Sunday, 22 June 2014

Short story: Juliet

This is a short biographical story I wrote for university which my lecturer loved. Since many of you want me to share some of my creative work I decided to post this! I have an autobiographical piece which I wrote alongside this one, comment below if you would like to see it.

This creative piece revolves around Lebanese singer Sabah's relationship with her late sister, Juliet. I hope you enjoy it.

Juliet’s death prepared me for the pain I endured later on in life; she wasn’t only my sister, but my best friend and my primary source of support. I still hear her little voice telling me I will be singing in Egypt one day, while Umm Kulthum and Fareed watch me with soft smiling eyes. Every afternoon we found solace sitting at the corner of the riverbed in Wadi Shahrour, far away from our father’s terribly frightening gaze and grazing tongue; away from our mother’s sympathetic eyes. Away from the sweltering mid-summer heat of the hills above and into the cool breeze that whistled against the neatly segmented Cedar leaves. We trailed after the large silvery stones that lead to the river, hand in hand swinging, while I sang Umm Kulthum’s Sadaq wa-hubbik with Juliet tunelessly humming the oud instrumentals. We would fantasise about the love Kulthum sang of and share imagination of our dream future lives in Egypt. After our imagination finally spindled and the only tinkering we could hear is the far away metalwork from Uncle Amjad, the blacksmith, Juliet would hold my hand firmly and look straight into my eyes. ‘You’re a very talented singer Jeanette, you have a rich voice and one day you really will be famous.’ She pulled up her stained frock so that it was right above her knees instead of over, untied her plaits, half closed her eyes and strutted on her bare toes ‘you’ll be walking like this, with fabulous ironed hair and the prettiest little frock to show off your small waist,’ she flaunted, ‘and handsome men will be on their knees desperate to wed you.’ I joined in giggling, mirroring her walk barefoot across the river. She looked encapsulating; deep pine coloured hair thrashed across her face in the wind and she had the thickest lashes that accentuated when squinted. Instead of looking like a famous Egyptian socialite at that moment to me she held the demeanor of a warrior, save her frail gentle frame. And our imagination would be ignited once more.

At night, despite the dusty village humidity, we would huddle together on a single thin-as-a-wafer mattress, whispering under our breaths so our father wouldn't hear us through the thin wall that divided our rooms. One certain night we got a little carried away talking about Fareed tuning a song just for me, we made up a melody and I jumbled lyrics from Kulthum and Asmahan. All of a sudden while I was slipping into my zone; my eyes closed tightly imagining myself on stage with thousands of fans cheering ‘Jeanette, Jeanette, Jeanette,’ there came a loud thud from our bedroom door. My father stormed in and grabbed me by my hair, pulling me with him towards the door. I screamed ‘no, no, no!’ and felt the sharp burning slaps of the belt on my feet before I dared to open my eyes to look. ‘How dare you still be awake at this time singing stupid songs while the world it trying to sleep? You foul girl!’ I begged him to stop but the slaps only hit harder. No matter how much terror my father racked into me and my sisters, we were unable to hate him at that stage in our lives. His unhappiness made us sympathetic, and every night when he returned home from selling plums at the market we would listen to him groan and moan and massaged his feet until his head lolled to the side. When he finally dropped the belt I could feel moist numbness on my soles. As I limped to my room Juliet’s concerned eyes followed me but she did not dare say a word so that our father wouldn’t hear us again. Her soft eyes blinked sympathetically while her hand searched mine under the covers.

My mother was a very simple woman that seldom smiled; she always sat on the porch under the sweltering sun crushing wheat between her rough palms and the burning stone. At 30 her under eyes were already hollow and she had persistent lines on the corners of her drooping mouth. Yet her emerald eyes were so alive, and the conflict between the colour of her eyes, her dark hair and olive skin was beautiful. She was a goddess to me. Her slim frame clashed with the swelling bump protruding from her gown, dangling between her legs as she squats to pour out the overused oil from the frying pan into the grass. While Juliet and Lamia helped my father bring wood, (being the youngest) I would sit near my mother as she washed vine leaves and stuffed them with rice, tomatoes and minced meat. With my knees folded and a wooden board placed on my knees I would cut off the stems and stack the leaves ready to be stuffed, throwing away the discoloured ones to the sheep. The village we lived in was an awry gathering of farms and cedar trees. We lived in a small barn-house that my father could barely afford. He blamed it mainly on my mother for conceiving three girls. He saw us as useless and cursed us whenever his eyes lay on us.

I sang to my mother often, while she stuffed the leaves and dipped them in olive oil and lemon juice. A smile would crack on her thin lips and her eyes would crease with happiness. She would later plait my hair, carefully wrapping my dark blonde locks together and kissing me hard on my cheeks she would say; ‘you listen to your father, ok? He’s harsh but he’s a good man,’ then her eyes would wander. And only now I recognise that she was convincing herself more than anything, remembering that troubled gaze was like looking into a mirror, the kind of mirror that doesn’t lie or beautify.

One day me and Juliet were spending the afternoon on the riverbed at Wadi Shahroor as usual; she was tying lilies and daisies into my hair. The sun was slowly dissolving behind the high cedar trees and the sky went from baby blue to burnt orange; we knew that it was getting late and we could hear Lamia shouting from the bottom of the hill ‘Jeannette! Juliet!’ but the cool air that we seldom felt down near our house felt amazing on our burnt skin and the lilies were so beautiful. As I stuck the last little daisy in her long blonde plait, we began to hear grunts coming from far above us towards the top of the hill.

‘We should be making our way now,’ said Juliet, getting up off the grass and smoothing down her dress.

‘Oh Juliet, just let me sing you one more song, there is something enchanting about the disappearing sun that makes me want to sing.’ 

Juliet tilted her head and gave me a little encouraging nod, and suddenly, as fast as thunder, a sickening blast filled the air for a split second before Juliet was slammed to the ground. I blinked wishing I was in a dream and when I wake up Juliet would be fast asleep with my head cradled into the hollow gap in her shoulder. But I couldn’t do anything but crumble onto her side and sob harder and harder as I took in the sight of her chest pumping blood that poured into the river. My little piece of happiness was forever spoilt. My only friend had left me.


When my brother was born my father stood on the baking village streets telling every one of his great fortune and happiness; he finally got a son. His abuse even ceased for a while. My mother held the new-born in her arms so tenderly, as if those hands were not the ones that burned, dried and cracked against hard wheat grains and the hot, hot stone. I’d never seen her look so happy; tears streamed down her face for days on end that beamed so smooth and lineless. She would cuddle him for hours and he wouldn't cry before she was holding him hard against her chest; wrapping his small sluggy fingers around her own, resting his fat pink palms on her chest. Did she ever feel it, I always wonder, did she see into the future? That those very fingers would be the ones that end her life.


I’m sitting on a satin chair I bought with me from Paris while on a shopping visit in 2012, dressed only in my pink satin nightgown and a pair of woolly slippers.

“Are you sure about this, Sabah?” He asks once again.

“Oh Fadi, stop with the questions you know my answer.” I touch my drooping cheek and feel disgusted.

“I don’t want to kill you. Your age makes it so dangerous.” He pushes his specs up the greasy bridge of his nose, his eyes are empty little green pebbles and his eyebrows are perfectly trimmed.

“It must be fixed, whether it kills me or not – and make sure, if I die, you finish off the 

operation before they bury me.” 

He’s fidgeting in his seat before pulling out a notepad from his back pocket.

“Is this the photo reference?” He pulled up a black and white photograph of Juliet. A few weeks before she passed away, at 14; she smiled at me with her plump glowing cheeks and full lips. I grinned back, and for a moment I am 10 again, sitting on the riverbank of Wadi-Shahrour sucking on lemongrass and throwing pebbles into the river. My knees are muddy from sitting and my dress has been spoilt too, I’m scared of going home because my mother had just washed my dress the day earlier. Juliet is sitting next to me laughing and making a crown out of Jasmine flowers, fitting them perfectly into each other before resting the finished crown onto my head. 

‘What was the name they were calling you in your dream, ya Jeannette?’ she asked me.

‘They were calling me Sabah!’ I grinned happily.

‘Here you are, crowned as Sabah, the phenomenal Lebanese singer about to fly to Egypt where people will fall in love with her voice!’ She began to turn in her dress. ‘Sing, Sabah, sing!’

“Sabah?” Dr Fadi shattered through my thoughts. “Shall I come back another day? You look like you’re in need of some rest. Come on I’ll help you up.”

I put up my hand, I could no longer smile. “No. Fadi I’m fine.”

“But Sabah-”

“Fadi, please. I’ll give you as much as you want.” He’s standing, not saying a word, an expressionless face and his pebble eyes are now gleamless stones.

“This won’t help you psychologically. You will never get over it, you’ll never forget.” He is 
speaking quietly, almost like he doesn’t want me to hear him. 

“I never want to forget, I want to always remember”. I smiled at him sweetly, and in my head I am 10 year old Jeannette again, insisting that I sing another song, insisting for another Jasmine flower crown. 


Habiba xxx