This is an excerpt from Kebbi’s new release, The Hidden Face of Schehrazade:
“Hey, you! Young man, talk to me! Hey, listen…yes, you…how about you give me ten thousand Lebanese pounds, and I’ll allow my daughter to entertain you tonight?”
“Huh, what did you say?” the youth answered, dumbfounded.
Not knowing what
to say, he tried to dismiss the old man, but the latter wouldn’t quit. He kept right
on walking by his side, and the graybeard continued, “Listen, my daughter is
quite an expert; you’ll never regret meeting her, believe me. You’ll even come
back for her!”
It was the holy month of Ramadan.* The streets of Tripoli, glowing with bright lights, were crowded with people. All thoroughfares, alleys, backstreets, corniches and paths…and even dead ends…were illuminated. Colored bulbs dangled from streetlamps and lightened dark corners. Strings of light clinched and curled around lampposts. Lanterns decorated balconies and swayed with the breeze. Glittering paper moons and stars adorned the shops. After Iftar* and Taraweeh* prayers, the families of the old city invaded the roads in search of gifts, clothes, shoes, and food while its youth filled every coffee shop, deli and restaurant.
Entire families squeezed into tiny boutiques to purchase all sorts of outfits for the coming feast—Eid El Fitr.* Fathers conferred at the doorstep of every store discussing politics, sharing points of view. Sometimes they argued. Sometimes they saw eye to eye. Sometimes their exchanges reached a loud crescendo which would only subside when one of the participants caught the stony, disapproving stare of his wife.
In the shops, mothers helped their children try on an assortment of clothes. Shirts flew in the air. Pants landed on top of the heads of customers. T-shirts got passed around hand to hand. Shorts were scattered on the floor and dresses hung askew on hooks. Skirts cluttered every possible space while shoes and socks mixed and mingled everywhere.
Meanwhile, teenagers crammed the cafes to smoke the hubble-bubble and enjoy the famous kaakeh,* stuffed with cheese or thyme. The guys routinely grouped on one side of the coffee shops, ensuring both a view of the girls who walked in as well as of the large TV screens affixed to a wall near the snack bar. The TVs were, usually, tuned to a football game. The young ladies assembled in corners facing the boys. They gossiped. They giggled. And, sometimes, they glanced sideways at the boys, just often enough to encourage their bold advances.
Salima watched all the hubbub from her chamber window. She wore a flimsy, red nightgown as she knelt on the black couch placed under the wide opening. Her arms leaned upon the windowsill. Her lovely head rested on her soft hands. Tears rolled down her cheeks, but her tongue apprehended the salty water before it stained her nightie.
Nearby, her elder sister, Mira, was lying on her bed. She could barely keep her eyes open. As soon as they closed, she fell into a deep sleep and her heavy breathing pulled Salima’s attention away from her post. She refocused on the center of the room where the exhausted Mira was stretched out. Although Mira’s delicate features seemed tranquil but Salima was well aware that her sister’s slumber was a turbulent one.
The door to the girls’ boudoir squeaked open, and a stunning brunette appeared. Majida treaded softly into the safe haven and deposited her lovely self next to her sister on the dark settee, under the window.
Salima noticed the streaked face. Without a word, she drew her youngest sibling into her arms, pulled her head against her shoulder, and stroked her long, soft hair. Their slender bodies shook with choked sobs. Majida held tight to her elder and rocked her back and forth in an attempt to alleviate their shared pain.
The weeping pulled Mira out of her nap. She joined the twosome, and the three of them tried to find some comfort in a group hug. For a moment, they stared at each other in silence. Then, they all turned their bodies around to view the street, all resting their elbows on the windowsill.
The three, striking women released their souls, which allowed them to drift along with the Tripolitans in the old souks. Their thoughts invaded the shops, penetrated the cafes, investigated the restaurants, crept into the delis, sneaked into sweetshops and even infiltrated the privacy of homes.
Mira’s large, brown eyes followed a young, attractive man. He was tanned and muscular. His curly, black hair bounced up and down with every step he took. He was wearing light-blue jeans that hugged his well-developed thighs and a white slim-fit top that embraced his torso. She wondered if he had a sweetheart. She imagined his tender touch, his comforting voice. She envisioned his house, especially his bedroom — the romantic setting where all emotions and passions were spilled. She struggled to dream about love and falling in love. Would she ever experience that weird feeling everybody talked about? She doubted it for how could she understand such a mysterious emotion, particularly if it was related to sex? Wasn’t sex pure business as her father had taught her? Weren’t sex and money related? Could a person actually enjoy having a sexual relationship?
Salima caught a glimpse of a man in his fifties who was waiting in a long queue at the bakery. She stalked him with her eyes, curious to discover what a true father could offer his family. He was of medium height and wore grey trousers and a blue shirt. In his right hand, he held a clear, plastic bag through which Salima could see fresh buns while in his left hand he clutched a box of maamoul, the famous pastry baked especially for the occasion of Eid el Fitr.
Eventually, the man reached the counter clerk, paid for his purchases and stepped out of the bakeshop. He walked toward a grey Nissan where his wife and kids were waiting for him. The moment he climbed into the vehicle, a flurry of small arms appeared and little hands snatched the bag and the box. Salima could, almost, hear the children laugh and tease each other. She could imagine them stuff first the bread rolls and then the maamoul into their keen mouths. She did notice the parents looking with tenderness at each other and smiling at their kids’ voracity. Why couldn’t she, Salima, be born into a normal family? Why couldn’t she have had a father who sought to protect her? Why couldn’t she go to school? Why couldn’t her father care about her, or her sisters? Why couldn’t they have maamoul?
Next to Salima, Majida bent over the windowsill and focused on two teenage girls who were coming out of a boutique and holding a number of shopping bags. Both of them were tall and slim and wearing trendy outfits. They seemed excited and happy as they walked down the street blabbering, laughing, and bouncing on their feet. A few minutes later, they entered a shoe shop directly across from Majida so she could follow their activities. The two young women wandered around the store inspecting the displayed shoes and bags. They hesitated at some point when one of them grasped a pair of high-heeled red shoes, and the other seized an elegant red handbag. They eyed each other, grinned, and, apparently, asked one of the assistants to fetch them the right size of shoes. Without her noticing, Majida’s lips drooped, her shoulders sagged, and her heart bled. These two were having the time of their lives. Why couldn’t she, Majida, enjoy her teens just like everybody else? Why couldn’t she go shopping? Why didn’t she have friends? Why couldn’t she go out for a movie or a cup of coffee?
Then, the eyes of
Mira, Salima, and Majida all shifted to monitor another man’s actions. The man
who changed, controlled, and manipulated their destiny.
Their father was posted in a shadowy spot, leaning against a stained wall and smoking a cigarette held between darkened fingers. His daughters felt their cheeks burn with shame as they laid eyes on his shabby appearance which never failed to turn their stomachs. His hair was untidy and greasy and his beard long and tangled. He wore a torn, blemished shirt. His tarnished pants hung loose and his sneakers were torn and muddied.
They saw their father leap in front of a young passerby. They knew he was making the young man the same offer he made strange men every night and for the past five years. The sisters watched the man reject their father’s offer, as if appalled, and try to dismiss him but, of course, their old man persisted, as usual. He ran after the young male until he spotted another target.
“Hey sir!” he shouted; “Dear sir, I only need ten thousand liras to buy a pack of cigarettes. Oh, oh, don’t misunderstand me. I don’t want that for free. I have three beautiful daughters, and you can pick and choose. How about that? Ten thousand isn’t much to ask for, is it?” They saw the old man, who was his target, stop to talk and, then, shake hands with Malek.
The three girls turned from the window and, in silence, each asked herself …whose turn was it tonight?
Glossary of Arabic terms:
-Ramadan: is the holy month when Muslims are expected to fast.
-Iftar: is the dinner that Muslims have after a long day of fasting. The fast lasts from Morning Prayer till sunset prayer—from almost four in the morning to seven in the evening: the time changes according to the moon calendar.
-Taraweeh: are special and optional prayers, only held during the holy month of Ramadan.
-Eid El Fitr: is the holiday that comes immediately after the holy month of Ramadan to celebrate the breaking of the fast.
-Kaakeh: is a kind of bagel which Tripoli is famous for and is served with thyme or cheese.
Sadika Kebbi is a corporate trainer and workshop designer who is known for her unique storytelling style. She is also a TEDx speaker and a member of the National Storytelling Network in the US.
Sadika is a John Maxwell Executive Director and one of his licensed and certified Coaches, Speakers, Trainers.
She is also the author of two books. The first one is academic and is entitled The Temptations of the Flesh in Madame Bovary and the Awakening, while the second is a collection of 20 short stories entitled The Hidden Face of Scheherazade. Sadika has also published two research essays, articles and many short stories in diverse national and international magazines.
In 2016, Sadika founded an NGO called ‘Kun Ensan’ (Be Human), which aims at co-existence peace building and bridging gaps between different political, social and religious communities within Lebanon, mainly through storytelling. Based on her experience in public speaking and storytelling, Sadika noticed how titles and labels fade away and eventually disappear once a human heart is touched.