As she stood, holding her younger sister’s hand, Abeda stared at a small glimpse of rebellion on the wall. Writing not much larger than the size of her hand lay silently on the wall, on the corner of a quiet street in an uninteresting neighborhood of Riyadh. There wasn’t much to it, only one word drawn with a permanent marker. Yet she remained in awe of it. The effort someone had gone through to make such a small comment that would most likely be painted over in the next few hours, was suicidal to her mind. The mere size of the marking showed this was not a man or a boy, there was no intent to dominate or show strength. For a girl to do this was to risk only punishment. She had heard of the recent revolution, as some would call it, of women standing up for their rights. Even men were participating and fighting side by side with their sisters, mothers and wives. During moments alone in her house when her family was asleep, she would find herself listening to radio stations that supported the revolution. She knew if someone found out it would result in her being punished. She would listen to those women as they spoke passionately about the future and the need for equality, how this was in no way a fight against their religion but a fight for both men and women.
The sight of her mother exiting the store woke her from the daydream. As the three walked back towards their home, Abeda could only think of that one word she saw on the corner. Would it be there tomorrow? Most likely not, but it had already performed as it’s maker wished. It lit a flame in a young woman, wanting more not just for herself, but for her little sister, mother and grandmother. Unseen to everyone else, she smiled and decided at that moment her life would change forever.
All this came crashing down as they neared the house. Not more than a meter from the front door her father was waiting for them. Next to him was another man, not from this neighborhood and possibly not even from the city judging by his accent. They were told to go to the main room and sit on the couch and wait for them. As she passed by the man, he stared at her. She wouldn’t look at his face, but she could feel his eyes observing her every move. All she could focus on was his right hand. It was not a working man’s hand, her father and brother had both worked with their hands since they were young, this man had never spent a day of his life doing physical labor. This meant he was a thinker, he used his mind and his mouth. Then it occurred to her, the radio! She had no knowledge of those sort of things, but believed the government could see and hear everything you did. She’d been careless, and this man had discovered what she’d been listening to.
Now she was to be punished. Was this her marking on the wall? Was this all she would be known for during the rebellion? This was a pitiful way to go. These thoughts extinguished the flame she had built inside only moments earlier.
She sat in fear as the two men entered the room. Nothing she could do or say would save her now. She had to accept it, or they would think her mother or sister were a part of it. She couldn’t bear to see them suffer for her actions. So she stood, but before she spoke her father gently grabbed her shoulders and in a relaxed voice told her to sit back down. Something wasn’t right. Why was father so tranquil? Could it be he was so disappointed in her he’d lost all emotional feeling for his child? She was his first daughter and he loved her dearly. There were times when she felt like the luckiest daughter in the world for having such a great father. But now, all his love for her was lost.
As she sat there, her eyes began to tear up. She heard not one word when the stranger spoke. She could only sit there in tears while staring at her father. Then the man opened a box and her attention finally focused on the true show that was about to begin. He passed the box to her father and the stranger left the room. What was going on? Abeda had never been more confused in her life. Never more emotionally lost than this moment, yet her father remained there calm, steady, and…happy? Why was he smiling, and what’s in the box? He then knelt in front of Abeda and gave her a small round gum-like substance from inside it. Then he gave the same gum to her mother and sister. This only increased the confusion Abeda was feeling at the moment. He leaned over and whispered in Abeda’s ear, “My dear Abeda, don’t worry, your future is truly in your hands now. The life you have always wanted and never knew you wanted is in reach. Do as I show you and we can build a new future together, as a family.”
Her father then showed them how to break the gum into two pieces, then placed one in each ear. Tentatively, she copied him, her mother and sister doing the same.
Within two seconds the world as she knew it was gone. A sensation ran across her body that she would never get used but always crave. Nothing could compare to the feeling she was experiencing in this moment. All she could do was close her eyes and let the journey take her where it wanted. She then heard a voice, the most beautiful voice she had ever heard in her life. It was a woman, speaking in dialect as if she was next door. Was this woman one of those rebels? Was she the one who’d written on the wall? She had to have been close by. This is it! She was recruited by the women she would listen to every night. They’d found her and her family. The flame inside her grew again, but this time it would never go out.
She opened her eyes and saw her father, on his knees crying. She didn’t worry though, she knew these were tears of joy. She knew what he was feeling, her thoughts have never been as clear as they were at this moment. As suddenly as these thoughts faded from her mind, as if the woman was waiting for her to stop thinking, the woman said, “Well Abeda, we have a lot to do. I should introduce myself, my name is ANI.”
Image credit: Beeple