She parked the car and got out. Drizzle fell on her hair where it wasn’t covered by her loose scarf. She headed to the hospital drugstore and bought the special gown. When she entered the waiting hall she saw her mum leaning against a pillar. She rushed towards her. The woman was drawn in her thoughts. The girl stopped. It wasn’t her mother, just a strange resemblance. She turned from the hallway and entered her mum’s room. The curtain was pulled aside and the room was full of sun, which had finally come out.
“Hi, the rain has stopped.”
“After two days!” She closed the door. The bed next to her mum’s was empty. She approached and helped her mum to change her clothing. Her skin was white like marble. She wanted to kiss her but hesitated and said, “let’s go.”
Her mum said, “wait! I want to tell you something.” A beautiful nurse appeared on the threshold and nicely asked them to follow her.
The girl came back to the room alone. A woman lay on the next bed, her back towards the girl. In an unspoken agreement, they ignored each other’s presence. She leaned on the edge of her mum’s bed and stared at the window. A pleasant melody streamed into the room. The sound raised gradually then cut suddenly. Nothing could be seen from the window except parts of other wings of the hospital. The melody streamed again. The girl turned and searched in her mum’s bag. Lying on her back, the other woman stared at the ceiling. The girl answered her mum’s mobile. She did not mention that she is under surgery. Her mum had asked her not to say. The first time that her mum had come for the treatment, she had said: “I want to tell you a secret!”
“What is it? Did you find a boyfriend?” replied her daughter.
“It’s too late for that. It’s been thirty years,” her mum answered.
“If I were you I would give it a try,” the daughter replied.
“You’re different.” And then her mum revealed her secret. She told her daughter that she came to cure this strange disease. That is a flaw and according to sharia law, a man can divorce his wife, if he wishes, in such a case.
“Dad divorce you? Ha ha! He won’t. And if he does? Better!”
The girl put her mum’s mobile on vibrate and stood up. She left the room and went to the waiting hall. It was crowded. Every few minutes, a man appeared in the hallway and shouted someone’s name—the companions to each patient. Two young woman were talking about a girl who was bedridden. When they said that she was beaten and went into a coma in the custody of the morality police, she felt anger, like a red mist, filling her mind. Then she rose and wandered around. She passed by the pillar and thought that her mum was concerned about the illness more as a secret she must keep, and not as a disease threatening her. Her mum had said that it was a flaw! The image of a nurse, wearing white hijab, her index finger on her pale lips, instructed the visitors to keep silent. The hallways of the hospital were like a maze. There, was a red “no entry” sign. She stepped into the corridor. A middle-aged couple were hugging each other. Both were crying.
The day before, on their way to the hospital, her mum had said, “I never lived for my own sake.” The rain was pouring. The girl was driving in light traffic. Her mum continued, “I was always worried for you, worried that we’d ruin your future.”
“Yet, our future passed.” The rain became more intense. The girl put the wipers on fast mode and saw in the rearview mirror that the car behind had blinked a few times, signalling her to give way to him. She ignored. “What now? Do you regret it?”
Her mum looked out the side window, but she could not see much through the wet glass. “Regret? I don’t know,” she said.
Traffic lightened, the girl accelerated. The car behind them caught up, and the driver leaned out toward them and shouted angrily. His voice dispersed into the wet air and did not make it through the car window. She turned up the music. Her mum said, “you don’t know how people used to think back then. You don’t know what they distilled in our minds.”
“But many got divorced after they realized that they couldn’t live with their husbands anymore, right after the war,” the girl said.
“And many of them regretted their decision,” answered her mum.
“At least, they made their decision.”
“Why don’t you accept that my case was different?” the mum asked.
This angered the daughter. “Every case is different. Which two lives are the same? If I were you I would have divorced. It might sound cruel. But it is cruel when you suffer every second of your life and never try to help yourself.”
The man appeared again and shouted: “Rami’s companion! This way please. ” The girl sat on a seat that came available. She leaned back her head and tried to sleep.
Her mum turned her face to the window again. Her husband asked her to leave on those very first days after being released from the hospital. When he still was not able to do his personal and private daily activities on his own. She said, as if they’d been discussing it, “and he regretted going to the front, too. He was so desperate.”
The daughter had heard the story many times. “Why did he go back to the front with only one leg, if he truly regretted it?” she asked.
“He was so desperate, he didn’t know what is he doing with his life anymore,” the mum answered. Each woman recited her side again.
“To me, it seems that he knew what he is doing. He wanted to be killed and get freed of the suffering, but you were the one who didn’t know what she is doing with her life,” the daughter replied. She accelerated. Green and brown shapes rapidly passed, blurring outside the droplet-peppered window. The mother used to keep herself busy so her husband could fall asleep. But he usually waited for her. She’d lay rigid, unconsciously cramping her thigh muscle. She didn’t want her body to touch that shapeless lump of flesh. She rolled down the window to feel the wind’s gentle touch on her reddened face.
The girl said: “I think we are lost.”
“Pull over to ask for directions.” Her mum indicated a man who was standing by the street. The man turned towards them when the mum said, “excuse me!” He had only one eye and there was a mass of white tissue instead of the other eye’s pupil, which definitely was not able to see. The man said you’re going in the wrong direction. The girl rolled the window up as a sob caught in her mum’s throat. She took the first exit and felt that they were going away from the hospital instead of toward it. Her mum’s mobile started ringing. She stared at the screen for a few minutes and, with was left of her youthful coquetry, she said hello. She spoke in short unclear sentences, while swiftly lowering the volume with her thumb.
The girl got out of the car and asked directions from a taxi driver who was wiping his windshield with a large handkerchief. She heard her mum’s phone ring again. This time it was her husband. He wanted to make sure that they would inform him when they get the blood test results. He was worried. The wipers made hashmarks of rain swiping across the windshield. The car turned into the tree-lined street on which the hospital was located. They were running late.
Nevertheless the girl said, “at least we’re not late.”
Her mum smiled and asked, “are we not?” And then the image of her colleague came to mind, and she smiled more.
“We’re never late,” the daughter said confidently.
Her mum answered, “you may be young, but it isn’t easy at my age. It’s not easy to fall in love,” and her voice trembled when she said love.
Now the man shouted, “The companion of Sharifi, Shaaarifi! Where are you? Come here.”
Why is he shouting this way? the daughter thought. She gave up trying to nap and went instead to the yard to grab something to eat. In the corner of the yard, on the screen door of a shop was written in red, “Special Burger,” so she went in. The shop was small and filthy. She ordered something. It tasted horrible. Looking through the backward letters on the glass, she watched the flowers in the small garden. The petals of violets softly swayed with the breeze. A cat jumped on the garbage bin in front of the door. She left the remains of her sandwich and went out, returning to the waiting hall which now was quieter.
Her mum’s purse was vibrating. Her phone was ringing. It was her sister. She was worried. The girl thought maybe her sister knows about their mum’s secret. An unknown number was on call waiting. When their call ended, the unknown number was gone already. She put the phone back in the bag. The man appeared in front of her. Fear like a sharp knife came down on her bones. She stood up as the man said, “could you please follow me.”
They never speak respectfully like this, she thought, but she followed him to a room. There a doctor, nice and gentle, kept his hand on her back to guide her to sit. “Are you alone here?” asked the doctor. Her knees began to tremble. “Your father? Or any other member of your family?” the doctor continued. But the girl was tongue-tied. She struggled to ask what happened. “Sadly, we don’t know the reason yet…”
Something was dropping down in her body. A heavy bullet was falling from her chest down, down, down, and not landing on any final surface. Her mum had said to her, “I never lived for my own sake.” The doctor’s mouth was opening and shutting, but the girl didn’t hear anything. The phone was vibrating inside her mum’s bag. She brought it out and stared dumbstruck at the screen, which went dark as the caller hung-up. The doctor was silent. The screen lit-up again with the unknown number and then went dark again. The unknown person was worried for her mum.
24 April, 2023