Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hers and His

When she was too small to remember, the cross was seared into the inside of her wrist. As she grows, it gets larger, a tattoo that expands and fades. Some Copts have the Cross on the side of their thumb. Recently she heard the screams of a boy receiving his cross, and she wondered if she had sounded like that, too.

He thinks that harassment of women didn't exist before American movies made their way into Egyptian society. Men who are so stifled must find an outlet. He means poor soldiers from the sticks. Over the Eid, he will go to Sharm El Sheikh, where he will drink and ogle the Russians. It doesn't count there, like Las Vegas.

She wears hijab because it says to in the Qu-ran. She is usually color-coordinated from the veil to the shoes to the designer purse. She is firm about the hijab. I give her my standard opinion: "It's just something I can't wrap my mind around." That's an easy answer.

He expresses a hatred for Egyptian women, a hatred laden with class envy and rejection in the tone of a child. Since I am not his wife or future wife, I am related to as a mother or a sister. He doesn’t have to say that out loud for me to understand it. I am his only female friend. He calls me his sister. I accept this for a long while, trying to be culturally sensitive, until, in the height of Ramadan on a hot afternoon of dehydration, his pronouncements get too invasive, as if any time now he might give me a curfew and forbid me from seeing the boy I live with. I realize that I am not sure he has ever heard a word I have said. He is nothing like my brother.

She is willowy, with a fringe of bangs swept to the side that cause her to tilt her head and pass the back of her hand over the hair every once in a while as if to keep it out of her eyes. She believes that only the Prophet's wives wore hijab and that it is a choice. When she presents this view, she can barely get the sentences out before she is interrupted.

He remembers a protest in the nineties after a few gay men were arrested. He was a child. He watched a clip on television. He says he could hear the soldiers' nightsticks hit the protestors' bones and that, if he were there, he would have beaten them too. He is willing to be friends with a gay man if he doesn’t “act like a girl.” I lean in close to him. I tell him he is free to believe whatever he wants, but his opinions, to me, are simply garden-variety homophobia of the kind I can find in my own country. This is a lesson in audience, for both of us.

Then I talk over him, and him, and him. I just keep talking.

1 comment:

K said...

I read this earlier tonight and the portraits have really stuck with me.