The Horrific 4 is a fiction series deliberately pushing to an extreme the worse prejudices seen in the Arab world, sometimes with a satirical tone. The aim is to bust the taboos around discussing the real sensitive topics fueling those prejudices. The 4 characters are not meant to represent role models. Both appreciative and unappreciative readers' comments will be published. Insults and derogatory language will be edited out.
( تابع أحلام بالعربي )
I am Ahlam. I was born in 1982 and am thirty years old. I am tall and brunette, like most of the girls from my country. I would fall under “fairly beautiful” in terms of the marriage ads that fill the pages of the Middle East’s high profile magazines. While I like my wide, honey-colored eyes the most about my body, I know it’s my curved breasts that others appreciate above all else. From a young age, I have tried to look after them, knowing that they will define me.
As much as this bothers me, being single is my main problem. The Arabic dictionary considers me “a maiden,” but I don’t acknowledge such a thing. What a miserable word that is. I am single – a title that implies choice and not my social, family, or biological status. “Single” means deciding that your happiness does not necessarily depend on a partner.
I am technically a minor, or underage, simply because of this choice. Despite being a grown woman – an adult – society takes my lack of husband of a sign that I fall under my father’s and brother’s custody. But I refuse any type of patriarchy that dismisses me because I was born a woman, complete with the organs and orifices that scare society into repressing my body. I have within me a fervent passion that makes my blood boil when my very breath threatens my family’s honor. Society thinks of me as a child, and yet the weight of respectability falls on me.
I believe in love... that is in fact my real problem. I dream of a man who will shower me with love. But my mother has a different view. It doesn't matter for her that I have an impressive career in engineering, or that my monthly salary is five times more than my father’s. I will remain a defeated, defective daughter so long as I remain unwed. The stories of marriage, divorce, and betrayal do not scare my mother the way that they scare me. She believes me miserable or cursed; to her there can be no other explanations for my choices. Perhaps having a cursed daughter is more appealing to my mother than having an independent one; curses are our culture’s favorite loophole for avoiding responsibility and ignoring our weaknesses.
I once called my mother to share that I had succeeded in arranging the money we needed to solve a family problem.
“Mom, I have great news!” I told her, proud of the work I had done to save the money.
“Are you getting engaged?” she asked.
My pride slowly ebbed away and was replaced with disappointment. The only achievement my mother would ever notice is a wedding engagement. Tears ran down my face as I sat speechless on the phone. I did not know how to explain to her that there are so many other beautiful aspects to life. I wanted to tell her that I am not running away from love or marriage, I am not trying to sadden her; I am simply waiting for my prince charming, a real partner who will be more than a bed warmer and financial cushion. I could not find the words to explain that I want to find a man who will feel the poetry of Nizar Qabbani, who will listen to my heartbeats, understand my silence, know how to make me smile, heal my wounds, and most of all, respect my independence. I am not a naïve, hopeless romantic – I understand that marriage is work made up of as much frustration and negotiation as wedded bliss. Nevertheless, I do not think it’s too much to want a marriage with affection and love. How could I explain this to my mother, who considers marriage a loveless social necessity? I was silent, incapable of speaking; and in that moment, I pitied her. That evening, I gave her the money I had saved and was overwhelmed by deep sorrow for us both.
It is not only my mother who makes me feel this way, although it hurts most from her, I think. Society here is bothered by people who choose to do things differently. It wants each person to be similar to everyone else. We must all choose the same path or else face the thousand curious questions that try to dissect our individualities. And no issue bothers Arabs more than an unmarried woman over the age of twenty-five. I’m starting to wonder if the whole marriage mania is just a way to avoid the unending cascade of questions.
Ah… apparently I am a hopeless case. Here ends another night filled with exhausting philosophical questions. I will try to forget this heavy burden and sleep again. Perhaps I will have a beautiful dream.