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When someone loses an eye, you call her a blind; when you lose your hearing, people call you a deaf; what do you call me? I don’t have an organ of my womanhood, and they still call me a woman?
Here is the fourth winner of our July 2017 Muse of the Month contest, Vasudha.
The cue for this month was from the movie Margarita With a Straw. Women more often than not prefer to do the usual and follow the herd instead of owning their life’s decisions. It is their life, it is their decision. Sexuality is something that we are born with. If my sexuality and sexual preference makes anyone uncomfortable or does not fit into the ‘usual’, then it is not my problem. Why should women or for that matter anyone adjust? This is just the way we are. Accept it or leave it.
Trigger warning: This post contains explicit references to violence against women that could be disturbing for some readers.
“Hey! Do you know a perfect Oxymoron?” Zaynab asked me anxiously.
We both were studying English literature at the British Council in Muscat. She was an Omani in her late twenties, second wife of a Sheikh and had three kids. When we first met, I was shocked to know her maternity status, as she still appeared to have a shapely figure and a slender waist. In the Middle East, it was difficult to guess a woman’s season based on her anatomy as she is veiled head to toe in an Abaya and a Hijab (black robes and scarf worn by Arab women). Whereas back home I could easily conclude someone’s animate existence from her midriff, let alone how many gestations she had survived.
“Mmm.. A perfect oxymoron? How about Deafening Silence?” I answered her presumably simple question.
“How about Nauseating Sex?” She replied, concealing the giggles with her pedicured appendages.
“Aaeeye!! Nauseating Sex? Some innovation dear, but who nauseates while having sex. Rather I would say, it’s delicious,” I couldn’t control my chuckling roar and we both laughed through the noiselessness of the library.
It took us a while to be civilised again. She looked at the ceiling above and spoke sluggishly, “Delicious? Not at all, or may be only for them. Sincerely I wish if I could block this hole.” A deep breath and she continued, “That painful haemorrhage every month, that painful insertion every night and then that painful labour every year.” The smile which was there seconds ago had suddenly disappeared and one could smell hatred in her.
We knew each other for about four months and I had never seen her so bitter. Her eden-green eyes were raging fury and the glistening lips had lost the shine. “Everything okay with you Zaynab?” I had to ask.
With a long lapse of aplomb and a hesitating smile, she was herself again. “Oh yaa! Itz cool. Let’s finish this assignment. Kids won’t let me do it at home.”
I knew I had hit a wrong cord somewhere and behind her personified élan, certainly there was pain and trauma. I had never seen someone so mad about her cavity that she would want to plug it. Her bitterness for the carnal genitalia echoed through my ears, the whole night. The repetitive indictment of “Painful, Painful, and Painful” gave me chills. For no rhyme or reason I spend nearly an hour examining my own private parts – thankfully nothing alarming.
Even though, we never spoke about it again and things were supposedly normal; I had this abnormal curiosity in me. I wanted to know why, what and when?
It was a Sunday, the first working day of the week in the Arab world, when my husband had to suddenly go for a meeting in Saudi. It is absolutely petrifying to sleep alone at night in a penthouse, especially in an alien country. Last time when it happened, I spent the whole night watching TV and ended up paying a 200 dollars phone bill.
“As-Salamu Alaykum Avni! How are you dear?” She had that habitual sparkle in her tone. “Ooohh! You don’t look okay my sister. What happened?”
I looked up and forgot to even wish her the traditional Islamic greeting – Wa Alaykumu As-Salam. “My husband is not in town and I really hate it alone there in that house. It haunts me at night.”
“Oh Avni, just this much! Al-hamdulillah (praise be to Allaha). You stay with me tonight. Sheikh is also not here. It will be good fun.” Her offer was too good to resist as I was being invited to the Sheikh’s 11 bedrooms mini-palace. After dinner we both settled in the living area for some Kahawa (Arabic Coffee) and Dates. Our banter and bitching had spared none – the professors, in-laws, neighbours, and politicians. By sheer providence our wandering gossip migrated towards the harmless looking lexeme called SEX.
I gathered all the shamelessness possible and fixed my eyes on to the insignificant Kahawa cup; and dared to ask her, “Zaynab! I want to ask you something? Something personal.”
Probably I made it too obvious and she guessed it. She thought for a while and said, “I don’t know if I should be talking to you about this or not? I think I must pray and seek guidance from the Almighty.”
I was unceremoniously deserted by her urgent desire to pray and it was definitely a bizarre scene; certainly scarier than my haunted apartment. One of the most difficult 10 minutes of my life, in which I planned an escape; if things turn hostile. May be she was offended and was coming with a butcher knife to sort out my overt appetite for her sexual pleasures?
I heard her slippers in the corridor and braced my posture for the athletic run, but she was inoffensive. What a relief, it was.
After settling next to me, she took my hand and asked me a promise, “You will not tell anyone, what I tell you now?” I sympathetically concurred and she started, “Avni, I was first circumcised when I was four years old and later the vagina was sewed when I was ten. So I don’t like SEX”.
WTF! And what holy crap was she talking? Her candid confession had send shivers down my spine and my heart sank in an endless abyss of gloom. For few minutes I was speechless. To be sure what she meant, I pulled out my phone to Google the thing. The horrifying procedure paralysed my sensory organs. It was the at-home surgical removal of the whole clitoris gland without sedation, using a rudimentary shaving blade; done by an old lady or a male barber. They peel off the protruding extra skin of the vulva and later sew the vagina, leaving a small opening for bodily excretions.
“Avni! Avni! Are you okay?” her familiar voice brought me back to senses. “What happened? Are you okay dear? I am sorry, if I hurt you?”
I didn’t know what happened but I started crying. Crying with pain as if someone was using that blade on me. There was a lot of pain down there and I had no idea why? She hugged me and her warm embrace broke the dam – Now I was howling as if someone was skinning me down alive. As if someone had put me on fire and was crushing my skull with a hammer. It felt like a molten hot rod going inside me.
I wanted to kill them. I wanted to kill the person who did that to her. I wanted to kill the person doing that to me. I wanted to kill everyone who ever did that to someone. Bloody bunch of BC, MC and all Cs possible in this world.
After some time the grief subsided, but I was still in her clutches. She offered me water and rubbed my shoulders, my forehead and my hands; and said, “Sorry, I did not want to hurt you. It is not your fault. Insha Allaha, it is his will.”
The emotional tsunami and the over flowing tears had choked my vocal cords, yet I wanted to ask her about this will of Gods. “I am sorry Zaynab, but how do you live with that so easily?”
She released me from her grip and looked straight into my eyes. “How I live with that so easily? Really?”
Her outrage had filled the space between us. “Whatever happened, changed me. I don’t think I am a women anymore. When someone loses an eye, you call her a blind; when you lose your hearing, people call you a deaf; what do you call me? I don’t have an organ of my womanhood, and they still call me a woman? Why Avni? Why?” Both of us didn’t have an answer.
“Just because I have these long hairs; a soft voice? Or is it, that I have breasts and a cave down here? That is why they still call me a woman, is it?” I could see big drops in her eyes. “I am a disabled for whom you don’t even have a word in the dictionary. I am the disabled femininity.”
There was this exceptional sadness in the room and neither of us had anything more to say. She used a tissue to wipe those big tear drops and looked at me again; smiled a bit and said, “Sorry, got carried away. Hope you are alright?”
I nodded my head, “Hmm.. I am okay.”
I don’t remember what emotions I had that time, but I told her, “Zaynab, I don’t have the answers to your questions but I think you are one of the bravest woman I have ever met. Having gone through so much I still see you smiling, enjoying life, making your own destiny, and most importantly being yourself. I am proud of you and the world should be proud of you.”
She smiled again, “That wasn’t the end of my life. What if I don’t have the pleasure organ and I hate sex? I have never disagreed or grieved about this disability to anyone, except for today. For me I want to be me, like this all the time. I am proud of myself as I didn’t let it happen to my daughters and I am studying so that I don’t let it happen to others. Once I finish my college, I will join the United Nations and work with them to stop this disgusting practice. Insha Allaha someday we won’t have Zaynabs like me.”
I wasn’t sure if she was happy or sad; hurt or cured; pained or calm; contended or regretful. Yet She was She, happy to be herself – the disabled femininity.
“God Bless you Zaynab. I wish your dreams come true.” Those were my last words that night.
If I had to describe Zaynab, I would say, she epitomizes this famous quote by Betty Friedan, author of the famous book ‘The Feminine Mystique’…
“When she stopped conforming to the conventional picture of femininity she finally began to enjoy being a woman.”
Vasudha wins a Rs 250 Amazon voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the top winners at the end of 2017. Congratulations!
Image source: pixabay