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A love story in no man's land - Chapter 2

Chapter 2: Amira's passion

21 years ago

A village near Hamat Gader, Just another morning

More than a hundred students, their parents, the teachers, and the staff gathered that day to announce the prestigious best student award. The award is given based on the student's performance in co-curricular, extra-curricular, and community activities along with the academic score.

"Our school is proud to announce the best student award for this year," the Principal said, "And, my dear gentlemen, the winner is a girl. Her victory is a testimonial for her passion. Her victory is a slap on the face of those who feel girls are not achievers. Her victory is an inspiration to several girls out there who want to study. And finally, her victory is not just a victory, but history!" He continued, "I request our chief guest to announce her name."

The chief guest went on the stage and greeted the gathering as one of the teachers handed over a sealed cover to him.

"And the winner is ....," announced the chief guest.

"Amira Hassan"

"Amira... Amira... Amira....," the crowd shouted, celebrating her success.

Overwhelmed with joy, Amira rose from her chair, with a smile on her lips and pride on her face. She was about to take her first step towards the stage, towards her trophy, a victory that created history.

"Amira... Amira..," her mother shouted, "It is 4:30 AM already. Wake up! I am going to the Yarmouk river to fetch some water. Wash the vegetables and cut them before I am back. Your brothers have a function in school and abba needs to go out early."

Amira woke up and rubbed her eyes. "I was so close," she said to herself, "In the dream, which forever would remain a dream"

Her mother has already left for the river along with other women in the neighborhood.

She rushed to the backyard to take a bath. She quickly freshened up and went into the kitchen. She washed the vegetables and started cutting them along with her younger sister. She and her younger sister cleaned the house and fed their goats. She kept the empty pots at the entrance so that her mother can go and fetch another pail of water. Her mother and elder sister take five trips daily to the river Yarmouk that is about 2 Km away from their house.

Her mother and elder sister are back. Her mother came to the kitchen while her elder sister went to the river again.

"Haww... Amira, how many times have I told you that your father doesn't like carrots cut this way"

"Ma, but it gives the same taste. How does it matter?"

"If your father does not like it, then that's it. No more questions. Keep these carrots aside and cut the new ones"

Amira took a few more carrots, washed them, and started cutting.

"The way your father likes," reminded her mother.

How does it matter? Amira asked herself. This question was as much a mystery to her as why she should not study. What's the problem? she asked herself several times, Money? – My family is one of the richest families in this region. Ability? – I was not even given a chance

Still unsure how it matters, Amira cut the remaining carrots the way her father liked.

*About an hour later*

"Why were the carrots cut this way?" Amira's father shouted angrily throwing away the plate.

"I am extremely sorry," apologized her mother, "These carrots were not for you. I kept them in a different bowl for you"

"Fatima, how can you be so careless?" shouted her mother, "I told you to serve the carrots in the other bowl" pointing at a different bowl.

Amira's father finished his breakfast and left for home but not before scolding and warning her mother.

"I am sorry, ma" Amira hugged her mother

"Everything is fine, Amira. Go and pack your brothers' school bags. It's almost time"

Amira, Fatima, and their younger sister Yaara went to pack the school bags.

Amira's brothers, Mahdi, Jamal, and Farid sat for their breakfast.

"I don't want to go to school. I don't want to study" Mahdi started complaining as usual.

Why is that brothers are forced to go to school while I am forced not to, Amira was about to ask her mother, "Ma!"

"Shhhh," Fatima shut Amira's mouth as she already knew what her sister is going to ask.

The three brothers picked their school bags.

"Don't have this class today," said Mahdi handing over a covered science textbook to Amira, "You can read it"

"Girls don't study, Mahdi" shouted Farid, the eldest one

"It is only a storybook" lied Mahdi

Amira thanked Mahdi with her eyes and Mahdi replied with a smile. He is the only one in the family who believes girls should also study. He has seen the passion in Amira's eyes and refuses to believe otherwise. He encourages her by secretly leaving his books in her room and explaining to her several things while playing. Amira waits for all the male members of the house to leave so that she can go upstairs and read those books. Fatima is Amira's guard and ensures no one finds out her undying love for books. Fatima is two years older than Amira and was married off when she was Amira's age. Her husband, however, died a few months later in a bomb blast in Cairo when he was on a business trip. Post her husband's death, she returned to her parents' home.

After ensuring none of the men are at home, Amira picked the book and ran upstairs. She was a quick learner. After reading the lesson just once, she was able to answer all the questions in Mahdi's homework.

"Amira, abba is here, quick!" alerted Fatima as their father returned home early this afternoon.

Amira hid the answer papers in the textbook and placed them secretly in Mahdi's trunk box. She quickly ran to the terrace and maintained that she was drying the clothes along with Fatima. Though Amira was not happy that she could not study, she was content that she could at least learn a few things this way.

"We have visitors," said Amira's father as he welcomed the guests, hinting his wife to bring some tea and snacks along.

"They are here to see Amira," he said, asking his wife to call Amira.

Amira came downstairs and stood behind Fatima.

"Amira, you are now 11, old enough to get married," her father said, "The groom's father runs a textile business in Amman, and the groom would take over his father's business soon. We have discussed all the things and the wedding is planned to be held next week"

"He is your husband," he added, pointing towards a 30-year old man sitting along with his father, uncle, and brothers.

Amira did not know how to react. She wanted to shout that she cannot marry right now. She wanted to tell everyone that her dreams are different. She wants to study. She wanted to ask her father to cancel the wedding, ask her mother to convince her father, ask Fatima, and Mahdi to stand for her. But she stood silent, expressionless, as she knew their reply – Shhh...

"He is your father. He knows what's best for you, for us, for the family" said her mother.

"I can guard you when you are reading, not when you don't want to get married. Every girl should get married" said a helpless Fatima.

"I believe you should study. I trust your ability. But I cannot say a word in front of abba." Mahdi tried to convince his sister to accept their father's decision without any second thought.

Six days passed by very soon. Amira has only one day. Tomorrow is her wedding. The family had just finished their dinner with Mansaf.

"Are you sure?" asked Fatima, consoling her crying sister.

"I want to study," Amira was firm.

"I don't see a way," Mahdi expressed his helplessness once again.

"Farid is coming," alerted Yaara.

Amira wiped off her tears and they changed the topic.

"What are you doing here?" asked Farid.

"Nothing, brother. She will be leaving for Amman tomorrow, after the wedding. So, we are just having a chat," Mahdi convinced Farid that everything was fine.

Farid left as their father called him.

"I only see one solution to this problem and that is not feasible," said Mahdi, "leave this place"

"Are you crazy?" said a worried Fatima, "She is a kid. She is a girl. It would not be safe."

"I want to study," said Amira, "I am a kid. I am a girl. I want to study"

Moved by Amira's passion, Fatima was in tears. She hugged her younger sister tightly as she said, "We can do nothing, Amira. You will not be safe."

"Go to sleep. Tomorrow is the wedding," her mother shouted from downstairs.

"Let's go," said Fatima

Everyone went into their rooms. Her mother, aunts, and cousins were exhausted due to the work, but are excited about the wedding tomorrow. The lights went off. Everyone slept.

Amira could not sleep. She went around the house to see if anyone was awake. Everyone was fast asleep. She slowly opened the backdoor and stepped out.

Someone held her hand. She panicked.

She slowly turned behind.

Mahdi, it was.

He pulled out a colorful thread from his woolen jacket. He tied it her hand. "I will always be there for you."

"Go, chase your dreams," he hugged her.

"Run away!"



Paris, a party night

Amira took out the thread from her suitcase. "I love you, brother," she said, with tears in her eyes, as he held the thread close to her heart.


(Move to chapter 3...)