That one time when I almost fell in love

Nadia is een ervaren audiovisuele journalist. Ze heeft gewerkt voor nationale en internationale tv, mensenrechtenorganisaties en zelfs de Verenigde Naties. Ze heeft interviews gedaan met meer dan 50 mensenrechtenactivisten en hoopt ongemakkelijke gesprekken, die vaak over de rechten van vrouwen, hun lichamen en hun keuzevrijheid gaan, te normaliseren.

Welcome to my bedroom, my ghurfat nawm (غرفة نوم), sonay ka kamra (سونے کا کمرہ), mijn slaapkamer. Bedrooms are where we have some of our most intimate and honest moments in life. As such, why should this bedroom be any different? Hi, I am Nadia – coming to you live from my bedroom in Hejaz/Mecca. I look forward to sharing my life with you most honestly.

It is true. Growing up in Saudi Arabia, we were praised for speaking ill of girls that dated in school. We were rewarded for openly declaring our hatred for love. We were encouraged to snitch on people that felt differently. Thus, in such an environment, when you, a passionate hater of passion, began to catch those very feelings yourself, it initiated an internal conflict for the ages. However, growing up in one of the world’s most conservative countries, I quickly developed a habit of censoring my thoughts. I would pen my thoughts in a journal that I hid in plain sight in my room on my study table. I would initiate my journal entries in the most mundane and plain manner, making sure that they were profoundly boring. This, of course, was a security measure designed around my mother. The chances of her going through my stuff in the first place were slim, but should the need arise, she would be satisfied to see that her child was leading a perfectly boring and dull life, in thoughts and in reality. Thus, prompting her to close my journal right before the juicy parts came in, right before my haram thoughts concerning a school-fellow were put on paper.

Some of my best days spent in Mecca were when we began to go to our fourth school, all the way in another city, Jeddah. I loved waking up early in the morning and waiting in a random alley near our house for the school bus to arrive. As we would wait, my siblings and I would write song lyrics of The Moffatts on cars using the dust settled on them. The commute to school was an hour long given that everyone got on the bus on time, which almost never happened. We had a pair of sisters who were always late; who, on top of being late, brought along their grandmother who needed to be dropped off at Masjid-al-Ha’ram; sisters who also constantly threw paper balls at boys in the bus as an act of flirtation. Did I mention, we were the only school bus without a supervising teacher? Well, we were.

Just as we had all boarded the bus after a long day at school, our Vice Principal stepped into the vehicle, fuming. “Why is this bus always late? If this was an army school, do you know what I would do with you?” she said to a sea of lips pressed shut, quivering as giggles fought to escape them. “If this bus is ever late again, I will place a supervisor in this bus. And whichever kid delays the bus, will simply not get on the bus,” she scolded to no effect. As she exited, a boy (whom we will call Khalid, here and in future blogs, In Sha Allah casually uttered, “Allah Hafiz, Ms. Khan.” Ms. Khan quickly turned to get a look at who had said that, but instead, hit her head on top of the bus’ door-frame, causing the giggles to erupt into laughter.

That bus was the best part of my school life. We would often divide the bus into two groups and pitch the boys against the girls in a game of charades. We often had passive participants who didn’t want to be teamed up but wanted to shout out the answers all the same. In the bus, we gave each other loving names too like, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ to the guy in the passenger seat who was never awake; or my favorite, ‘Boundary Commission’ to the guy that  could always be heard saying, “You’re on my seat!” He would then proceed to sketch out the border with the side of his hand saying, “Until here is my seat! You’re too fat! Try to stay on your seat.”  In that school bus, was also where I had my first confession. I mostly hung out with the boys in the bus as I was fond of Yu-Gi-Oh!, wrestling, Burnout, and Avril Lavigne. So, as I sat there trading my Yu-Gi-Oh! duelling cards with the boys, Khalid, hugged me tight from behind and said, “I don’t like you like a sister.”

I wasn’t flattered. I was scared.

My brothers were sat right next to me and my sister right behind them. How dare this boy, that I was crushing on, put me in a position like this? Falling in love was wrong. Being in love was dirty. If I could control myself, why couldn’t he?

Luckily, our stop was next and my siblings and I got off the bus. That day, our father fetched us from near the end of the Jeddah-Mecca highway. “I’m going to tell baba*,” my brother whispered to me as he walked towards the car. “Please, no! That was nothing. Pleeaaasssseee, don’t tell baba!” I don’t remember if I had to give up a Yu-Gi-Oh! card or a candy bar to earn my brother’s silence, all I remember is that he never did mention it to my father. Or if he did, my father had no noticeable reaction to it.

When Khalid confessed to me, I hadn’t known the word ‘crush’ or its meaning. A class-fellow, (let’s call her Noor), was the first person to notice that I was impossibly smitten, “Is he your crush?” she wrote in my notebook during our English period. “What is a crush?” I asked, accidentally louder than I’d intended to, prompting our teacher to harshly speak over me, “And so class your homework will be-”

Noor had her head in her hands, shaking it side to side, feeling disappointed in me. I was sat next to her, adjusting my maroon sash into an immaculate V over my torso, thinking Noor was stupid. Thinking, Why would I wanna crush him? I like him!

I forced myself to not think about Khalid. It was hard at first but once we moved to Jeddah, it was easy. I didn’t see him at school that often anyway, since our school was segregated into male and female sections. On the rare occasion that I did see him, I ignored him. As I moved on from Khalid, a more sinister affair of the heart began to take hold. I was enamoured and in awe of another human being. Not only was this person (whom we shall call Shad) intellectual beyond measure, they were insanely good at athletics as well (something I always opted out of by forging letters on my mother’s behalf). At the time, I took my liking Shad as a sign of admiration, not infatuation. I received personal letters from Shad, I wrote personal e-mails in response. We frequently exchanged gifts, and much else in between. Little things, that were very normal in a close friendship, inched my heart closer to Shad. “Mom, can I borrow your cellphone?” I’d ask Mum just as she and Dad would lie down after dinner.

“Whatever for?” she’d ask.

“Shad.”

“Use the landline!” Dad would interject.

“I know,” I’d scoff and roll my eyes, “I just need to see the number. It’s saved on Mum’s phone.”

There was nothing that I did not share with Shad. “We’re going hiking.” As Shad would tell me this I would feign excitement because their family was always going hiking somewhere. “Oh my God! Where?” Somewhere in Northern Pakistan I’d be told over the landline. After the excursion, Shad would return with a collection of photos of the Karakorum Highway and the glaciers en route, or with a collection of tales from Hunza about the lack of women in their population and the abundance of their peaches unparalleled in taste to peaches anywhere else. We were sat shoulder-to-shoulder on a patch of fake grass, in a place we called the “shaded area” in school, as Shad detailed the hiking trip and exchanged burned CDs of Naruto episodes with me. “You know, because you’re Hashmi and I am Sayed, we’re like meant to be best-friends.” This was the first time someone had discussed my ‘caste’ with me, someone that wasn’t my mother. I knew as a Hashmi I was strictly forbidden from accepting charity, I was only to give it. As a Hashmi, the only thing I could accept were gifts. As a Hashmi, I was the extension of Prophet Muhammad (SAW)’s family tree, related through Ali (RA). As a Hashmi, I was to be a preacher of religion through my own expression and implementation of Islam in my life. As a Hashmi, I was a sinner of the highest order for looking at Shad the way I did when I accidentally fell off of the wall in the shaded area and landed flat on Shad who was in knots of laughter.

Stone. Stone. Stones. Pile of shitload of stones. I need to stop feeling this way or I will be stoned.

“And We rained upon them a rain [of stones]. Then see how was the end of the criminals.”

-Al-A’raf, Quran, 84*

My ‘resolution’ came in imitating boys…