Mama, are you not wearing the scarf anymore?

My hair had been flattened by my scarf for 18 long years. We had gone to the park in the evening, as usual, but it felt different this time. We were in Saudi, it was February, so the weather was cool, not too cold. We got to the park; the boys were on the swings being pushed by dad. And I just stood there in the middle of one of the paths in the park and felt the wind in my hair. I closed my eyes. My hair could finally breath. My scalp could finally breath. I was lost in my feeling of freedom, had forgotten where we were. Had forgotten about my amazing husband and boys playing. The first time after 18 years I felt air on my head.

I finally understood what all the fuss was about, feeling the wind in my hair. My ears felt cold for the first time in years! I was brought back to the park in Saudi by my husband’s soft touch on my shoulder. He knew the struggles I had been facing the past few weeks / months. My thoughts and feelings bouncing back and forth with the thoughts of whether I should take this cloth off my head or not. Thinking about what everyone else will say when they see me. What will my sisters say? What will my mother say? What will my friends think of me? I will put my fathers name in shame, people will say I have gone astray after his death. I somehow pushed all that away and thought of myself. I couldn’t have done any of this without the help of my husband.

I was living abroad in Saudi for 4 years before I made this decision. I didn’t have to think about family, friends and other people in the community, as no one was here. No one but my husband and my adoring children were here.

My first worry when taking the scarf off was my children. What will they say? Will they be able to deal with the change? How will I explain it to them? We went to the grocery store. My boys were running around trying to make the boring shop exciting. I felt weird without this cloth on my head. My husband stayed closed, and kept reassuring me that that everything is ok, and no one in this shop in this foreign land will know you have taken it off.

In the middle of one of the aisles, my 7-year-old came up to me and said, “mama, are you not wearing the scarf anymore?” My heart skipped a beat, I didn’t want to explain everything in the middle of the store, I didn’t know what to explain. I softly replied “no.” He smiled and said “ok” and carried on playing. Never spoke of it again. I realised it wasn’t going to be as tough as I thought.

It’s only a cloth.

Such a powerful cloth that had kept me in place for all these years. I could feel the weight of “the hijab” slowly sliding off my shoulders.