-A Hanaa Mariam, I Year B.A. English

I see the way you look at me,

If you can even call it looking.

When your eyes raise to meet mine,

You look away quickly,

As if I am doing something shameful.

There is terror in your eyes,

Which you try your best to disguise.

That one momentary glance you throw me,

Is filled with a cold, icy, unspoken judgement,

That you didn’t have to utter a word at all

For it to be known.

I wonder if I’ve worn my clothes inside-out,

Or done something utterly shameful,

Or have dirt smeared across my face,

That is offending you so.

And then I remember, a sudden thought as if from long ago,

That my mere existence is offence enough.


I see the way you shrink back from me,

As if I am carrying a disease.

I see the way you try to build a protective layer

Around yourself. And, if, by mistake

My skin grazes the skin of your hand

Or if I take a seat next to yours,

You wipe that place furiously, lest it festers

While trying to be discreet about it,

But failing miserably.


Your eyes rover over my face,

And then your gaze lingers on my headscarf,

Eyeing it cautiously- bordering on predatory,

You curl your lip in distaste.

Either you do that because you think it is outdated

(which by the way it is not)

Or because you think I carry bombs inside it,

Waiting for the right moment to set it off.

How utterly ridiculous it sounds.

Maybe you should try saying it out loud,

Just so you know how crazy you sound.


I see the way you hide your children from me,

Turning to them and whispering something in their ears,

With your gaze firmly fixed on me.

I see how their faces pale and their eyes widen,

As if remembering me from their worst nightmares.

They clutch each other tightly,

Holding on to dear life.

You think I am going to kidnap them

And maybe even torture them.

The thought makes me cringe,

And bile to rises in my throat.

You might be sitting next to a potential kidnapper,

But you wouldn’t for once doubt them,

With their easy smiles and acceptable clothes.

Now you look at me, as though you would want nothing more,

Than to just rip the headscarf off of my head,

And make sure that I have no secret stash of weapons,

Or a handful of grenades, hidden inside.

And the thought itself is a gentle reminder,

Of how you became the barbarian,

You so despise.


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