The first time I learned that I was in love with Gamal was also the first time I learned everything I know about love. Gamal and I were in the second year of elementary school. I was five and he was a year older.
Gamal was a black kid with beautiful blue eyes and cute generous pouty pink lips. We sat next to each other in class and played together in recess. We always shared our snacks and candy, and sometimes we walked each other back home after school.
This affair lasted for a very short while before my teacher noticed. Ms. Halima was a popular, beautiful single teacher with short blond hair and revealing outfits. She was a dear friend and colleague of my mother’s. I am sure that when she told my mother about Gamal’s love letter, she was probably thinking it would be a cute thing to tell.
When my mother heard the story, she did not cook dinner that evening. Instead, she took all four of us to eat in my grandmother’s house. As we were all unsuspectingly seated around the dining table ready to eat the stuffed cabbage, my mother suddenly announced in a horrified tone, “Mom, my daughter is in love!”
There was a brief moment of silence and a few chuckles. I was in love with Gamal. I remember also realizing at that moment that what my mother said was not funny. My mother added, “Ms. Halima told me today that they hang out together all the time in recess and after class. He even wrote her a love letter. She also told me that my daughter seems pensive and constantly daydreaming in class, instead of focusing on her schoolwork. She is in love! Is that why I am sending you to school? To fall in love? Do you want to bring me shame?”
My mother’s show of despair was an open invitation to her family members to try to help. So, everyone around the table pitched in bombarding me with one embarrassing question after another.
“Who is this boy?” my grandmother started.
“Where do you know him from?”
“Why do you talk to him?”
“I love him.”
“What do you know about love, you idiot?” my mother asked. “It’s a shameful thing.”
“What do you do together?”
Seeing how appalled everyone seemed at my newfound love story, I hid incriminating details.
“What did he write you in his love letter?”
“He did not write me anything.”
“Did he try to kiss you?” my uncle asked.
“Eww, that’s disgusting.”
The charged silence around the table was unbearable. I stopped eating and as I was furtively attempting to leave the table, my mother resumed, “I can’t handle parenting this scandalous girl. Allah gave other people daughters, and he gave me a monster. She’s going to bring me shame. I only wonder what she’s going to do when she grows up. I can barely control her now.”
My older aunt, whom I had once seen sleeping with her boyfriend on my bed under my favorite Bambi sheets, chimed in. “Listen you stupid imbecile, boys only want one thing from you. They want to fool you, and leave you.”
“Her uncles should talk to this boy’s family and tell them to leave our daughter alone or else,” my grandmother suggested.
My mother, seeing how defeated I looked, welcomed the suggestions with a victorious grin. “And if I ever hear that you talked to that boy again, I will just let your uncles deal with you.”
As if they were waiting all their lifetime to utter these words, my three uncles all shrieked in unison worthy of an Easter choir, “We will kill you if we hear such a thing again. Do you understand? We don’t have girls who fall in love with or talk to boys in this family.”
The next days in school were long and joyless. Gamal’s mother, fearing for her son from the repercussions of messing with a teacher’s daughter, had transferred him to another school.