In the evening, I carry the pieces of my mother’s stories up the Haifa stairs. I carry them gently, for I am afraid to drop one of them, lose a second, forget a third. For these are not merely pieces of her stories, they are pieces of herself. She has given me these stories, memories, today, to hold close to my heart. She has exposed some of the rawest parts of her to me, parts I suspect she hasn’t shared even with the man she’s shared almost a lifetime with.
It took us hours to laboriously plough through some hundreds of photographs, reaching into the past, both of this city’s and of my family. I wanted to stop at the fading photographs of Wadi Salib of before 1948, before it became what it is today, inhabited and lively, but mother moved past them in a hurry. She had an aim, she was in search of something very specific. She scanned each photograph quickly, only glancing at the ones without people in them. The first photograph she grabbed from my hand was of a bunch of teenagers at the beach in a group shot. They were all laughing, looking directly at the camera. I turned the photo over and read in faded ink: “1956. Haifa.” Then another of mother in the school yard, with a tall, young man, moustached, skinny, tall. “Arabic. Teacher.” Mother said. One after the other, she pointed at various men, young and old, teachers, uncles, schoolmates. I guessed from the atmosphere of the photographs, the architecture, and the clothes they were wearing that they were mainly from the 1950s. Through disconnected half-sentences, silences, hand gestures and, finally, tears, mother told me fragments of stories. This one had touched her on her thigh sitting on a bench at school, this teacher had made her feel uncomfortable every time he’d put his arm around her shoulder, this uncle would kiss her on the cheek in a way that had made her cringe, another uncle would squeeze her too tight in a hug, until she would feel his erection against her. There were at least seven or eight men in those photographs who had sexually harassed mother, each in a different way. And then there were those that didn’t appear in the photographs. The owner of the corner kiosk, the random man at the beach, another random man at the souk. We were both so immersed in the stories that, when the siren went off, we just waited it out in silence, listening for missiles. From the muted echoes we knew they were falls in the sea, and didn’t even turn on the news.
The image of the young man’s dick is replaced with images of these strange men, touching, hugging, squeezing my mother. In a time when it was just plain impossible for her to tell anyone. She’s carried all these ugly memories within the folds of her body for so many years. How much permanent damage had those men inflicted on her delicate soul? And is there more? Or did she not tell me everything to protect me from the ugliest parts? As much as I’m troubled, at the same time I feel relief. Relief that I am not alone. Relief that I just shared something so intimate with mother, and she in turned opened up her most guarded, most secret, drawer of memories.
from “Six Weeks – Summer of 2006” | work-in-progress
(c) khulud khamis, 2017
To read previous excerpts from this work-in-progress, go to the category Six Weeks.
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