Picture taken for his ID in Saudi-2000
With each crinkle the plastic sack moved closer to total exposure. My heart sank, mouth dry, lips stuck to my teeth. I dared not wet them with my tongue as any movement meant breaking the silence that had now taken over the vehicle. I felt as if the world was some how suspended, now traveling at speeds nearing 60, weaving in and out of traffic, down the busy streets of Riyadh. The only sign that he was still in the van was his red face and the vein that pulsed on the side of his temple. An exasperated breath could be heard escaping from his mouth every few minutes as he shook his head. He slammed his hands on the steering wheel at any delay that kept us from moving faster. I waited for any small sign that he was no longer angry, but he simply drove, in silence. The baby playfully swung her feet and each movement brought with it a reminder of the sack that had been tucked under the seat and then discovered by his watchful eyes. I wanted to reach over and grab it and stop it’s constant movement but instead I sat motionless, some how believing I could be invisible. With the many sharp turns and sudden stops, the green cardboard box eventually came out of the sack and toppled into the crack of the vehicle’s door. There it was, out in the open now, bright red letters that once seemed fun and exciting, now garish and menacing. He finally looked at my son after minutes of silence, “ya baba this is what you do, hide things from baba?” his voice wavered as he struggled to keep his composure. I dared not speak a word as I knew this would make things worst, so I waited to see if my intervention was needed.
It had all started with a simple request for a toy, any toy, and a life lived witnessing neighbor children who had pogo sticks, scooters and electronic games. A reality where he boarded the private and luxurious jet of his friend the “sheik” and made a quick jaunt to Jeddah as if it were a mere taxi for hire. I helped him pick out gifts for friends and bosses that came and went, working tirelessly to provide the pastry trays three times each week without fail. No expense was to be spared in purchasing costly Western ingredients from the local Tamimi to make desserts and pastries for the “Sheik”. We lived on a Western compound where neighbor children took vacations to London, Vienna and France. The children attended schools where students had the best of everything available from Saudi and Europe and yet we were not allowed basic necessities. If the school asked for a variety of colored pens to mark papers, they were allowed one color, blue or black. No frills, gifts or splurges were tolerated. Clothing was purchased by my parents and had been since the beginning. I dressed in stretch pants and baggy shirts, an abaya tossed over me to go outdoors. No make up was allowed, no perfume or sign of femininity, not even in the home. The compound was a blessing, fully furnished with everything for a family our size and a glaring contrast to our first two years in Riyadh. I still felt a pang of guilt and sadness that my children were not provided for and even a much needed pair of shoes was begrudged and then finally purchased at the outdoor souk. So, when my oldest continued to push for holiday gifts for the family and little touches to make things personal, it was a wave I could no longer stop.
We entered the compound security gate where the guards checked the engine, the undercarriage, and the trunk area of our vehicle. ID badges were inspected and only then were we allowed to move through the gates. My heart raced as he drove around the loop and finally into our driveway. The children piled out of the van and into the house and eventually to bed. I felt a sick nervousness, his anger had been mounting as each day passed and his career expectations were not being met. The length of the cycle had now taken a jump and a drastic reduction in time between angry outbursts was apparent. This rebellious action of allowing my son to purchase the race track set would not go unnoticed. In the store a brief interlude with real life struck me, a child, a toy, what could be wrong with that, a normal life event. But as we approached the car, my son and I both panicked and shoved the sack under the seat. Now at home, I lay my head on the soft compound pillow and feigned sleep as I would for years to come. Another page was turned and a new facet of life unfolded, one in which I was woken from sleep for hours of angry questions in a room, door shut and secured. An interrogation about my loyalty to him and to God, my value as a mother and my true motivations. What was my plan in this life and how would I answer to the almighty as a disloyal and scheming wife? His volume raised and his fury mounted with each new inquiry. There were no answers or words that would suffice and so I traded yet another piece of my integrity to secure another moment of peace for our household.