It is often stated that it’s a miracle a Department of Philosophy exists here at all. Within its underpopulated lecture rooms, it is once in a while asked, ‘where’ exactly, is life led?
“Breakfast’s ready, your mother, umm, wants the both of you to come.”
The peachy pink calm of the dawn sky was becoming, as it invariably did, a blinding, bleached bone white daze. Every day when Amna woke (or more usually when Ezra the Ethiopian maid awoke her) she would then turn to wake her twin sister Eman and then pick up the book she’d been reading the night before. In her hand she took this book and went to where her mother was sitting. She proceeded to give what was essentially another monologue:
“Whilst ignorance is bliss, knowledge, it’s nemesis, is the pivot upon which all of humankind’s progress rests … this, the book argues, in addition to being ironic interferes with life’s fundamental purpose, the pursuit of happiness.” Eman, it should be noted, was rather less loquacious; in tandem, the duo nodded.
After fresh warm milk and buttered bread with apricot jam, Amna went hand in hand (so to speak) with Eman to university. The family driver, an Indian with hairy ears and the temperament of a tortoise called Iqbal, is the chauffeur–cum–chaperone charged with preserving their dignity and upholding the family’s honour. That day he drove as sedately as he always did from the walled compound to the walled campus in a blacked out polar white station wagon. As per usual in the rear seats, Amna helps Eman review the previous day’s lectures.
In the university’s cafeteria, the pair sat. The coffee chain’s cup wasn’t a new one, in marker pen it was written E, with a cross, then Amna and a X. It had been handled a lot but had seemingly been painstakingly and purposefully preserved. Eman was beautiful and she did look strikingly similar to a well-known and much coveted after pop star. (Beguiling would perhaps be the better adjective.) Amna wasn’t in the least bit shy and she was at the superficial level very approachable. Yet, they were typically a solo duet; the type who would bring packed lunches as opposed to purchasing a pizza for two deal.
The world can be cruel and it is gossip not oil that makes it go round and round. She’s aloof, she’s vain, she’s arrogant, she’s two-faced. Yep, such descriptions are commonly thrown their way. A group of girls talked about her latest twist: talking to the skies. Yes it could be to other—sisters perhaps. They conceded, with Bluetooth and Wifi its now impossible to be sure who are the sane and who are the insane. What a pity, she’s no friends, and now she speaks to herself non-stop. Here is the strange thing, all students on first contact want to befriend her but as lunch follows breakfast divides soon follow. They’re jealous of her looks or her grades or her ways with foreign labourers. Unbeknown to them, this day was to be their last (for a while at least anyway).
It wasn’t only at university this habit of talking to unobserved others was increasingly noted. The people in the village were not especially educated and this compounded the problem. Upon their return the final decision was dictated for all to hear: university life was over. Life looked bleak but a ‘chance’ glance over the compound wall would change it all. Yet between the chance glance and the trip above the clouds to a different world (so to speak) the consensus view was that she’d been possessed by another: two souls, one body. The father decreed, “this is what we’ve been told to do so, this is what’s right to do.”
In the weeks that followed the beatings became almost ritualistic—ten firm strikes and some words said before and after each crack of the cane—all books were banned and finally pen and paper was placed under prohibition. In tandem, the neigbour’s son was growing evermore infatuated. It had been the first time that their eyes had met for a dozen years (as kids, they’d all played in the open ground between the villas and that neighbourhood’s mosque). His Master’s dissertation was near completion and he was to travel to Britain to do his Ph.D. in September.
Villages talk, he knew of the happenings next door but was circumscribe and diplomatic toward agreeing with the sentiments of the men of the neighbourhood. That beautiful creature was troubled (she was troubled and/or in trouble), yet, in his opinion, there was nothing that love couldn’t cure. Following another beating, she said, “for how long most all of this go on?” and was answered with the following words, Salem, son of Sultan Al Aswadi has asked for your hand and you are to be married to him. Salem! the one with glasses? Rejection was a possibility, we are in 2015, daughters can now say no, should they dare to do so. But to escape the stick an “oh, okay” was the response.
The morning after the wedding the newly wed husband called upon the father of the house next door, the scarring had made him livid. “This is what we are told to do. This is what we do… don’t say you didn’t know” came the nonchalant reply. Salem had intended to be a man but when faced by this stocky ogre of a foe he draw the duel to a close by saying that they’d be off to the UK sooner than planed. The father was releveled, he’d thought that he may have instead been lumbered with a dependent divorcee to darken his family’s name.
A series of tests at Manchester’s Wythenshawe Hospital, in the cold crisp months of the northern English winter, confirmed that it was a ‘manageable’ psychological disorder which indeed love could aid. In the week after the winter equinox at a procedural health check-up she was told, in a thick Mancunian accent, that she was carrying a little someone inside of her. That evening in their studio flat, she looked into his tired eyes—he’d been reading all the day long in the library on Quay Street—and said, “congratulations, you’ll soon be a father.”
“Should we call her Amna after your mother or Eman after mine?” he excitedly replied.
Periodically the Department would convene open door debates. In a recent one, where the ‘where’ was the focus, it concluded with the arguably troubling thought that one’s very own head was where it all took place. Amna looked at Eman and said with out uttering a single word, “can this really be so?”