And so we move onwards, as my miniature version is cuddled and coddled and spoken to in baby talk, moving quickly as the family shifts to Riyadh.
My father is working some engineer-related job and my mother at King Khaled Hospital as a doctor (specializing in OB/GYN). I don't know if the 'Khaled' is spelled with an 'e' or an 'i' so excuse any misunderstandings on that part.
Mina*, my older sister, is an incredibly intelligent young girl who is very talkative and active, not to mention somewhat mischievous. Nonetheless she nurtured me in such a way that I will never be able to return and never was, a way that makes me feel guilty and wonder if my cynical, sardonic ways were what caused her descent into depression and self-harm.
But that is a story for later.
I was a quiet child, apparently. My mother tells me that I rarely cried or threw tantrums, and was rather independent. I didn't talk for a while, though, and that caused some fears as to my mental health, but it was later made clear that I was perfectly capable of speech.
I always found the fact amusing, that I, for some reason, waited before testing the words that I have grown to love, the words that are my greatest and only friends.
I fell ill.
It is uncertain what exactly it was that befell me, but some form of ear infection struck and my chubby, healthy tot days were numbered.
My body grew frail and I often refused to eat, stubborn as a mule, blind to the fact that my worsening state was hurting the people I loved most. I know now that my mother cried for my sake.
I didn't deserve those tears.
But the sickness, even in subsiding, had left me weak and thin as a rail, and, despite my slow and steady recovery filled with revolting meal replacements, I was underweight for the majority of my life and still have a prominent ribcage.
Thank God for clothes is all I can say to that.
I was in Saudi Arabia until I finished kindergarten, which is around the age of five or so, I would say.
That place is extremely different from my current home, that much is certain. For one the streets are dusty and we always went on outings at night to escape the desert heat. Plazas had intricately set stones made in swirling patterns to pave the sidewalks, and I distinctly remember eating lots of icecream and various treats, in particular a packet of bubble gum that had some kind of collectible Spider-man card in it. I gave it away and later sulked about it.
Mina and I would often share things she'd bought from her cafeteria on the bus ride home. I can recall a certain lollipop-type thing that came in a packet filled with sour powder that was meant for dipping. It was good.
School was alright. Looking back at some of my report cards I can see I wasn't exactly a prodigy. B's, C's and everything in between. I didn't really care about education then, even fighting with my mom not to wear the uniform in the morning (which was a striped shalwar kameez, or a pair of baggy pants and a long shirt that are common Pakistani wear).
I was friends with this girl, Sana. She had the most delicate features and almost Hermoine Granger hair.
She died in a truck accident.
I don't remember if I felt anything, or if I even understood the concept of death. I can only imagine now what her parents must have felt in losing someone so fast.
Another friend of mine was Anisha, a girl who lived in our apartment complex and who's parents essentially became family friends. Mina was closer to her age (I was younger by a year or two) and probably understood her better. Nonetheless we all played as a group, me on my kiddie bike with its training wheels and yellow bear on the seat and the two older girls rollerblading as we raced through the building.
There was also a park in front of our home, where we'd play while returning before maghrib, or the fourth of the five mandatory prayer times in Islam, during sunset.
Mina has voiced various regrets on the subject of our childhood, namely being such a 'brat' in her words, seeing as she tended to, somewhat impishly, bicker with Anisha and apparently hogged the best toys or something. I still have her to thank for teaching me the importance of kindness, even if I failed to carry the torch.
My mother tells me that something was very wrong with the complex we lived in. The architecture was somewhat crooked, with sloping floors, but that was trivial. She says that it had a bad aura, that it felt damned.
Nobody in my immediate family is all that superstitious, so the revelation came as somewhat of a shock.
Until I learned more of what was going on behind the scenes of my life.
My father had an off-and-on smoking habit in secret, apparently. He never smoked around any of us, thank the stars, but at night out of the window. Supposedly quit, but my mother recently found an open pack of cigarettes in the garage set of drawers.
And apparently Arthur*, father to three daughters, used to throttle and hit his wife. The very image sickens me and brings shock as it does.
Not shock. That is the wrong word. I know, in my heart, that he has the capacity to beat someone who he believe is 'underneath' him (my mother and all three of us girls).
He also threatened and insulted her repeatedly and, teeth gnashing, lifted his massive hands against the woman who means the most to me. Turned youth and vitality into seething hate in his careless battery.
I cannot explain in further detail, for fear of the repercussions in my fragile subconscious, the subconscious that worked hard to bury each horrific recount and sight far from reach.
On December 27, 2002, Ham* is born.
A new chapter begins.
*Names replaced for the sake of privacy.