The Photograph

Arms stiff at her sides, my mother stands next to her younger sister,
Staring into the camera with a blank face
No trace of emotion—not a hint of a smile or a frown, nor the
slightest curve of her mouth in
               direction, her face expressionless, like a mannequin
Her sister, my oldest aunt, smiles widely—I’ve never seen her smile
like that before—
               a dark hijab wrapped around her head
My mother wears a loose, white hijab patterned with embroideries
of leaves, opposite of her
               a long tuft of black hair hanging out of the front of it, falling
across her face.
A homemade dress,
several golden bracelets, she and her sister wearing matching sets,
just as they do now.
The only photograph of my mother from her youth—the only one
we know of, at least

My mother, whose thin black hair is greying now,
goes on walks with me during evenings, eight thousand miles away
from where that photo was taken,
               to clear her head
“Don’t smile,” they’d say before photographs.
She never did.

Artist’s Statement
For years, it seemed like all photographs of my mother as a child were lost to time, likely fading away in her childhood house in the mountains of Yemen. Yet, over the years, I had heard about one mysterious photo from her youth that was supposedly here in the States, tucked away in some family photo album somewhere. Then, one evening, while looking through an old box of mementos, my mother found it. The only remaining photograph from her childhood—the only one we know of, at least. Seeing it had a strange but profound effect on me. I had never seen her like this before, her youthful face captured in shockingly clear black-and-white film, so similar to the way it looks now, yet entirely different, untouched by time and the weariness of life. All my life, I had been told I looked like her. Finally, I saw the resemblance.

Ahmed Qaid is a Yemeni American writer, filmmaker, and photographer. He has a passion for creating complex, authentic, and compassionate works that explore the experiences of the Arab diaspora within contemporary America. His works often center on themes of memory, belonging, and the loss of cultural identity. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @moonchildcinema.