(This scene takes place close to the beginning of Daughters. Miriam, who has been mute by choice, leaves her village to attend a fancy speech school.)
Miriam and Mustafa left for the school early one morning down the el-Tirah road going past the fine orderly vineyards that grew the best grapes in Judea. The road curved down and they could see that the cement in the paved roofs had cracked from the summer heat. There would be leaks with the first showers of fall.
Nabiha tucked a bag of sweets into Miriam’s pocket. “Eat them on the way, habiby,” she said and began to cry. Jamilla embraced Miriam briefly but was distracted by keeping the twins, George and Salim, from straying down the road.
The trip to Sarona took two days. Miriam, looking pale, began to lag toward dusk and Mustafa carried her to a hostel in Ludd where they spent the night. In the morning, their breakfast was goats’ milk cheese, bread with oil and thyme and tea. They took additional food for the road. Every so often they would stop, moved by the sights of the pomegranate and mulberry orchards and the palm trees which Miriam had never seen. They passed the ruins of soap factories now in decay.
They were used to walking barefoot and saved the sandals for the villages. The difficulty came with the dust. The pulverized limestone that leeched out of the striated buttes invaded their noses, eyes and mouths and Miriam had difficulty swallowing. She stopped frequently and Mustafa looked back to keep her in sight.
As they got nearer to the sea, the temperature increased but remained dry. They came to the first station of the new railroad from Jaffa to Jerusalem. The locomotive rumbled by, halted, discharged a passenger and went again. Mustafa was delighted. He took a small leap into the air and they waited until it was out of sight before continuing to Sarona.
The school was unmistakable. The area was landscaped with orderly rows of palm trees and formal approaches to the main building that was made of smooth flush stone with double-height arched windows. A gardener stared at them disdainfully. “Mughbari?” he asked, taking them for itinerant Muslims working their way through the villages on the pilgrimage to Mecca. Miriam shook her head. “This is a school for Muslims,” he informed them. “Rich Muslim girls.” Miriam ignored him and looked at her father who was filthy with dust. She tucked her hair behind her kerchief and put on a colorful vest from her sack.
The inside of the building was a revelation. The floors were made of polished wood. Wood! There were divans against the walls for sitting.
Miss Clay, the headmistress, was taller than her father. “Ma’salamy,” she said. Mustafa didn’t answer and Miriam pointed to the inside of her mouth. “No speak.” Her voice surprised the teacher and to make matters worse, Mustafa began gesticulating. Miriam reddened but then she saw Miss Clay moving her hands in the same way. Mustafa smiled and seemed satisfied to leave his daughter. When he walked away, Miriam cried into her scarf and ran after him. He made a little maneuver of leaving and then returning to let her know he would be back to visit and she went inside.
“First,” said Miss Clay, ignoring the tears, “we must have a bath.”