Cityscape: Les Couleurs de Belleville

I stared out of the stained window of bus ninety-six onto the pavement of the Rue de Ménilmontant, where three black women sauntered down the street in darkly colored chador garments and leather sandals, twisting their hips and torsos in alternating directions, pacing slowly forward. One of the woman however in particular drew my attention and repulsed stare in consequence, as her face looked so crudely male and miserable, that I was convinced she had to be a Shia cross-dresser. I searched desperately for breasts or a wasp tail, tried to imagine the vaguest of sexual poses or nudity underneath her dress, but the widely shapeless gown hid her body completely underneath and left but mystery to wonder about for me. The only body parts that could clearly be distinguished apart from her strong masculine facial features were her ankles and heels. A thick yellowish layer of callus on the heel bones of her elephant feet in combination with the country side fashion of chador garments here in the city made me believe these women had been burdened by years of carrying water jugs along many miles of Senegalese fields and dirt roads. This impression seemed to be confirmed by their crude peasant faces, that looked hardened and unpleasant, in which every sex appeal or elegance had been worn off by the endless hoarding of water and firewood in the tropical heat. But maybe there was more to these three women than their crude covers that revealed them to be Twelvers. Could it be that the male female was in fact a homosexual protected by his two older sisters, the other two women, who by their mass alone would make you think twice to throw any sneer or vile comment at them and even kept off the disapproving judgment by their imam and elderly. Enlightened by the chanting and praying of endless recitals of Arab which they couldn’t understand, while being on the haji in Mecca, they had been overwhelmed by compassion for their confused and troubled brother in Paris, bought three chador garments, and then and there decided they would not let their little brother out of their sight ever again.

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