I was 11 years old when I was decided that I was never going to wear a bra.
It was right in the middle of the sixth grade, and my life had turned into a bewildering mess. You see, up until then, my world had two kinds of people in it: children and adults.
But then it all changed. One day, my body began to grow things, things that belonged on the bodies of teachers and mothers. It happened suddenly, unexpectedly, and — just like that — I could no longer jump rope. I’d been an expert jumper till then, beating my friends easily just the week before. But on that day, the lumps on my chest bounced impossibly along. After less than 10 seconds, I had to stop.
In truth, I had noticed the lumps some weeks ago; they sprouted strangely, one on each side of my chest. I’d thought they were a virus, a form of chicken pox perhaps, an ailment that would go away in a few days. But the lumps stayed. In fact, they grew. By the end of the month they took up all the space on my body, it seemed, and I knew everyone could see them.
I hid my lumpy chest as best as I could, wearing my elder sister’s loose sweaters over my school shirts. Finally I complained to my mother; I thought she would take me to the doctor for medication. Instead, she said that it was time for a bra.
Now I knew what a bra was; I had seen them in my mother’s drawers: uncomfortable-looking things that I wanted nothing to do with. I wouldn’t wear one, I told her. Absolutely not. I’d wrap an ace bandage tightly round my chest instead. It would hold down the lumps down until they disappeared.
“But the lumps are not disappearing,” she said. “You are 11 years old already…. The time when all girls everywhere begin developing.”
That’s when I remembered that my elder sister, Tziri, had accompanied my mother to a mysterious place a few weeks earlier. When she came back, she locked herself in her room, acting strange for the next three days, as if hiding a secret crime.
Then it hit me.
“Did Tziri get her lump things a few weeks ago?” I asked angrily.
My mother stared at me. It was an immodest question to ask, I knew, but I didn’t care. She nodded vaguely.
I was furious. It wasn’t fair. If Tziri was born a year and a half before I was, it was only right that I should get my lumps a year and a half after she did. How could we possibly get our lumps at the same time? It was just like Tziri to pull a trick like this.