5 / 13

Storyteller Bloodline

Illustrated by Lee El Sayed

I woke up at 7 am in Al Abadeyyeh, to a bunch of loud women sitting on my teta’s balcony. It smelled like my teta’s basic chocolate cake that was left in the oven 10 minutes longer than it should have, mixed with the smell of fried onions from the next door neighbors who have lunch at noon. Blue doors, red windows, crowded houses splattered with bullet holes that were painted over, and over and over again. Teta’s 40 year old plants made their way across her balcony, towards the light, pushing against the ceiling.
My teta Amal, em Nassim, is the perfect mother, the earth that keeps on giving, and the OG hakawateyyeh in the family. She is in her 70s and I doubt people remember where she came from. She tells me she is from Jbeh but moved to the city when she was young. Proper urbanista who knew all the cafes and bus stops. A recurring story she told me was when she got married in a blue dress, 16 years young. My grandfather was 30, he wore a blue shirt she made for him. This memory always comes up first when I ask her where she is from, that and the recollection of all the days after her marriage, on which she was tired.
“كان بحبني جدّك اللّه يرحمو”.
My teta’s two neighbors, Samira and Hiam, my mom and two of my aunts were sitting on the balcony having coffee. I sat silently and listened to their stories as I usually do, same stories repeated at every sobheyye maybe with an extra detail, an extra sigh, more laughter, more pauses for dramatic effects. That chocolate cake was burnt, but I had some anyway.
It was my first cup of coffee, wasn’t even half way through it when my eldest aunt introduced her next question with a
“بعرف إنّو عيب بس، كيف البنت بتجيها إذا بتكون مسكّرة بين إجريا”
I stopped mid sip, put my cup down and looked around me a couple of times. I did not see that question coming, but I kind of did. I am a medical student, everyone loves asking me questions about things I learned. I thought about how medicine has monopolized our bodies as my aunt barely looked at me. I wish I can talk about my pussy because I have it and have experienced what it’s like to have it. The only thing I took from those few slides at the end of the reproductive organs lecture was that my genitals are complicated. Hard to please. Reproductive. Conversations about bodies from a medical perspective strips them of their shame. I was no longer a 13 year old girl who got slapped by her mother because she asked for a tampon on her first period. I could get away with it now. I had authority in the sobheyye.
Everyone was quiet, waiting for me to answer, my mother especially eager. I explained that a vagina is not closed but there is a membrane surrounding the vaginal wall which does not stop period blood from flowing. It is also of different structure for diff people. Some are born without one, some have it more elastic so it stretches but doesn’t tear even when having penetrative sex.
. “قولي هيك لستّك بعد لعملتو فيني”
Teta was on her way with a tray of carelessly cut watermelons.
فكرت حدا عملّك شي .ما عرفتش إنّو إجتك على التسع سنين .كنت ولد وقت جبتك.””
Teta’s hands baked cakes, planted seeds, sewed school uniforms and dragged her 9 year old daughter by her hair all the way to the Doctor’s clinic because it didn’t occur to her that she might have gotten her period at that age.
“شو عملتي!” “مين عمل فيكي هيك!” “شو عملتي فينا!” my aunt screamed, imitating her mother as she dragged her across the village’s cement. My aunt was 9 years old when she realized that what she does with her body is not about her but about them, so she protected it. The earth that keeps on giving can be cruel and ruthless. What has been done to earth is cruel and ruthless. Teta repeated that she did not know any better. She did not apologize. Aunt Lina looked at my teta with resentment, blame and love. This is what motherly love is sometimes.
This story is as old as time. Every woman who lives here has been to this story, this sobheyye. In another sobheyye my teta will tell me a story about her hands, her needles and her sewing machine, how they fed the gaping mouths of 6 children. In another sobheyye, my other aunt nassima will advise the others to stick cologne up their vagina to get rid of “the smell”. In another sobheyye my mom announces that my uncle had a baby and his wife is suicidal, postpartum depression the doctors called it. In another sobheyye Lina will tell everyone that her son’s ex-wife is a smelly slut and that she burned all her clothes. In every single sobheyye I will listen, argue, and explain. In every sobheyye they will listen, understand, and apologize to each other but will still play by the rules. Stick to the story. My teta will feel sorry for her cruelty towards her daughters. My mom will feel sorry for her cruelty towards me, how I turned out because of that, despite of that.
When will I stop feeling like I belong to these people? Why am I still part of this story?