By Asma Abdel Halim - USA
The West train arrived at mid-morning in the capital city. My mother told us to put on clean clothes and get ready to leave the train. We were traveling for the past 24 hours and spent the night on the train. My uncle met us at the train station and took us to his house where we found my aunts and cousins and some neighbors waiting to greet us. My aunts started to give my mother the latest news of the neighborhood. We were told to go and play with other children. I ran to find my friends Jammoul and her sisters. I shared with them some of the local goodies we brought from the west. Jammoul interrupted our play and laughter for she thought I should hear some important news. Her cousin received a gift from a relative who just came home from Egypt. It was a doll that looked like a real girl. I looked at her in disbelief. Jammoul swore by Allah that her cousinís doll could open and shut her eyes. 1 looked at Jammoul with a sardonic smile on my face and said:
- The miracle doll talks and walks too doesnít she?
Jammoul felt insulted and screamed: I swore by Allah and if you donít believe me you are going to rot in Hell fire.
- If you want me to believe you take me to your cousinís house next time you go there.
Jammoul promised to take me but warned that I might not be allowed to touch the doll, only look at it.
Up until that day I never saw a doll with ďrealĒ eyes. My doll and all the other girlsí dolls were made out of rags tightly rolled to make the arms and the legs that were attached to a middle piece made the same way. More layers would be wrapped around the legs and the middle piece to make big buttocks. Jersey threads were put together to make long hair that was sewn on top of the middle piece. A beautiful doll would have a face made out of dough and placed on the upper part of the middle piece. Once the face dried out then a black pen was used to line the eyes and draw eye brows. A dress would then be sewn to fit the doll. Jammoulís aunts were our doll makers. They made them in different sizes, the big ones usually sat as decorations on top of sideboards or cupboards; the small ones are given to us to play with.
We were given these dolls as gifts or rewards for completing a chore. Men dolls were made by bidour, Jammoulís older sister. We never cared for how the men were made. They would be made out of masaweek, the smooth branches of arak trees that are usually used to brush teeth. The chlorophyll in those branches kept our teeth clean and healthy. A piece of cloth would be wrapped around them to make a jallabiah (menís robe like dress). Male dolls were made to fill a place in the family of dolls; they were there only to give orders and yell at children. Female dolls were what we played with most of the time. We made them dance by shaking their large rag buttocks and bending their body at the middle. We gave them imaginary smoke baths and put henna on their hands and feet. We bought dollís furniture from the carpenterís son to furnish beautiful homes for our rag dolls. Through those dolls we talked womenís talk and practiced womenís daily lives, but I was by no means ready for a doll that looked exactly like a human being complete with eyes that open and shut.
Finally the day of our visit to Jammoulís cousinís house arrived. We walked behind Niemat, one of her aunts, as we whispered some jokes and comments about an old man sitting in front of his house. A week after our fight over Jammoulís news of the human-like doll, she and I forgot our differences and continued our routine of whispering and giggling for no apparent reason. We arrived at the big entrance of the complex where her cousin lived. A huge wall fenced several houses that belonged to brothers and cousins. Three generations lived in that complex. Niemat told us to be quiet and not make a sound as we passed the diwan, menís quarters, to get to the cousinís house.
As we passed the diwan, my heart started to beat like a drum, I could hear nothing but my heart pounding. It was not anticipation, but a deep fear that Jammoul was not lying and the doll with real eyes actually existed. I did not answer the greetings of the adults who were bidding me a warm welcome. My eyes wondered scanning the tops of cupboards and the huge sideboard, where else would such a unique doll be kept.
- What is wrong with you little girl? I heard someone ask.
- Nothing, I am here to see the living doll.
A loud laughter rang around the room.
- Donít be silly, she is not alive. Said one woman.
I looked at Jammoul who got angry at me again and said,
- Just let her see the doll. She likes to make up things.
Before I could answer Jammoulís allegation about me our host placed a huge doll on my arms. My heart stopped, I could not swallow. My hands became sweaty and the sweat turned to icy fluid running all over my body. She looked like a living human baby with real hair. Jammoul looked happy that I was frightened to death.
-sit her up stupid, sit her up and look at her eyes, said Jammoul
I did not move. Our host sat the doll up. God Almighty! She opened her eyes; I could swear that her smile widened and her cheeks moved. Our host was generous enough to say,
- take the doll and play with it in the veranda.
I could not move, the doll was looking at me with those strange still blue eyes, I laid her down and her eyes flipped shut, I let out a sigh of relief. I carefully carried her in my arms and walked out to the veranda. Jammoul wanted to get even with me so she stayed in the room, leaving me alone with my immense fear. I looked around me; I saw a large unfinished crochet piece on a chair. The crochet needle shined under the faint stream of sunlight. I crawled behind the chair and took the crochet needle. I quickly sat the doll up, she opened her eyes, and I poked her left eye with the needle, which produced a click sound. I did it again and again; click, click, click, the devilish eyes did not blink. I could not take her frightening gaze any more. I stuck the needle underneath her eye and pulled. Oh my God! I pulled out her eye! I did the same with the other eye. I took both eyes and put them in my dress pocket. I came out from behind the chair soaking in sweat. I carefully stretched the dollís arms and legs and laid her on her back, eyes shut. I walked back to the room and innocently said:
- She is asleep please donít wake her up.
To appease me our host put the doll in a bed and covered her with a sheet.
- all right, she will wake up tomorrow, our host said
She might wake up tomorrow or never; I did not care, I pulled out her eyes.
On our way back home Jammoul started to make fun of me she said I was a little mouse afraid of a doll. I put my hand in my pocket and held the eyes. Two days later I took the eyes and dropped them in the well in our backyard. That doll would not be able to look at anyone with those still piercing blue eyes ever again.