Flying from Orlando to Dubai on Emirates Airlines recently, I encounter a Kuwaiti family who are seated in the same cabin as I. There is the elderly mother, in hijab, abaaya actually, who converses with me in flawless English, and her two daughters. One’s married and has two children, twins, both undisciplined terrors who give the rest of us a hard time the entire time they are awake. Their father snore-sleeps most of the time, waking up long enough to shovel food into his mouth and make such a commotion chewing, he sets my teeth on edge. His harassed wife, with an on–off hijab, tries but convincingly fails to control her two appalling boys, who run riot in the cabin.
It is the other daughter, the unmarried one, that has stirred my interest. She is in her late teens, attires in designer clothes, knows she is pretty and has her nose up in the air in a manner that’ll make the Queen real proud. I imagine I see something appallingly distasteful printed across her behind at the gate while boarding but blame it on my tired eyes. However, I want to be certain it is my eyes that are the culprit and not the surreal quip, but the young woman has her nose firmly stuck to the screen in front of her, engrossed in a movie, I think. Her Mother warms up to me and talks about the now hard economic realities in Kuwait, what with the strained economy brought about by the unruly oil prices. She tells me her family has cut back on domestic help at home, from six to four; her distraught breaks my heart into a billion pieces.
We both pray when it is salaat time and discover we belong to the same madhab. She tells me they are treated well in Kuwait, have no issues with discrimination that we all read and hear about in other Gulf countries. All the madhabs are generally genial towards each other and also intermarry plenty, until more recently.
The daughter, with the stiff upper lip, let’s call her Mariam, is a problem child, her mother whisper-confides in me after lunch, rolling her eyes to the heavens. Mariam’s father, she says, is too lax with her, spoils her rotten, allowing her to come all the way to Florida for college education.
Ya Allah, she sighs. How can a father’s heart agree to let a young daughter travel and live so far away from his eyes? I cried and lamented in protest for days but you men are too soft-hearted and dumb when it comes to your daughters.
I want to protest but feel it would be futile to change the lady’s perception of us men, especially me. I have a teenage daughter and she definitely holds no such sentiments about her father. The lady is just blowing off steam, I assume, as she has found in me a willing ear.
I wanted Mariam to find a husband and settle down, like her elder sister. She found a reasonable man…
Mother leans over to gaze at her elder daughter and son-in-law, both lost to slumber, him making strange strangling noises; Mother shakes her head; her face registers a look of resignation.
I wish he was more active, more supportive in handling and disciplining the twins. Hanna did not go to college but still helps her father in our family business. My poor daughter, she became a mother too early. And Allah gave her two kids…at the same time… But I guess we can’t have everything we wish, no?
She then inquiries about me, my family, my affairs. I begin to tell her about my interesting life, that I know will take some time, but the lady seems to care not a hoot, is more interested in talking about Mariam instead. So I shut up and listen.
It was okay the first year, Mariam called home regularly and paid attention to her studies. Her father visited her occasionally, as part of his business travels to the US. He seemed satisfied with her affairs and her grades were reasonably good; my heart still yearned for her but I was somewhat assured by her absence, since it is for the good of her future.
I glance at Mariam; she has her eyes glued to the TV screen in front of her, still. I wish she’s get up and go to the washroom or something, so I can assure myself it is my eyes that deceived me earlier.
Then the calls became sporadic and rare, her grades went to the dumps and I began to despair and became alarmed. We tried to get the Kuwaiti Embassy in Washington involved but they said if it was not a life threatening issue, they would not help. Since my husband was in Japan on business, we panicked and decided to come and find out.
Mother stops and looks me over, then looks away, an embarrassed look on her troubled face. She has revealed too much of personal data to a stranger. Perhaps? When she is still quiet after a considerable time, I am disappointed. I am curious, now that she has come so far in describing Mariam, I would like to know more. I smile at her reassuringly next time our eyes meet, let her know I understand about teenagers and their seemingly unexplained bizarre moods and behaviors at times. So after a while, Mother continues her tale.
Mariam makes a female friend at college, a music band leader of sorts, who convinces Mariam to invest in her band. So naïve is Mariam, she agrees, parting not only the generous living allowance her father makes available monthly, but her tuition fees for the current semester as well. To cut the long story short, Mother scratches Mariam’s study short and is hauling her back to Kuwait. She can’t wait to confront her husband and tell him, ‘There, I warned you…’
Mariam’s movie finally concludes. She turns and looks at us talking, frowns suspiciously, yawns, stretches and gets up to go use the washroom. Alas, my eyes are fine. They lie not when they first see Mariam’s behind. Right across Mariam’s snug jeans is plastered, in red neon like sign, the word J U I C Y.
After the dumfounding shock and reassurance that my eyes are okay, I worry endlessly, feeling sorry for the hapless Mother. How will her daughter pass through Dubai (or land in Kuwait for that matter) with that kind of slur pasted in such a strategic part of her anatomy? I worry needlessly; she is a smart cookie, Maryam is, and has figured it all out. The aircraft lands in Dubai and a full clad black abaaya is carelessly thrown over the offensive word.