Noon call to prayer echoed through the villa, it was a signal to worship God and a reminder for the pious. The unbaiting desert swirled never ceasing, spewing dust and sand yet somehow tamed by these impassioned phrases of devotion. This ritual proclamation kept my day on track and in order, alerting me that school was almost done for the day.
The time had come to don my abaya, cart the two little ones and the double stroller down the stairs and head out into the neighborhood streets of Riyadh. It would be the first time we left the villa without a mahram (male relative or guardian) giving me a chance at independence and a meted freedom. The boy’s school was just 2 blocks away and my eagerness to explore the area was at last reality.
The street looked much like it had the night we drove from the airport but in the noon heat it was eerily vacant. No men in tattered clothing rag and bucket in hand, no boys raucously kicking footballs. I made a mental note of how many streets we passed and any landmark that might guide us back to Abu Abdullah’s little white pickup parked just outside the doors.
Garbage dumpster in a vacant lot, remnants of litter whisked into rumpled mounds where feral cats skulked poised and ready for a skirmish. Two streets had passed no signs or names to plant inside my mind only houses, cars and random writing sprayed on walls. A metal appliance complete with faucet and a cup attached stood on the sidewalk in front of a large white home, blue metal gate. A nearby park emerged and just beyond it the road that lead to the boys only school.
I stood to one side looking for a crosswalk, glancing left and right, back and forth waiting for a break in traffic. Workers rode bikes narrowly missing cars that jammed the street, blocking vehicles from passing. Honking and screeching tires collided with the sounds of a school bell. Men crowded near the school gate waving hands and arms to gather up their passengers. Fathers, drivers and passersby stared and surveyed us as we made numerous attempts at crossing. The school let out and panic rose inside me, my son would soon emerge and I had to be there as I had promised. I stepped out into the street only to be rebuked by honking and endless cars that showed no sign of relenting. Moving back and forth looking for a gap to make my move, I checked on the girls both secured in the brightly colored stroller. At last I saw a break and took the opportunity to sprint moving to and fro until I reached the other side.
It seemed as if all eyes were narrowly focused on my gallant show of force running boldly past everyone and taking charge of my own passage. A surge of reality took hold when I realized no other females were present at the school or on the streets that had taken me there. Inching towards the gate I felt I had become an anomaly, a spectacle.