, we told them it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and so important for us to take it.  Well, it worked. I don’t know if it was the sight of two adolescent girls pleading with tears or the shrieking voices but, it worked. They relented. We wasted no time in preparation. London Stock Exchange, here we come.

Later, that day, I went out with Hanadi to take care of some of the required paperwork for the stock exchange approval. I got home to see my younger sister smiling sheepishly and with much contentment, standing the door.

She looked radiant and happy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look quite so carefree and blissful in my life. She was young, vivacious, beautiful and slender. Tall, for a girl, jet black straight hair that would adorn her back were it not for the obligatory head dress. She always carried herself rather well, high cheek bones and a luster to her face. The best part of her was the smile she always wore. I cannot remember ever seeing her without one. She cheered everyone up who encountered her. She has one of those faces and demeanors you want to encounter first thing in the morning. It was wonderful to see her after a busy day. Today, however, she had a most unusual smile across her face. She seemed more blissful and more radiant. I approached her with a quizzical expression. She just continued to smile, waiting for me to speak first, I guess.

I wondered what on earth she had to be so happy about. But, she could wait no more. Taking my hand, she twirled, swayed from side to side and gave me a kiss on the cheek. “What’s going on?” I asked, in mock exasperation. “Well”, she began, unable to contain her joy, she lifted her head and beamed at me, then, let go of my hand and skipped around, ‘Guess who is getting married…? Married?? Who is getting married?? The words trailed off in my head as I wondered who it might be. Surely, it’s not me? I mean, no one had come around lately and, come to think of it, I had not met anyone lately that I was remotely interested in marrying. So, my mind was abuzz in that few seconds.

I caught myself day-dreaming and instantly, snapped back to the present. She noticed and, for a minute, her face strained. Seeing that, I quickly regained my composure. “Tell me…who?

“Oh! You won’t believe it but, cousin Qais proposed to me today”. She waited, with suspended breath, to see my reaction. I waited in suspense. “And…?” I managed to beam too…in expectation, my joy for her starting to smolder. “I said YES!!”. She announced with such ladylike fanfare that I caught myself swept up in the emotion of the moment. She twirled again and held her out chest with those beautifully slender hands of hers outstretched. I watched her in awe. Her joy seemed to sparkle as the light formed a shimmer around her.

Qais is my uncle, Fawaz’s son.  He has one older brother, Mohamed and a younger brother, Turkey.  I was flabbergasted. We used to play together all the time. I always considered them brothers and nothing more. Imagine my shock when it became clear that love could blossom in such close quarters. I had no idea such a thing was allowed but here we were. Salwa, my sister and Qais!! A quick wedding celebration followed in less than 2 months after the announcement and Salwa went to live with Qais in their new apartment. It was really a sort of whirlwind romance and event. It took me a while to adjust to it.

My family too. Apparently, they had a hard time with it with my parents quietly reflecting on the fact that their daughter left the house and went to her new life. As for me nothing, everything was the same. I still had the love and attention of my grandmother and all was well.

In October 2009, a famous company was on the hunt for a new recruit. I applied. I figured it was time to join the adult world as productive useful member of the society. I confess, I was somewhat nervous about it all but, I thought, why not? I have to do this and it was a great opportunity. They called me for an interview and set me tests in both English language and Finance. I aced them both. The interview followed. It meant taking time off from the stock exchange project…and my lovely time in London.

As soon as I arrived there, they asked me to discuss some of the experiences concerning the working life. They wanted to know if I had been to any business-related training courses.

I related my experience and informed them that I since had secured a part time training job during the summer in two nationally famous banks. Furthermore, I was taking some English courses which were still current.

They then explained that I would work with the foreign department. They wanted to know how I felt about this. Ha! Indeed. This was a rare opportunity and a great chance to prove myself. Of course, I would love to work with the foreign department. Who wouldn’t? I added that it would be more than a pleasure for me to do so because some of my English teacher at the high school were foreigners. A few were Indian. I looked forward to the interaction.

Some of my colleagues deal with foreigners although they tended to treat them as their slaves. It’s a national disgrace.

The interview went much better than I had expected. I thought I did a good job of it. I waited for their response. They had indicated that it would take time for them to choose among the huge number of applicant.

In February of that year, I was getting ready to pack my things to go to London to attend that training course. I went to my grandmother and I hugged her since it will be the first time for me to leave her for very long time. It was emotional for both of us. She cried. I cried too. Neither of us could console the other but, we managed it.

I went to the airport but realized, on the way, that I had not seen my parent. I missed them but, since I had seen my grandmother, I was okay. My parents could wait. I mean, I wasn’t to bothered.

But, then, came the big surprise. My parent was flying with me to London to help set up my apartment there. The real shock was that my mother was to stay with me the whole period. Talk about mixed feelings. They just decided for me. No one even bothered to ask my opinion.

I was happy and sad at the same time. Happy because it means I meant something to my parent but sad because I will not have the chance to live my life the way I wanted to. This meant I couldn’t be by myself and only depend on me alone. I so wanted that experience but it wasn’t to be. I was decided upon for good or bad.

So, life will be full of adventure. Much to be expected. Much to live. Of course, to maximize her time, I would have to become an interpreter to my mother. Her English wasn’t all that good. I thought about it and realized it would be a great opportunity to improve my own English speaking skills.

We boarded the plan and were full of excitement. I was and I could see my parents were too. It was an uneventful flight and I enjoyed the time I had to catch up with my parents. I felt like a young girl again – being shepherded by my parents. It was strange but I wasn’t fighting it.

We arrived at Heathrow International airport and went through the dreaded time-consuming immigration desk without any incidents. These British people are very polite and professional. They looked at us with much suspicion but since everything checked out, we were welcomed to Great Britain.

At long last, there we were in a cab heading for a hotel my dad had reserved for a few days. Here, we would rest for a while before moving to the apartment in a few days.

I remember feeling at the time that I so lucky that my parents cared much about me that they would make the trip just to spend some time with me. I had a mixture of feeling between happiness, love, gratitude toward them. I felt happy to be their daughter and proud to have them as my parent. They, in turn, seemed to love every minute we were together. They seemed with pride and contentment and allowed me much latitude. I realized that they had accepted that I was now a woman and treated with much respect and deference.

A few days later, I started my work training at the LSE (London Stock Exchange). The first few days were a little difficult and tiresome. However, soon after the first week, I got the hang of things. From then onwards, it was piece of cake.

I worked very hard working person and everyone at my department was depending on me to perform any task. I worked as a broker for the first two weeks and the rest two weeks, I was helping my coordinator in setting up business trips every Friday morning. In the last week, the coordinator assigned each group to perform a presentation related to the business field. I was in the first group, and our we had to do a presentation about a certain company performance in the financial year.  Our group performed very well and at the end, we won the best presentation from the 5 groups. They held a farewell ceremony in our honor in the end. The whole thing had been a brilliant opportunity for me and I relished the experience.

In the farewell ceremony, there were some training members from my country wo had come to   London to join us. They were so proud of us and I was so happy to see them. I felt like I had triumphed in London and made my country very proud. They offered us some a financial help and a future job opportunity in the event we wanted to work at the Stock exchange back home.

To my surprise and delight, the LSE informed me that I was more than welcome to work there if I wanted to. They actually offered me the chance to work there, in London.

I was speechless and quite shocked. I know I did well but to be made such an offer was well beyond my dreams. I gave it very serious considerations and decided to accept it. I thought of all I could get up to in London. Above all, I got excited at the prospect of being an international young woman roughing and making it in London. It was an exciting prospect ad I was getting carried away.  However, I remembered my family and friends. I thought of home and all that I would miss if I stayed in London on a permanent basis. It didn’t seem such a great idea after all. I decided I wasn’t quite ready to leave home. I let them know that I would give it further thought and will provide a response by email in the coming days and weeks.

  When I returned home, I told my family that I had been offered a position in London and I was minded to accept it. What a mistake. They were furious. My parents complained, bitterly, that I had not considered their or sought their opinion in the matter. They made it quite clear that I was communicate to all relevant parties that I would not be accepting the position.

Chapter Five:

I wasn’t happy with my parents. I wasn’t entirely unhappy with their decision but I wanted it to be my decision. For once, I wanted to be treated like a grown up and given the freedom and respect to make my own decisions based on my own considerations. Instead, here I was, being decided upon and there’s nothing I could do about it. Remember that culture thing I talked about earlier? Well, it seems you can never grow out of it. It’s just not our thing. Imagine telling an English girl that she could not pursue her dreams but had to factor in her parents and all in her career and professional considerations Well, yes, but, to actually be told point blank, ordered not to take a job opportunity? I was livid. I was mad. I was beside myself. I was incandescent with rage but, I was powerless to change it too.

With much embarrassment but, somewhat lighter heart, I wrote an email to my managers seeking their forgiveness because I had to reject that offer. I blamed it, quite rightly, on the cultural belief that I should not stay in a foreign country forever given that I was, at that time, a single lady. They were understanding, much to my relief and responded as much. They went on to say that the job would still be available if I changed my mind one day. I was flabbergasted and relieved.

After a hectic month at work, we all earned a two weeks’ vacation. My family decided to spend it in Rome and Milan, Italy and to do some shopping. The described it as a gift from my family to me to celebrate my graduation.

While I Italy, I received a mobile message informing me that I had been accepted at the famous company that I applied to. I was shocked and overjoyed. It was a moment of pride that they had accepted me. That brought some springs to my steps and pride to my gait.

I decided that as soon as I got home, I would collect all the official papers along with my medical documents for the company.  This was part of the requirements for starting a new position with any organization.

A few weeks later, I was a GUD (Graduate under Development) Staff at that company. During the training course, I met Meshari, who was a lawyer, freshly graduated from Lebanon. He was a white plump person with a cute baby face. I met him for the first time while he was asking me to directly him to my manager office. I felt as a crush on Meshari and I believe I directly fell in love with him even though we only spoke for a few minutes. I had never felt quite so comfortable talking to anyone as I did with him. His eyes. Oh my! I couldn’t look away and yet, couldn’t quite look at them.  I felt sheepish but, somehow, like I was floating the whole time. He started to come to the office every day and I was always forward to seeing him.

Then, one day, he came to my office and just casually said to me “Aisha, since I first saw you, I knew you are the one that I want to complete my life with. Will you marry me?” I was shocked speechless. A little confused, I didn’t care about the usual fanfare that is supposed to accompany a proposal. I was so in love with his chubby rosy face that I was beside myself. I was happy.

Before I knew it, I had melted out of my office as soon as we had done exchanging pleasantries. I ran to my supervisor to ask for permission to go back home. I decided not to talk to anyone regarding his proposal. I wasn’t sure how they would take it. I still had to process it all in my head.

The next day, I was with my grandmother and she was calling me to come down. Apparently, I had a guest. She was saying that there was a person who had asked me to marry her son, but the family refused her offer. My world collapsed. I felt like crying and for the first time, a fight brewed between me and my grandmother and family. They said that due to our family tradition and culture, the girl shall be married only to a certain family. That blasted tradition and culture again.

I decided for a moment that I wanted to call him and tell him that I want to marry him and damn the traditions and culture. However, my mother’s words would not leave my head: “You have to choose either us or him”. From that moment, I lost him. I never thought it would end so soon. After that, nothing mattered anymore. Everything was unimportant to me and I thought I want to die. The only thing that stopped me was my nanny. I knew that from the look in her eye that she stood by me. However, she was helpless except to urge me to keep strong with her few words. I hated everyone. I hated my family. I lost interest in everything. What’s a girl supposed to do?

One day I met him at one of the supermarkets. He was in the company of some other ladies. I was shocked but I concluded that he decided to get married to another woman to forget me. From that time onwards, a strong feeling of animosity against my family welled up inside me. When I got home that home, I said a few choice words to them. It was terrible but I could not be consoled at all.

My feelings were running very high. I wanted to be out of sight. I wanted to avoid everyone and especially, my family. I felt I didn’t want to see them anymore. I would come from work and head to my room directly. Anyone that came to me got the same terse response. I claimed that I just wanted to sleep. I was abrupt. I was rude. I was downright unfriendly.

This went on for 5 months. I was under a mental siege but something interesting was going on in my mind. I just wasn’t sure what it was.

During these 5 months, my grandmother’s health began to deteriorate. One day, while I was on my way back home from work, my mother called me and informed me that she with my grandmother in the ambulance because my grandmother had fainted and no one knew why.

I drove to the hospital. All my family was gathered around my grandmother. I saw her, lying there, looking helpless. She wasn’t talking. She couldn’t talk. I sat beside her on the bed. She opened her eyes, wearily, and stared, blankly, at me. My heart sank. I began to tremble. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it seemed clear she did not recognize. I drew closer and asked her if she recognized me. She smiled. My hart started racing. She was still with us. Then, she shook her head. I went crazy and hugged her and cried. When I was exhausted, I released her back into the head, caressing her head gently and wiping her brow even though she wasn’t sweating. Playing with her face and fretting over her generally.

The doctors informed me that she had a stroke in the Spinal Cord. They recommended surgery in her tommy to insert a feeding tube into her body. She would have to stay in hospital for a month, at the very least. It was just a cascade of bad news. I switched off, unable to bear any more of that. I refused to accept the situation. I just wanted my grandmother back the way she used to be. I didn’t are what they had to do to make her whole again. Tears streamed down my face as I held her hers. My hair got in the way and I slung them back. I was trying so hard to be strong. It wasn’t working. I had never cried quite as hard. Except, I wasn’t crying. I was sobbing. Hot tears. Dribbling saliva. Heaving chest. No sound. Just the convulsing of the body and silent hot tear-drops drenching my grandmother, my hair and her pillow. It wasn’t fair that she should be laid waste like this. It wasn’t fair at all.

When I looked up again, the room was quiet. Everyone was fumbling with their handkerchiefs trying to wipe their own tears. No one spoke. It was silent and surreal. Everyone knew my grandmother was formidable. Everyone knew of our bond. The past few minutes had been poignant. Everyone was moved but no one spoke. I was allowed that private grieving that is made all the more dramatic by the presence of the afflicted.

I decided to stay with her and to sleep at the hospital with her. I felt it was my task as a grand-daughter and no better time to start. My mother and I made arranged to divide our time in shifts and to include my sister. The night shift was mine while my mother and sister would take care of the morning shifts.

 In time, my grandmother made sufficient progress and the doctors elected she was ready to go home and be cared for by her family at home. She was discharged from the hospital and we decided to bring a staff nurse to stay with her 24/7. She would be a live-in nurse.

From 2010 until 2012 I slept on the floor beneath my grandmother’s bed without my own bed. I would often wake up to check on her and to make sure she was fine. I barely got enough sleep but I didn’t care. All that mattered was that she was fine and I was there to attend to her if she needed anything.

My summer vacations were spent in the same way. I was with her throughout except for two weeks when I went shopping. As soon as I could, I went straight back to her.

Eventually, the whole thing got to me. I was worn out – physically, mentally and emotionally. I was at sixes and sevens with my life and was just exhausted. I felt I needed a break to recharge and get my focus back. I started wondering if I was doing the right thing. Sure enough, I loved my grandmother but, was I even qualified to provide the care I was giving? Was it not better to let the professionals do their thing while I got on with my life? I don’t know. I was confused. She was my best friend who loved me unconditionally. What was I to do? How else was I to react? She needed me. I couldn’t just scoot away and leave her there.

 I needed to talk to someone and it wasn’t my family. I had a friend. Maha.

Maha was a famous Photographer, a kind person who was very open-minded one dependable. I went to see her and confided my troubles in her. Maha was very understanding and it turned out, wise too.

She listened intently as I poured out my heart to her over a light meal and in between TV watching. She never interrupted for once but nodded in the right places and wide eyed in others.

“Aisha, I know you, you are not the kind of person to abandon your responsibilities. In any event, event, even if you will assign others your tasks, you will still be heavily involved and will only be unhappy. You will still want to be there to at least supervise what is happing to your grandmother. So, instead of supervising, do your task and everything will be alright. Then she regarded me for a moment as her words sunk in. She was right, of course. No one, as far as I could determine, would ever be good enough for my grandmother except me. Then, she added with her usual fanfare: “…and girl, if you need something one day, you must know I will always be there for you”.  With that, we went back to doing girl stuff. I felt the lifting of a heavy weight. I felt much lighter and better able to handle my situation. These few words made me a stronger person and determined to stand stronger. I also vowed to be there for her. One good turn deserves another.

I made arrangements with her care givers and doctors to keep me on call. This was particularly useful when I was at work. Thanks to technology, WhatsApp, particularly, I could keep in touch with her without any loss of time.

Maha turned out to be a dear friend. She would text me every morning to inquire about my grandmother and my welfare. Her messages were always encouraging and helped me to stay focused on my sanity and my grandmother’s wellbeing. She was quite a good friend and I was very thankful to stay close to her. I needed a level and cool head. She provided that. I specifically enjoyed the Duaa[1] or reminder prayer that we have to say every morning.

One day, however, just as things were settling down to a routine, I got a rather strange message from her that simply and ominously said “Be careful when you drive. I love you”. That message was around 8 am. It wasn’t really strange as such. Our roads were pretty bad and nearly all drivers suffer from road rage. So, it wasn’t uncommon to wish each other safe travels.

By 11:30 that morning, I was at my office when my supervision came to me and asked” Do you know Maha Nasser?” I said “Yeah, she is a close friend of me, why did she get engaged?” An innocent question. Girls of my age were all getting married off so, why no Maha. Besides, we used to receive messages if someone got engaged from a third person. My manager said “No…but can you come to my office, please. I need to talk to you for a second”.

I followed her to her office. She closed the door and blurted out to me “I have received a message saying that Maha passed away by car accident. Sorry to tell you that”

Sorry to tell me that? What do you mean by that? What does that mean anyway? You must be mistaken. Things just don’t happen like that. She’s my friend and I only got a text message from her this morning a few hours ago, I was confused and angry. She didn’t speak. Just looked at me with much pity and concern. I ran out of her office as if to run away from all that bad news. As if her office contained the dark cloud. She tried to stop me, to console me but, I was down the hall before she even got off her chair. I think I had hoped to catch up with Maha and snatch her back before death could conclude whatever it was he wanted with her. I also hoped to knock him off balance.

I thought I was dreaming, I directly called her cousin and she confirmed that she was searching for her car around her house but I couldn’t find it. I started to call her phone but it was switched off.

Then, her cousin called back and confirmed the awful news. It really was true. Maha had died in a car accident.

I dropped my phone and my mind went back to her text message. She had a premonition, only, it was about her. It seemed she did not take the advice she gave me. I stood there, riveted to the floor, unable to move or think beyond my immediate presence. The blinds rattled with a light breeze. I was jolted out of my stupor and saw a shadow pass between the blinds. I could not make out what it was but found myself reaching out.

Maha! I called out. Then, I recovered and lowered my hand. “I love you too”.

I drove to her house but all of them had gone to the hospital to have the last look of her. I did not go. I couldn’t believe that she broke our promise and left me alone.

During those three days of mourning, her mother met with us her closest friends and advised us not to forget Maha. “Always pray for her. She needs your prayers”.

The three days seemed like a dream. An unfortunate dream at that. It was hard to believe that Maha was no more. So much happening in a very short space of time. It was more than I could handle or wanted to handle. It seemed so cruel and I didn’t quite know what to do. I didn’t even have any close friends to discuss the matter with.

Then, I decided to go to the cemetery and check her grave. I just had a hard time accepting that she was gone. I wanted to see if her name was there. Sure enough. It was. Etched there in beautiful letters. It reminded me of her character. Slender, gentle and beautiful. Those letters looked so vulnerable and cold. I shivered a little. But, I stayed. I lingered by her grave. I prayed and talked to her for a while. I even told some jokes and gossiped about some guys we both knew and how they wasted so much so much time chasing us.

Then, my phone buzzed. I looked at it and realized I had been there for quite some time. “Hey, Maha’, I started, I must get going. It’s getting…” I trailed off. I was alone at the cemetery and talking to my friend who had gone. Then, it hit me. She really was dead. I would never see her again. Suddenly, I felt lonely and cold. I looked around very quickly and there was no one else there. I panicked. I started to run out. The shadows were gathering and the cool breeze of the evening was fluttering. A chill rose across my spine and I felt the hairs rising on my back.  My heart leapt. But, I didn’t want to run. It would seem quite foolish. In actual fact, my mind was already running faster than I could control it. I walked. Very fast. Then, slow and then fast. I tripped a little but kept going. I dared not look back even though I felt something or someone was walking up slowly behind me. I kept walking. Briskly. Scared but…refused to hurry. Then, I stopped. I closed my eyes and summoned my energy. This is ridiculous. It’s my friend Maha. Why would I feel this way? Was I panicking or just a frightened young woman feeling alone? Then, I turned around to see who was walking up behind me. There was no one. I was there alone. I heaved a sigh of relief. Then, there was whiff. A smell I recognized. It was the sweet smell of a perfume. It was the brand Maha always wore. Her favorite. I drew in a breath and let it out slowly. I basked in its ambience for a few seconds. It lingered as the wind swayed in its wake. Then it was gone. I opened my eyes again. “Goodbye, Maha”, I muttered. “I love you. Go in peace”.

As I walked out of that cemetery that day, I thought of the two people I had. One of them was supposed to be my husband to be and the other, my closest friend. If lose my grandmother it would be curtains for me. I could not take any more.

I mentally pleaded with the world to take a moment of silence to remember loved ones and especially, to dedicate it to Maha. I would kindly appreciate if you share with me some prayer to ask God “Almighty Allah” to bliss her soul and to let her rest in peace.

“O Allaah, forgive and have mercy upon her, excuse her and pardon her and make honorable her reception. Expand her entry, cleanse her with water, snow, and ice, and purify her of sin as a white robe is purified of filth. Exchange her home for a better home, and her family for a better family. Admit her into the Garden; protect her from the punishment of the grave and the torment of the Fire. Amen”.

Chapter six:

My country is considered one of the smallest countries located in the Middle East on the Arabian Gulf. It is a desert country with intensely hot summers and cold winters.

Its population based on 2000 estimation was 1,973,572, including 1,159,913 natural citizens. A variety of ethnic groups reside in this country from the surrounding Middle Eastern nations, such as Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Yemen. These constitute 35 percent of the population. In addition to these Arabian and African populations, approximately 9 percent of the population is Indian, 4 percent of the population is Iranian and the remaining 7 percent consists of other foreign nationals. Approximately 29 percent of the population is 14 years or under, 68 percent is between the ages of 15 and 64, and 2 percent of the population is over 65 years of age. Around 60 percent of the population is male, while 40 percent of the population is female.

Ethnic Kuwaitis try to keep their cultural dominance in an increasingly complex society. Its culture is homogeneous and holds the traditional values developed in accordance with the teachings of Islam. Most of my county citizens work in the government sector which decreases the chances to offer jobs to the foreign nationals. In addition, there are rules and restrictions against foreigners to own property and businesses.

Almost two hundred years ago, my country shifted from a nomadic way of life to urban living. Islam has largely influenced the development of the urban environment, and my country citizen homes reflect the beliefs of Islam as clearly as they reflect the influence of desert life culture. Most homes are rectangular and are organized around an inner courtyard. This courtyard protects from the wind and direct sunlight in the arid desert climate.

Generally, homes are clustered together to unite and serve the needs of an extended family. As family size increases, more rooms are built on to accommodate the new members.

After centuries of living as nomads, the relatively recent increase in the income of my country has led to a rapid rise in the relative obesity of the general population. The shift from a nomadic to open lifestyle quickly with industrialization and urbanization coincided with the advent of the oil industry in the past century, and habits of nutrition have not completely changed to accommodate the present environment.

Based on my country’s cultural, it is very important to be generous in providing food for guests. For ceremonial occasions such as weddings, people will roast an entire sheep and serve with rice.

My country is, predominately, an Islamic country; alcohol is illegal within its borders. Islam influences many customs regarding food, the most prominent of which is the fasting month of Ramadan. During Ramadan, practitioners of Islam fast between sunrise and sunset. Also at this time, the consumption of food, drink and tobacco in public is forbidden.

With only 5 percent of the land suitable for farming, my country is depending mainly on international trade for the provision of most necessities, such as food, clothing, and construction materials.

Many people live in urban areas due to the volatility in the price of available property: prices are high and the general population has limited ability to own property.

The economy of my country depends mainly, on the oil industry. To protect oil interests, the country was one of the founding members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

Throughout the years, my country has depended on trade, and today exports total $13.5 billion each year in oil, refined products and fertilizers. Japan, India, the United States, South Korea and Singapore are the major recipients of our exports. Furthermore, we import $8.1 billion a year in food, construction materials, vehicles and parts, and clothing from the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy.

There are five levels of social stratification in our society and these divisions are based on wealth. At the apex of the social hierarchy is the ruling family. Below that are old Kuwaiti merchant families. In the middle of the strata are former Bedouins, Arabian Desert nomads, who settled in Kuwait with the advent of the oil industry. Next come Arabs from neighboring countries and at the bottom of this hierarchy are foreigners.

Within these classes, there are strong kinship bonds which help maintain the social structure. Social stratification is perpetuated by the state, as in the legal ability to own property by cultural factors, such as marriage patterns, and by social rights, such as the provision or lack of state funded education, healthcare and housing. Within this hierarchy, there are enormous gaps between the vastly rich, the middle class, and the extraordinarily poor migrants.

The government of my country is nominally a constitutional monarchy, headed by the Amir. The constitution was approved and implemented in 1961. Upon the development of this constitutional monarchy, Kuwait developed a National Assembly. As a political system built on a hierarchy of clans, nepotism is rampant in the government.

There are no national political parties or leaders, yet several political groups act as de facto parties; these include the Bedouins, merchants, nationalists, Sunni and Shi’a activists, and secular leftists. These de facto parties are divided along the lines of class and religion.

Social problems stem predominantly from the various systemic hierarchies. Within these structures, groups and individuals are constantly struggling to either improve or maintain their position. As of late, the position of women within these structures has been a subject of great debate. Similarly, the degree to which Islam should influence political structures is also a source of debate and contention. Presently, political and social controls are influenced by a combination of Islam and tradition.

Both the custom and law in Kuwait enforce a division of labor by gender. Unlike other Arabic countries, women are involved in various aspects of the labor force. However, but the percentage of women involved in labor outside of the home is small. Those women who are gainfully employed often work in the social services, in clerical positions and as teachers. Few women are owners or managers of small businesses.

Most marriages in my country are arranged in accordance with tradition. Intermarriage occurs within clans, but not between social classes. Women, regardless of their age, need their father’s permission to marry. Also, a woman cannot marry a non-Muslim, although a man is afforded this privilege. In addition, a woman can only marry one spouse, while a man has the legal right to four wives.

Due to the cultural disposition and heritage of my country, any girl has the right to choose her husband based on certain criteria. If the girl thinks of breaking one of the rules, she will be ostracised from her family – generally speaking

There are many instances where families disown their daughters or sons because they had chosen the girl/boy whom they want to spend the rest of their life with. One of my cousins was asked to divorce her husband due to the rigid rules that are enforced by her family because she chose her husband instead of the cultural wedding and the family proposal.

Although technology had taken place in my country, still, much of the people refuse to change their thinking and are strict to their beliefs and cultural.

This can be and has been very frustrating in many respects. I wish I had magical wands to change the mind of the people so the children can decide their future without the burden of boundaries or any threats. In that case, much will change for the best. One of them will be my life. I might be a much happier person than I’m now. I am miserable and really want to run way.

My society restricts me. Frustrates me. Holds me back. I am not the product of diminished vision. I am free. A child of the revolution. A progressive. A free spirit.

Want to know more? Read on, please!

Chapter Seven:

Days after Maha’s death, I faced many difficulties. One of these was believing in myself and my strength. I lost my self-confidence or the faith that I could handle my problem. It was terrible. I was lie a ship without a rudder and as buffeted about by all manners of winds.

My only anchor was my grandmother. Because of her, I was able tom pull myself together. As she got better, she would smile at me and that alone was enough to brink me back from the brink of the abyss of self-destruction and self-doubt.

She had lost her speech and was pretty helpless. She was also unable to really move about or take care of herself. Her stroke had robbed her of much movement and control. Although she could not talk, I felt, from the look in her eyes that she had shifted power from her to me and willed me to live out my life and hers. I’m not certain why I felt this way but it seemed the only logical conclusion. I don’t know how or why but I felt it running through my veins. Its inexplicable but, such was the bond between us that I was certain this transfer was taking place.

My daily routine had significantly altered since her stroke. My life consisted of work and handing back home to see my grandmother. Sometimes, I would help my sister-in-law with her children’s homework.

Blast! I forgot to mention that by this time, my brother had been busy in the child production business. He managed to squeeze out 3 boys. His wife was having the time of her life. Well, they both were. The oldest of his boys was in the first grade while my sister had 2 children – a boy and a cute girl whom. They were 2 and 3 years old respectively at that time.

With such a large and growing family, you’d think I’d care. I didn’t. Not that I didn’t care, just that I was consumed by my grandmother’s health and nothing else mattered. I simply left everything and shifted my full attention and life to her.

My grandmother’s health was going down rapidly. I was depressed that I couldn’t do anything about it. I as helpless. We were all helpless. To prepare me for the inevitable, a friend of mine suggested that I should pursue my masters’ program and, somehow enjoy myself. I gave it some thought and determined that I would do just that. I informed my family of my decision and secured their blessings and encouragement. Much of the care for my grandmother shifted to my mother and I turned my attention the public university for my MBA program.

I changed my life’s schedule. From 7 am to 3 pm, I was at work. I would be back for 1 hour for lunch, steal a look at my grandmother, prepare my bag for the university studies and go there from 5-8pm. Then, I will be back home to see my grandmother for 1 hour, dinner and then bed. This wasn’t much of a life for a young woman but that was my life and I was living it with a mixture of feelings.

This was my routine for 1.5 years until December 2012.

One fine day, out of the blue, I was informed that my grandmother was taken by ambulance to the hospital in critical situation. However, the hospital refused to admit her because there weren’t enough places at the ICU unit. Using wasta[2] however, we talked to some of our relatives whom owned a hospital and decided to move her there.

For almost a month, she was kept in the ICU and no one was allowed to enter to see her unless he/she wore a certain cloth and no electronic device was allowed in. I want to see her. I was unprepared for the sight that confronted me. I never imagined that one day, I would see her so weak, unconscious and under some mechanical ventilation. I couldn’t touch her. No one was not allowed to touch her. I could only stand and look at her. I could only hope, against hope, that she might open her eyes for just a moment and to see me. It was all in vain. She did not. When I left the room, I saw the doctors gathered around my father, my mother, my siblings and some of my relative. I didn’t hear the conversation, but I remember few words that the doctor said:

“You can say your last goodbyes. It will be either today or tomorrow morning.”

I felt I was dreaming. My brother Yousef told me I must go back home to have some rest especially as I was having my final exams the next day. I left. Forlorn and dejected. I wasn’t actually quite sure how to feel. Happy for her for being relived of the dreadful pain or miserable for me that she was going. I drove all the way back home, in deep thought and hardly paying attention. I was surprised I found the right way home. On my way, I was remembering all the moment I used to spend with her from childhood till my teenage life.

I was sailing on a raft. The water was clear and clean. It was deep but you could both the clear blue sky reflected on it and all the way deep down to the disappearing abyss of the bottom. The wind was calm and I was gliding gently on my one platform raft with no paddles and no sails. It was peaceful and scenic. I was loving it.

Then, out of the blue (pun intended), from my left, there appeared a long, huge black fish that looked like a shark. It came straight at me with incredible ferocity and full force. It struck my raft just once. Just then, there was a woman by my right-hand side on a boat. It turned out that I had been rafting on a giant swimming pool. Open sea, an elevated and enclosed bank that made it appear to be a giant pool.

This woman was at the right edge of the pool and pushed a larger raft towards me as I fell towards my right. Her intention was to break my fall and stop me from falling into the river. She seemed non-committal given the gravity of what I was facing but she did attempt to assist. The shark struck my raft and everything went haywire. Thanks to the woman and her raft, I did not fall into the sea. At the moment of impact however, I jolted upright, gasping for breath. Just in time. I returned to the present.

I slammed by breaks just as I was about to hit the car in front. The car swerved badly but managed to stop just off the road on the hard shoulder. The driver behind me was on his phone and not so fortunate. Too late, he slammed his breaks and rear-ended the car that had just crisscrossed into our path as I left the lane in front of him. His car mounted the trunk of that other car. It was a mess but no one was hurt. Just frazzled nerves.

Unsure whether or not I ended up in the water or on the platform set for me by the unknown lady. I felt a pain on my elbow and felt it for bruises. The flesh was tender but no visible bruises. Yet, the pain was there and the elbow sore. Very sore.

The other drivers gave me evil looks. I had caused an accident and escaped to tell the tale. They looked at me as if I was crazy. Swear words filled the air but one look at me and some were persuaded that I was in shock. Some pitied me. Others simply honked and drove off swearing.

When the police arrived, I confessed I had dozed off whole driving. They offered to drive me home or accompany me home with a police escort when I refused. I felt the back of my head. It was wet. Drenching wet, as if I had been swimming.

This dream occurred the night before my grandmother had the stroke. It all came back to me now. The memory recall was sparked by a view of the lake as I was driving home that day. The waves crashed and rolled against each other. Quite a sight to behold. The water seemed unusually clear even from my distance. Until then, it was simply a repressed memory I never even knew I had.

When I got home, my brother called to be sure that I was ok. A few moments after that I received a message “It’s over”. I replied “What do you mean, I didn’t get you” Then, yet another message “she has gone to a better place now”.

Many emotions enveloped me. Anger. Depression. Sadness. Shock. Nausea. Heartache. I felt I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. I was all cried out but I was also in denial. It’s not true. She is not …gone. Of course, she will be back. She’s my grandmother. She’d be back to hug me like she always did and everything will be normal again.

The elevator pinged and I got excited for a moment. Yes. I thought. Expectantly. She’s here. I’d never been more mortified to see a pair of faces in my life. It was my father and mother. One look in their eyes and the truth came home to me. They were tearing up. They couldn’t even look at me. Simply walked past me into their room. No hugs. No kisses and no consolations. They needed it as much I did. I turned to face them, my mouth agape ready to demand an explanation. But, they didn’t even make any eye contact. A thick dark shadow hung over us all. Grief weighed heavily. They just shook their heads and walked on.

From that moment, I knew the message was true. I had lost her.

That day no one slept. We waited until it the early hours of the morning when they brought her. My mother and aunties give her a shower. Then they prepared her for burial. They told me to have the last look at her. I went to the room and came to a dead stop. I couldn’t carry myself forward. I felt the floor was shaking under my feet. My auntie helped me get steady. She started to say talk to me in effort to shore up my nerves.

Just then, my brother Yousef came by. I threw myself into his body. Then, the water works started.  Soon, the ambulance arrived for the body. I went into free fall. As they wheeled her out, I suddenly, I stopped. It was all hitting me hard now. I was curious. Of what, I wasn’t sure. When they left with her body, I ran into the living room, slouched on the sofa and went silent. A few minutes later, my sister entered the living room, hugged me and then started to cry. I was still in shock and I couldn’t talk to anyone.

Hanadi, my friend, was the first person to call me. She called many times but I didn’t answer, so she decided to keep calling until I answered. I was angry and I replied “Hanadi stop it! Mama Fatima passed away”. I hung up A few moments later, she was in my home.  She hugged me and said: “Don’t worry Aisha, its ok, I’m here”.  I pushed her away for a moment as her word sunk into my head. Then last person that had aid to me had ended up dead. Now, my grandmother, the only person I ever really loved, was dead. She was there for me. She had always been there for me. Now, she was gone. Who was going to be there for me? And what about you, Hanadi? Who is there for you. I stared at her. She felt uncomfortable. We both did. Then, I hugged her again. We both felt better. I had decided it was pointless to blame her for what she said. She meant well. I gave her a tight squeeze so she knows I meant well too.

That day, I refused to eat. I had no appetite to do so. Hanadi suggested that I should go to the university to speak to my professor to postpone the forthcoming exam. She observed that I was too weak for the exam anyway. I was still silent and teary. I was sobbing. I was mourning. I heard nothing and responded to nothing. My world was in free fall and dark whirl winds were encircling me. I saw stars of all shades and shapes. I was barreling into a cone shaped tunnel and the ground was coming up quite fast. She hugged me again and said “I will be back. Please, stay and have some rest”. Then, she left.

Guests. People. More guests. They started to gather in our house to express their condolences. with us their sympathy about Mama Fatima death. The news of her death started to spread amongst my friends. They came to me and some of them stayed with me until the end of the day. The three days of public mourning passed so quickly. Then, silence. Intense, unbearable silence.

The following Saturday morning, I went to the university to take my final exams. The professor was very understanding of my situation. My result wasn’t brilliant but neither did I fail.

At home, a deep sense of fatigue set in. Everybody was starting to become weak starting from my mother to me. I started to hate everything. My car. My job. My life. Everything. I wished, for that moment, to follow Mama Fatima.  But many people stopped me from thinking in that way. I was told I was too young to think about death. All my life was ahead of me. The truth was that nothing mattered anymore.

The next day, I got dramatic. I abruptly resigned from my job without notice. It was with immediate effect. It didn’t make sense to anyone. It certainly didn’t make sense to me but there we were. I did it and that was all there was to it. Then, I drove home, feeling a mixture of pangs of anticipation and the dullardry of resignation. I went back home and sold my car the same night. Next, I went on to change everything I owned. Then, I had a rather naughty thought. What if I could also change my family and friends? As I felt at the time, I knew I would have gladly done so. But when I remember how they stood by me when I needed them. I changed my mind. Family is family and we only get one. I’m over it.

Bye and bye, I started to get a series of frequent pains in my stomach. I put off going to the doctors for quite some time but eventually, I went. After an extensive examination, the doctor fixed me with a very grave stare. Without any deference or fanfare, he commanded that I be admitted to the hospital immediately. Apparently, I was running a high fever of approximately 40’ C. I was in great danger. I took he was joking about the admission thing. He was serious. I thought he was overacting. He wasn’t.

They did a blood test and discovered an infection in my body but couldn’t trace the source or location of the infection. I was admitted to the hospital. I was there for a month. I had 2 surgical procedures. The first was in my abdomen where they made a ¾ incision in search of some bacteria. They found the fever reduced a tad but remained high. They didn’t have the culprit. So, the infection was still there. That meant another surgery. How I hate hospitals. They are always cutting you open to find something you never even knew you had.

The second surgery invaded my lungs. There, they claimed to find some fluid. Not sure what they expected to find but, fluid, it was. They decided on yet another surgery to drain the fluid. They made a pipe insertion through an injection and a small niche in my body. I was transferred, later to the ICU unit for 2 nights and my parent were so afraid that they might lose me.

They were starting a process to send my medical paper abroad. Apparently, they felt I needed better care than they would provide. What nonsense! I turned down the idea. I wanted to remain in my country. Nothing to do with patriotism. Just stubbornness. Besides, I didn’t want anyone else poking around inside of me. I was attended to by the same nurse that attended to my grandmother.

Soon, Ramadan came and went and I was discharged from the hospital a few days afterwards. The doctor informed me that I wasn’t allowed to fast during that period because my body needed to get some fluid. Then, he prescribed some medication to aid my fat recovery.

The funny thing was that my sister was also not allowed to fast because she was pregnant. The baby condition was not so good and she needed to take some vitamins to keep the baby stable and alive. Doctor’s orders.

The nurse waited on me hand and foot. If I needed some fresh air, she had to accompany me. More doctor’s orders. The doctor saw I was recovering at a good rate and said it was a good start but I needed to change my place and to have some fun. He also suggested it was better for me to travel rather than to stay back home. I regarded him with some skepticism but, who was I? he was the physician.

My sister delivered a baby girl whom she named after my grandmother “Fatima”. There was then much celebration and merriment in honor of a new Fatima arrival. I wondered if she would be anything like my grandmother. She looked like her in several ways. They say that blood never lies. I certainly hope so. Who can handle that?

I went to the hospital to see the new bundle of joy – my new niece – and her mother. I decided to stay and spend time with them. I peered down at the little baby in her crib. I was taken aback by how tiny she looked. I’m not sure what I expecting but, nonetheless, it still a surprise. I bent down and smelled her. She smelled sweet and baby…sh. I love the smell of babies. She looked radiant and so pure, it was almost sanctifying to be close to something so clean and pure and blank and tiny.

I picked her up…gently…slowly. She was wide awake and staring at me. She had just been fed so I thought it was strange that she wasn’t sleeping as babies do. She felt light and raggedy as I picked her up. Fragility doesn’t even define her. I stared at her face. She stared back and something that seemed like a faint smile broke on her face. I smiled back and kissed her forehead, then her cheeks. I inspected her tiny hands, taking them in mine. I ran my fingers through hers and felt her lines. So small. So fragile. So innocent. Here’s looking at the future. Then, I held her close and felt her heart beat. It felt more like flutters – so fat and rhythmic. I held her up against me and swayed. She hiccupped and cooed. I looked at her face and deep into her eyes. For a moment, I thought I saw something there I hadn’t seen before. As I held her, I started to sob. Silently at first, but, then, audibly but still subdued. Memories. Desires. Wants. Ambitions. At that moment, I so wanted to be a mother. I wanted something like this to call my own. Someone that would not go away. Someone to care for and devote my life to as my grandmother had devoted hers to me. Someone to love unconditionally. I was lost in thought and clutched the baby tight. My sister at first allowed me some privacy and space. But then, slowly, she came to me and held me. I held the baby. Together, we sobbed. I, with deep sadness tinged with joy for her. Her…well…I guess, in sympathy and joy at the same time.

Much later, after we had exhausted all small talks and pleasantries, I rose to leave. My sister hugged me again. I congratulated and wished her well.

I left with much happiness. However, something had changed. It wasn’t quite me anymore. It seemed something had happened to the old me over these few weeks.  The new one was till emerging. The old one, well, not really sure but, something was definitely afoot.

I was changing in several ways. Normally, a shopaholic, I maintained my refusal to go to the mall or even to get a new job. All I wanted to do was sleep. Nothing further. I did not particularly want to eat or be bothered by anyone. In fact, I didn’t want to see anyone at all. Not even my nanny, never mind my parents.

I dreamt, always, of my grandmother and always wondered if she was happy wherever she was. I so wanted to hear from her. You hear stories of the dead visiting loved ones or a portal being opened to the other side. I so wished for such an experience with her. No such thing happened. The walls remained solid and the gates, shut. So much for belief and all that. So much for grief and grieving. I was heartbroken and nothing could console me.

One day, one of my mother’s close friends, a nice lady called Ghalia, met with my mother and suggested that I should accompany her an on a trip outside the country with her daughters. She thought I could do with the change of scenery. Ghalia had 3 daughters. The eldest was Rahaf who recently graduated from Jorden as a lawyer, Nouf was the middle one and a senior student at the university faculty of engineering. The youngest was Hadeel. She was a junior student at the high school at that time. They used to come around to our house around during their childhood. Their mother-in-law was one of my maternal grandmothers.

I was hesitant to accept her offer. I was so withdrawn that the sight of people made me almost physically sick. However, I was beginning to dislike my own company anyway and them insisting I came with them eventually was too much to bear. I relented, much to my mother’s delight.

It was a 2-week trip to Dubai starting from 24th of December 2013 to second of January 2014. We went to shopping mall, Abu Dhabi Ferrari land and many other places. However, one day before the new-year eve, late at night, I was sobbing, yet again. Rahaf came to me. She held me tight and felt sad for me. She comforted me and we went back to sleep. I still remember when I got up early that morning, I saw her text message. She let me know that she was there whenever I needed her. It was very sweet of her and made me feel a little better. Still, that day, I cried so much because it was the first complete year I was spending since my grandmother’s death. I missed her terribly. They understood and treated me with much kindness and compassion.

I began to notice further changes in my personality. I had never been a fan of scary movies, roller coasters and every un-expected thing. I was always an emotional person and quite gullible.

One day, however, Nouf who was the closest person at the time, changed me by being hard on me. I understood later that she was trying to e me to toughen up. I was too soft. Too impressionable and too weak.

After that Dubai trip, my relationship with Auntie Ghalia’s daughters changed. I began to see them as blood sisters. We began to discover one another and learned to depend on each other. I learned to share most of my secrets with them knowing they would preserve and respect my confidence in them.  Nouf and I grew closer and she shared our feelings, emotions and adventures. I was surprised at how well we understood each other. It was remarkable. She would understand me even without my using so many words. I only needed to express a feeling and she would understand.

My parents, especially my mother, were delighted to see that there was someone who could understand me and would listen to my problems. I feel the same way about her, I can understand her emotion and feeling through her tone, the way of texting me and I try my best to keep her happy. It was an enriching sister relationship and made us both happy. Just as well I didn’t elect to change my family. We traveled to so many places together and from then onwards, were inseparable. We went to France, Switzerland, Italy, The Maldives, The United Kingdom and Untied Arab of Emirates. These were special moments for both of us. A girl had found her BFF.

I considered every day to be a gift from God and I was grateful that I had discovered my extended family – especially, Nouf. She became a soul-mate sister rather than a friend. One sentence I always remembered whenever I was sad was from Nouf: “How come you become sad when I am around you?” That always made me smile and I promptly forgot my worries.  

In time, we grew very close and our friendship, based on common values and mutual respect blossomed. We decided, or it simply evolved, but we had special names for each other that helped us maintain a strong bond of friendship. Ordinarily, we avoided calling each other by our real names. When we did, it meant something was afoot. Don’t get me wrong. We were two hot headed young women almost occupying the same space. We didn’t always agree on everything and, in fact, had some heated arguments. However, we didn’t let that get in the way. Even when we had one of our frequent fights, it was impossible to imagine not making up before the day ended. Usually, a call at night for a long period of gossiping and giggling served the purpose of reconciliation. It was just as well. I began to understand the power of freedom in friendship. Our bond was strong, not because we were close family but because we had made a conscious choice to be friends and to eschew all that could have separated us. Nouf didn’t have closes friend and I was convinced that she allowed me to fill that gap adequately.

As for me, I had many other friends and even a best friend or two. However, none of them was or could be as close to me as Nouf. I didn’t consider her a best friend as such, yet, neither could I describe our friendship as that between sisters. It was something more but defied definition. I confided in her and she in me. Outside a sexual relationship, we seemed to complete each other in a way that sisterhood or friendship could not do justice to. For me, Nouf was a replacement for my grandmother but in a younger version. Every day I would seek for peace and mercy of my grandmother soul, but also I thanked G od that he brought to me another version of my grandmother that I couldn’t live my life without her. I was so grateful that I wrote a ditty for her. This vividly captures my sentiments although words are really inadequate for these things:

You are my best friend, you belong in my heart
We go through ups and downs but still nothing can tear us apart.
I know you as a sister and I will always care
Love, respect, and trust are the things we share.

I know you as a person, I especially know you as a friend
Our friendship is something that will never end.
Right now, this second, this minute, this day
Our sisterhood is here, is here to stay.

My friendship with you is special and true,
When we are together, we stick like glue.

When I’m in the darkness that need some light
When you’re by my side, I know things are all right.

When you are with me Nouf, I know everything is all right.

My life is full of happiness because of you.

Chapter Eight:

One day, a thought occurred to me as I sat pondering several things. I was alone in my room and was wondering what my next move in life ought to be. I had grown weary of my environment and country. I wanted to expand my horizon. Experience new things and new places. See new people, eat different food and experiment with life. My mind dwelt, for a while, on my uncompleted Masters’ degree program. I was never quite sure why I had not finished it and thoughts of it filled me with some anxiety.

I wondered if this might be a good time to travel abroad for a while, live there and take the opportunity to finish what I had started. The more I thought about it, the more I was seduced by the idea and I daydreamed of the possibilities.

I chose Bahrain from a short list of countries. I considered the merits. It is not so far away first of all its not far away from home and I have some of my mother’s family living over there anyway. So, there we were. All I needed to do now was to ask my parent’s permission and funding. I was convinced they would not refuse.

Then, I ran around to the Ministry of Education to see which university I should apply to in Bahrain. I chose from a list, the one that was most likely accept my transcripts as a transfer student. I had to take many different exams, produce letters of recommendation from my professors and previous employers and write personal statements. It was tedious but I didn’t mind at all.

In no time at all, I got the letters of acceptance from some universities. I was happy. The next move was to travel to Bahrain to find a house. The following weekend, we went back to buy furniture. It was exciting and a lot of fun. My parents were generous and kind. They were just so happy to me coming back alive again.

That summer, I attended an English course in Bahrain. Once I got a taste of the country, I decided to move there in the beginning of August.

Tears from my mother

For the first time in my life, I saw my mother crying openly. Aside from her subdued sobs following my grandmother’s death, I had never seen her like that. This was quite the sight. I went to give her a hug. She let me and we both held on. I promised her that I would be back soon. She seemed emolliated but, I knew she was just being a mother. It was just strange to see her show so much emotion over me. I felt good…in a perverse sort of way. I was special, after all.

Nouf, Rahaf, Hadeel and Auntie Ghalia offered to take me to the airport. I started receiving phone calls from my friends and family expressing their well-wishes and ordering me to study hard, finish the task at hand and come home. It was all a novel event and I felt special again.

Of course, not to be outdone, my nanny decided to come with me to Bahrain. My parents had no use for her at home anyway so, why not? I could do with the company and her service. Besides, she had proved herself to be dedicated to my welfare. I was also very fond of her. It all worked out quite well.

Nouf held my hand. Tight. Very tight. It was as if she was asking me to stay. Not in so many words. She didn’t say anything, actually. Just messages conveyed without words. At that point, I became unsure what to do next – to go or not to go. That became the question on my mind to go or to stay. Then, I remembered my grandmother wishes that should complete my studies and not to stop my dream. that was a good thought that reminded me of my plans and vision. My resolve returned. I had to ignore the tears.  I picked up my boarding pass and my bags claim tickets. Nothing further to do but to wait. Gosh! I really hate airports. All that long wait to board. You get up nearly to make sure you have everything. Then you stress about missing your flight and get to the airport early. Going through customs and baggage check was always a nightmare. After all that, you sit and wait. It seems you wait forever. Looking at all these people going about their business. It’s amazing anything gets done at all. It all seems co confusing. But…wait. Wait and wait some more.

Fortunately, I had Nouf for company or it would have been unbearable otherwise. We decided to hit the café hut for some light refreshments.

As usual, there were always people I know everywhere and they all wished me safe trips and the usual admonition to take care of myself. All well intended. All sweetly received and acknowledged. Nouf and I kept snapchatting and tweeting even though we sat next to each other. Funny what technology does to you. For us, it had become quite indispensable, really.

Shopping!! Nothing like an airport to make a girl shop till she dropped. This was no exception either. We were both somewhat restrained though. Me, for lack of energy and carrying space. Nouf, for want of a shopping vision. But then, who said a girl needed to justify her shopping self? We bought some gifts for each other and just enjoyed shopping and spending money. She had asked me to invite some of my friends along for the goodbye provided there was no distance between her and I at all.

I had been meaning to let Nouf know how much I appreciated her and our friendship. I never quite had the opportunity. It seemed trivial and silly. Today, however, as we shopped and giggled and waited, I felt it was the right time. I was traveling to another country anyway. What better time could there be? I started, somewhat, with some hesitation: “Nouf, you know you have become the closest person to me since my grandmother passed away. I had no one quite like her. It seems that God has given you to me in compensation. I am truly grateful to him and to you for being there. I want you to know that no matter how many friends I meet or have, you will always be that special one”. We hugged and sniveled a little. Just small tears. No biggy.

“Now, please, let’s enjoy the few minutes we have together before I leave, shall we?”

We walked around, laughing, remembering old times and old antics we had gotten into. Time passed so very quickly. We were having fun and Nouf seemed so happy. I was very happy and wished the time wouldn’t end.

Then came the announcement over the PA system: “Passengers at xxx airways flight number 409 are kindly requested to finish all the travel procedures and proceed to gate number 1”.

We looked at each other with that look of protracted goodbye Time flies and there’s a plane to catch. and notes that it is the time to say goodbye. We returned to the café I collected the rest of my belongings. I headed for the gate. I gave everyone a hug. When I hugged Nouf, it was all laughter and giggles. However, as I walked away, tears. Sadness. I disappeared, quickly, to the main door as I ran to the gate. I sent a video note to all my auntie Ghalia daughters asking them to take care of themselves and to come to me every now and then.

I arrived at Bahrain International Airport. It was a beautiful place but not too dissimilar to my country. I had been here a few times in the recent past so, I wasn’t entirely a JJC (Jane just came). I was already missing home even if it had just been less than 4 hours. I ambled over to the phone kiosks and bought a sim card with international dialing package and internet service. Then, I called my family and informed them that I had arrived safely. Then, I sent a text message to Nouf.

My first full week in Bahrain was interesting for lack of excitement. Somewhat rough for being a strange new place that I would no call home for the next few months, I tried to make the most of it. I missed home terribly and, of course, Nouf. My solace as my nanny who worked very hard to make me as comfortable as possible. Actually, we helped each other. She was used to being away from her own family although, if the truth be told, we had become her family and since she came to us, we have never really been apart.

I kept in touch with Nouf through WhatsApp. Apparently, she was planning a surprise foe me. All I had to do was to achieve and maintain a grade of 80% and above. When the exams came around, I was not found wanting and did, in fact, achieve a much grade than expected.

The surprise? Well, a charming one, actually. Nouf and her sisters came to visit me in Bahrain. This, truly, made my year. I was elated. I hadn’t realized just how much I missed them all as we hugged at the airport when I went to get them. It was like the old days again. This sort of thing makes life worth living – the love of home, the care of those around us and the warmth of our loved ones. I considered myself truly blessed for such people.

As soon as got to my party, all weekend party started. Girls! Girls!! Girls!!! When we got bored with that, we did all the tourist things we could think. There were so many places to visit. We didn’t miss out on any.

For sleeping arrangements, we couldn’t agree on who should share my room with me. Everyone wanted to be with me. In the end, we all ended sleeping in the living room. It was fun for everyone. The room was not neat at all and there was clothing mess everywhere but, no one cared.

When it was the time for them to go back home, it was hard for me. I was going to be alone again in this nice but foreign land. I was tearing up again…well…it is never too hard for me anyway. Emotional wreck! I knew I would see them again soon but, for the moment, it was hard to see them go. The weekend had been a blast. Seeing them was just wonderful. Still, all things come to a screeching halt, eventually so, I steeled up for it. The drive to the airport was noisy and giggly. The drive home was somber and gratefully silent. They promised to visit again and I looked forward to it.

August came and went so fast and we just had a week before the start of the new semester. Much more importantly, as far as I was concerned, it was four days to Nouf’s birthday. I conspired with her family to plan a surprise event for her. She deserved it and I was excited. I bought tickets to a shopping spree to Dubai. Then, we booked our flights and hotel accommodation.

The whole event turned out rather better than I had hoped. It was a great opportunity to bond again and just shop. Ah! Shopping. A girl can never have enough shoes or bags or dresses or…well…you get the idea. But, to be honest, after all said and done, I discovered, much to my surprise, that none of us was really that keen on shopping. Oh! Don’t get me wrong. We relished the chance to shop. Who wouldn’t? a bunch of girls gallivanting through the streets of Dubai, from shop to shop, all high end, giggling, snarling, cooing and playing with the latest heart’s desire in shopping. It was fantastic. But…we soon realized that none of that mattered. What we really enjoyed most was the time we all spent together. There was simply no substitute for it. We were young, carefree and were spending our parent’s money. Hmm. What’s not to like? We were a family of sisters and in a world increasingly dependent on social media for personal entertainment and self-discovery, we felt blessed that we could find one another and hang on.

Then, things went back to normal – whatever normalcy was – mundane. Studious. Lonesome. Time passed in pursuits of sorts. Some days, I was happy. Other days, not so much. In my loneliness, I grew steadily moody. The feeling and awareness of internal changes became increasing noticeable. As time went on, it slowly dawned on me that I was developing an entirely new personality. The old Aisha was receding and in her place, a new one was emerging. Confident. Cold. Discerning and determined. At least, it appeared that. Yet, as yet, unknown and mysterious, the shadow that became my new companion raised much curiosity. It was like watching another me grow up and slowly take dominance. I was confused. I was expectant. I was curious. I was about to do nothing to discourage her. Aisha, as I knew her, was evanescing.

Christmas break soon arrived. I wasn’t planning to go home because there was a plan that the girls will come to me. However, they changed their mind. So, what to do? I didn’t want to spend the time alone, stuck in Bahrain. I decided to book a flight home. I didn’t inform them about my plan. I asked Nouf to go to my mother because there was some stuff that I needed her to send to me by cargo.

I arrived that day at noon and I knew she would not contact me before night time. She started to send me some messages indicating that it was hard for her to go to my home since she knew I would not be there. In any event, she did but she took her time to respond to my messages, I began to wonder what the matter was.

In the end, I decided to go to her and surprise her directly at my home. Of course, she had no idea I was coming so, she was totally taken aback when I screamed in the hallway. “This is great. I can actually order you to do something for me and you’ll take my orders?” Poor Nouf. She was shocked and nearly jumped out of her skin. Oh! The look on her face was priceless. We hugged each other and as usual, there was a tear or two. I had made her day. She too, made mine.

The second day we started our daily plan that we usually spent together.

Then, I saw my mother – happy and proud as ever to see me. “Young lady, I want a word with you”, she called out. “Hmm”, I thought to myself. “I wonder what it could be about”. I was totally unprepared for what came next.

“Aisha, there is someone who asked for your hand in marriage” She paused to let the words sink in. Then, seeing the blank and incredulous expression on my face, she took my hand gently and pressed them together. “He is a good person. He…er… works in Custom Department. They will visit us this week”. She finished with some flourish. She seemed distantly happy, perhaps, unsure of my reaction.

I was shocked. I couldn’t even reply, but I think I was happy, if a little bewildered.  I kept all my questions to myself although I did bother my mum for a few details. She wasn’t very forthcoming.

The day arrived and I was presented to my future mother-in-law, my new husband and his aunt. Well, what a man – shy, unassuming and not-so-talkative. Frankly, I felt this was never going to work. Well he seemed…unsuited to me. I had to very quickly consider my motives before accepting or rejecting the proposal.

As it turned out, I found myself engaged to Khaled within 2 weeks. The wedding came soon afterwards in three months. It was hugely celebrated by both families and we went along with the usual fanfare of the traditional and religious wedding.

We went to our honeymoon, but I didn’t feel it was much of a honeymoon. It felt it was a business trip that company executives had to attend. You can’t get any more executive than a newly-wed couple, each minding their own business and trying desperately not to tread on each other’s toes. It was awful! Ghastly. Mournful, even.

I guess he did try to make me happy, except, he…he was an emotional dry bag. At first, I thought it might just be that he was very shy and rigid with me or that his personality was just like that. But, I wasn’t sure and nothing he did could change anything. Maybe, it was me. Maybe, it was him, but neither of us seemed to have any vested interest in this. I thought it was his place to show me his emotions. He didn’t. He was mysterious or rather, there was a mystery here that needed to be unfurled.

By the time the honeymoon was over, I had lost around 5-7 kg during those 3 weeks. I tried not to get carried away with my thoughts but couldn’t shake the thought that he was simply following his family’s orders just to get married and take care of me. Nothing further.

It seemed he was forced into the marriage and had no interest. I thought of confronting him but, didn’t. I even felt a little sorry for him. No man, or woman, I thought, should be forced into such a situation. The poor chap would probably have been relieved if we both had been honest about the whole situation. I was confused and didn’t know what to do with him.

Upon our return, I confided in Nouf and we spent some time discussing the matter. I didn’t tell her everything about my life with Khalid. I kept some secrets but however, I did wonder out loud if he was forced to marry me.

I observed the young man for a while and felt quite uneasy. Looking back at our engagement, I recall that soon after the party and rituals, he ceased all communications. I waited for a simple call or text message. None came. When I finally asked him about this protracted silence, he claimed to have been in Egypt on business. Evidently, a journey of two days turned into two weeks. For the whole time, he couldn’t find a minute or so to call his intended bride. Curious. He didn’t respond to my calls or text messages either. So, he couldn’t initiate any more than he could respond to mine. A jolly great way to begin marital bliss or destroy it.

I decided that time would tell and that it was best to wait and see. After all, I reasoned, there may be a valid reason for his odd behavior. No change though. You can imagine my situation. I started wondering about so many things. My imagination began to soar in different directions. Did he not like me? Does he not find me attractive? Is it me or him? Do I smell? Perhaps, he is gay or just doesn’t know how to relate to a woman?

Then, my thoughts turned to Meshari, the man with whom I fell in love. I wondered what happened to him. I imagined myself in his arms instead. Warm, cozy, romantic and fun and exciting. He seemed the sort that would make a girl swoon. He seemed far more loving and generous of spirit. I was convinced that the stalemate I found myself in would not occur if this was Meshari instead of someone else. A stranger indeed. That’s what it seemed like and we were married. Meshari loved me. This man…well, we were yet to begin.

Then, I wondered if my mistake had been too insistent on the union. Did they push too hard, wrangled to intensely or simply cajoled too much? Did this man ever express an interest or did he do it just to shut his parents up?

Finally, I came to the depressing yet, somewhat liberating conclusion that it was over before it can. Nothing could be done further. The marriage was, at this point, could not be retrieved.

Chapter Nine:

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Although I had concluded that the marriage was over, I also felt, upon further reflection, that, perhaps, I should give it another chance.

Maybe, I had not done all I could to secure and safeguard the union. After all, it’s not just the man’s responsibility. My husband seemed to be a good man and good men are rare. Nor good women, for that matter. Still, since I was the one detecting the issue, it was my challenge to try to find a solution. Thus, I dug in and tried to see what could be salvaged. So, I tried my best. I worked on ignoring petty annoyances as well as being too sensitive or wanting time with him. I kept my distance but also made myself available. I stayed busy but accessible. I tried to do things that would make him relax and notice me and took it upon myself to study and do whatever was likely to make him happy and reassure him. I was committed to my husband and our marriage.

So, one day I decided to have a late dinner with him. I made what I considered to be a delicious meal – his favorite, in fact. It was machboos – my grandmother’s recipe. The evening was romantic, the table, well set and soft music playing. I made all the right moves, dropped all the right hints. It didn’t work. I might as well have been attempting to romance a stone. Cold. Distant and totally not present.

He didn’t communicate with me beyond the dry platitudes of dinner eaten in the unfamiliar charged atmosphere of related strangers.

I put it down to tiredness and preoccupation with work. I was willing to forgive the fact that he was proving to be tone-deaf to me as a person and to my overtures. I thought of the excuses he always gave me – about his business dealings. He did the same this time. He didn’t have any time to have some fun or even to spend with me.

“So, how was your day?” I asked, expecting something more than a one-liner. A desperate attempt to grasp at straws. It was feeble. We both knew it but, what’s a girl to do?

He looked up at me from his dinner plate as if I was a minor irritant disturbing his train of thought. Then, he replied, matter-of-fact. “It was alright”. He went back to eating and staring into space or at his food.

“Hmm”. Anything exciting happened that you care to talk about”? I tried again. “No” was the terse response.

“Okay”. This is exciting. “How’s your food. Did I get it right”? He frowned and half-heartedly glanced in my direction, almost at me, but, his eyes glazed over and he looked beyond me – barely scanning my forehead. Then, he nodded – reluctantly. “It’s fine. Thank you”. He finished – distantly. coldly.

I was flushed. Confused, even. What could possibly be the matter? Why won’t this man talk to me or react in any way? Was it me? Did I do something wrong? So many questions buzzing through my head.

I was hurt that things were not going so well.  I would have thought that my husband would want to have a late dinner or catch lunch with his wife one day. He had no interests whatsoever and this had been the same from day one. Nothing had changed since the wedding. Prospects were less than zero.

Finally, in frustration, I decided to get a puppy. I called him Lucky. Who knows, a girl might get lucky if she drove her husband jealous. Lucky was Maltese. He was funny, kind, obedient and protective. No penchant for strangers. He made me feel safer.

My parents were not too pleased about me getting a puppy.  I went to all sorts of scrapes to hide lucky whenever they came around to our place. I even had some friends act as spies to inform me whenever my mother was on her way so I could hide Lucky. She didn’t always call.

In the lifetime of my marriage, we had moved between two different apartments next to each other. One had an elevator. The other didn’t. Otherwise, they were identical. My mother insisted that we moved to the apartment with an elevator. I didn’t mind if we did or not since they were both in the same area.

When we moved to the new apartment with the elevator, I realized that the problem between my husband and I had reached the peak. It became tiresome to keep up the pretense of marriage. My husband was always away. I couldn’t see him for a full week in most cases. I decided it was time to go our separate ways. He did not or could not change to be the husband I wanted. I gave it my best shot. Sadly, those efforts were either not good enough or were simply wasted. It was time, I decided, to move on

So, I moved back to my family house again. Even now, I am still waiting for the right decision either to complete my life with him or to divorce.

These are the times when I need my grandmother most. She would advise me or simply hear me out. I had no such person. Yes, my parents were and so is Nouf…but…there is a spot that only my grandmother Fatima could fit. I feel if she was around, I could talk to her and explain anything, even if I didn’t find any solution, I knew that I would feel comfortable knowing that she was around and I could talk to her about anything whenever I needed to.

I wasn’t comfortable discussing these issues with my parents. Wonderful as they are, I didn’t want them, first of all, to see me in a way that would compel their pity or confront the horror of my ignominy. In any event, I blamed them for the situation. They forced me to choose between them and Meshari. So, I chose them. Now, I’m miserable as sin but I refused to give them the satisfaction of seeing my misery. Of course, there was no guaranty that Meshari and I would not have issues but I was convinced that he would change for me because he loved me. I miss him. He would have tried his best to make me happy.  

Sometimes, I feel I want to scream at the top pf my voice. It’s enough. It’s more than I can take. But then, I whimper into the wind and drown my voice in sighs of expected dreamed relief knowing that no one could hear me and no one could see the beaten brows.

I feel I want to leave my home, my family, my friends and everything. I need to let go of everything and live my life my way with no one to say no to me and no one allowed to say anything about my life.

I have the right to choose what belongs to me and what does not. Why is this happing to me, what was my mistake?

I concluded that it was my fault. I am kind to a fault and that’s was the reason for these mishaps. But, I could say nothing, I just kept quiet, locked up in my room with nothing but the walls and the silence of my sighs for company.

When my family asked me why I returned, I told them that my husband was at work, had travelled or simply that I missed home so much. I couldn’t tell them my real problem. They weren’t that keen either.

I also thought about his parents. They must have known that their son had no interest in me. They never should have forced the issue. Now, there are two very unhappy people. Was it really worth it?

Then, I discovered that my husband had been talking with anther lady with whom he was in love. I was relieved. I was right. He was forced to marry me for whatever reason. She was his real love. He married me to placate his parents. My parents refused Meshari his love. I rejected him to placate my parents. How sad is that?

This man, my husband, has no interest in anything we do. He didn’t help to choose anything about our apartment and even our honeymoon, I found out, was all detailed by his parents. He took no interest at all. He did not and does nothing to make me happy except to order me around. I am expected to be obedient and silent.

As I write, my life is getting worse every day. Some of my friends say that I am a strong woman if I have so many problems but I can’t talk about my issues. Others see me as weak and call me a coward that cannot even face my problem or ask for help. What do they know? I grin and bear it but, by golly, I’m miserable as sin! I feel like I keep getting dragged through the bushes backwards mentally and I’m still expected to get up and look pretty. No one seems the lines of pain and sadness etched across my face or the furrows of regret that place a lisp on my smiles. It is an unknown country that I inhabit and an unknown corner where I grieve.

I’m afraid that I might lose my temper, go berserk or have a nervous breakdown. I might say something that may hurt my family, especially my mother or worse, do something stupid and out of character. I do not want that to happen. No matter how many bad decisions she has made, I know that she wants my life to be even better than hers.


And finally, I made up my mind and decided to get my divorce as soon as possible, I know many things will change but, at least, I can find a person who would be a great companion.

The day I decided on this, I went to my family armed with evidence that my husband had not been loyal to me and, in fact, had been cheating on me. Moreover, he’d also been drinking and treating me rather badly for words. I was exhausted and I could no longer handle it anymore. It was more than I could take or wanted to take. I had reached the end of my wits and the flood gates of tears burst open.  I cried. I sobbed. I mourned so violently and so intensely that my family could bear it no more either. The pain was palpable. The tear ducts to burst open and could not be stemmed.

They were mortified and felt very bad for me. “Your ordeal will be over soon, don’t worry”. My father announced, with frim determination and a tear-struck expression. In the depth of my sadness, I saw his and I was touched. He suddenly looked tired and flustered. The hint of regret and, possibly, failure etched across his brow. It appeared he was entertaining some blame. I wasn’t sure but, there was a glimmer of hope that, finally, they were beginning to understand me and my predicament.

That evening, he called my husband, Khalid. It was a relatively brief call. No fanfares. No pleasantries. Just straight-to-the-point business-like call from a man who felt he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. His daughter was not happy in her marriage. What man would not feel the weight of the world upon him?

The next day, he set a date for the court hearing. Before any divorce procedures could take place, we must sit with a consultant for arbitration. The point is to try to sort out our differences and attempt to find a solution to our mutual issues. So, we sat down together. Khalid and I, side by side. For the first time since our marriage, we talked. Such a shame. It took an arbitration officer, not even a marriage counsellor, to bring us together. Khalid had his head bowed the whole time. He couldn’t look me in the eyes. He was somewhat shy and almost sweet in his shyness. It was clear he was in some emotional difficulty. Khalid told me he loved me. Strange. I had waited to hear those words for a long time. They never came. I had resigned myself to the crumbs of pity from his table of affection. They too never came. And here we were. Finally, the man I married tells me he loved me. I wasn’t even confused anymore. That train had left.

All I could do was stare at him with the cold eyes of realization and learned repugnance. My mind had wanted this man. My heart had yearned for his touch. My body had quivered for his closeness. All I got was coldness. Now, he declares his love. If looks could kill… Yet, I did not hate or loathe him. I just wanted my freedom from him.

Then, he asked for a second chance. He begged for some understanding. He made no excuses. Of course, not. He knew better.  A second chance? For what? “After what, Khalid”? I demanded. I felt my objective derision rising. Yet, my raised voice was not one of anger. It was one of realized pity. He looked so dejected and limp. I smiled through the bitter gall.

Then, I pirouetted to face him fully. I summoned all my energy and courage but lowered my voice for impact. There was no anger or hatred. Just, the simple feeling of relief and the triumph of mind over matter. “It is over”. I spat out the words as tersely as I could. Not with any venom. Just matter-of-factly. With much relief and a deep sense of freedom.

Then, it started. He tried to play the victim. He began a lengthy monologue, explaining how he would treat me in a better way. He was sorry because he had not fully appreciated what he was doing.

Listening to him go on jarred my ears. I didn’t want to hear anything he had to say. Yet, remarkably, I let him speak. I was free, at last, free!

Let him speak. I switched off. After a while, he stopped. I wasn’t responding. You could cut the frost in the room with a knife. The consultant shuffled his feet like a silly child at the awkwardness. Khalid wrung his hands and cracked his knuckles. I simply stared into space with that detached and dismissive expression that girls are so good at. Then, I tapped my fingers across the glass desk with a steady rhythm, punctuating the silence. It was all I could do to celebrate my freedom. It was all I could do to set me free.

Finally, I decided I’d had more than enough. I sighed…with much relief. Khalid caught the mood instantly.  The meeting was over. I simply thanked the consultant, got up, adjusted my dress and swept out…in muted but exhilarating triumph.

When he found that there was no chance with me, he went to my family and asked for forgiveness. For the first time, I felt that I was precious to my parents judging by their reaction to Khalid. I meant something to my family after all, especially, after my grandmother’s death.

My father vilified Khalid. “I gave you a pearl, very precious pearl but you didn’t know how to take care of it. Now, it is time to give it back to its owner. Sorry, Khalid, it is over”

With those words, my world changed. I was free. Free of the marriage. Free of Khalid. Free of the torture. Free of the traditions.

I burst into tears. I cried. Hot tears of joy. Regret. Freedom. Now, I felt that I had a second chance to live my life at least my way, the way I want to live it. Yes. I knew I would face challenges and possibly, further clashes with culture and tradition but I was happy that my family noticed that I was a victim.

I have now I decided to live my life the way I want and I hope that one day, I might find my prince charming that will treat me the way I deserve to be treated by. I may not be perfect, but parts of me are excellent. I am human. I make mistakes all the time and I learn from them. Every person I have a conversation with, I treat them with respect and they have a place in my heart. All I want is for my man to treat me as well I need to be treated and as well as I treat him. Like a wife and a human rather than a slave to do his bidding.

Now, I am who I am, a smarter liberated girl. I just need now to build my future and my career. In time, I hope to find him somewhere out there.

I hope one day that I will be a princess and to get my prince to take me to his castle and have faith in me and to live happily ever after. That part has not been written yet. The future is full of promises.

[1]  Duaa: which literally means “invocation” is an act of supplication. The term is derived from an Arabic word meaning to ‘call out’ or to ‘summon’, and Muslims regard this as a profound act of worship.

[2] Wasta or wasata (Arabic: wāsiṭah) is an Arabic word that loosely translates into nepotism or ‘clout’ or ‘who you know’. It refers to using one’s connections and/or influence to get things done, including government transactions such as the quick renewal of a passport, waiving of traffic fines, and getting hired for or promoted in a job. In other words, it amounts to getting something through favoritism rather than merit, or what is informally spoken of in English as “pull” from connections (the opposite of “push”). The English word ‘cronyism’ overlaps in meaning but is not precisely the same.

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I am an apostate puritan and a lost soul, so to say. I am also an active researcher in law and artificial intelligence. Check me out on LinkedIn and my other website -