THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF COVERING YOUR ANKLES
MISCELLANEOUS | by FATMA HASSAN | 09 JULY 2020
Picture this. You bought a soft, sleeveless, linen white dress. There’s a hefty slit that begins at the top of your left knee. It’s gorgeous — the cashier told you so, too. You model it to your friends as they take a deep breath and inflate your ego. Maybe, you even wear it at home. Perhaps — whilst everyone is asleep — you contort your body in unnatural ways in front of the mirror in an effort to practice how effortless you’ll look once you wear it outside. You’ve built a film out of fabric. And you’d do it all over again.
Then, something happens. There’s a party. Friday night. You can’t stop your eyes from beaming. How exciting! A lengthy night with stuttering neon lights, filled with post-ironic men who drone on about how they are ‘all for women’s rights or whatever’ unless it interferes with a woman’s right to tell him ‘No.’ It’s a night of rum, shitty mashups, and even shittier song transitions. Of inherently occupied bathrooms with the bonus of a threatening hangover looming over you. But exciting nonetheless! Think about it; you get to wear your pretty dress, try out that bold eyeshadow, and ‘borrow’ your sister’s high heels as you get ready at your friend’s place. Seriously. Think about it.
It’s Wednesday, and your mind is brimming with excitement. You dash home and your mother welcomes you with an anxious smile as she grips a sturdy envelope and motions you to sit down.
Your residency has expired. And you’ve been told it can’t be renewed, nor extended. You sit in stony silence as she comforts you. Look at the bright side, she says; it’s a new life, you get to meet your extended relatives. A change of scenery. Where nobody knows you, and you get finally get to see your home country, in all its glory. And for a while, you almost believe her.
Until you reach the airport. The dress is still with you; its pale remains are tucked into the deep corner of your suitcase in fear of being outed. You hug your uncle as he presses himself onto you for a little too long. And you breathe a sigh of relief once you are finally let go, only to be silently swatted by your mother for inciting sexual innuendos out of your mouth. You’re home now. Your chest feels a bit heavier — but it’s fine. That’s just excitement, right?
You talk different now. You even dress different, too. Tugging your long-sleeve shirt down as you automatically drape a heavy cloth over your chest, the menacing streets have grown familiar to you. One time, you got chased by a woman because you weren’t wearing a suffocating rag over your head. You asked her why she’s doing this to you and she told you. “That’s just the way things work around here. I’m looking out for you.”
It’s okay, though. Things have changed. Parts of you were taken that you’re not quite sure you would recognize if they appeared once more. But here’s a secret; you still wear that dress, sometimes. You have to announce to everyone if anybody wants the bathroom though, ‘cause you’re gonna take a shower. You quietly slip it on —thankfully it still fits. The afternoons are best. The Sun gives a glow to your tired skin, the tiles are cold and the air is stiff, so it feels as though the Earth is breathless just from watching you. It almost makes you forget the frantic banging of the bathroom door because you’re taking too damn long in there.
It’s been nearly a year now. Alright, fine. It’s been over a year.
You lost track of days. You don’t know what month everyone else is in. All you know is that once the Sun yields in horror, the Moon takes its place and you’re a little bit sadder than the day before. But hey, on the bright side; when you wake up, you’re one day closer to wearing that dress outside.
Or maybe you aren’t. Maybe it was a fruitless battle. Maybe it’s time to admit that you aren’t going to be happy. That relying on your future self to fulfill and rescue you from your present burdens was an unfair transaction to the both of you. Because it never ends up happening, and learning that lesson almost always hurts.
You saw a homeless man once. He had holes where his teeth used to be and he used to have it all. Shiny new car, rowdy kids, a heart of gold with a full set of teeth. But it rusted. Something happened —he wouldn’t tell you. He needs a dress. Or maybe he already does —at least his own variation of one. So you asked him. It’s a sharp, well-fitted suit. Perhaps a pristine watch to go with his stark leather shoes. He’s the man of the house; a presence that demands respect. You asked him why he did that, because you didn’t know either. He said that life gets a lot easier when you have something to look forward to. “Otherwise, I would’ve blown my brains out.” He joked. You tried to give him money, but he just shrugged you off and told you that you’ve helped him just by listening. And you envy him for that. The same way you envy the women on T.V. with their exposed shoulders as your relatives spew misogynistic bullshit to the screen as though these women can hear them, let alone care. And you hate this country, and how easily it crumbles when it rains. And you’d like to walk away. Not run away. But to walk away from it all, slowly. To watch everything that had beaten you black and blue slowly dissipate till you reached your destination. Porcelain and clean. All of you melting. And you’re not quite sure if you’ll continue to feel this way once you do, and you wonder if this sadness is an innate, fixed part of you. And you feel the light dimming. And you don’t know how an overpriced dress became a symbol of hope in your head, but that’s just the way things work around here. You’re looking out for yourself.
Fatma Hassan is a Sudanese writer and artist.
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