Fridays were the golden days of my childhood. It was the day that my father was the happiest.
I remember early one Friday morning my dad came to me and asked me to cook something very delicious because Aunt Mari was coming with her children. Her husband was unemployed so my dad helped her where he could, getting clothes and gifts for her and the children. He would remind me when she came to visit to cook something special.
“My lovely daughter,” he would say to me, “Don’t forget, our house is the only place your aunt can come to. Try to make something spicy and try your best because she doesn’t have this possibility at her own place.” I listened and added more salt and pepper.
The following Friday it was our turn to visit my aunt and Dad asked me to cook bolani to bring. I sat on the back of my father’s old bicycle in my burqa with a lunchbox full of bolani in my hands. He cycled for many miles until we got to the house. We hugged the children and l played with them while my dad talked to my aunt.
But my mother didn’t like either Fridays or Aunt Mari. This was because Dad would skip Friday prayers. That Friday when Aunt Mari knocked on the door Mom turned away and said something that I couldn’t understand. When l was cooking in the kitchen she came and said, “I don’t know why your father loves this fat nose woman and her ugly children.”
I tried to pretend that I did not hear her. I was proud of my father and I thought he was the best brother in the world to his sister. He was a very kind father who loved his family dearly. When my father died, love vanished from our home. After that, my aunt seldom came to visit us because she was not welcome. I became like a stranger also but I knew my family was only following a chain of traditions and I had to participate in it.
Power started to take the place of love and respect. My brother was so different from my father. He did not even call me by my name. I remember one time how he said to Mom, “Tell this girl that I need my white clothes ironed for tomorrow.” I understood. I tried to get his clothes ready for him. But one day I didn’t iron his white clothes because they had not yet been washed. I didn’t have time because I was studying for my exams. So I ironed his black clothes and hung them on the bathroom door.
The next morning Mom called me and I went to the bathroom where I saw my brother was furious with me. His threw the clothes at me, pushed me against the wall, and slapped me on my ear. I apologized, but he didn’t listen.
I was afraid to talk to him, but I loved him from the bottom of my heart. He always had a serious face and he never looked me in the eyes and I missed talking with him. We slept in the same room and I wanted to talk with him like a brother and sister. I was deeply disappointed that my brother did not love me.
As a girl I was both a symbol of shame and honor. When my mom and I went out, he never wanted to walk together with us. He would leave before us, and walk in front of us. If we traveled by car first he would cover the glass windows with paper so we could not look out. I was covered under the burqa so nobody could see me. His selfishness and ignorance made me very angry. I was burning inside silently.
Most of the time I couldn’t understand his behavior and I felt sorry for myself. He was my blood brother. We were no different. But our destinies were very different. He had a future as an honored man and a person proud of himself. My destiny was unknown and hidden. But the only wish I had then and the one I still have is that I couldn’t tell my brother that I loved him the most, and that I cared for him and I forgave him. I wish I could tell him this eye to eye, and I wish he could listen and believe me.
He thought that he was treating me the way women and girls deserved to be treated. He wanted to hide me so that he could claim respect and honor by saying nobody has seen his sister’s face. At that time I was covered by black clothing with long sleeves. I was respected among family and friends for wearing the Islamic hijab and having a brave brother who protected his sister all the time.
Talking about brothers is not easy and brings back pains for me. My hands want to go to my head and protect my head from the sad memories. But not all brothers are the same. My husband is the brother to his sister. When he talks with his sister, I see tears of kindness in his eyes and his voice is gentle when he says “my beautiful sister.” It makes me very proud of him. I look out of the window and I weep my silent tears.
Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Whitney Hughes, Task Force Wolverine Public Affairs, 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.