You already know a little about The crying girl. You know she is a sort of famous, you have heard that people come from all over, Bradford, Leeds, Birmingham, even London, just to see her.
On a friday lunchtime, when the men are absent and the women and girls take over the house you have heard the talk, how visitors crowd into the front room of the terraced house where she lives, just a few streets away from where your own parents live. You can easily imagine the scene, can visualise how the curious, the devout, the bored arrive at her front door, step over the jumble of shoes by the front door, shake hands with her father, her brothers and uncles and then are ushered into her presence.
The conversation loops around your mothers’ sitting room, the women remember the blessed aubergine, the naan bread with the face of the prophet. The conversation darkens, someone mentions possessions. A tiny ancient woman, her eyes cloudy with cataracts makes a discreet movement to ward off the evil eye and everyone pretends to not notice.
Although later, you practise the same movement, admiring its economic beauty and wishing that the devils in your life could be so easily managed.
You have agreed to visit the crying girl with your best cousin, your almost sister.
Both of you are home for the first long holiday since you went away to college and both of you are struggling. Your parents houses feel tiny, suffocating, you feel the weight of the community upon you.
Away from home, you have become modern, almost daring. You both dress in the uniform of good (ish) Muslim girls away from home, skin tight jeans, high heeled boots, scarves chosen to compliment your Juicy Couture t-shirts.
You confess to your cousin that you have experimented with not wearing a scarf, but it feels too alien, too unfamiliar and besides your cousin brother sister has some involvement in a phone shop on the Cowley Rd and you known how news travels.
So, this visit to the crying girl is by way of a smoke screen, a subterfuge. You plan a flying visit and then into town, coffee and the trying on of unsuitable high heeled shoes. You both need a bigger vista, a wider landscape than the rows of terraced houses where everyone knows everyone else’s business.
So, you make your way, past the halal butcher shop, the cut price flight agency, you are both light hearted, giggling. Your cousin fiddles on her iPhone, finds a you tube clip of the crying girl.
And then you are there.
The room is small, over-filled with furniture designed for a much larger space. There is an almost new flat screen TV, on the day you visit it has been hooked into a PC and is playing the YouTube clips on a loop, so you can look at the girl and then look at her again, in the flesh and on a screen.
The girl sits in the middle of the sofa, she is dressed in village finery, nylon, cheap, the colour so bright it hurts your teeth. She is plain, sallow skinned, nose too large for her face. She doesn’t look up when you and your cousin enter the room.
And beside her is the mother, constantly dabbing the daughters face with the box of tissues on her lap. Hers is the only movement in the room. The girl herself is motionless, except of course for the tears which fall silently from her eyes, regular as a metronome.
You both stand, speechless, watching.
The mother looks exhausted, her own skin grey as if she hasn’t left this space for a long, long time. As you watch, her hand moves to a plate beside the sofa and she selects a tiny piece of samosa and places it in the girls mouth.
She chews, swallows and continues to cry.
You remember the stories you have heard;
Tales of possession, of Djins, of exorcism in far away villages.
There are those who believe that her tears are a mourning for the state of Islam and the sins of the overly westernised young people.
Your aunties know someone who brought their sick baby, who was made well again when the crying girls tears were dropped on his forehead.
You know girls, modern girls, who swear that just two of her tears added to their bridal day make-up, will make them irresistible to their new husbands.
You consider yourself modern too, well educated, better than these superstitious country people. You came here because your cousin said it would be a laugh,something to do, something to fill an empty Saturday afternoon, before your real plans kick off.
But now, faced with her, the crying girl, her complete dispair, you are moved, experience an emotion you struggle to describe.
You want to ask her why,
“why are you crying?”, but even as the question forms on lips, you know it is the wrong thing to say, so like the crying girl, you remain silent.
Their is a pause and then an uncle ushers you all out, back into the front room where the men sit.
You turn back, somehow desperate for another glance. The mother is holding a glass of water to the crying girls lips. She sips and as the mother moves the glass away, you watch as tears drop into the glass, water and tears mixing together.