Excerpt from my latest script, “Cover Girl.” “Cover Girl” is a one-woman performance art piece that specifically deals with my experiences of growing up with the hejab. It also traces the milestones I went through from a child to an adult and how I’ve learned to reconcile with the hejab even though I choose not to wear it.
EXCERPT 1 I stopped wearing a hejab at twelve, and at thirteen my clothing style gradually grew shorter. I thought that the entire point of hejab was to blend a woman with her surroundings, and if my surroundings exercised their right to bear skin, shouldnŒt my hejab follow in pursuit?
For a while it worked, but the longer time passed since I wore my hejab, the more and more I felt like a sore thumb. I felt displaced, homeless, and when I sought safety, I would crawl onto my bed and drape my blanket over my entire head and body. Even today, when I remember the empty act of praying, I don’t remember the foreign words or the unexplained movements so much as I remember the light, see-through cloak that enveloped me, embraced me, and if I had any faith in God during my five daily prayers, it was in the feeling that as long as I was engulfed by his hejab, I was safe.
Most people look back to the nooks and crannies of their old childhood homes and remembers moments of solitude, instances of security, breathes of intimacy in attics, cellars, rooms, stairways, geometric and bolted firm. I don’t remember such things. My childhood home was my chador, and in it I felt solitude in my original shell, in the ripples and waves of the fabric as I breathed.
I remember watching the cloth rise and fall around me like mountain peaks and gorges.
I made a game out of peeking through the floral patterns on the sheer fabric as if they were windows of this membrane that simultaneously divorced and protected me.
I weaved the fabric between my fingers and created little corners. If I closed my eyes tightly enough, I could see myself shrinking small enough to fit into those little corners, where I knew I could find absolute solitude. Those corners I made with my fingers were little havens, and with a simply pinch, I could either make them empty or full.
I studied the outside light as it filtered through the weave and danced on my arms and legs.
I loved looking in a mirror and watching my hands drape it over my body, instantly transforming me into a silhouette. I always pulled it up over my head, where it felt lightest, and seeing it draped around my face in soft curves and quiet grace invited me and made me feel more solitary, more at peace, more intimate with this secret world that no one else knew. Ideas came easier, and as they did, I would re-write my dreams to perfection.
It felt so easy not to be afraid. I never paid much attention to the rest of my body, so long as it was wrapped, that was all that mattered.
These were the attachments that drew my first rough outlines of home, where I felt centered, and my gaze could look down when it felt the urge to dream or up when it knew the need to withdraw. I still return to it, but my gaze is motionless, grainy, choppy, like a series of jump cuts, and the texture is grainy. And when I daydream, this is the home I return to, this tiny, suffocating space that now flashes by me like a series of frozen frame shots or sequenced fixations.
But I don’t return for movement or action; I return to my veil for solitude, for the hypnotic lure that still attracts me to a time when intimacy was my secret.
EXCERPT 2 This was my home, my harem. I welcome you to my harem, my shell.
I welcome you to my harem, where what remains mysterious is not its form, but its formation. I see you intrigued by this skin, in its wrinkles and folds, and its billows like cellulite. See how my skin ripples? Hear how it crumples in my palm, and then flows from my fingers? That gentle tsss, tsss sound. That tender shhh, hushing me. During prayer, I made a game out of how tightly I could grip my veil before letting it pour from my release. I pretended the fabric was like water or sand, and the tighter I clenched it, the more it fought me and broke free. I heard it crinkle, and that was its way of telling me to let go.
I welcome you to my harem, where life does not reach upward to withdraw, but turns upon itself, like a staircase twisting and winding, and I contort myself with it, in my solitude. When I was a girl, I made up another game where if I was sitting in the middle of the room, I would drape a dome around me, and in this tent, I set my hands and my fingers free to float up or sink down, tip toe to the left, then to the right. I choreographed an entire finger dance in my harem, and sometimes I pictured my little dancers holding hoops or balls, maybe even their own veils. I pretended my fingers were singing as they danced, and my veil sang along with them.
I welcome you to my harem, where what comes out denies what remains inside. I am a half-open being. And through this doorway, my entire world remains half-open. At any time, at any lure, I can open or close this door. When I was small, I used to play hide-and-seek with this doorway, only I cheated. Because my secret was that I could always see you through the fabric, even if you couldn’t see me. And when you thought I was blind like you, I was actually watching, beguiling you into thinking I was just as blind, when really I was watching and waiting to re-open my door. And the story of this door opening and closing is the story of my life.
I welcome you to my harem, where what comes out is in such haste, in such hurry, it has no time to form. Violence emerges everyday from this lifeless shell, where speed is the only thing that lies between it and my dreams. That’s why you hear swishing as I walk by in it. I hear screeching. What you see is a beast, because my harem is a cauldron where savagery brews, dreams that are half alive and half dead, half stone and half man, half quiet, half loud. And when you see me look up, and pull my head in, and hold a static, motionless stare, you will know that this retreat is my preparation for a way out. The most dynamic escapes are the ones that bide their time, that mellow and brew in their cauldron. Eventually, everything I have will leave this shell, leaving nothing but this veil, this covering, abandoned on the ground. And it will rest almost lifelessly, until the wind breathes into it.
I welcome you to my harem, where I live to build this home, and where I live is a fortress, and in the center lays a courtyard. In the center of the courtyard is a quiet pond, which ripples and laps at the ankles of the ladies dancing in it. The courtyard is square, and around this square runs a street, which runs four times around the square. The first two times, the street borders the square shape of the courtyard, and the second two times, it expands into octagons. All the doors, all the windows, they all face inside, so all that can be seen from the outside is one continuous wall. You can’t hear the doors slam, no, they close with a quiet swish, like you when you breathe. What lies beyond is vast, unknown, unseen, untouchable, sustained time from the past. In my harem, the past is short-lived because it is outside. Life happens, and then easily forgets itself. And here, Nature learns too quickly the security of a shut-in life, for if my harem were ever to be attacked, there is always a way to re treat into its courtyard and dance in its pond.
I welcome you to my harem, where my dreams collect each other in an endless train, separated from one another in legendary hyphens. My harem is my space — my center — my order — my reign — my witness — my confidante — my secret — my intuition — my hiding place — my threshold — sometimes locked — sometimes not — my dungeon — my unforgettable — my past, present, future condensed — my memory — my imemorial — my casket — sometimes open — sometimes closed.
I welcome you to my harem, where shade, silhouette and darkness are dwelled and shared in my hermit home. I live in them. I dwell in them. This is all my home because it is solely mine. And only I can say, in a loud belt or a hushed whisper, “God is great.”�