if you want to be pure again, when you are ten.

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Egyptian Visual Artist Ghada Amer's "Red and Colored Drips"
Egyptian Visual Artist Ghada Amer’s “Red and Colored Drips”

if you want to be pure again, when you are ten, and there is blood that sometimes runs down your thighs because your mom said that now you are a woman, there are things you need to do in a specific order and with special care because the realm of care and order is where girls go when they become women.

if you want to be pure again, when you are ten, and the blood has stopped running after a few days and you have checked and checked to make sure that there are no tell-tale droplets after the third or fourth or fifth day depending on what your body has decided to do that month, because a drop in this case you have been led to understand is enough to poison a bucket a bathtub a lake the nile the ocean the whole city of cairo and its governorates egypt the country the middle east as in the whole region israel included africa the continent the polar ice caps all of it somehow unclean.

if you want to be pure again, when you are ten, you will make sure to wash your hands thoroughly and in the winter this washing will be enough to make them raw and cracked and hurting. your mother the gynecologist the surgeon the woman who introduced you to umm kulthoum to art to literature to marron glace has told you that if you are not careful and even a little bit ends up in your eye you may go blind because even though some small part of her knows better that is what she was told and that is what her piano-playing french-speaking mother was told and that is what her mother before her was told and her mother before her unto an eternity of history fading into the faint echoes of the cracked feet of all of your distant mothers and all the lies that were supposed to save them. if blinding to your eyes what could it do to your hearing to your taste buds to your speech to your hairline to your ability to feel the sandpaper of your skin puckering with new hair you think to yourself as you become paralyzed with the image of you struck deaf dumb blind hairless harelipped your bones hollow and your mouth empty of its teeth.

if you want to be pure again, when you are ten, you will get into the shower because you have been told only running water can purify only running water can scrub filth away only running water can drown your shame only running water can sluice away from you what standing water would only bathe and corrupt you in. if you want to be pure again you will focus your attention on each body part and you will say the shehadah, an incantation to purity. but you can’t say it out loud because you are in the bathroom and that is not where the name of allah should be spoken and so you will repeat it only in your head but because you are not pure and you are ten your mind will wander to cartoons and to classmates and to questions like whether the red that you see is the same red that other people see and you will think about space and time and dolls and g i joes and ponies and what you did last summer. and then you will forget to continue saying the shehadah as you move your sight your attention your intention from hand to arm to elbow to shoulder to chest to stomach to unmentionable and then you will remember yourself and start over.

you will repeat the shehadah and concentrate this time until it matches the rhythm of your breathing the rhythm of your heart the ticking of your body clock ash-hado anna la ilaha illa allah wa ash-hado anna mohammadan rasul ullah ash-hado anna la ilaha illa allah wa ash-hado anna mohammadan rasul ullah ash-hado anna la ilaha illa allah wa ash-hado anna mohammadan rasul ullah and with the incantation you will purify your hand which can now touch the qur’an again your arm which you can now extend in prayer again your elbow which your father can now touch without ruining his wudu’ again your shoulder which you no longer have to slump your chest which expands with cleaner air your stomach which will take a break from cramping your unmentionable which you will not mention your legs which can bend your forehead to the ground as you show your devotion to the lord your god who made you an incomplete woman naqisat ‘aql wa deen your feet which can walk back into islam after their banishment, the same two shehadas that bring infidels into your faith bringing bloody women into a temporary purity, until the next time you feel the trickling.

if you want to be pure again, when you are ten, you will think later in the day, did i do my elbow. did i forget to do my elbow. did i do my elbow. is my elbow pure. is it pure. what about my elbow. did i do my elbow.

5 comments

  1. Soukaina Ouarab

    Beautifully written, so profound that I’m sure it’ll touch people from all walks of life.

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