I don't really like the word blog, but it seems pointless to fight it, Zis is a blog.
If you want to know more about an Algerian girl who lives in London and struggles with thoughts that are beyond the remits of her understanding, stories of society and social climbers of love and deception and of a status of seemingly eternal singlehood, then you are in the right place...
Safia - Chapter III
Safia Mentouri has two sisters, Leila is twentyseven and Selma twentyfour and a younger brother Anis who is nineteen, Leila was getting married in the summer to her boyfriend of seven years, she has been seeing him throughout her Law studies at the University of Algiers, although Leila often stressed that seeing is a bit of an overstatement as dating openly is frowned upon generally and so they spent many hours on the phone and would try to meet once a week if possible in a dark salon de thè in downtown Algiers away from her neighbourhood where nobody could recognise her.
Youcef, of Berber origin, comes from a family that does not mix with Arabs, so naturally his mother objected to the union, knowing that Leila was an Arab and consequently Youcef was kicked out of the family home, having no father to stand up for him only a greedy brother who was only too happy to keep the family home to himself.
Youcef found himself on the street, he found refuge in Leila’s parent’s house, her dad being a generous and a moderate man allowed him to occupy a room on the ground floor of the house but insisted they seal the deal with a spiritual ceremony of Al-Fatiha as soon as possible, where certain verses of the Quran are recited and the pair are pronounced man and wife, to be on the safe side should anything illegitimate happen or should people talk and he knew how people loved to talk.
Wedding preparations were underway for the big day, several kilos of almonds were purchased, dried and milled, multiple cakes were made, baklawa, makrout, Dziriyat and Charak, all baked and dipped in a mixture of honey and orange blossom water and each piece put on its own individual doyley and stored away until the day of the wedding, the wedding hall was also booked for the day at the hotel Sofitel Hamma, the best florist in town was booked, a folkloric zerna band to accompany the cortège and a traditional Andalousi band were all booked by Taos the mother of the bride.
Safia was also preparing for her sisters’ wedding and decided on a silver dress, Safia had a vivid imagination and didn't need to think hard about things, all she had to do was think gown and the image of the metallic silver dress would come before her eyes, her mother promised to have it made for her by the famous Italian tailor Maurizio who had been living in Algiers since the Independence, Safia drew the dress as she saw it in her mind's eye, wrote down her measurements and hoped Maurizio would pull it off just the way she pictured it.
After the first year in Constantine and the end-of-year exams which Safia took with confidence, summer-term holidays came, the wedding was drawing nearer and preparations were almost finished, Leila was ecstatic, she had always dreamt of her big day and of having a baby, she wanted a baby girl and had secretly listed a few names she wanted, one of them was Safia but she never told her sister she secretly envied her name.
As Amine said goodbye to Safia at the airport, their hands held and her eyes shimmering, she held back the tears and he was strong for her sake, the last call for her flight to Algiers was announced and Safia's face started to show signs of sadness, her lips quivered and her tears streamed down her cheeks, Amine hesitated for a second then took her in his arms, braving people's stares, and she held on for as long as she could wishing she never had to part from him, when he let go, she quickly reached up to him, kissed his lips and walked away, not looking back and not making eye contact with the numerous curious onlookers; they promised to call each other everyday until they would meet again in September.
Seatbelt fastened and head turned towards the window, Safia kept playing the scene over and over in her head, her thighs wrapped around his, their warm damp skin sticking together, their naked bodies enlaced, her hair flowing on his chest and the pain, the sharp pain and the sound of their heavy breathing and her exaltations as, he enters her and they become one, she remembers the pain vividly, closes her eyes and arches her back ever so slightly with every flashback she gets. She was happy she offered herself to him and had a feeling of strength and power that she couldn't explain; she knew there would be no consequences and told herself she would assume responsibility for her actions, she told herself it was the natural progression for two people in love or so she thought.
So what if I am not a virgin anymore, nobody's gonna find out, it simply cannot be important, it's my body and am 18, I am not the same as these girls from small villages and conservative families ha ha ha can you imagine wedding night blood sheet? Me? Whoever I will marry will have to know I am not a virgin, if I marry Amine it's even better but.... ‘Miss, would you like something to drink?’ the air hostess asked, when Safia turned around to face her, she found her smirking with the man sitting next to her on the plane, she realised she wasn't’ thinking but talking to herself again. Damn it I have got to stop doing that but she cared too little about what people thought and carried on daydreaming.
At home the wedding celebrations having already started, the house was swarmed by cars parked up front, children and elderly relatives coming to see the bride and participate in the festivities that would last 3 days, as much as she loved her sister and was excited for her, Safia dreaded all the family being around for three days, but she was too happy to care, she was in love and her last encounter with Amine left her with enough souvenirs and flash backs to last her until the Autumn.
‘PLEASE tell me my dress is ready mama?’
‘In my wardrobe, go try it on’.
Safia ran upstairs to her parent's wardrobe and pulled out a magnificent silver gown, she quickly slid into it and twirled admiring her own design and new found confidence.
‘you look like a chicken wrapped in foil’
Safia startled turned around to find Leila standing at the door, ‘you need to be bronzée for that dress’
Safia she laughed, ‘I’ve seen you in your white dress, you looked like a meringue and with that fake tan you might even look like a cupcake’ Leila laughed and walked away shouting ‘jealous little aluminium brat’, Safia shrugged nonchalantly, twirled back to face the mirror and resumed her conversation with her reflection ‘so where were we’
Selma also had a dress made, it was a black satin gown she also had made at Maurizio’s, Selma was beautiful and had a lot of suitors but she was very choosy and Safia often joked that one day her blue eyes would veer to brown and nobody would ask her to wed again ‘eyes colours only veer when you’re a baby’
‘no they only seem to veer when you’re Algerian’ Safia said and Selma laughed and shook her head as she walked away ‘Safia Mentouri, annoying as ever’.
Selma was also at university, on her final year of Pharmaceutical at the University of Algiers, when they were young, Safia and Selma always fought and Selma would always tell on Safia if she went out with a boy and would often open her mail and read all her letters she received from Yassine.
“Where is Anis” Safia enquired but not one seems to have seen him since last night, he often disappeared for several hours leaving Taos worried sick, she always imagined the worst, he got abducted, he was killed, he was robbed.She smelt cigarette smoke on him and alcohol in his breath when he stumbled home late at night, Taos would wait for him in the living room and made sure he got in quietly so his father didn't find out.
Anis left school at 18 despite his parent’s pleas; he was just not the academic type of guy he would say ‘you have your genius girls to mould, let me live my life, “am gonna start a business” this broke his mother's heart and left his father thinking of how to save their only son from debauchery and how to avoid people talking about him.
Safia only smoked in the house when Anis was around, nobody would suspect her if he was in the house, she would often smoke with him, they were close and she often confided in him and him in her.
Anniiiiissss Annniiiiiis Annniissssss Safia stood at the front door and called for her brother, after a few minutes, he emerged from the garden shed looking dishevelled and dirty, shielding the sun with his hand and frowning his face.
“are you stoned?” she asked with a disgusted look
“give me my cigarettes now, I know you’ve taken them, I need that as A.S.A.P. as possible! Or I’ll tell Mama”
“As soon as possible as possible?”
He looked at her baffled “Are you drunk?”
“Yeah, I AM drunk, you need to get yourself sorted Didi Barachou(1), we have guests and papa is gonna be liviiiid”
“you know it’s not safe out there Anis, what if you get killed”
Safia left Anis with his thoughts and went back inside, headed to her room for her daily call with Amine, meanwhile Anis peeled himself off the shed floor and left the house, he returned in the early evening and found Taos waiting for him “get cleaned up and try on your suit for your sister's wedding, you’ll be escorting her into the hall” Anis grunted and slammed his bedroom door behind him, only emerging when dinner was served later that evening.
It was a Wednesday, the day before the wedding day, the family was gathered at the brides’ house, grandmothers from both sides, cousins of all ages, some Safia knew and some she had never met before, it was a full house, children playing in the garden Safia saw them rubbing the lemon tree leaves on their hands and sniffing at them, she smiled remembering when younger, she would play with her sisters in the garden and all was simpler and very different. She always wondered if she had the chance to go back a year or two would she and if things would be different.
Tonight it was the Henna ceremony; it was to be held at the bride’s parents’ house, at around nine in the evening after an opulent dinner was served to the whole family, tea and cakes were served in the living room, it was a large room with pillars in the middle of it and large beautifully decorated windows, sofas were pushed to the sides making space for more chairs and seating to accommodate all the family and close friends invited.
Safia and Selma dressed in matching silk dresses their grandmother had made for them, Selma and Safia both refused to wear them ‘we’re not fucking twins’ they whinged but they had no choice in the matter and had to go through with the evening, which began with loud ululations from Aunt Fatiha and her sister Taos who were escorting Leila to the middle of the living room to her chair that had velvet cushions embroided with gold threads, the bride donned a simple electric blue satin gown, embellished with silver at the neck and wrists, she wore a transparent veil on her hair which she removed later to uncover her beautiful hair, she walked slowly despite her excitement which she thought was strange until she realised the women were holding her back to let everybody take a good look at her.
Selma and Safia were made to hold long white candles and sit on either sides of the bride whilst her grandmother Louisa applied the henna to her right palm in the shape of a small round dollop and covered her hand with a special satin mitt, after the ritual was over, it was all the other single girls turn to have henna applied to their hands, ululations roared and music played, the women danced and laughed, children running around, whilst the men stood in the garden enjoying a quiet cup of mint tea with some sweets, Mr Mentouri smoked his cigar, which he knew did not go with mint tea but could not break open his bottle of rum in front of the family and in case they were watching, so he stood with the men, all trying to ignore the sounds emanating from inside of the house and continued taking about last week’s bombing in the shopping centre in Bir Mourad Raisabout the smoke and the number of people who died, about the survivors and what was next.
The wedding day
Leila looked beautiful and Youcef was so happy and proud, Mr. Mentouri, Safia's dad was a happy man, he stood around talking to the men of the family whilst all the women dressed in their finest, milled around inside the large hall where the ceremony was being held, it was a beautiful wedding party and everybody was beaming, Anis wore the suit his parents bought for him and he looked like a business man his mother Taos told him, they gave him the honour to walk his sister into the hall and present her to her husband.
Leila wore three outfits, a white Berber dress to honour her husband’s origins then changed into a blue Karakou to represent her Algérois background, and she closed the ceremony with a white gown and a veil, Safia wore her silver gown and posed for pictures she wanted to show Amine, Meriem and Sara when she returned to Constantine, her mother Taos wore a Kaftan and looked very elegant as she received her guests and made sure everyone was seated and served. It was just as Leila had always imagined it, as the guests were leaving they all kissed Selma and Safia carrying their packs of sweets and all wishing it would be their turn next “lakouba lik inchallah”(2) and the best to the happy couple. Sofia was dreaming of her big day with Amine, she imagined it all, her dress, the hall, the honeymoon.
Leila and Youcef retreated to their hotel room at the Sofitel Hamma for their wedding night and everybody else went back to the parents' house, they will be served breakfast tomorrow and wait for the happy couple when they return and welcome them
Leila and Youcef arrived the next day to a full house, Youcef looking tired but immensely happy and Leila limping, Safia laughing at her sister and thinking what’s with the limping she couldn’t have been a virgin, it must be the sheer quantity but she slapped her own hand and smiled as her sister walked inside the house wearing a cream skirt, white shirt with red shoes, Youcef in a smart casual suit., Safia approved and found herself nodding, Leila caught a glimpse of her and frowned but quickly dismissed her sister's odd behaviour.
The ululations exploded in the air as the women caught sight of the couple, the family gathered around them and Safia watched the crowd move slowly as if hovering towards the large living room where they would all enjoy hot and cold beverages and talk about the same subjects from yesterday and from the last wedding, probably, she thought until lunch is finally served and everybody can go home, including the bride and groom but when do I get to go to my new home? Constantine, I wish this summer would be over.
---------------------------------------------- (1) a drunken TV character from the 80s (2) it’ll be your turn next, God willing