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Fifty

Chourouq Nasri



A friend’s brother-in-law took his own life the day he turned fifty. I was thirty- two at the time and the meaning of this suicide eluded me. Now I understand.


Turning fifty took me by surprise, too. I think longingly of my trip to Istanbul in the summer of 2016 as the last happy moment of my life, when I still had time to feel young, when I was free and unencumbered by the idea of getting old. That was six years ago. I was healthy, light, unburdened by my grey hair, my double chin and the shame of being fifty. I did not realize I was inching toward the end of my young years. I could still dream senselessly, boldly of how my life would have turned out if I had married and had children like I was supposed to, so unaware as yet that I would soon reach old age and eventually die, possibly alone.


How did I get “so old”? When did I get so far away from my younger, normal self? I have been caught off guard. The Corona years accelerated the process. Life went past without me. I emerged from the pandemic twenty kilos heavier and ten years older, barely understanding who I was. Many of my acquaintances did not recognize my naked, maskless face! And the world where I had thrived before the coronavirus had vaporized. For almost three years, I hid my face behind a mask and forgot about my fury against the unstoppable time machine swallowing away my last young years. But now the fury is back, bringing waves of shame so immense they engulf whole parts of my life and drag them away: successes, dreams, moments of joy, all of it razed to the point where there is nothing—I am nothing but a strange fifty-year-old woman.


I stopped being myself without realizing it. My eye allergies, along with my sallow skin, and the fact that I am often short on sleep, threaten to reify my fear of aging into an identity: a vulnerable, overstressed, prematurely old woman slaving to care for her parents while teaching and struggling with academic writing. Life expectancy was about fifty a century ago, but things have changed. Nowadays, death is considered premature if it occurs before the age of eighty. However, the new life expectancy data did not change the idea collectively held (in Morocco at least) according to which a fifty-year-old woman is simply old, too old to be taken seriously.


Age dictates women’s social status and even their ambitions. I am not the same woman since the day I turned fifty. The weight of the number and all the cultural assumptions it carries are crushing me. I have switched from a world where I used to know how to speak confidently to a world where I do not. I have no wish to be an outcast like D., a friend of mine who stopped attending meetings or even greeting and talking to her colleagues. Ashamed of growing old and self-consciously carrying the heavy feeling of being far away from everything, of no longer being the young, gorgeous, self-assured female professor she used to be, she felt leaden, depressed, and simply decided to disappear. She became a ghost. Being old and female, she was barely missed.


The first sign of getting old is the way people look at you, more accurately, cease to see you. Age is not just a form of ugliness that takes you by surprise; it is a cloak of invisibility that swallows your life. I feel “at a disadvantage”—less relevant, less intelligent and, most importantly, less gracious with my body and speech. People suddenly decide to see me as someone’s aunt or mother, not as a person.


When a thirty-something calls me “khalty” (aunty) or “mima” (mother), I am slow to connect the words to myself. Sometimes, I am too startled to respond. Usually, a kind of anger that fills up my head; I shout when I have the energy to: “I am nobody’s mother”; but I feel the smallness of my voice. “Well, I’m sorry,” the young person’s voice says, softening its tone.


They are retarded or idiots or both, I tell myself; yet, I am inexplicably crushed by those young people’s words. I am always at my least unhappy in my room, away from people’s eyes and judgments. Now and then, I wonder: who is this old woman overshadowing me? Age discrimination is sometimes unintentional and merely reflects an obsolete way of thinking that continues to colour some people’s perceptions and expectations. But I think that too many people use a deliberately contemptuous attitude towards women of a certain age.


So, I am a larger, fuzzier, less funny version of my younger self. I used to be trusting and openhearted. I always began by assuming the best about others. I am becoming a bitter, aggressive woman always prepared to defend herself against people’s threatening attitudes and hurting words. I did not completely lose my love of adventure and my sense of humour, but the irrevocability of the transformation I am forced to go through releases in me a ragged sorrow. Still, although the “old” woman of 2023 can never return to being the younger woman of 2016, I feel intoxicated by the future. The inner churning that moved me forward when I was twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five, forty, and forty-five did not go away. My life was and still is busy and tingled with colourful possibilities. My dreams might be escaping, but I am struggling to catch them. I do not want my rebellion and passion to melt away. I do not want to become resigned to getting older. I want to believe that I can still marvel at the mystery of the lifetime stretching ahead of me. 

 


 

Chourouq Nasri is an associate professor in the department of English Studies at Mohamed Premier University Oujda, Morocco. She authored numerous publications on topics related to literature, media and visual culture. She has recently started publishing fiction and literary nonfiction in international anthologies and magazines. She is the author of Anna in ID. New Short Fiction from Africa (2018), Outside Riyad Dahab in Hotel Africa: New Short Fiction from Africa (2019), A Bus Ride to Ouad Nachef in Kohl Journal in 2019, Wheat Thief in Tint Journal in 2021, Burning Bodies in Afrocritik in 2022, and Love, a Lens to See the World Through in Brittle Paper in 2022.  

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