Nighttime trickled in throughout the indigo skies of Cairo, chasing away the blazing orange sunset. The cool winter breeze swept in through the pane-less window, making the flimsy curtains of Nafeesa's humble abode sigh in exasperation. Or was it relief? One would never know. The frayed edges of Tamer's old car bedsheets flapped in the wind, and almost immediately Nafeesa had wished she'd never gifted her new cotton curtains to her newly-wed sister-in-law.
Nafeesa had saved for months, dropping pound after pound into an empty orange juice container, until she had acquired enough money for the beautiful curtains.
She vividly remembers the day she had first seen them in the shop's window, the cream colored cotton intricately woven and embroidered with golden roses. Nafeesa eagerly eyed Haleem, her husband, when the shopkeeper mumbled the price while rummaging through his store catalog. '280 pounds?' she asked herself incredulously, 'That kind of money could feed us for weeks! The curtains will have to wait.'
Haleem squeezed his wife's hand as they shuffled through the Khan Khaleeli marketplace, aware of her disappointment. A wave of guilt crashed over him, making it hard to catch his breath. He loved Nafeesa with every bone in his body; every fiber in his very being. Marrying her was the best decision he has ever made, and he wanted to do anything in his power to make her happy. After all, she cooked delicious meals for him, listened to his mindless chatter, doted on him, and bore his first child, Tamer.
But the curtains were a luxury that they could not afford at that moment in time. Nafeesa had slept that night with a heavy heart; for once, she wanted to have something beautiful displayed in her home. The ratty second-hand furniture passed down from her grandmother and mother has seen better days, and the plastic flowers in the glass vase were graying and weathered. Still, Nafeesa was humble and thankful for all she had, even though it wasn't much. "Alhamdulillah," she sighed into the darkness of their bedroom, and Haleem slipped his arm around her slender waist as they slept, lulled to sleep by Tamer's gurgling.
Now, Tamer had outgrown his car bedsheets, wishing for something a little more tailored to his ever-changing infatuations. First, it was safari animals. Then, it was football. Nafeesa and Haleem had to wallow in their self-disappointment everytime they refused Tamer's pleading cries for new bedsheets, but for the time being, him sleeping on a bare futon would have to suffice. The car bedsheets soon became make-shift curtains. "We will move out of here soon," Haleem assured Nafeesa. "I promise."
The joy painted on Nafeesa's face as she stepped back into the shop months later was indescribable. The curtains were still hanging in the window, and the shopkeeper had recognized her immediately. "Came back for the curtains, hmm?" he'd asked her from the jet black tuft of his mustache. Nafeesa nodded excitedly as Haleem tightened his grip on the old orange juice container. Two hundred and eighty pounds exactly - Nafeesa had counted them at least 5 times before leaving the house. The weight of the container lessened as the shopkeeper cupped handfuls of coins onto the glass counter and slid them to the side, one by one until all 280 coins were counted off.
He gave Nafeesa the gleaming plastic package, it's contents boasting themselves. Two neatly folded drapes, and at least ten plastic hooks to hang them with. Nafeesa gingerly slid her fingers across the top of the package and shot a radiant beam at Haleem. Haleem smiled back and kissed the crown of his wife's head and led her home.
It was only a couple of days later that Nafeesa's sister-in-law sent the wedding invitations. Though Nafeesa was ecstatic for Shareefa, she couldn't help but think of her brand new curtains' fate. They were the nicest thing she owned, still brand new, and they had no money to spare for a gift. Nafeesa's heart crumbled when she gave them to Shareefa, but she would rather die than be known as the stingy sister-in-law who didn't come to the wedding with a gift.
The curtains went, but the yearning for them remained. She was sure that Shareefa would love them and enjoy them as much as she would've, and she could still see them everytime she went to Shareefa's home to visit. The tiny assurances filled her heart with rest, and it was only a matter of days until life went on as it normally had in their household.
The faint chants of the January 25th protests were carried in with the breeze, reminding Nafeesa that the struggle of their poverty, God willing, would soon be over. Oh, what she would give to stand in the face of danger in Tahrir Square! She wanted so desperately to be a soldier fighting for her country's rights along with the thousands of other civilians, but Haleem was having nothing of the sort. "I will not allow my darling to be subjected to danger! Don't you hear the gunshots?! I won't risk losing you and neither will Tamer."
So Nafeesa stood tall and proud in her cramped tiled kitchen, rolling savory dough for their "emshaltat" dinner and chanting with the distant cries. The ivory dough stretched itself thin over the counter top, and Nafeesa wistfully prodded rose designs into the edges, smiling at what could have been her beautiful curtains.
One day, Egypt will be free of it's social and economic shackles, and the luxuries Nafeesa had once dreamed of will be a laughable memory.
** This post is a dedication to our Egyptian brothers and sisters fighting for their rights. To whoever is reading this, please send them your strength and prayers. They are taking a huge step towards a reformation, and they need our support more than ever. God bless. Ta7ya Ma9r! **