3. “Do you prefer oranges or tangerines?”

Bayoumi asks Firdaus this when she is coming to his house for the first time. The question is striking because Firdaus realizes she has never been asked whether she had a preference for anything before. It has never mattered what she preferred. If her father wanted lamb for dinner, the whole family would eat lamb. If Firdaus’s husband wanted to eat at 6:00, Firdaus would also eat at 6:00. Because she’s never been offered a choice before, Firdaus does not know what she prefers. Only after she stammers out an answer does she realize that she’s answered incorrectly. She says tangerines and realizes that she in fact prefers oranges, but she was ashamed to say so because oranges are more expensive. This is the first conscious choice that Firdaus has ever had to make. Though she leaves her husband, she does so unthinkingly, simply fleeing his violence. Though she stays with Bayoumi, she does so mainly because he tells her to. But in asking her this simple question, Bayoumi forces Firdaus to realize that she is capable of making her own choices.

Firdaus’s departure from Bayoumi much more deliberate than her departure from her husband. In order to leave Bayoumi, she has to beg for help from a neighbor woman and break out of the apartment. Bayoumi has created in Firdaus an obsession with the ability to choose for herself and determine the course of her own life, and she uses it to escape him. The simple question about citrus fruits changes the way Firdaus sees her life. When Firdaus becomes an independent prostitute, she finally has the money and the power to make choices for herself. This gives her a false sense of independence and self-determination. It is not until the pimp demands control over Firdaus that the illusion of choice is shattered. Firdaus realizes that she’s still a woman, even if she has money and power, and she is still under the control of men. Even with the newfound freedom of a prostitute, what men want matters more.