Archive for June, 2015
‘Stop looking at your face in the mirror. It’s unsettling,’ Laila murmured to herself as she tried to ignore her unruly eyebrows, the grey roots of her hair and her puffy eyes. But it wasn’t unsettling because of the unease it made her feel at her appearance at this time of day, it was unsettling because of a lingering feeling she always had that there was another being of some form that followed her everywhere around the house. Looking at the mirror almost brought her face to face with that mysterious being. It shook her. In fact, it wasn’t only about her face, it was also about her eyes. When her eyes met her own on that specific moment she shuddered, like a faint wave of fear rushing quickly right through her. She recalled one time years before when she had been washing her face and the minute she had looked up she had thought she had seen in the mirror a black shadow rush right behind her. She hadn’t been sure if it was what she thought it was or if it was merely a strand of her hair. The only thing she was certain of, averting her own gaze in the mirror, was that if her son was still with her none of those beings would have dared to harass her.
When she was a little girl and had her night terrors her mother would bring her a small mirror and put it in front of her face, tracing her perfectly round cheeks and small, pointed chin with the tip of her fingers and pointing to the freckles on her face. “See how beautiful you are?” She would speak to her softly, “No ghost can prey on a beautiful smart girl like you. Ghosts are for lonely old women to worry about.” But she never relented to Laila’s pleads to stay with her in bed. She would insist that Laila had to put herself back to sleep, and if Laila persisted, she would lose her temper and slam the door, leaving her alone in the room with only the faint light of her small night lamp.
Through many nights alone in that dark room Laila taught herself strength and grew up a proud, upright woman, happy with her accomplishment. She taught Arabic at a mediocre primary school. Her stiff posture and sharp voice intimidated her students, and she often surprised herself by losing her temper with many of them. Laila was convinced that the ghosts never left her, that they showed up in her life in different ways to defy her. And whenever a little girl from her students talked back to her, she would think her ghosts hid in the little girl’s challenging look, until one day she slapped one girl so hard she dislocated her jaw. The girl’s parents saw to it that Laila never went back to teaching.
After that her only solace became her son, whenever she was with him her ghosts seemed to disappear. But one morning, on his sixteenth birthday, she woke up and found a note on his bed; he had gone off to fight in Syria. One week later she received news of his death.
She stood at the sink and focused on the water as it slithered through the protruding veins of her hands, filled her palms and splashed her face. She was unsure if the distant ticking she could hear outside was only of the wall clock in the hallway, and as she raised her head she wasn’t sure if the soft brush on the back of her neck was a stray strand of hair. She turned from the sink and reached for the towel. As she patted her face she could hear her own murmur repeated to her from the direction of the mirror. She resisted the urge to look back and carefully walked to the door and stepped out of the bathroom.
Lisa never thought the day would come when she would be stripped of all of her tricks to beat depression. It had always been a lingering enemy eavesdropping on her as she spoke with confidence to motivate her peers, or an overarching cloud hovering above her even on her happiest days. It was an unwelcome guest that always invited itself into her life, popping unexpectedly at mid sentence or rushing to her chest the minute she opened her eyes in the morning.
Time counted in Lisa’s life. How she managed it and how she used it defined her success. When she first began to feel doubts and unease she couldn’t understand what was wrong. Things seemed to be going well for her, she was warmly welcomed into people’s lives and her friends enjoyed her company. There wasn’t much room for negative perceptions of events because there was little time for her to ponder on things. She was hardly ever alone. She decided at first that this was an unknown force trying to pull her back, so she constructed a backfire system of words that she placed on autopilot and she let it run. Invasive thoughts like “What’s the use?” were met by “This is important!” “You’re no good” was hammered by “Keep trying because that’s what ultimately counts,” and “Forget it” was often crushed with “Let’s do this.”
With time, however, she discovered that this tactic was no more than a temporary painkiller. Each backfire silenced a single word, and instead of it tiring that dark force, it grew tired, and so did she. She decided that the mere act of firing back was an acknowledgment, attention given to an undesired force that only resulted in feeding that force and making it stronger. So she ignored it. Background self-talk of doubt, fear, frustration, and despair continued to roll in her head as she continued to ignore it and move on with her life. She redirected her immediate urge to backfire with more positive words in her talks, she turned it into a gush of energy that almost visibly invigorated her listeners. But there was no ignoring the sense of despair that began creeping in each night as she turned out the lights and went to bed.
Lisa began to feel that she was running out of ways to protect herself from depression. Everything she tried helped her only get on with her life, but it never permanently crushed the darkness.
Darkness! She said to herself one morning like she’d just made a groundbreaking discovery. This thing has a color. Lisa realized that even her recent attempts at ignoring that force weren’t working because they played on what it said, what thoughts it put in her head. Getting back at it or ignoring it, she was still listening. She realized that she had never looked at it. She had never seen what shape or color it had. She’d been afraid that if she did she wouldn’t recover, until that revelation of its darkness came through to her like a beam of light. She jumped from bed and looked around the room. The bed sheets were grey. The wood of the bed was a burned brown, and the walls were an ailing dark beige. She ran to her closet, burned wood, and looked inside. Her clothes were all shades of grey, dark blue, black, and an occasional white, yet at the far end of the rack she found the red coat and umbrella her mother had given her as a gift two years before. She’d thanked her dutifully and accepted the gift, had placed it in her closet and had never thought of it again.
She was unsure if what she’d discovered would help her, but as the rain began to trickle at the window she felt an urge to go out for a walk and have it wash away the noise in her head. She pulled on her new red coat, grabbed her red umbrella and went out, penetrating the grayness around her with a bright red color. It was her final act of defiance. She had initiated a silent war of colors.
It was daytime and he was not around. She sat on her bed, pushed the dusty shutters open and looked out the window, watching passersby and filling her senses with the spice-filled air. Haj Ali, the owner of the spice shop across the alley sat sipping his tea and counting the notes from his impatient customer for the third time, ignoring his protests. Lady Samira walked past his shop heading to the train station to meet her husband with elaborate make-up and a large wig to replace her old hair-do. She had been going to the train station every Tuesday for fifteen years. A few feet to the right of the shop Mabrook the butcher hammered at the ribs that lay on his table as three cats gathered subtly under his feet waiting for accidental droppings to feast on. A parked Mercedes honked protectively at every donkey cart that tried to pass through the little space it left, its driver impatiently eyeing the window two floors above her and looking at his watch. Her eyes traveled up and across the rooftops to a tiny square of sky she could see through the branches of a lonesome tree that stood outside her small window. She was now ready to leave it all and fly up the sky. Her mind had almost drifted when she suddenly heard the clang of his keys outside. He was back. Her heart began to race and she began to shiver.
At night the scent of the spices subsided as she lay on her bed staring at the darkened tree branches. She breathed the clean air as she relished the stillness of the night outside. The black leaves danced against the small sky that struggled to appear among the clustered shabby buildings. She rubbed her bruised shoulder as her tearful eyes stared at that single spot of sky with focus. Nothing else got into her vision. Nothing else existed. She let her mind wander beyond the leaves and the sky, taking her to another reality. Out there the world was at her feet. She had silk dresses and drove a car like the ladies she liked to watch in traffic lights as she stood crammed in buses. The longer she gazed beyond the leaves the more she was able to travel to another reality. Out there she was someone else. She was free.