Disclaimer: This was written from a purely neutral and fictional point of view, not intended to hurt anybody’s sentiments at all.
My bare crossed ankles rested on the ledge of the balcony as I half-lay propped up on the armchair, holding a cigarette in one hand while flipping through a brochure. The balcony overlooked the dusty narrow lanes of the bustling city below. The warm afternoon atmosphere was filled with the noises of children chasing each other, vendors selling their wares and the distinct rumble of traffic from the far-off main road.
I had landed here the previous day, all set to attend the 82nd Annual Conference on Women’s Rights, a nine-day long conference which I had been preparing for for months now. Besides attending the conference, I was delighted at the mere idea of even visiting this beautiful city and also had a few extra days planned for sightseeing. I was staying at the Grand Hotel, about a half-hour drive from the Cairo International Airport. Undoubtedly one of the most luxurious hotels in the city.
Later that night, when I got under the covers and switched off the lights, I realized it was a full-moon night. The moonlight came in through the parted curtains and fell onto the indigo carpet. Fascinated, I got up for a better look. I stepped out into the balcony, the night seemed chilly against my skin which was still moist from the shower I had taken a while ago. But the sight was absolutely beautiful. I could see the Nile in the distance, glistening in the moonlight just as the entire city below danced with the graceful light. I stood there in awe, taking the sight in when suddenly something occurred to me. My brows furrowed at the sudden uneasiness I felt and discovered that a woman in the lane right below my balcony was staring up at me. I tried waving at first but she didn’t budge. She was dressed in a burqa and a niqab, allowing me to see nothing but her eyes. Her gaze was what made me so uncomfortable – cold and barely blinking. I backed into my room, bolted the door, drew the curtains and eventually fell into a dreamless slumber.
The following morning, I went down for breakfast. A lavish spread undoubtedly, containing all kinds of cuisines. Halfway through my coffee, one of the hotel staff informed me that a car had been arranged to drop me off at the conference and was already waiting for me outside.
I lowered my windows, taking in the sights that Cairo had to offer. The harsh sun and dust didn’t suit me well admittedly, but I could care less at this point of time. When the cab took a turn at a particular road, the driver asked me to walk. He pointed at a narrow lane and between his attempts at broken English, I understood that if I walked straight, I would reach the center and that he refused to drive on this empty lane. Slightly annoyed, I got off and began to walk. The cab backed out almost immediately and left a trail of dust as it sped off.
This was a residential area, as was evident from the tiny one or two-storeyed houses on either side of the road. There was no one outside and most of the doors and windows were shut with the curtains drawn. I was almost convinced that the houses were empty until I saw a young girl of no more than possibly four standing outside one of them. She was dressed in a simple pink frock and just before I could reach her, someone from inside the house quickly snatched her inside. And that’s when I looked up and realized that I was being watched from all the houses. A subtle movement of the curtains, a few glances from women in niqabs and quiet scurrying noises. Needless to say, I was more than just panicked. I quickened my pace multiple times until I finally reached the center, panting and almost entirely out-of-breath.
On one of the afternoons that I was off, I visited the local Cairo marketplace. It was abuzz with people, bustling with life and looked exceptionally fascinating with all the colourful items that were being sold. I took my time at each vendor, each makeshift stall and tried taking it all in. At some point, I realized that I was being followed by a few women constantly. When I turned around, there were more of them. And before I could run or do anything to escape, I was suddenly swarmed in a sea of black until everything else went entirely black.
When I woke up, I was in an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar room. Sunlight streamed in through the windows and I slowly got up, trying to grasp the situation. I walked to the other side of the room and stood in front of the long mirror and let out a long gasp. There I was, standing in a burqa and niqab. When I looked back at the bed, I saw my body there, still dressed in a pair or jeans and my favorite plaid shirt.But here I was as well. I opened the door of the room, as though in a dream and walked out.
I joined a massive thronging crowd of women, all dressed as I was.
With nothing but Eyes for the world to see.