A Cinderella

Hi, my name is Cinderella and I am here to confess that I never actually lived happily ever after.

“When God made this land, he sat back, looked down and laughed.”
– My father

My father chose my name. I always hated it. Whenever my grandmother mocked my culinary skills and told me I am not woman enough because I don’t have a proper woman’s name,  whenever one of my teachers pulled me over and asked “why would your father give you an infidel godless name?”, whenever my father called me to bring him the prayer mat, whenever I heard it, I felt the dissonance. It reminded me of the men from the other side of the river trying to dance to the rhythms of my land, it didn’t fit, it didn’t belong and it didn’t ring the way it was supposed to ring, as if the name didn’t know how to handle this heat, the dust storms or the ugliness, as if it belonged somewhere else.

But I am not here to complain about my name, I am here to tell you my story. And my story starts before I was named, it starts when I was born on the wrong side of the river, the jinxed side that God laughed at when he made. My father was a traveler – well, he never had the money nor the proper identity to actually travel. But in his mind, he was a traveler. He always longed for that other side of the river where – according to him – beauty exists and policemen smile. From that other part of the world, he found my name “Cinderella”. As a child, I never figured out who she was exactly, I imagined her as one of those busty soap opera actresses we get on the pirated satellite TV of my aunt or maybe a policewoman from the other side of the river, the side where police officers smile and some of them are women.

My father died. One of these diseases that only exist in our part of the river, it didn’t really matter. I cried to his memory, I laughed to his memory and I danced – in rhythm – to his memory. Then life went on. In this land, sadness exists in abundance, but no drama.

He left me with my stepmother and her two daughters. I know you expect me to say that they hated me, or I hated them, that they tortured me, put me in this dark wet room with the ugly bony cat, I know you prefer the simple truths, black and white, rich and poor, evil and good, but in this land, people kill in the day and share food at night, they have the most beautiful smiles and the most awful wrath, everything is a shade of gray. That is why I did not hate my stepmother and she did not hate me, I did not love her and she did not love me either, but she was still happy – in her own way – when the rich prince came and the shoe he brought fit my foot.

“Everyone has the right to leave the bitterness behind.”
Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

It was that time of the year. Rich men who found their way to the other side of the river came back window shopping for their future brides, but this was no ordinary man. He was the prince of the town, the man every mother wished for her daughters. And my stepmother was no exception, she took her daughters every day to his house, showing and advertising their talents and assets. So did all the women of the town.

“He had his sheila in dozens”, I heard them whisper. He had a dozen of each item for his future bride, a dozen of dresses, a dozen of shoes, rings, necklaces, everything, waiting to be his gift of marriage for his bride to be. I wish if I met him – like my father’s Cinderella – in a ball in his palace, but in this part of town, wishes are rarely granted, palaces are not reached and balls are broken away by policemen who don’t smile.

He went door to door looking for the girl of his dreams, the one that fits his shoes and dresses. He picked me to the surprise and shock of my stepmother, step sisters and the whole town. “It’s your breasts not your brains. These perverts love fat ones like you”, my stepmother whispered in my ear then smiled to the guests as she took my hand to the guest room where our families were waiting to bless the wedding to be.

I was happy. Happy that I am leaving, that I will get to cross to the other side of the river and become a princess. Happy to leave the bitterness behind me.

If this story was in a different land, then maybe it would end up here and we would live happily ever after. But it is not in a different land. My prince charming never married me, he left the same way he came, meaningless and vain, but with another wife with a bigger chest. As it is the case with such incidents in my town – which are very common in this season of the year – everyone had a theory about the event. My stepmother sympathized with me which I bitterly hated, not because I despise pity, but because I knew she was defending herself and her own honour from the whispers of the town. She was defending her reputation, defending the fact that we belong, even if we named our children with foreign names from a land where women go to balls to meet their prince charming, where brides don’t necessarily have to be virgins and some of them can actually choose their way. She was fighting the jinx of my name and my father again.

I no longer wanted to stay. My room felt smaller and uglier. The smell of fish from the river was nauseating. The soap opera actresses were flat and unanimated, and all the fake sympathy of the world was not going to be enough to forget the bitterness.

I had to cross the river.

“Haboob: a violent and oppressive wind blowing in summer in Sudan and elsewhere, bringing sand from the desert.”

Every day, I sat by the riverbank. I looked at the other side, it’s close yet very far. I wasn’t the only one looking, if there is anything that unites us in this part of the land, it is that we all wanted to leave, we all don’t belong regardless of our names. Not everyone has the heart to cross the river though, it takes courage, determination and above all, a healthy amount of bitterness.

Many of those who cross the river do come back. They complain about how cold it is on the other side, they complain how – despite the smiling policewomen – people actually didn’t smile that much and some get scared when you smile needlessly at them. I couldn’t comprehend the concept of a needless smile but I was still determined to leave.

So when my fairy godmother appeared in my room that night, when she noticed the sadness in my eyes, I could only think of one wish to ask from her. She warned me that the jinx does not stop on crossing to the other side, it will follow you and drag you back, it will make you long to the rallying cries of the bus boys in a dusty haboob day, long to of the tangled streets of the town, to the dirty children rejected by humanity, even to the screams of the ugly policemen shouting for no reason. She warned me before granting my wish and my papers that “the jinx will not be broken”.

But it did not matter anymore. I had to cross the river, I had to go to where my father baptized me, where he chose I should belong.

I did not say goodbye. I left before midnight before my godmother’s spell was broken. And here I am on the way to my boat, the boat that will take me to the lands of my dreams where I will leave all the bitterness behind. Here I am queuing with the lucky few who have magical godmothers to save them, I am ready to cross the river. The policeman looked at my documents, my sunburnt face that no spell can hide the fact that it belongs to this town. He looked at me, smiled, then asked: “Why a godless name?”