"Little Pink Box" Part Eight

Fall 1993

Jabira sat in the corner upstairs with her sharpened number two pencil and completed her older brother's homework with a smile on her face.  She was so proud of herself--only in second grade but already working out pre-Algebra problems by herself.  She felt infatuated with the page--she knew that she would always remember those loving, blue lines and the perfectly-spaced holes pre-punched into the notebook.

The crispy, chilly wind unapologetically swirled into the room, blowing the curtains and Jabira's hair, like a soft song bringing enlivened emotions into the background of her thoughts.  She was almost on the final question when she heard a noise in the laundry room below.  Her heart began to pound in her chest and her chubby little fingers shook above the page she was attempting to complete.  She could hear her mother below separating the whites from the colored clothes, tossing full baskets onto the floor unceremoniously.  Her shaking pencil pressed the page with too much force that the tip of it cracked in half.  Her bottom lip trembled, and she prayed to God to save her this time.

But before she could complete her supplication, she heard her name being called from below.  She knew it must have been terrible this time by the ominous tone in her mother's voice.  She looked longingly out the window and wished that she had the courage to jump.  She wished that she could escape, run, hide, but instead she felt her hands placing the broken pencil and incomplete homework on the corner of her bed and her legs dragged her body obediently down the winding staircase.  As she approached the end, she could see her siblings in the living room below looking up at her solemnly, with pity in their eyes.  She knew they wouldn't help her.  She knew that they felt that they couldn't help her.  She was old enough to know this by now.

When she reached the laundry room, her mother's perfectly-postured back remained towards her for what seemed like eternity.  Then, slowly, she turned around.  She looked at Jabira's fearful and shamed face with contempt.  She held up a pair of white underwear speckled with happy pink hearts.  

"Smell this," she said, and shoved the underwear into Jabira's face with one hand while holding Jabira's head from backing off by cupping it in her other hand.  "You didn't make it to the bathroom at school in time, did you?"

Jabira began to cry, "Mom, I had to wait in line for Jessi--"

"I don't care," her mother silenced her with a voice like a snake.  "I told you to learn how to ask your teachers in advance so that this doesn't keep happening.  I told you to inform me when you had an accident--but you didn't, did you?  You lied.  And lying to your mother deserves a serious punishment."

Jabira's entire body was trembling uncontrollably by the time they reached the garage, and it only seemed to make her mother angrier with her.  The garage door to the outside was down and her mother proceeded to lock the door from inside the garage to the house.  She decided to only use one dim light, and she commanded Jabira to stand in the middle of the room.  Jabira felt the adrenaline rushing in her, but she did not make a move.  She could see the room so clearly; she could hear her own heartbeat.  She stood there, too afraid to articulate a prayer lest her mother hear her.

Her mother walked to the end of the garage, where they stacked fresh firewood.  She pensively marched backwards and forwards in front of the stack of wood before finally choosing a piece.  Her choice had bark on one side and was a creamy vanilla on the other.  The diameter was around three inches and the wood was at least double the size of Jabira's mother's hand.  "Turn around," she commanded heartlessly when she caught Jabira twisting to see what she was holding.

Jabira waited anxiously, only partially believing her mother's choice of weapon this time.  She heard her mother's footsteps approach her from behind and stop within two feet of her.  When the air parted noisily for the first swing, Jabira knew that it was going to hurt worse than the metal wire from the last time.  

Jabira shrieked and screamed with every blow, unsuccessfully begging for mercy like she usually did. 

"If you don't move your hands and stop trying to block me, I swear to God I will break every single bone in them," Jabira heard from behind her, and used every ounce of power she could muster to fight her brain's primordial instinct to block the blows as she removed her hand and let the spanking resume.  Her mother's aim was especially sloppy with the heavy wood, and Jabira's back and thighs suffered the splintery wrath as well.  Jabira screamed and cried, and her mother threatened and shouted.  At some point, Jabira could no longer hear her mother's words--they all began blending into each other.  She could no longer feel the blows, although her body did.  Her mind had wandered into an alternate area of higher contemplation as her voice still shrieked through her own vocal chords.

"Do you think I have time to deal with your messes?  I'm going to tell all your classmates and your teacher how incapable you are of controlling your own bodily functions!  I will make you so embarrassed to go to school, this pain won't feel like anything.  This is what you deserve for making your mother do extra work for you when she doesn't have time.  You had better remember this and think of it every time you leak before making it the bathroom.  How filthy and shameful!"

The assault seemed to last for an eternity, until finally Jabira heard the honking of a car outside.  Suddenly her screams turned to defiant sobs and she knew she was safe.  Her mother put the wood away, washed her hands, and opened the garage door.  Jabira's siblings sat uncomfortably on the living room couch, eyeing her with pity and relief that they weren't in her shoes.  But they were never the ones in Jabira's shoes.  

Jabira turned away from them with anger that she would bottle up for years against her old siblings who failed to protect her.  She opened the front door, and as the amazing light from the sun rushed in, she ignored putting shoes on her feet and rushed into the freedom she now knew was here.  Her dad had arrived, and she would be spending the weekend with him.

He grabbed her and pulled her close to him when he saw how uncontrollably she was crying.  He knew she had been crying for a long time, as her eyes were swollen and almost sealed shut. "What happened?" he asked, "What did she do?"

"She beat me with firewood," Jabira said, and hugged her father as he stroked her hair.  She twisted her head to watch her mother's figure stand tall in the frame of the front door, and she felt anger boiling inside of her as her mom approached the two of them.

"Jabira," her mother said in a soft, controlled voice, "Go get your things.  I need to speak to your father for a moment."

January 13th 2010

Jabala leaned her back against the large bureau and cried.  The mp3 player he had gifted her almost three years ago was in her right hand and the headphones were blasting some popular club song.  She wanted to dance; she wanted to exercise, to move the stress away.  But instead she was paralyzed. 

She couldn't explain why she did it earlier.  Jabala didn’t know why she answered her student.  She had only three students in her eleventh grade higher mathematics class and one was in the bathroom, the other at the school doctor.  She was alone with Amr, and he did not want to study.  Jabala was perched on top of a cream-colored desk adjacent to the one he sat behind and stared at him in the large, empty room.  The sun was shining in through a row of windows to his left, and she faced the wonderful light as they waited for his classmates to return.  The floor was covered with beige tiles and their voices bounced off the walls.

“Why did you get a divorce?” he asked.  Only one month into Jabala's new job and she was becoming accustomed to her students’ incessant curiosity and questions.  They had already hunted her down on Facebook, joined her fan club, watched her YouTube videos, found photographs of her pet hamster, and--most importantly--discovered that she had once been married.  Amr came into class, repeating random things that she had been quoted saying online during Jabala's activism days—the good old days.

“Why did you get a divorce?” he repeated as she stared at him blankly, wondering if she should respond by admonishing him or just ignore his question, “Did he cheat on you?”

This student was from Romania and was like Jabala in that only his father was Jordanian but for the bulk of his life he had lived in his mother’s home country and spoke her language as his first.  His mother was not Muslim and he was neither knowledgeable nor observant of any of the tenants of Islam.

And she didn’t know why she did it.  She regretted it the moment she did.  But it just happened. 

Jabala nodded her head. 

She answered his question by nodding her head.

He looked at her dead in the eyes and suddenly Jabala didn’t see a seventeen year old boy, but she saw an understanding that was beyond his years.  He respected the pain he could see in her face, and nothing she could do would hide it.  She stumbled to try to get herself out of the hole she had gotten herself in.

“While we were together,” she said, hesitantly, “He didn’t.  But he left me before our official divorce and was out of the state, and while he was in California….” she could not complete her sentence so she just looked away, defeated, and nodded her head slowly.  Jabala could not believe herself.  This was the first time she had accepted what her ex-husband did in broad daylight.  He cheated.  Yes, Jabala, he cheated.  Just like the non-Muslims do.   She sighed and looked around, fighting to keep her eyes dry and her expression blasé. 

Amr didn’t say anything, but she knew he would keep her secret.  He nodded back at her, knowingly, and sat in respectful silence.  This wasn’t the kind of thing his Jordanian friends could handle knowing about.

And now Jabala leaned against the bureau, almost ten hours after the incident, absolutely torn to pieces.  Why did she even answer his question?  The pain of betrayal hit her hard—just like it was brand new.  She trembled; she cried.  Her world swirled around her and the song continued to blast in her ears.  Jabala was listening to this same song when her husband left her.  She blasted the song on their stereo system in the little apartment and danced until she was sore—this was two years ago. 

Now, she cried.  

Dena AtassiComment