The Howling

One of the puzzles of my life in Namus is the family’s relationship to the master bedroom. It was mine during training, because the terms of the family’s contract with our organization demanded that I have my own room. But it was “mine” only partially; I slept there alone, and I had an end table and a wardrobe all to myself, but the other end table and two more wardrobes were still in use by the family. So I could wake up any given morning to a line of girls busily arguing over who got to wear which ishaar to school that day.

During training, I felt a little bad about having so much space when I was just one person. But after training, I noticed something weird: nobody sleeps in the guest bedroom on a usual basis. The kids all pile into the only other bedroom, and by “pile” I do mean mostly literally. The bigger kids will pull farsha mats out from under the beds and sprawl out on the floor, and the little kids just pile up like puppies on one of the twin beds. The other twin bed is for their unmarried aunt Noor. Usually, at least one or two people will sleep in the living room or sitting room. When it’s especially hot, the boys will move their mats upstairs and sleep on the roof. In general, everyone just seems to fall asleep wherever they are at bedtime. The only time the master bedroom is used is when Abu Shakur comes back from wherever it is he works… and then they close the door.

So when I visit, now, I’m usually given a choice about where I sleep. The bed is or can be mine, if Abu Shakur’s not in town. But that isn’t always the best choice. On very hot nights, Um Shakur will concede the need for the expense of a fan, and as many of us as can fit will line up in the insufficient wind tunnel in front of it on mats. And recently, as they’ve been planning Enas’s wedding, there’s been a sleepover sort of mentality that has left a few of us up extra-late whispering. Last time I visited, Enas “borrowed” my cell phone, burrowed under a blanket, and drained my pay-as-you-go minutes calling and texting her fiancé. I was so delighted to see her happy and excited by the prospect of marrying Yusuf that I didn’t mind — I even made sure I had plenty of minutes left when I came down to visit today.

Tonight is a girls’ sleepover sort of night, and Enas and I are sharing the master bedroom. I like the master bedroom because it gets a nice cross-breeze if you open all the windows, and even sharing the bed is marginally more comfortable than the mats on the floor, which I always seem to roll off of during the night. Enas appears to have finished texting Yusuf for the evening and we are just dozing off.

All of a sudden, we are both startled awake by a horrible howling right outside our window. An unearthly, doglike woooooooo echoes around the house and down the wadi.

Enas grabs my hand. “It’s a dog!” she exclaims. “It’s going to eat us!”

“I don’t think it’s going to eat us.”

“You don’t know Jordanian dogs. They’re not nice like American dogs. They will eat you!”

“Even if that were the case,” I say, reasonably, “In order for this dog to eat us it would have to walk around the house from where it is, open the gate, open the front door, and choose not to eat Shakur and your mother first.”

Enas’s reply is drowned out by another unearthly woooooooo. This one sounds a bit closer to the back window. Which would be a bit closer to the stairs…

I have an idea. In my best big-sister, pulling-rank Arabic I yell “Bakar! Go to bed!”

Heavy silence hangs for a beat. Then we hear a muffled giggle and the thuds of a sixteen-year-old scrambling up the stairs to the roof.

“I’m going to kill him,” Enas mutters. And then we fall asleep.

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