In too many places around the world, the public space still belongs to men, and women often find themselves having to navigate their space in this male-dominated world. As a result, they waste a lot of time waiting, negotiating, or even avoiding spaces that should be safe and accessible to all. These spaces do not necessarily have to be dark alleys, and the men occupying these spaces do not have to pose any real threat. They can be in buses, cafés, or, as in this story, pools. khulud khamis’ [sic] story reveals bravery and courage, and the strong bonds that exist between a mother and daughter, or women of different generations.
After our daily swim for her chronic pain, we head towards the Jacuzzi.
Occupied – by four men.
There would only be enough space for one of us – barely.
Legs would need to be held close to the body – folded, guarding.
I ask her if she wants to go in; I would sit on the edge next to her.
I don’t need her words to know the answer.
I would not want to sit with four strange men in such a confined, small space.
Skipping the Jacuzzi is not an option for her either. The hot water helps relax her muscles after the swimming and ease the pain.
The pool closes in less than an hour.
We get into the smaller, semi-therapeutic pool which is right next to the Jacuzzi so we can watch and be on standby for when they get out.
The sign next to the men says the maximum time to stay in is ten to twelve minutes.
They should be out in a few minutes.
Meanwhile, we float on water, waiting.
A fifth man approaches the Jacuzzi, not a trace of hesitation in his step. He enters; the other four rearrange their bodies and continue talking.
Nothing to it. No planning, no plotting.
Five minutes go by.
Ten minutes go by.
The fifth man gets out, the original quartet remains.
Forty minutes before closing time.
She looks at me and I know waiting time is over now.
We are not skipping the Jacuzzi, I tell her.
The plan has to be feasible, and we need to prepare for all options.
No room for hesitation, no room for freezing.
The optimal scenario: they have some decency in them and when they see us approaching, they get out.
A less desirable scenario, but one we can still work with: they see us approaching but remain in the Jacuzzi. In this case, it will be up to us to be brave. If they show no sign of getting out, I tell her, you get in and I’ll sit on the edge right next to you. I’ll be right there with you. You won’t be alone. I can tell she doesn’t like this, but finally agrees. We are not letting them win.
I take her hand and help her out of the water. She grabs her cane and we start walking. As soon as the quartet members realize we’re headed their way, one by one they unfold their bodies, straighten them back up, and get out of the water.
Nothing to it.
I release a sigh of relief and we get in.
If it weren’t for her, I would have skipped the Jacuzzi.
I am not brave enough on my own.
I am not brave enough for myself.
Only for her.