Literature The Womanhood Issue

Fiction: The Family Assembly

'It is merely the beginning of the race, I thought.'

By Fadwa Al Taweel

Illustration by Hala Al Abbasi for Sekka.

It was one in the morning, and the news was still streaming real-time coverage of the election results, the first occasion to bring the al-Majlis family together since the nationwide lockdown was imposed. Clamorous drums pounded in my chest as I scanned the ever-increasing figures. It is merely the beginning of the race, I thought. One notification stood out amidst the endless popups on my phone: ‘#WeAreAllSabika, Supporting Women’s Political Leadership.’

The latest count placed the first and only female candidate fifth in one of the constituencies as my mother bent down to cut some cookies. She finally sat back, reminiscing about that great moment, not the naming of the first female candidate to participate in our local elections but the day my grandfather named her ‘Kuwait Hurra,’ (‘Kuwait is Free’) a name she believed was only hers. She took so much pride in that name that she never sought to achieve anything else of merit.

‘Do you know why your granddad named me Kuwait Hurra?’ she asked while sipping on her tea.

My sister Salwa rolled her eyes; she had heard this story countless times, more than any other member of our family. ‘Yes, because you were born on the day Kuwait gained its independence.’

My sister Nuzha nudged Salwa’s foot under the table, urging her to respect our mother’s burning desire to narrate her story. ‘What does grandad call you, mum?’ Nuzha asked. ‘Kuwait or Hurra? Or does he use your full name, Kuwait Hurra?’ 

My mother fixed Salwa with a stern glare but then became engrossed in answering Nuzha’s question. ‘Your grandfather proudly calls me Kuwait Hurra whenever he is around other men and Hurra at home around your uncles. Yet my mother – may she rest in peace – used to call me Kuwait.’

My mother only narrated this favourite story on bank holidays to retain its glamour, and we always did our best not to let the tiresome repetition undermine its importance. I turned to my sister Firdaus, who had abstained from voting this morning following an argument with my eldest brother, Mubarak, before whispering in her ear, ‘What was your argument about this morning?’ 

‘He was trying to force me to go with Salwa and Nuzha to vote for our dad’s choice, and he didn’t like it when I talked back’. 

‘Isn’t he the same candidate Dad has been voting for for the last forty years?’ 

‘Yes, just like granddad.’ 

‘And of course the dewy-eyed Salwa and Nuzha ended up voting for him as well, didn’t they?’ 

‘Of course! Who dares defy Diwan?’ 

I glanced at my father, who was watching our every move like he knew we were talking about him. ‘Dad?’ I smiled idly. ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’

He nodded, but my mother jumped in to care for his needs. ‘Diwan, how many teaspoons of sugar would you like in your tea?’ 

Instead of answering my mother’s question, he gazed at the TV, wide-eyed with astonishment; the same female candidate had topped all the polls ahead of his favourite contender. Tilting his head towards my brother Mubarak, who sat next to him, he sneered, saying, ‘It’s only a matter of seconds. She’ll be out of the race within the hour.’

‘Less than an hour,’ Mubarak nodded.

My father’s smirk was akin to a genocide eradicating our entire existence, as if the room was suddenly vacant of women, with no one left but my father and brother. My mother leaned in front of the TV to offer my father his tea, but rather than thanking her, he began to scold her for its bitter taste. ‘I asked if you wanted sugar,’ she reminded him. ‘You didn’t reply.’ 

‘When?’ he snapped. ‘You can never acknowledge that you are simply wrong, can you? Do you always have to come up with excuses?’ 

Translated from the Arabic by Salma Harland.

This short story is part of The Womanhood Issue. To continue reading this story digitally click here to buy a digital copy of the issue. To read the entirety of this article in print, click here or here to order a print copy of the issue.

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