Chapter 4: A Sad Summer

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Fátima is not your average girl, really. She lives with her parents, two older brothers and a little four-year-old sister. Her older sister at twenty five is married and living in France. Her parents are from a rural region in southern Morocco. Fátima was born in Spain, but every summer she goes to her family's hometown and her mom often spends extended periods there taking care of her parents. These trips can last for up to three months and she normally takes her youngest daughter with her. While she's away, Fátima has to take care of everything at home. She gets up in the morning and leaves breakfast ready for her dad and two brothers. Her brothers are eighteen and twenty one years old. Neither of them study or work, but for some reason that's hard to understand, these tasks fall to Fátima, even though she's younger and the only one still studying.

When she gets home in the afternoon she has to cook dinner for the whole family then leave the kitchen clean and tidy. We know straight away when her mom has gone to Morocco because she always falls asleep in class, it's really tough for her to keep up with her studies and she often doesn't have time to hang out.

Fátima is really smart. She's explained to us how difficult it is to live like that, how when she questions something about her traditions, her family treat her like a traitor. She's tried all types of approach and she's learned that the best she can do for now is keep her head down and study hard. It seems that, at home, her family don't even remotely consider the possibility that things could be done differently.

She's a brilliant student, she always gets incredible grades. In fact, she helps us out a lot in math and chemistry. Until a year ago, she came to school in a headscarf, but she's stopped wearing it now. She always tells us she's like Superman:

"Have you seen the film? When the main character takes off his business suit in the elevator and steps out in his Superman outfit? Well, that's me. I leave home in my headscarf and when I step out of the elevator it's gone. I'm like Superman, just that he puts on a cape and I take off a headscarf."

Her comparison makes us laugh. When we go out together, we always head to a different neighborhood. It's fun discovering new places and Fátima prefers not to be seen without her headscarf by family friends. She's afraid they'll tell on her, as it would be seen as a rejection of her culture. She's even scared of other girls from her own culture seeing her. That really made me think. When we feel oppressed and we don't know how or don't want to react how we'd really like to, it makes us envious when we see somebody else doing what, deep down, we long to do ourselves. And instead of supporting them, we often end up criticizing them or treating them badly. The human heart has many dark corners—and others full of light, I hope.

Fátima inspires a lot of respect in us, all of us, for both her bravery and how much she loves her family. She's overweight and likes everything apart from sports, just another motive for teasing in our class. But the monarchy doesn't dare mess with her too much, they ignore her more often than attack. Because of her good grades, they often ask for her notes or explanations in moments of need.

So that's Fátima, no more and no less.

And now the saddest summer of our lives is just around the corner. Classes finish and the month of July starts. We send another message to Diego and he still doesn't reply. Nobody has heard anything from him. We've stopped by his house several times and they always say he's not in. Marina even started following him in the street, but he asked her to leave him alone. The group dwindles and weeks go by without meeting up or even talking to each other, not even telling a single joke. We feel defeated, depressed. We spend hours in silence or trying to work out what happened:

"The last messages he sent shows he definitely didn't want to go to Sandra's to work on the project. I remember him saying they had basically forced him to go when it wasn't even necessary, each of them could have done their part separately," I recall.

"Maybe they forced him to leave school. Maybe he found something out that evening and they pressured him," suggests Juan.

"But what could have happened?" I wonder out loud.

"What's clear is that, whatever it is, it has to be a really big deal for Diego to disappear like this. He must feel really embarrassed or guilty to not even want to see us," observes Fátima.

"And what if they told him some lie about us and he was so disappointed that he never wants to see us again?" I ask.

"It's such a shame we can't talk to him. We could help him. It's like they won't stop until they humiliate us all to the point of ruining our lives. Almost all of us have fallen into their traps. You're the only one who hasn't, Fátima," says Juan.

"Maybe it's the revenge they were planning. Nico is often there behind the scenes, pulling the strings," she replies.

"But why Diego?"

"It doesn't matter which of us it is," explains Fátima. "We're part of a group, we all represent something that makes them uncomfortable. We don't admire them and that automatically makes us their enemies."

"Remember when we studied fanaticism?" asked Marina. "It stuck in my mind that if you don't agree with a fanatic, whatever the kind, they consider it an unforgiveable personal attack and start destroying the other person or somebody close to them as a consequence."

"Yeah, these guys are fanatical about their egos," I say.

"We're screwed then..." laughs Juan.

"In fact, if you think about it... we really are screwed, as Juan says. They've finally got what they wanted," reflects Fátima.

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