The sun could be barely seen or heard, but the heat seeped into her, engendering the warts of sweat on her skin. In the bookshop’s window she saw herself, standing there. In her early twenties. In her tight jeans and tucked shirt, as a woman (a bundle of years older than herself) scrambled by, she knew that woman was her predetermined fate, to be realized in the upcoming few years. She was convinced and, in a way, contented with that. As long as she had what little time she had left.
The obvious thing was her. Her form. Her clothes. Not clearly her face under a slight smack of make-up—she called it “slight” and her parents didn’t disapprove. She knew exactly what she was. All those years of nurturing and rearing, being set on the straight track towards Modesty like a wind-up toy. But that, as all knew, only came after what other people explicitly called: “Degradation”. Her mother and father owned her and cherished her, each in their own congenial manner. The mother mainly figured as a guide in how to be just like herself. The father, on the other hand, always grappled with the forced sensation that his daughter’s existence was a threat, a trap of femininity.
For her to deny all that would be wanton stubbornness. She grasped the near whole of it. But it didn’t hurt to lie, at least to oneself.
She looked at herself in the mirror, not pensively. But almost without an effort, she realized that she was a mere commodity. The idea of it constantly seemed appealing to her at first. She an item on a shelf in a gigantic shopping centre. With a price tag attached round her tubal neck. Everyone rushing in to behold her majestic serenity. She stood there, motionless, unattainable. Sour as lemon or an unreachable cluster of grapes. With glitter skin. She blinded those who dared look her straight in the eye.
Her eyes met the very same eye that belonged to her in the shop window.
With a start, the busy world around her began moving again, everything so sharp and pungent. And she entered the bookshop, her left hand in her “ass-pocket”—as she liked to call it among her friends—her fingers fumbling with a slip of paper. This slip of paper—with the name of a Ukrainian author on it—had enabled her to come to the city. She’d been wishing to do so for the last two weeks and she only needed a plausible reason. She’d tried the cinema, the Central Park, a stroll, “just some fresh, good city air.” To no avail. None of those pretexts worked on either parent. It took only either. For, she was of the opinion, as soon as one agreed, the other would loosen up their face and say yes, you can.
The shop-attendant looked sweet in the way he leant over the book located between his hands. When he stood up, urgently, his face looked cube-ish. His spectacles jerked a bit at his surge from his seat. And there spread a benign smile across his jagged face. When she showed him—showed him because she didn’t like to utter foreign names or, generally, say the wrong things—he instantly dug into his desktop and fetched nothing. “Nothing,” he said resentfully, almost to himself. A sigh followed. And then he caught himself going against common decorum. At that he apologized for not having the book, or any book by that particular author for that matter. She told him it was alright; after all, the book meant little to her even though it was a book she wanted to read. It was nearly only an artifice. But he stopped her. She strutted back the step she’d just taken towards the unknown outside.
She stood in front of him, sincere in her posture, expectant. He gave her a pen, and she didn’t refuse it.
“Write down your name—please—and number. We will order the book for you from Beirut, and will phone you as soon as we get it. Takes less than five days.”
She did as he said.