Aisha was five, Lulu was two, and the youngest had just been born. Ibrahim held the baby in his arms. He could not help being disappointed. They had agreed on three, no more, like their parents’ generation. Secretly he would have been happy with two, if only one of them had been a boy.
The entire time Khadija was pregnant, Ibrahim grumbled as they argued about a name. He had wanted an Omar but his wife just shrugged and said, We should choose a name for a girl.
He believed if he hoped enough, God would grant his wish, that he could influence the turn of the planet with his thoughts.
He was starting to believe women had secret superpowers. His wife had made predictions that came true and, as the years passed, he realised he should listen to her more often if he wished to reduce his friction with the world.
Their baby was the cutest little girl.
Gone were his plans for taking his son to a game, of the boy following his footsteps out into the world. It was vanity, it was arrogance and perhaps the third girl was God’s gentle reminder to remember his place in the world.
After a particularly bad day, Khadija told him to get a grip on himself. Just because you don’t have the boy you wanted doesn’t give you the right to heap misery on everyone else. If you want a toy to take to the games, why don’t you take Aisha, who is so much like you, except she is a little girl?
It was a sentence, a brief moment, a switch that would shape the rest of his life.
He retired his dream of a son and instead he took his eldest girl.
Most of all in the world, Ibrahim wanted to protect his daughter’s feet. He wanted to wrap them in cotton and elevate them on a pillow for the rest of his days. He knew he was ridiculous but every time she crashed to her feet, he felt his heart stop. He did not breathe till he saw her walk normally again.
There were days when he wished she loved dolls. There were days he wished she loved another sport. There were days he wished she was not as driven as he had once been. Some days he saw her launch herself in a game and wondered if she meant to break the glass walls of the world. He knew about competition, of course, but there was a recklessness to Aisha’s antics and he often dreamed that she had hurt herself.
She used to pat his shoulder before she exited the house for a run but she is older now and has put this habit behind her, and he knows a man has quietly appeared in her life. She pointed him out one training session – that is Khaled – with a laugh. Aisha, known for her boldness, avoided his eyes. Chances are her mother has known already for months.
He tells himself to release his breath, he tells himself he cannot protect her, he tells himself she is forging ahead and one day they’ll call her an icon. He tries to tell her to take this seriously, that she has the chance to end up in history books, that she is the owner of her future more than anyone else has ever been, but Aisha just smiles and laughs. The last time he mentioned the future and greatness and whatever else, she pinched him. You have become so serious and you used to have the steadiest diet of play.
She is right – he needs to lighten up. If he cannot bear to watch, he can accept her destiny of falling and protect himself by looking away.
Ibrahim was ready to shoot people in the streets. Did it really matter if her knee could be seen between the end of her shorts and the socks that covered her shins? People are going to lose their mind if they see her now. And then there’s her team photo. Aisha is smiling. She is laughing after a win; she is jubilant she is player of the match.
She should be restrained; she should be quiet. He was going to send them to hell. Then there is her practising with the men. Again she is laughing, again she is all smiles, again he wants to spare her the world.
Aisha tells him not to worry. Aisha tells him to let it go. Aisha tells him there are many with simple minds.
Khadija advises him to be patient. She reminds him not to lose his mind, a joke
about an infamous incident on the field when he lost his mind for a second, was sent off and lost the cup.
Don’t lose your mind. Those were his words to Aisha as she was growing up.
She does not seem to need the reminder. She knows the lesson well and she laughs as he says it again.
Ibrahim wonders about the crowd and if the words he chants are really for Aisha’s benefit or if all along they were to quiet his own mind.
Maybe I make it big, maybe I don’t.
Maybe I score the goal or maybe I hit the post.
Maybe this goes somewhere or maybe it does not.
Maybe my future lifts the family or they cannot lift their heads in public.
Maybe I am filled with dreams and that is all they remain.
Maybe my destiny is greatness, maybe I rise no higher than the ground.
Maybe I have more money or maybe the money stays the same.
Maybe I leave my friends or I am the one left behind.
Maybe I go somewhere with my life or maybe I stay in this town.
Maybe I run out onto the field and get to play one more time.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 22, 2023 as "Game Theory – Part II".
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