Where I come from, they still bury girls alive. Yet my father went and gave methai, sweet fat-fattening nourishment, to everyone he knew when he found out his first born was a girl. Then came the reality of teaching his girl how to make it as a female in a culture where older men, sometimes even in one’s own family, grab-a-feel of a prepubescent girl if they so choose. The easiest remedy was to turn me into a boy. I can’t recall if my wearing shorts, no make-up, very short hair came from a desire to be like one of the boys or to survive. I learned to curse very young and I trusted no one for a very long time. I learned to be the sun that can rot you from my father; I learned to be a woman who knows the man in the moon from my mother.


My father was born with a fire inside that no deity can put out. He has been running ever since I can remember. Running against priests, religion, crony capitalism, corruption in his country of birth, and his parents, now gone. Once an elderly woman in South Africa told me a story about a people who come into this world with a fire inside them and nothing can put that fire out. What happens to their children, if they have any? I asked her. She shook her head and said some words in Zulu and I still don’t know what they mean and not because I don’t speak Zulu.


There was a job fair that I almost missed because the job from which I was going to resign had a meeting that kept going about all the things that should have been addressed eight months ago. Thirty minutes remained at the job fair when I got in my car. I arrived with only ten minutes left. All the stalls had emptied out. Just as I was about to leave, I ran into a woman who was going to change my life for the rest of my life. Two weeks later I signed the contract for my dream job, after a decade of standing up to misogynists, racists, and greedy embezzlers in a variety of schools spanning three different states where actual teaching, the kind that empowers students, is considered a threat.


My father has been part of many trials for standing up for justice. The most recent one has been going on for over seven years. Seven. I have gotten married in that time. My younger sister has had a baby girl in that time. One day soon there will be a final verdict.

I learned how to believe from my mother; I learned how to fight for what you believe from my father.

A woman who is not afraid to be different might be welcome in some circles, but she can never truly belong. But she has vast freedom too.




Annie Q. Syed is a reader and writer who teaches full time to inspire students to read and write. Her stories, Collection of Auguries, were published in 2013. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Tahoma Literary Review, Ellipses Zine, Blue Fifth Review, The Bangor Literary Journal, Former Cactus and Reflex Fiction anthology. You can find more of her writings and thoughts at  www.anniesyed.com