Last night when climbing the stairs in the dark, I slipped, hit my face against a wall, and bruised it. Bruised it with a thick black wedge like a blueberry cheesecake slice right above the left cheekbone. I winced and swore but thought no more of it: when you live alone your dreams are not disturbed just because an idiot of a wall decides to slash your face. Until I reached the metro station this morning, and it suddenly became my new visual identity card.
Here I am, beskirted and bescarved, brown-skinned and Muslim, humming Kashmiri ballads with a bruise on my face. Until the silence starts to strangle the words in my throat. In every eye that I encounter or that flies mine sheepishly, I begin to see something new. Pity. Sympathy. Outrage. Derision. Shame. Disgust … ‘Husband? Father? Brother?’ I can read the questions – and the answers – in their gazes even before a white Aunty with a ribbon on her coat whispers “You know, here in Europe, you can get help …”
I can read in their eyes, the fixed ones and the fleeing, that by my clumsiness I have condemned my race, religion, and family to judgments as instant and irrevocable as the sizzling of flesh cast upon a brazier. I bruised my face and now they think one hundred thousand different things, all except for the truth, the unbelievable truth, so banal it’s pure cliché – I fell on the frigging stairs. For the first time in my life, I find myself wishing I wore makeup, not ordinary makeup that could never hide a wall-stain, but thick lead paint like Elizabeth I, or perhaps a burka that would just swallow me whole.