On the drive home from Dahab, Mostafa wrote beautifully of the breach between Sinai, mountainous region at the border with Israel; and the mystical Sina, a land of leisure where time stood still, as sea and sand swallowed away the worry.
On those slow summer evenings, we drove to the lagoon, parked hazardously on the dune where Salma sold juice boxes. She carried the Sun in her hazel eyes, its rays burning soft ochre strands into her hair. She could not have been older than nine, yet there was a sharp wrinkle in her brow, a tension far beyond her years. I wondered if the sea had swallowed her worries, too; whether the mountains had echoed them back into her ear.
“My name is Salma, if you need anything, ask me and no one else.”
Salma was one of many beautiful Bedouin children, who stood selling their merchandise on the beach. They lived a life alien to our urban eyes, who would find them daunting the rapid currents, jumping onto moving trucks, heels scraped and calloused from arduous barefoot climbs. Many a writer have written their stories, in the voices of villains, victims and fantasies; many a traveller inhabited their homes, spoken dearly of their huts and nightly bonfires. I will not count myself among them.
I know nothing of Salma’s story. I do not know whether her father smiles at her kindly, whether slim fingers have ever braided her hair, wrinkled hands ventured onto her thigh, or henna patterns painted her arm. I cannot say whether she shies away from cameras pointed to her like pistols, or stares gravely down the barrel. I cannot say that a green passport would ever soften her sharp features. I have no right to speak for Salma.
What I do know is that my readings on gender analysis will make no mention of Salma. Those who do will merely cite her as one of many stateless women, fallen between the cracks of national borders. But Salma has not fallen anywhere. She is still standing on the glistening dune, with a dozen juice boxes, and the Sun in her eyes.