Zorah Saed
Circles of Exile

I am in a world of women.
An old clay fort converted into livable space, an ancient relic between desert and sea.
        A vacation house
my father and his friend have invested into escape with their wives and children from Riyadh’s dust and overcrowding.

I am four
        and pampered here by an entourage of five young women, daughters of my father’s friend.

Nuha is my favorite.

Her black hair reaches down to the very last knot of her spine. Sharing the black of her eyes, she decorates my lids with kohl. Mother watches without disapproving. She sips tea, fluttering her hands in tune to the story of our exile.

There are jinns here,
        smaller than me and made of smoke.

At night, I sleep tucked between my parents like a pearl. In the day, Nuha wraps me in the excess of her veil and I am kept from tempting the jinns with my child flesh. But some are clever and brush by me in the shape of a goat, or an emaciated cat.

                In the afternoons, we prepare to bathe in the sea.

The men choose this time to remain on the roof, tend the doves and reminisce the boodana birds that God had fashioned for man from the carvings of Adam’s palms. Black birds with brilliant red beaks that once fought out on the bare steppes and drew crowds of gambling men from all seven cities.

For the beach, the women wear long pastel dresses.
        I am in a red and white polka-dotted shorts and tank top outfit.

On one side,
     the sea hugs the mountains where a highway winds.
An occasional car can be seen as we wade in the water.

Nuha comes prepared for this.

Two umbrellas left open float nearby, easily accessible for the women to hide under in case a passing car, or an unexpected guest disturbs the harmony of women’s bare arms, loosened hair and wet clinging silk. I am too young to need to enter the wide reach of the black umbrella, so I stand where the water foams against my toes, squint my eyes against the sun and

        eavesdrop on their modesty.