Marisa (the day of the photograph, age eleven)
I cannot look up into the eyes of the Western as-sayyid now that I am woman.
It would be unclean to do so, for since the new moon I am betrothed. In the Westerner’s photograph I hold my hands before me married, like we two soon will be – me and Akhbar Husseini, soldier and first-born of Ali Husseini the shoemaker. Our two families interlocked, like the fingers of my two hands now are.
I stare down at my intricately painted palms and fingers. My first, proper grown-up adornment, and the lacey painting makes me think of us entangled on our first night of marriage when I will give you – Akhbar – my innocence, so that the blood then will not only be on the tips of my nails.
Serena (the day of the photograph, age five)
I am a squashed on this bench between my two classmates. One of them is my big sister Marisa. It is my first day and that is why I am allowed to wear my pink, satin, princess dress and not the ugly green and white uniform that Marisa is wearing. I will move along the bench tomorrow when Marisa is gone. I will take her place and her uniform, even if it is too big for me, because like our eldest sister Zuleika, Marisa is going away to be married.
I am uncomfortable on this hard bench and want to wriggle but cannot because the man in front with the big telescope has said we must not, so I bite my lip instead but I am wiggling my toes anyway because he is not looking and my feet don’t reach the ground.
Zuleika (the day of the photograph, age thirteen)
The Western as-sayyid photographer said, ‘be like a statue!’ He does not know that I am already still and silent as stone. So still, so silent since my betrothal that my husband and his family have mercifully allowed me to return to school for one more year because el-tabib, the doctor, told them this might bring back my voice and my singing was part of the dowry. You see, I wanted to become a teacher but my father promised me as wife.
Serena (2012, age nine)
You are a girl but must think first you are a servant of The Righteous. You are nine years old, more than old enough to die for The Righteous Cause if, you have the courage. And it is better to die for The Righteous Cause if it comes to it, than to die for a husband. Like my sisters did. Marisa, split like a melon when bearing her boys at too young an age. They lived but she did not. Zuleika, dropping like a screaming stone from the high parapet of her husband’s house on her fourteenth name day.
With two sisters dead our family is cursed they say, so I must be the one to purge us clean again. It will be far better to become a luminous ring of fire in the chain of Righteousness than to die slowly of an unwanted marriage.
Serena (2017, age fourteen)
You. You are nothing if not a servant of the Almighty. You, you are nothing if not a seed called ‘martyr’, to be planted through sacrifice and to be joined by legions of others like you – who will fill many barren fields with flowers of white fire – that blooming, will proclaim The Righteous Name, The Righteous Cause and The Righteous Way.
Through this final act you will blaze the Almighty’s name across the world for all eternity and what better act of Love can there be than to give your life for this purification, for this ever-lasting glory?
Not even a name on a memorial that never was. Not even a memory on the lips of a family long gone. Rubble, blood, guts and filth, all of us. Pummeled by carpet bombs and peppered out onto the street in the flying debris and devastation of our house, our street, our town.
Out, out, out so harshly from our bodies, our lives, our world. Out, out, out. Our souls, ejected from their casings by atomic separation, split apart in a terrible instant and lost to everywhere and anything. We that once were, no more. Exiled now from, meaning, belonging, humanity. Forgotten even by the dust of the desert.
Stephanie Gerra’s The Three Sisters was based on the photograph – ‘Al Meetha Girls’s School, Manakha Yemen. Year Two Primary Science Revision. May 14th, 2007’ by Julian Germaine in the Future is Ours exhibition.
After a successful stint of hosting events on the London poetry circuit, Stephanie Gerra is working on her first novel, INDIGESTION. Its opening was short-listed as a ‘best first chapter’ at the Festival of Writing in York 2014. Stephanie is currently redrafting, while on the Edit Your Novel course at the Faber Academy in London.