There are two conflicting accounts as to when I’d enunciated my first coherent sentence.
The first is that once I’d barged into the kitchen in my underwear, pushed a baby chair to the sink and climbed up, demanding that my mom “open up the water mixer so that I can wash the dishes.”
I was one year ten months old and I can attest to this story, because I remember it very well.
The second is claimed by my neighbors’ daughter, who was fifteen years older than me and who used to look after me and use me like a toy when my mom wasn’t around. It'd been a month earlier to the above incident. She was engrossed in a semi literate fashion magazine (this was the early 80’ after all), when I started crying all of the sudden demanding that I be “given my magazine” in an Egyptian accent.
It is a moot point at this conjunction in life to assess the veracity of Jumana’s story. I have absolutely no problem having composed my first line of spoken words in Egyptian accent. If for nothing else, it’d probably prepped me to a life peppered with multi-culturalism and conflicting fashion statements.
Jumana was a very sweet girl. Caring and attentive. Later when I grew up, and when life had imparted me with enough experience to discern, I saw love and tenderness in her eyes when I contemplated my early childhood photographs, in which she figured a great deal.
Jumana went on to study at the Teachers Institute and to become a teacher. Our encounters were destined to become sporadic and intermittent. But whenever she saw me in the stairwell, she’d shriek with joy or an uproarious laughter. Pull me in an intense hug, press my head between her bosoms, the way she was accustomed to when I cried as an infant, and dive her chin in my shoulder blades. I was still the little toy as far as she was concerned. The little harmless ‘Hamoudeh’ who was full of the curiosity, spontaneity and cluelessness of the little.
As with all good things that come to an end, Jumana had ceased all physical contacts with me at a certain point. The point when she’d realized that perhaps I’m not the innocent little child anymore. The intensity of the meetings would soon be replaced by a shy smile and a few laconic words uttered with politeness and unease. To her, I was probably an embarrassing reminder of the yester years, of summer time spent idling under a ceiling fan, leafing through magazines of male idols while I fidgeted and fretted by her side, pinching her over the thin summer dress and trying to chew her hair bands.
Like the grinding tracks of a Sherman tank, life had moved on. We moved to a new house and I lost all contacts with Jumana. And as the protocols of our sanctimonious culture ruled, I wasn’t in a position to ask about her. However, despite the lack of communications and the muzzle that the women in my household had imposed with regards to all women reception held in our house, I caught a peek of Jumana a couple of times. Once with a wedding band, later with a swollen belly, and later yet with a plaything of her own held closely to the breasts that were the panacea to my own childhood angst.
Aren’t they amazing, the kinds of memories that precipitate over the savannah of the mind. Whether because she wasn’t gifted with a little brother of her own, or because the circumstances of the time didn’t allow Jumana to spank me when I acted up, the qualities and memories of her baby-sitting me will always stay with me. I’m not one of those men who were left estranged from the legacy of their fragile existence. From their dependencies on the women species they would later grow up to persecute and subjugate. I’m not ashamed of Jumana and her cassette player, of her tying a headscarf around her slender figure and belly-dancing while I clapped clumsily with my tiny hands. I’m not disturbed by Jumana’s love affairs or her erotic giggle.
Jumana, I love you. It’d been an absolute pleasure being part of your rehearsal for a later life of child rearing and motherhood, which I’m sure you mastered with excellence.