She tilted her head sideways, observing how the silk fabric accentuates her glossy lips. ‘I look good,’ she thought rather surprised as she rolled her head over to the other side. She managed through the rubble of things to take several steps back despite the tight space, her clothes and shoes spread across bed and floor as she took an overall look at her figure.

Her dad would always complain about the mess. “I don’t know how,” he muttered once as he picked up her jacket from the floor, “you young girls live like this. Filthy!”

“I take after you,” she would respond, mischievously. She knew he was right. At least, she was motivated more by the urge to rebel then the need to remain tidy, to do the exact opposite of what he asked of her.

She took a few steps back despite the tight space and lifted her navy blue jeans after it had dropped down, now fitted tightly around her waist. She was a mixture of young and mature, urban and trendy with a touch of sophistication as her Adidas sneakers blasted the colours white and green like beacons calling out from the dark silhouette of her silky black shirt. ‘I look really good,’ she said as though the louder and more solid her tone the more truth there was to the statement. She turned her body around to see the back of her claret headscarf that gently flagged with her movements and turned back again.

She suddenly remembered, the distaste of that night and the echoes of his screams from the living room haunt her. “She is old enough now!”

“I understand,” he muttered, “but let it be her choice. We can’t force her.”

‘Damn right,’ she thought, streams of tears rolling down her cheeks that leaked mascara over her foundation and mapped rivers of pain across her face. She pressed her ear up against the door and continued to listen.

“You have to put some pressure on her,” he barked. “Otherwise, what would happen to all the young girls her age? They’ll go off and do whatever they want.”

“Let them enjoy their lives. We never had anything, the least we should do is given them something!”

“Enjoy? What does that even mean? She can enjoy whatever she wants, but it does not mean she should forget who she is, forget God. No!”

Are they insane,’ she expressed with her hands as she raised her arms in shock to her brother without saying anything. He lay silently on the bed. He loved his sister, he wanted to fight for her, help her in some small way but what was he compared to his uncle, to his own father? Ever since they were children she was known for being proud, to spite anyone who ordered her around even if she was wrong. No one could tell her what to do. It just provoked her to retaliate. The more they pressured her, the more they pushed her away and over the years she slowly started to feel a coldness towards them, to everyone.

“They can’t force me,” she wrote on her Facebook page.

Nehal Abd Manaf Habibi, what do you mean they can’t force you? Force you to do what? Who is ‘they’?

Esma Basri Yeah! You go girl!!!

Mona Fawzi Praise Allah, do what you want. Just as long as it is the right thing.

Tala Hamdan You are old enough to think for yourself, sweetheart. ❤ ❤ ❤

The more they tried to force her to do something she did not want to do, the more her courage strengthened, her will to fight, her refusal. She was stubborn and he knew that, even though he knew she was wrong. All he could do is listen and watch her helplessly sitting on the floor, pressed up against the door and desperately confused.

“You have given her too much freedom. She thinks she is better then all of us!” Her father remained silent, their protestations continued like a carousel reverberating the same calliope and he was nauseas from the repetition, entranced in a daze and could no longer say anything.

But for her his silence was deafening. It was confirmation that he agreed, that they thought something was wrong with her. Free? How could they think that about her? She couldn’t take it anymore and stood up to face them, to make her presence known, to make it obvious she was there and she would defend herself. Her brother pounced off the bed to stop her.

“Don’t even think about it,” he whispered firmly with piercing eyes, pressing his face near her to show authority. She paused with a sigh of frustration, but she knew it was rare to see him this serious and maybe she should stop. Their movements crunched the old wood across the floor and reached the other side of the house.

“Is she here?” her uncle looked up at the ceiling, his suspicious eyes combing the room.

“Maybe you should go, I will talk to her,” her father muttered, exhausted at the same, tireless topic about his daughter.

“Has she been here all this time?”

“I guess so,” he sighed. “Come on, it is late. How often do we have to talk about this? Just be patient.”

She ironed out her waist, straightened her blouse and knew this was what she wanted and not what they wanted. Her entire wardrobe needed to change in order for the look to work. ‘Maybe a white top with a long cardigan?’ she thought as she glanced at her buttocks thinking that maybe it would be better to cover. White would blend with the shoes. She would still be cool and young yet also pass as modest. It was a win-win for her.

Bang. The front door to the house slammed. “Mona! Mona, where are you!” he howled before he kicked the door open. Literally.

“What the hell are you doing!” she screamed at the sight of her brother, his face covered by a dewy sweat from his run as he leaped into her bedroom. His hands remained clutched onto his backpack. “Haven’t you heard of knocking? I’m 16 for heaven’s sake!”

“Mona, get dressed. We need to go!”

“I am dressed, you moron. Wait, what the hell is the matter?”

“Come on, we need to go, we have rehearsals.”

“I thought it was cancelled?”

“So did I, but we were wrong. Come on!” he snapped, reminding her that standing there confused and angry was not helping. She was called to action, awakened and started scrambling around the room looking for her dance sneakers, the one she liked to wear.

“Over there,” he muttered, trying to catch his breath and pointing to her bag. He didn’t even notice the change and she forgot herself from the chaos of the moment.

Even if she was sick, injured or miles away, she has never missed rehearsals and would do all that she can to get herself to each and every dance lesson. She loved dancing, both her and her brother. They tried to stop her dancing as punishment, to force her to concede and wear the hijab because they knew that taking dance away from her would destroy her will. It would have been like taking away her vision, her hands or another limb that would disable her from happiness. Her battle with them was a battle for the Dabke and while they wanted to her to listen and do as she was told, they didn’t want to destroy her. Over time, they stopped.

That was when she started to admire what it meant to wear the hijab, to be a muslim, a woman and a dancer.

They ran down the street and through the alleyways between the dilapidated buildings crumbling in disrepair. A truck carrying pieces of metals and wires blocked them for a moment as the speaker howled out calls for people to bring them any loose pieces of steel or electrical wiring, but they managed to squeeze through and past until they reached the school in time.

“What?” A’isha stopped, before everyone else turned and looked at Mona as she threw her bag in the corner. She had forgotten she was wearing the hijab. They all came to her, different hands touching the ends of her scarf, eyes surrounding her with surprise and affection.

It was the first time her brother noticed too. He stayed silent like how he did over a year ago when they were both in her room. He stood in the corner and watched with quiet, but filled with pride and with love.

She look at him and smiled.

 

 

—-

These are short creative non-fiction stories based on true accounts from women and girls at Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem that I interviewed. The names are intentionally changed.

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