If God truly existed inside churches, I would have begged him to turn me into a wooden plank and nail me to the floor so all his worshippers would step on me in His name.
If He existed inside mosques, I would have begged him to turn me into a mat and glue me to the floor, so the foreheads of the believers, their palms, knees, and toes would find me there, waiting for their prayers.
If God existed inside synagogues, I would have begged him to turn me into oil so I would forever burn in the sockets of candles, mingling with the tears and supplications of His chosen people.
If He existed inside a Buddhist temple, I would have begged him to turn me into miles of red cloth and wrap me on the shoulders of monks sashaying at His feet, endless in His capacity.
I looked for God there, but I didn’t find Him.
I found Him in the eyes of a laborer, hiding from the August midday sun in Dubai, stealthily sipping water from a plastic container in Ramadan.
The fear-stricken look of a desperate God. A terrified God, emaciated, abused, nameless.
I found Him in a lock of hair escaping from under the headscarf of an 8-year-old girl in Yemen, dead in childbirth. Ripped. Bereaved. Silenced.
I found Him in the limps littering the streets of Bagdad. Severed. Decaying. Rotting.
I found Him in the clenched fists of a jailed black boy, holding on to the bars, waiting to be executed. Unkempt. Forsaken. Forgotten.
Rescue me, God pleaded.
Rescue me from the mullahs and priests and rabbis and swamis. Set me free.
Joumana Haddad killed Scheherazade. I read the book, sat and listened to Joumana explain how she spilled Scheherazade’s blood and I wondered: Who’s going to kill Shehryar? Will a man step forward from the audience, from the past, the present, or the future and say: “We’ve had it with the image of this ruthless misogynist ruler who was on a genocide mission to exterminate all virgins, and I’m up here to kill him.”
History does not prosecute kings and it turns a blind eye to the crimes of men.
Therefore, I will sole handedly take Shehryar to The Hague and charge him with the following:
(Not sole handedly, no. I’m dragging Joumana into this with me. She will be my witness, my historian, my ally, and together we will be the voices of those nameless one thousand and ninety five virgins slaughtered on their wedding night by one of the most (in)famous characters in literature.
I put the “in” in brackets because who else besides me have thought of Shehryar’s guilt? Have we not marveled at his transformation and paid little attention to his crimes? Why does he still scare us? Why do we abide by his law until this day, all the way from Indonesia to Morocco, where men who kill in the name of honor emerge as heroes, where not to kill is cowardly and shameful, where women’s lives are trivialized, bartered with, and ultimately forgotten?
Therefore, these are the charges against Shehryar: He is to be charged in
1) the names of all the unborn daughters conceived during those nights of bloodshed.
2) the names of mothers weeping helplessly as they dressed their daughters in their shrouds and sent them off to marry a murderer.
Unless Shehryar gets to face the court, injustice against women will not cease.
This and other things.
Three years. During those years, Shehryar killed 1095 girls, his first wife and her lover, plus an undisclosed number of maids.
Except for the murder of the first wife and her lover, a crime of passion, so to speak -crimes nontheless – all other killings were pre-meditated, carried out in cold blood, and would have continued had Shehryar’s vizier not had an intelligent, well-read daughter named Scheherazade (who would be killed by Joumana Haddad a few centuries later).
The rest is now the fairy tale story we embellish, censor, abridge, translate, and adorn with images; the story hakawatis tell and movies are made about.
Those innocent souls that were murdered mercilessly: who’s going to get them justice.
How many of those 1095 conceived on that first and only night of matrimony?
How terrified they must have been, knowing that it was their last night on earth? And why?
Did they get to plead with him?
And their names? I wonder about their names. The length or their braids, the color of their eyes.
What kind of dreams did they have growing up?
Let’s start from the beginning.
Because Arabian Nights started one night, or day, when Shehryar found his first wife in bed with a slave.
Let’s just kill Shehryar.
Let’s imagine that the slave was quick, got up, and killed Shahrayar.
We wouldn’t have Arabian Nights then? And Joumana wouldn’t have had to kill Scheherazade?
How many of us would prefer that? How many of us care?
She wants to know.
“What does haram mean,” she asks, as her mouth forms an incredulous O, consistent with the brisk strokes of her mascara wand.
“The guy online said it is haram for a woman to show both eyes, that one eye is enough, because showing two eyes has encouraged women to wear more eye makeup.”
And the O stays there, freezes, at the insanity of the statement, the pure arrogance of it. This obsession she’s gotten into her head, a constant need to justify, a terrifying fear to obey.
She, who, at 18, has been shielded, protected, encouraged to think for herself, how did haram make it to her vocabulary?
Religious platitude and half-demented ulamas.
And I wait for her to laugh, to tell me that she was pulling my leg, that she wasn’t actually asking, that such an idea does not even exist.
I wait for her to shrug the conversation away, drop it off with the last stroke of mascara.
But it’s too late.
Fear has been ignited into those black pupils of hers.
She’s been having nightmares of being pushed into black eyeless pits.
Veils and burqas and bearded goons.
“And why is music haram?” She continues.
How do you explain Andrea Bocelli then?
“If God could sing he would sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli.”
She, who volunteers at the animal shelter and takes dogs out for walks, out of sheer love of life.
“What if God has referred to himself as a scientist? Would that have made him more believable to atheists and agnostics and alienated him from, say, relgious people?
But religion would not have existed then. It would have been the name of a Rock n Roll band, a new Metallica song, or a hookah lounge. Imagine that!”
An irreligious God?
I might have liked him then.
The making of a roundabout is a very complicated thing. It can take years. One has to justify the endless construction, digging, detours, and suspended traffic lights on a throat-choking busy road by making a roundabout. And then when it’s done, you feel like a fool. How come you never thought of it? What else could it be? The signs asking you to please excuse the road work men at work we’re working to enhance your experience. Almost a kilometer long stretch of orange cones and concrete barriers. Was it a sort of revelation, a civil engineer’s epiphany, jotted down in a rush? The word misspelled. Broken into two. But it doesn’t matter. The misspelling might even elude autocorrect and the immediate boss would not notice. He’s an engineer too, and the written word doesn’t mean much in that department. It’s the drawings which count. The symbols and measurements and the perfect 360 degree of a circle yet to adorn the road.
There are also half-abouts. Roundabouts not completely round, or just half finished.
It all depends on how one sees things.
The glass half full.
The things you learn in Dubai.
Religion is the plight of the soul, the bane of faith.
The call for prayers, the wailing cry of a minaret weeping, yet again.
I take my shoes off and walk on the grass. Walk and walk, in circles. Oblongs. The grass is a caress, full of spices and mist and thirst. And loneliness. And stolen nap times. Arms tucked under sweaty heads, emaciated, distrustful. This is what the grass is for, a sanctuary from the sky above and the memory of the sun just minutes ago, insidious, discriminatory, whipping their sweating brows.
I want to lay my head next to theirs and dream. What would I see there, under the eyelids twitching with fear? A crane collapsing, a rope snapping, the endless echo of a scream, a plastic bag where the portioned-out lunch remains untouched, rotting.
This is what feet are made for, to walk bare on grass, the toes drifting into a trance, inhaling the sound of the sea underneath. It is not smooth, soothing. These are blades, needles. A grid of unevenly cut shapes woven into the pale tapestry of a forced green. A new color. Shade yet to be named.
And the toiling of ants.
It is orange dresses, black skirts, white pants, not maroon robes. Pedicured toes nails, waxed legs and armpits, the face threaded, the eye brows a nuisance, perfectly plucked.
The hair unkempt, curls filling the spaces between neck, shoulders and waist, refusing to be tamed.
45 years old. I am.
How did I end up here, alone, redefining loneliness, rewriting my past, never the same story twice? I’ve stopped asking.
The truth. The truth is sewn in the hem of a thoub, snow white, of the man I once loved.
I promised to cherish him and love him. I promised never to forget the white thoub, the shoulders underneath, and the hands trembling with tenderness.
How did I forget?
How did I break the back which carried me and turned away from the face with the greying moustache, black once. Raven black.
The storyboard continues in episodes of varying lengths. The brief is brief. Life is death, delayed. A gold class ride on the metro. Standing up when seating is guaranteed. Creative directors and graphic designers wanted. The copy is any body’s guess. Dare to push the limits.
I was not ready for the face. The tight dark jeans tucked in the lace-up 4 inch red leather knee-high boots, the brown bag held tightly around the chest, the slender fingers, ring-less, manicured, corrals, a wooden bangle peeking from under the black sleeve, mismatched, nonchalant. The neck, slightly visible under the turtle neck, white, chalk.
The face. I wasn’t ready for the face, the eyes, half closed, lifeless almost, staring at the void beyond the windows, the metro speeding on the unusually wet tracks of a Dubai morning, wrinkles beyond age, beyond recognition, beyond talk, the face of a geisha, once.
I divert my look, but the face goes with me, burrows its features into mine, until I become one with her. Reincarnated into the lines on her face. What brings us here, strangers, to the point of recognition and silence, at the hour of sleep?