Najlaa Ataallah

1 - Midnight

Lately I’ve begun feeling that there’s something making me hesitate; to describe the crisis going on inside me would mean an acknowledgment, and acknowledgments involve a certain recurring, fearful apprehension.
It’s midnight, and I stretch out and try to stay calm: the bed makes an annoying sound. I run through everything I have eaten today and calculate whether my weight will increase or stay the same, in the grip of this feminine madness that constantly pursues me. I convince myself that midnight is the dividing line between today and tomorrow, and that any extra gram of weight gained now could mean a long-term increase...
Once again I go back to vacillating indecisively between the influence my rapidly dwindling energy has on me, and my obsession with my whole body. As midnight passes, I am running my hands over my curves, frightened that here or there a bit of fat might have built up; I ate a slice of gâteaux with chocolate icing today...

My punishment for myself is to stay up another hour and burn off any possible weight increase. I relish in drenching my clothes in sweat, whose salty taste trickles down my face onto my lips, confirming to me that my plan is a success.

I’m still hesitant, as if I was listening to a horse’s hooves leading me towards sobbing; rhythm and sweat flowing down my limbs, to my extremities, telling me - get clean.

I lie on my irritating bed, remembering to flex my torso and hold myself in a good posture - my thigh, my hands, my flat stomach, and a little bit of love. It’s hesitation, that’s what it is: the rhythm, the horses’ hooves, all of it bound up in washing, cleansing the body of the smell of excessive sweat. I’ll wash myself, I’ll strain to get my body’s weight over there and get rid of the last few drops of sweat with a little purifying water. My clothes are wet; as I take them off I focus for a moment, trance-like, on my breathing, my increasingly rapid panting. A beautiful body, and a loving power that has grown with each of the twenty years I’ve lived in it for...I listen to my breathing, the rhythm and the horses’ hooves, and observe the way my clothes cling to the body of a female who is fully aware of being in her twenties. The details of a body which lead me to experiment with the water, feeling something different to just washing myself...
Things are so different after midnight. I stopped hesitating and I washed myself, and realised that I am female, and went back to bed, closed my eyes, and tried to sleep...

Today, after midnight, there were horses’ hooves, a rhythm, and a body which resembled me, that body I saw the in the mirror; this is the first time I’ve faced the mirror after purifying myself...

The last time my little brother came into my room he got scared: there was more than one of him, the mirror had more than one eye, and he was afraid of the multiple images he saw of himself. He smacked the mirror with his hand, and then, taking even further exception to it, he made a fist, punched the mirror, and it smashed.

I stand in front of the mirror, laughing and running my fingertips through the strands of my hair, acknowledging that the mirror hadn’t been speaking, that there were no horses, and no echo of a rhythm, there was just the mirror and me and a shadow cloaked in a body.

2 - Bath time

When she allowed me to have a bath by myself for the first time I wasn’t scared, I was happy. I felt like she’d given me the go-ahead to use my own special private tools, without worrying that I would cry when I got foam in my eyes or that I wouldn’t be able to reach all over my back to wash it properly. She said to me,
“You can wash yourself on your own today.”

I thought she had let me do this because she was too busy with my younger brother to have time for me, but that next time she would keep watch over me as she always had before, so that I didn’t get scared, or slip, or let the water get cold.

My rapturous feelings about bath-time had begun in my mother’s arms. She used to make sure I came out scented with bath oil; I don’t know what her favourite brand was, nor what that fragrance was that she liked to smell on me.

The second time that my mother allowed me to try out having a bath by myself, I can’t exactly say if I was happy or scared. My confidence gradually ebbed as, hesitantly, I tried to pin down the main reason behind my mother’s permission for me to do this. She wasn’t too busy to be there with me, this time: maybe she wanted to give me the chance to rely on myself? I was scared that this might be the case, because I definitely needed my mother. I had to try having a bath by myself. It might just be, perhaps, that my mother wanted me to experience something new. Now, for the first time, having a bath involved my specifying what time I would have it myself, and how long I would stay in it, and getting everything ready, all by myself. I wouldn’t consult anybody about what colour clothes to put on afterwards, I would choose the ones that seemed the most appropriate myself, without my mother imposing her taste on me; and I wouldn’t relinquish my soft, fluffy towel...

I noticed, today, that our bathroom is a beautiful colour. The walls are covered in shiny pink rose-patterned tiles, and I also noticed the pink curtain around the bath - maybe it was that colour that made me feel so secure...I still needed to grow a few centimetres before I would be able to see myself in the mirror; the gleaming mirror...We have a beautiful bathroom which I can enjoy without my mother hurrying me along, saying,
“Come on then, let’s get your clothes off nice and quick, we don’t want the water getting cold!”

Today I’ll be in charge of the water all by myself, I’ll check the temperature, and then take my clothes off.
I once heard one of the girls saying she chose everything for herself, that she liked to have her bath in the morning, and I deduced from this that her mother was already letting her have a bath by herself.

The health teacher at school told us that we had to understand our bodies, and that we were getting to the age where we needed to pay careful attention to our personal hygiene, and to wash ourselves all the time...
I remember feeing embarrassed when she talked to us about this, and feeling like I was the youngest one on the whole group. I wanted to ask her how I could understand my body but I was afraid she would think I was silly, and childish. I thought about asking my mother about this but I was shy to, without even knowing why.

So this was my opportunity to contemplate myself whilst no one else was there.
I was hesitant to look at my little body - I took my clothes off quickly and fled from my own gaze by getting into the bath and washing myself, trying to quickly put the whole thing out of my mind and forget about everything I’d had on my mind.

Then I put my clothes on in a rush and ran to confront my mother, in impetuous anger:
“You left me to have a bath by myself!”
She looked at me and laughed, then she answered,
“Because you’re growing up, dear.”

When my mother said I had started growing up, she made me think that I really had. It made me wonder why she hadn’t brought this to my attention before she got me to have a bath by myself, once I was already such an adult.

© University of Wales, Aberystwyth 2002-2009       home  |  e-mail us  |  back to top
site by CHL