5 - 11 August 1999
Issue No. 441
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Caught red handedBy Fayza Hassan
I met Wanda during my last year at school. We became best friends at once, although we really had little in common. She was my exact opposite, as daring as I was fearful, as independent as I was helpless. I admired her immensely for many reasons, but nothing impressed me more than her casual attitude with her parents, whom she did not fear in the least. She was never punished or grounded, nor was her pocket money withheld at the slightest provocation. In her house, everything seemed admissible, including having friends who would come over unannounced and stay for a meal, the night or a week, without creating a ripple in the household routine, let alone a full-blown storm as was the case with us.
Our friendship lasted throughout university, and during these years, with her good advice, I began to engage in forbidden activities, such as cutting classes to go to the movies, tasting the wares of street vendors, or, even more boldly, taking an occasional puff of her cigarette. I usually broke out in a cold sweat before one of these capers and Wanda made fun of me. "Don't joke," I would beg her, "my mother has a way of finding out anything I do. I am sure she will know by the time I get home." My friend only laughed harder at the idea of my mother's special powers.
One morning, instead of attending an early class, we sat on her balcony drinking black coffee and smoking a cigarette that Wanda had pilfered from her mother's bag, when I heard footsteps inside. Forgetting in my panic that I was safe, I precipitately hid the half-consumed cigarette in my pocket, burning a large hole in my dress. It was only Wanda's sister coming to join us, but as soon as I realised the extent of the damage, I began to sob. My mother would know the moment she laid eyes on the dress, I should kill myself now, it would be much easier than having to face her, I wailed. Wanda, rather taken aback by the intensity of my distress, suggested that I throw the tell-tale item away as soon as I returned home, a proposition which only increased my screams. My mother, I assured her, knew the contents of my wardrobe; she was certainly going to keep asking about the missing article until I confessed.
Wanda's mother was eventually called upon to help. Instead of chastising her daughter, she immediately advised me to change into something else. She would take the dress to the mender and bring it back, repaired, in the afternoon. Meanwhile, we should go to the club and enjoy ourselves, she told us. Finding suitable clothes for me was easier said than done. Wanda was considerably skinnier than I was, her sister slightly fatter but much shorter. Finally we settled for one of their mother's outfits and headed on foot to the nearby club. I kept looking behind me, dead certain that my mother would suddenly leap out from behind a tree and inquire sternly about my disguise. I would stop smoking, I would be good, I would even stop seeing Wanda if only my mother did not find out, I promised myself, tramping gloomily behind my friend and her sister.
As we walked into the pool area at the club, I thought I would faint. My mother was sitting at a table with my brother and sister; next to them, neatly draped over a chair, was my damaged dress. The hole, with its jagged, browned edge, was clearly visible. "She is a witch," whispered Wanda in awe.
When the terrible row that ensued eventually subsided, I was told that my mother had been collecting her own things from the mender when Wanda's mother had arrived on her rescue mission. The two women did not know each other, but my mother's attention had been attracted by the familiar pattern of the fabric and she had listened in while the story was being told to the craftsman in order to convince him that the repairs were desperately urgent. As soon as Wanda's mother had gone, having been promised that she could collect the dress in good order within an hour, my own mother had negotiated its surrender and, knowing that she would probably find me at the club, had come to confront me.