My name is Momtaz Saeed. I remember clumsily writing that when I was in primary school and had just learned how to write. I remember the house and town where I had lived with my mum and older brothers, Aziz, Karim and my twin brother Mahmood. My dad died when Mahmood and I were very small; I don’t remember much about him. My only memory of dad was from my parents’ wedding photos. I marvelled at my mother’s young, smiling face and affectionately ran my childish fingers over my dad’s green eyes, his stern but smiling face as they were surrounded by flowers, balloons, smiling people and a red banner that screamed: “Congratulations Nargis and Farhad!!” in bold, gold letters.
I’m not sure what happened to my dad. All I really have is a blurred memory of me kissing him on the cheek and leaving the house to go to school. Then coming home and seeing my aunt sitting on her knees as she held my wailing mother. My mother looked like a princess. She had bright brown eyes, pink lips, full dark eyebrows and a slim nose. I remember sitting on her bed and watching her rub coconut oil onto her long shiny hair every Saturday morning. But when dad went, she stopped rubbing coconut oil into her hair and wore it in a tight bun instead. I’ve never really felt the same since. I blankly stood at the window pulling my green shawl around my shoulders. Pulling it tighter and tighter as I tried to cocoon myself. Tried to hide myself. Tried to comfort myself. Searing hot tears stabbed the backs of my eyes as I tried to swallow the golf-ball sized lump that had risen in my throat. I looked at the backs of my hands as I felt the curious warmth from my shawl disappear, as it slipped down past my arms and fell to the floor. A puddle of green cotton that gripped my feet and stubbornly refused to let me leave. I observed the backs of my hands; a haphazard looking network of bottle green serpents snaking their way under my skin. Angry ropes that bound my flesh to my bones. I caught sight of myself in the reflection of the window and noted my eyes. A startling shade of green. My father’s eyes. Beautiful, but too close together, so I’ve been told.
“Beautiful eyes,” my mother would say. “You know, she’s the first in our family to have a degree!”
“But Nargis,” my aunt would reply. “There’s no point in having a girl who is a genius but unpleasant to look at.”
I thoughtfully pressed my lips together as I recalled that conversation. An unsuspecting, insecure 23 year old fighting back tears who had been hiding behind the kitchen door listening to their conversation. I remember feeling a sharp jolt in my stomach as my aunt said: “There’s no point in having a girl who is a genius, but unpleasant to look at.”
I found myself replaying their conversation in my head for years and feeling conflicted. I remember how I had ran upstairs to my room, buried my face in my pillow and sobbed until no more tears came. Through red, sore eyes I looked at my graduation photo at my mother’s beaming face: “Momtaz I am so proud of you,” she had said, affectionately touching my face. “All you need to get through life is wit, intelligence and determination.” I covered my mouth with trembling fingers to stop a whimper from escaping and closed my eyes. How wrong my mother had been.