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Destiny or Punishment

BY SALWA YEHIA ALERYANI

When you open your eyes in life and realize whether you belong to the lucky people on earth or to the unlucky people on earth is a matter of luck   and destiny. The baby who finds himself the child of a rich family is a lucky person. Definitely this is not a reward for him for something good he has done because he has just arrived to life's harbor and hasnít done anything at all. It is just his destiny. The baby who finds himself the child of a poor family is certainly an unlucky person. Eventually, this is not a punishment for anything bad or evil he has done because he is too young to do anything at all. It is just his portion of luck and his destiny. Who chooses "who" goes "where"? Who decides who will be lucky and who won't? I guess people like myself, who believe in Allah the creator of all creatures and earth, believe that it is Allah who chooses fates. Yet, it is also true that people struggle and strive to change and improve their reality and many of them succeed. Many of them donít. Also it is God who allows this one to succeed and makes that one fail. It is true too that a fact being so, makes the other fact an obvious result. For example: bad nutrition is a result of poverty and bad nutrition leads to poor health. So, a person can reach many goals but certainly not all he wants!

All these thoughts were passing through my mind when I was on my way to the rehabilitation house for prostitutes. I was going to interview a few girls from there to write about their experience and sufferance. I was a little nervous. These are young girls that I will meet. How much have they seen in their lives? How bitter was it? What are their worries? I remembered the bouquet of nieces and female cousins that I have in my society and I thought about their worries. Those girls I remembered were happy with superficial concerns. Their disturbances in life were issues such as: "My best friend in school misunderstood me.", "That boy is harassing me and must be stopped.Ē, "The pants I bought were too tight, I need a bigger size."," I need a list of things, when will I go shopping?", "I have a pimple under my eyebrow, I hate it." ,"I have gained 3 kilos and I need to go on diet." These were a bunch of worries that these teen-agers panic and maximize for no other reason except being well provided with all essential needs such as food, clothing, shelter and acceptable education.(As I find no "good" education in our country whatsoever.) No other reason other than being pampered. I was feeling more and more nervous as I was coming closer to the house. The idea of interviewing teen-agers who were rejected by their families due to their practicing prostitution in an Islamic society like ours and in a country like Yemen was a challenge. I felt that I will interview children who are unfortunately adults at the same time!

I arrived at the rehabilitation house. My heart was beating. I entered and saw the guards on both sides sitting and standing. They were there to protect the girls from any possible, expected attack from their families to take revenge and kill them for making such a disastrous scandal in their family's history. The principal, if I may call her so, stood up and welcomed me with a strong hand shake. She ordered a woman to serve me juice. Then she automatically started telling me about the various activities which take place in this house and how many handcrafts the girls learn. She told me about the qualified teachers who teach here and some of them were European volunteers. She showed me albums of different occasions they celebrated. She told me that the girls were the ones who did the decoration and cooked the cookies, cakes and sang, clapped and danced. She showed me an album of photos of a wedding of one of the girls here. She told me that one day a delegation, from the UNICEF, visited the house and an Algerian photographer came with them. He took pictures and quickly fell in love with one of the girls. He then proposed to marry her. She agreed and after the marriage ceremony he took her back to his country. The principal told me that the bride's dress was designed and sewed by her house mates. The food served in the wedding party was made by them, too. All the guests were them only!! The bride's make-up and hair style was done by the fingers of her loving friends. They all helped her and expressed their care despite their envy. I then remembered that outside this house the bride's gown was about $2000 and the food served to the guests costs $1500 and the make-up and hair style costs about $400. I sighed. I then congratulated the principal as the person in charge for all those beautiful achievements.

I was starting to run out of patience. I wanted to meet one of the girls now but the principal was so proud of her house and wanted to advertise more. She told me that this house also includes very gifted poets and talented painters. She brought some drawings to show me. One of the drawings attracted me. I took it and put it on my lap to examine it. The principal noticed my interest so she said, "This is Nayda's imagination about the outside world." It was a drawing of a windy day. The trees were swaying to the left and so was the grass and flowers. Even the birds she drew their wings slanted to the left. There was a house in the middle of the drawing and a girl standing behind its closed window. Its door was closed with a huge lock. It was her expression of being safe in this rehabilitation house. Outside the house she drew men and wolves scattered all over the area surrounding the house. I was amazed how Nayda gave the wolves humane features and how she gave the men wolfish features. It was like she believed that men were originally wolves and wolves were actually men! It was a scary drawing.

I put my head up and said, "Can I meet Nayda in specific?"

The principal answered, "Nayda? She is too young though. She might not be able to tell you what you need to hear."

I said, "There is nothing in particular I need to hear other than her personal experience and sufferance. Kindly ask her to come in."

She went and came back with her. Nayda! The principal then left the office and closed the door. Nayda was a short and chubby girl. Her eyes and hair were brown. She seemed to be scared. I stood up and stretched out my hand to shake hands with her. She hid her hands behind her back. I told her, "You shouldnít be afraid of me. I am only a writer who wants to write about you and your friends and tell people that you are victims. I want to show that you are not bad. I want to tell your families that they are frankly sinful and criminals when they abandon you. Help me please. Tell me about your story." Her face showed that what she was hearing from me, was like Chinese to her! I took out the chocolate that I had brought with me to help me ease her. She refused to take it. So, I continued comforting her that I donít consider her as guilty but rather as a victim. I gave her the excuses of being young and not well aware. I told her that we all make mistakes but the biggest mistake was not overcoming it. I told her that the life or game was not "OVER" and one should rebuild and mend and heal. I told her that her white earrings shaped like the new moon looked wonderful. Her eyes smiled. It was like 15 minutes and she was eating the chocolate and telling me her story. I noticed her fingers braiding each other on her lap.

She started talking by telling me, "My father is a governor officer. My mom is a regular illiterate woman. I used to go to a school ten minutes away from my home. I always went with my neighbor on foot. There was a young and very handsome man who always walked after us every morning to school and every noon when we went back home. I called him "My ShadowĒ. His smile made my heart glitter. I donít know why. I think I really liked him a lot. But I never talked to him." I asked her because I was sure the answer will make her happier, "How does he look like?"  A big smile appeared on her face. She replied, "He was tall and had big shoulders. He had beautiful eyes and hair. He had a very light beard showing the curve of his jaw. He looked like those who come in magazines advertising for razors. I always wondered how it felt to touch that beard. He was and still is the most handsome man I ever saw in life. Even his teeth were so white and nice especially when I compared them with my father's who was a heavy smoker." I smiled. I then asked her, "And then? What happened?" She sighed and said," I guess that then my fate walked its way. No one can stop a fate from proceeding. It is sent and guided by Allah, how can a person stop it? It was a day when my neighbor had flu and fever. She was absent. I went to school alone. He wasnít there. When I came out of the school to go home I saw him at the opposite street smiling. I smiled too. My heart was beating so loud that I put my palm on it to calm it down. I discovered that it was "love" that I felt towards that young man. I started my way back home and he rushed behind me. It was the first time I heard his voice. He asked me why I was alone and I didnít answer. He said he was lucky because that neighbor was absent and he wished she would be absent for the rest of the year. I giggled. We were raised that we shouldnít answer or react to any stranger but he was inside my heart and no stranger. He told me that this was his opportunity to tell me how much he loved me. He said he wanted to send his family to ask for my hand. He told me that he loves me so much. He asked me to give him 5 minutes to just explain how much he loved me. He said he can't speak freely in the street with many eyes staring at him. He told me that he will wait for me in a building under construction at the left side of the street. All builders were out for lunch and the building was vacant. He kept repeating 5 minutes only. Honestly I didnít mind him taking more time. I was in love. He headed towards the empty building and after 2 minutes I did too. In the building there was little light entering from the openings of the windows. He stood there in the middle smiling a magical smile. I stood silent and his smile did what a spell does to a butterfly. It can no longer flatter its wings to fly. He told me that he has loved me since 2 years. He told me I have a beautiful face. He said that he wants to marry me so I can be beside him for the rest of his life. He came closer to me and put his hand on my white scarf and pulled it gently offÖ He saw my hair. Thanks God I had nice and straight hair. He put his hand on my hair and I didnít intend to close my eyes but I just did. He came closer to me and I felt his breath on my cheeks. I was not aware of what happened after that. Then I suddenly became conscious when I felt that I was bleeding and saw my school uniform stained with blood. I bit my lips with terror and started weeping. I realized only one dreadful fact which was that I was no longer a virgin. This was a disaster and a sentence of death in our religion and society. A single girl must not lose her virginity except with one man which must be her husband! He started comforting me, "Donít worry. My parents will visit you tomorrow and ask for your hand. I want you to be my wife." I donít know why I didnít blame him that much. It was me who accepted and I was just as guilty. When one loves one gives excuses. When one loves one becomes a fool. I loved him.

Here Nayda was so exhausted and I saw drips of sweat shine on her forehead. I gave her my juice to drink. She said, "But it's yours."

I answered, "I donít want it. Drink it all if you like."

She drank it all in one mouth. She wiped her sweat with her sleeve. She then added, "I didnít know where and how I can wash the blood from my school uniform. He had left after giving me a bottle of mineral water. I tried to wet, clean the coat but it still showed blood in the back. I was terrified and decided not to go home. I imagined my father, today or after one year, discovering that I am no longer a virgin and shooting me. I imagined that my beloved was fooling me and that he will not send his parents like I always saw on TV. So, I just decided to run away and I did. I ran away until I reached Sana'a city as we were living in the Sheraton area which was like the suburbs. I arrived to a very crowded street I thought it would be the safest as it was full of people. It was in the center. I chose a place behind a corner of a street and slept there half dead of fear and exhaustion. In the morning I saw boys and girls begging so I covered my face with my white scarf and begged, too. I bought biscuit and juice like I used to buy for my school snack. I stared at every police car waiting to be shot dead by my father in one of these cars. He was certainly looking for me. Or maybe he would be too shameful to tell anyone about his tragedy. I slept there for 3 nights. I was bothered by some men but I protected myself like a wild tiger does when a hunter tries to shoot him. Until that fourth night when a fat old lady came and put her hand on my shoulder. She told me, "It is not appropriate that a pretty girl like you should sleep in the street. Come with me, I have an apartment where many girls like you are living with me. I provide them with food and shelter and they live with me because I am a lonely old woman."

I listened to her and half believed her. The part I believed was that she was an old lady and the part I didnít believe was that all she takes from those girls was their company. I went with her after I concluded that any gutter is better than the street. At least the gutter is closed. I went there and I was told since the first night that the old lady was actually hiring the girls to men who want to have sex for a certain price per hour. She also takes money for the room and bed. She then gives the girl the crumbs and tips of money which was not enough for any girl to escape. That night I felt scared but the number of girls with me in this trap comforted me. Who can I expect to end up being, when I am no longer a virgin, A Queen?" She laughed a very bitter laugh. She then continued, "I stayed there following the schedule for three years, until the sun of that bright day shone. The police attacked the apartment. Allah sent me the key for my rescue. I was free that day, as it wasnít my turn and I enjoyed seeing the men yelling and the girls covering their bodies with bed sheets. The policeman grabbed my collar and I kissed his hand and thanked him. He was shocked. I was put in jail. That man afterwards helped me and moved me to this heaven house. In the prison many older women tried to seduce me. I remember that I kicked and bit them and scratched them. It was disgusting what they wanted. I couldnít figure out how they can do that. It was no common sense, neither logical nor sensible that a female would have desire towards another female. Those women were filthy. That policeman chose me and other girls who were causing fuss in prison to move to this house. He was an angel and this house was a gift.

Here I am safe and sound. I am finishing my education and drawing and sewing. I rarely remember my parents. I rarely remember my beloved. I rarely remember anything other thanÖ that one day maybeÖ maybeÖ maybe, a man would come from the "soonisef" (like she called the UNICEF). He will be from outside Yemen to take photos or write about us and that he would fall in love with me. Then he would marry me and take me to his country. Maybe. Maybe.

MAYBE?

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