There are a number of mysteries in this world; among them is a little girl with bloody eyes.
It seemed she belonged more to a haunted house, or was a survivor of some accident. We assign certain situations to people like her; scarred people. There had to have been some kind of noticeable calamity or audible catastrophe for their wounds to be justified.
But not she.
This little girl stood on a pavement in the middle of Cairo’s busy streets. And her name was Joy.
It’s hard to tell how I had gotten to know her name. It’s almost like a dream where you know that this stranger is your lover but you can’t quite remember how that came to be. Joy was Joy. I knew her.
The first time our eyes met was somewhere in Ramses. It had to be around noon by then, when shops erupted with small wars. There was no “calling,” no pull beguiling me to turn around to meet her. I just happened to. It just happened. Sometimes I wonder, what if I had missed her? Had I just walked past her? Would she still have found me? This girl was held back here by one thread, I guessed: me.
Ever since, Joy has been everywhere.
Joy under a guava cart. Joy behind a barrel of garbage. Joy cross-legged between a beggar woman and a dirty child. She was always too clean, too noticeable in her white dress that bloody tears never stained. It fascinated me how people did not take notice of her. Was it really because everyone was too engulfed in their frenzy of a life anyway? Did they question their sanity upon seeing her?
That’s how I felt too, the first time. “Wafaa, you definitely had too much coffee this morning,” is what I told myself then.
But Egyptians had better reasons than coffee-high’s. There was the over-worked, the under-paid, the sleep-deprived, the troubled, the lost, the barely-surviving, the dreamers, the let’s-just-get-over-with-today everyday people. There were too many reasons for them to miss Joy.
So it felt that Joy was following me. In some shadow or corner, I always spotted her. Only ever I. And we did not meet eyes every single time. No. Sometimes she looked down. You would not understand were it from shame or shyness. Some other times she looked lost.
But to me, she looked exposed. I could read her naked heart as easy as I had read her name all over her face. Joy was sadness.
She was unhappiness bundled up in a sack. She was the happy little girl that never shed a tear. But now her eyes were turned inside out. And although her insides were bare, the bottled-up misery had tainted the windows to her soul.
At some point, Joy stopped showing up in Ramses, where I went to work. That’s also about the time when my job no longer brought me the satisfaction I hoped. I can’t put a finger on what happened before the other. Was it Joy’s effect, or was she the reaction?
It didn’t matter by then. I quit Ramses. Jobless, Joyless.
Sometime after, I got caught up in the search for Joy. It was a whirlpool drowning me.
She was nowhere to be found.
I thought I was Joy’s last thread. Her last hope. She’d always just been there, around. I had taken her for granted, that girl with ruby waterfalls for eyes, always on my tail. I had never walked up to her and embraced her sadness. Never thanked her. Never been of help.
If I could turn back the clock, I would go over to her, stoop down and hold her to my chest. I would tell her, “Joy, you too deserve to be sad sometimes.” That day, I went home for the very first time, a changed woman.
I left my smile behind my door, and I sobbed.
Sometimes I still spot Joy. Her eyes aren’t always red with tears. Sometimes she smiles, but it’s a peculiar smile. A smile that says “I’ve known unhappiness.”
The days she weeps, her tears are no longer bloody. Her eyes are just sockets, emptying themselves down her cheeks, waiting again for her own joy to find its way back into her eyes.
And some nights, when I look in the mirror, I think I see Joy. I see Joy’s peculiar smile. I see her bloody eyes.