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Eat what I eat

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Riyadh 2006

The clink and clatter of dishes meant the meal had finally ended. I mustered a smile and wiped away tears that made an incessant drip drop into the sudsy water. I made an effort to mask the telltale signs of anxious humiliation but now it seemed as if nothing mattered and there was no return to normal. A frozen state of existence had taken hold and I was no longer able to keep this new-found rebellion under control. Frustration, sadness and confusion all peaked and waned each day. The children asked for items, suggested new ways and with every minute his fury grew until an unusually violent eruption had taken place just days before. I scuttled past the hall and made my way into the dining room unsure of how to proceed.

The rage that had triggered my rebellion was now quelled and had returned to the usual resignation. I asked each child if they wanted more potatoes, chicken or salad,  not realizing I had broken yet another rule. His fists slammed squarely on the as-is newly purchased table. “How many times, how many times, how many times do I have to tell you, do not talk to my children while they are eating!” I quickly stacked plates and utensils in a pile of messy indignation, circling several times to give reassuring glances and the usual warning look that meant stay calm and do not intervene.

He went back to his job of picking pieces from the chicken bones, placing them neatly on the only tray that remained. Each child took their turn in giving him the customary greetings and slowly left the table. I heard his ship ships (sandals) as he marched into the kitchen. The tray was placed near the sink, water poured from the thermos and the refrigerator opened and shut. He walked back and forth past the shell of a person I had become. A rise in panic came and went with each noise that he made and the realization that we were now alone. Finally he stopped behind me, placing his arms around my waist, pushing his body into mine. I shuttered at the thought of what was to come but knew what was expected.  His hands swept stringy hair from my neck and he spoke gently reiterating words that had blasted loudly just an hour before, “If you cannot eat what you have served you are not allowed at the table!”

 

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