Mariam, my daughter, came to me a couple of days ago,
Telling me that her friend, Salma, who had just turned 10,
Was being forced by her parents to wear the veil because she’s all grown up now,
And because big girls shouldn’t walk down the street without a veil on.
Otherwise, bad boys might harass them.

Mariam kept comparing the way she looked to Salma,
And asking me when she’d grow up like her.
Even though they’re of the same age, Salma is a little taller and heavier.
“Mama, are you going to make me wear the veil too?” she asked.
I mean it’s normal in our regional city to see young girls wearing the veil.

One day, I saw Salma.
She had come to buy some stuff from our stationary shop.
She was wearing a short veil, a short blouse, and jeans.
Her curves made her look older, but her features were those of a young child.
She was walking down the aisles looking for something
When she turned around, I noticed something weird on her pants.

I asked her to come close and found that the seat of her pants looked burnt.
And her underwear was showing through.
I was shocked at the sight
“What happened to your pants?” I asked her.
“I don’t know. When I was on my way,
This guy who was riding a bike bumped into me.
Maybe this is from the impact?”
“No, love,” I said, “This is not from someone bumping into you.
Someone threw something at you and it burned your pants”
The girl was shocked and started crying.

I took her into my arms
I called her mom and asked her to come to the shop quickly,
And to bring a change of clothes for the girl.
After 10 minutes she walked in, shouting and screaming,
Looking for the animal who violated her daughter and burned her clothes.

I calmed her down and explained what had happened.
The mother was shocked and took Salma into her arms and cried.
Then she looked at Salma.
“Didn’t I tell you, Salma, to wear the abaya before going out
And to not wear those goddamn pants?” she said.
“What are you telling her?
Isn’t it enough that you’re making her wear the veil while she’s still this young?
An abaya? It’s not her fault.
It’s the animal that did this to her” I shouted.

The mother kept talking a lot of nonsense:
Things like “The world isn’t a safe place.”
And “From now on, she can only go out accompanied by her father or older brother.”
And “She’s only going to wear abayas from now on.”
All this while, Salma sat looking scared, like she did a terrible thing and was ashamed of it.

After a while, the mother took her daughter and left.
Mariam walked in and was shocked when she saw me crying.
She kept asking me what had happened,
I took her into my arms.
I wanted to return her to my womb and protect her from the world.
I raised her head and looked her in the eyes.
“Don’t ever get scared, and don’t allow anyone to scare you.
Ever,” was all I was able to say.

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