Every morning, I would wake up to the sound of my sister Noura going around the room, searching for a certain piece of clothes in her messed up closet, and throwing stuff around as she did. Sometimes my mother would come in and start scolding her about how messy the room is, but she would only look at her impatiently and turn back to her frivolous work. In fact, my sister’s unspoken insolence was worse than yelling and swearing; because it left my mother hand-tied. Those glances were rude enough to kindle my mother’s fury, but never a good excuse to vent that fury through something more indignant than slamming the door.
In fact, my mother’s indignity towards Noura started right from the day she was born. Being her first born child, my mother was so enthusiastic about the idea of motherhood and had often imagined the moment of birth, and asked that the baby be laid on her chest the moment he arrives to the world. There was no question in her mind she would love that baby – be it a boy or a girl- unconditionally. But all those dreams were to be shattered just moments after she brought Noura to life.
Right after the birth, the midwife rushed out of the room to carry the good news to my father, although at that time many people still didn’t believe the birth of a daughter to be a very pleasant thing. Yet, to the midwife’s surprise, my father showed extreme joy and rushed to the room to see the baby and check up on his wife. My mother was sitting in the bed, holding the yet unnamed baby close to her chest, with a shy smile of her face. He approached her, took the baby between his arms and kissed her on the forehead.
“What are you going to name her?” My mother asked enthusiastically, not knowing that the answer would create a life-long rift between her and her daughter that is in no way her fault; for of all the names in the world, my father decided to call her daughter after the first if not the only woman he’s ever loved, Noura.
Noura was the daughter of a rich man who owned some acres of land in our village. They used to come to the village from time to time to relax in their estate away from the city. My father used to work in their farm, and over a series of visits, both their hearts started to beat in harmony, even against their better judgment. Typically, her family found the prospect of their marriage quite outrageous, and believed my father to be nothing more than a gold-digger. Few days later, word was out that Noura’s family sold their estate and all their properties in the village, and left without leaving any trace. Nobody has ever heard anything about them ever since.
I always believed that what my father did was one of the worst mistakes of his life; for by naming his daughter after a woman he once loved before he met his wife, he deprived a woman the unquestionable right to love her daughter, and created an iron barrier that would be very hard to overcome. Ever since my parents married, my mother has tried hard to convince herself that he forgot Noura, and tried even harder to be the sort of wife that would make him forget her. Many times I would hear her seeking advice from other women in the village on how to win him over. She even inquired from those who knew Noura back in the day how she looked like and what she was like. She was desperate to win his heart and had always thought she did until that day Noura came back to their life, to reside in their home, share their bedroom and take a part in all their dreams.
I have no doubt that my mother tried to remove the connotations the name carried from her mind, and that she tried to love her daughter as any mother would. Yet, it seems that she couldn’t overcome the idea that, by naming his daughter Noura, my father was manifesting his love to another woman. A woman whom he knew long time ago, but whose love managed to stay alive in his heart over the years, notwithstanding all his attempts to subside it, or maybe not to.
Although my mother’s sense of reason wasn’t enough to avoid her hard feelings towards Noura, it was enough to contain them. And despite all the bitterness se felt, I have never saw her doing anything so much as slapping Noura on the wrest. Yet, she couldn’t hide the resentment she felt towards the living reminder of her husband’s long cherished past memories.
On the other hand, my father treated Noura as if she was his only child, and spoiled her to the point that I would not hesitate to say she grew up to be conceited and self-absorbed beyond all limits.
Probably this has given my mother enough reason to be so fond of me as she was when I was born 7 years later. But it wasn’t only because of this. After my mother had given birth to Noura, she had 3 miscarriages, 2 boys and a girl, other than my twin brother who died at birth. So, after all those losses that left her spirits broken, I was there to console her. Not only that, she also named me after her mother, Layla, which made me even more special to her. Seeing the extra love and care my mother showed toward me as if I was her first born, Noura was flaming with jealousy. She would sieze every chance to slap or bite me. The fact that Noura was already an over-spoiled 7 year-old child by the time I was born didn’t really help. Being aware of the situation, my father tried not to show the least bit of attention towards me in Noura’s presence. And since she was too attached to him and following him around all the time, I hardly felt he was my father at all. Thus, we both grew up like two orphans, each one missing a parent.
As we grew up, Noura has given up beating and slapping me, but she would jump at any chance to insult me or make me feel inferior to her. What made things worse is that even when Noura was 16 and technically turning into a grown up woman, my father still treated her as if she was a jealous 5 year-old girl. He wouldn’t let my mother do anything to punish her for whatever she did to me, and tried to make it up for me by giving me some money to buy sweets. My mother was getting fed up with her everyday, but she knew there was nothing she could do, or maybe she felt that she shouldn’t entirely blame Noura for what she turned out to be like. Yet, I’ve always felt she was hoping for a chance to vent the anger and frustration my father had caused her for many years; maybe one day she’ll get to reconcile with him, Noura and most importantly, with herself.