The changes to my body coincided with the appearance of the armed men in our lives. My breasts began to swell and I started to grow fine down. This occupied me a great deal, while the world around me was occupied with fatwas and posters spread around the town by the armed men with bushy beards. The only talk doing the rounds were terrifying stories about these men with inscrutable, angry faces; fierce men whom everyone did not just fear but grovelled to.
During our work at the house where the armed extremists lived we saw many women. Women in niqabs who came from different parts of the world. One of the ways I entertained myself at that time was to observe them and inform my mother right away of all the details of their lives, which I gathered in total secrecy. These acts of espionage alleviated both my physical and sensual state. For without my knowledge of the many details of those women in that large house, mysterious women akin to prisoners or concubines, my life would have become a vague thing lost in the darkness of the rooms. It was my fate to work all the time in the women’s rooms, which were numerous and located in the rear of the house. My mother worked upstairs in the men’s rooms. The leader of the extremists ordered that her task be to clean the corridor, staircase, and numerous rooms that were usually empty in the morning. I worked in the rooms inhabited by the women – sad, mysterious women who moved calmly and silently. We did not talk with them because it was never allowed. The punishment was flogging or death. A very risky thing. My great curiosity, however, impelled me to learn everything about them. I scrutinized them carefully to get to know their faces. I kept my ears open to get to know their names. I tried to get to know them and their stories by listening to their whisperings to each other. I did all of that in silence so that nobody became suspicious.
In the evening, I would tell my mother everything I had heard about them. We would go home as soon as we finished the many tasks in the house so I could start relating the stories to her.
There, inside that house, we never spoke. We were not allowed
14 BANIPAL 53 – SUMMER 2015