© Sarah Troudi

Men & Your Name

Men that do not know your name

You are walking down the street. No, not walking. You are moving fast down the street, lowering your gaze, staring at every crack of every pavement as you race in the uneven asphalt, your heart pounding ready to fall between the breaches of the sidewalk. You raise your head from times to times. It is when they attack. They hunt your fraction of a stare, the second your lower your guards, peep into the world looking for your way. They charge. You have dared to make the streets your own, to observe their territory, to look towards the horizon rather than sticking to your helplessness, face down. Your place, face to the ground. Your eyes cross theirs for less than a second. You quickly turn away, a desperate attempt to show you were wrong, you do not wish to engage. Too late. Girls who stare, girls who look, girls who glance are doomed. At that moment, the single moment where the time of streets is suspended, one second that is your loss and their victory. Their eyes stare and their face begins to grin. You are trapped. The rictus turns into sounds. They twist their lips. و يخرجوا  لسانهم. No word comes out. You almost wish there was. Instead, a single sound. “Psssssst”. Long, never-ending. The “psssst” that resonates back and back, and back again within you. You hear it when it is not here, you wait for it. The sole sound, the constant reminder that you do not and cannot exist. You are only a spectral appearance, a faded form, a woman that they can hold in the whistle coming out of their perverse mouths. Sometimes they give more than the hiss. It is not because you are prettier, nor because you are showing your arms or your legs. It is only because they wish to, because they might be bored and because the streets are theirs. Their rules and their words that follow you as you hasten your walk, fasten your pace still hearing their echo in your back. The words they use. Almost always the same words. For they have a code, the language of dirty pavements and uneven sidewalks where women do not exist.  يا غزالة محلى زينك!

They eventually stop. Does it matter? They can look at girls in the streets. They can stare at them because women have no name for them. They do not look at girls with last names. بنات الناس. . The ones with fathers, brothers whose hands they shake. For all the others, they see whores, frivolous women that linger in the streets, head high as if they owned every single man on the highway. They see you, you and the other girls they do not know the last name. They think these walk their head high because they are like branches without roots. مقطوعة من الشجرة. They have no one to hold their eyes down, to teach them about not laying eyes on life. They can only undress those, for they do not exist. Neither girls, nor women only spectral figures to follow in the streets.

Men that know your name

He won’t stare at you. He will barely look. You will just see him raising his eyebrows from time to time. If you catch him doing it, he will quickly turn his head away. How do you know a man that you can never stare into? That quickly turns away every time your eyes and his wish to meet?

Why? بنات الناس  he will say. He knows you. He knows your father, your brother. He sits in his dirty red truck with your brother. He calls it a car, his piece of metal wrapped in dust, these sticky particules of Tunis. The city is covered in it, in these yellowish coats of dirt that bury houses and even people, a viscid sand that holds across seasons and fades the colours of Tunis into a single layer of despair. It is the only color at this edge of the world.

He sits with your brother, he drove your father to an airport once. He knows them and through them he knows you. Through them he cannot look at you, as you are only a bodily extension of their masculinity. You are only a figure, a family name hidden behind the men he knows, the men that gave you your name. You are the daughter of and once you are that, nothing else can be inscribed on your body. A body that needs to be covered by the names of men, of respectable men.

Men that give you a name

He loves you. That is what he says. He whispers it to you on the phone, late at night, as you listen, trying to retain the tumult bursting in you. You do not know why a storm has taken over your soul. You mumble back, your heart beating, not knowing if it is of the fear that your father catches you or of the words you hear in his echo. He loves you in a different way. Not like the other girls that he loves. نحبك. نموت عليك. I die of you. I die for you.

He talks and talks of his love.

But the words are his and never yours. Make you a respectable woman. Make you his wife. Give you his name. الحب it is called. The only good kind, for the others are a waste of time and waste of your father’s name. He talks and talks. You do not. Love is a man’s affair. It is not your story. It is the story of father’s girls that becomes men’s wives.نحب نجي نخطبك . Your own tale is a long silence from which you can hear echoes, of fathers calling your name, of strangers whispering dirty words in the street and of men who do not raise their eyes at you but know all about phone monologues on love.

He wants to come ask for your hand. He will not ask you. He will come, sit in front of your father, while you sit next to your father, talk to him while your mother runs around with tea, juice, “salés”, حلو. Your father will have one arm around you. بنت بوها . They will not talk about love, nor about you. They will discuss el bled in the chance they share the same one. They will talk about his مشريع, about soccer teams, failed elections and the hot weather. The second time, it will still not be about you nor about him. This time it will be your father, your nervous mother, his father and his nervous mother running around with the سلطة مشوية, a dish to feed you, your family and ten other people, tea, حلو. His mother will call you بنتي and your mother will call him ولدي.You will marry him. He knows your name, your father’s name and your father’s father name. And when you sign the papers it will say; daughter of, marrying son of. You are the wife of the son of. You now have his name.