She was found in a pool of dried blood
The light blue sky hung over Najeeba as she rushed on the wet, slippery streets of her city. The city was lit by neon lights emerging from clubs and bars around every other corner, and nightfall meant the noise of blaring car horns was so loud, she couldn’t even hear herself think.
Terror clouded her mind, her eyes darting from one corner to another, fearing the longing gazes of street hawkers and lazy drivers, each of them with a disgusting smile plastered onto his face. She knew she would have to bear her father’s anger once she got home. She hurried on, desperately wishing her father had not yet returned home, rubbing her hands under her rusty brown shawl.
Today had been a heavy day for her, perhaps the heaviest of all the days she had worked. Once she was around the corner of her house, she started counting her steps. As she neared her house, her gait quickened, her heart skipping every beat after another. As soon as she arrived at her house, she took off her shawl and hung it on a wooden peg in her room. Just a moment later, she heard her father’s order to cook dinner quickly. She headed into the kitchen, the small pot on the stove bubbling and brewing. The kitchen smelled of haleem, her father’s favourite dish.
As she set the old table, she lowered her gaze to hide the fear in her eyes. She wondered whether her father was purposefully torturing her with the silence, or he really hadn’t noticed that she had come late today. She wanted that anytime now, he would tell her today had been the last day to work. But it did not happen. Her father ate in silence except for the usual taunts he threw at her.
Once she had given her father a glass of milk and bidden him goodnight, she lit the lantern so that a dim light illuminated her dark bedroom. She sat back on her bed, her body aching, her eyes and lips swollen. She tried little not to curse her father for his cruelty as she cried tears of pain. Her mind could not stop replaying the scene; the dark room she had been left in by her father, her trembling hands as she was forced to undo the knots of her burqa. She shook her head in denial and screamed into her pillow, her body shaking in anger, demanding justice for the wrongs that had been done to her.
How dare the young man do this to her? He had promised her that he would take her with him when he left for Pakistan. He had promised to rescue her from the troubles of her life, take her somewhere they would live in peace. How she regretted fantasising freedom; how she cursed fate for choosing to throw her into a pit she could not pull herself out of. She pictured her hands, trembling, not with fear this time, but with anger.
Her veins pulsed with too much blood, her head throbbing fiercely, her lungs refusing to let her breathe as she pulled at her hair, and scratched her arms. She had to get this filth away from her, she had to cleanse herself. She begged forgiveness from God, and from her own body; she begged them to let her breathe again, to forget the tortures she had been subjected to since she was four, because it had been her own father who had inflicted this pain on her. The same flesh and blood.
‘What flesh? What blood? Pure flesh and blood know where their loyalties lie; with their daughters, not with crisp notes of money. Pure flesh and blood don’t allow strangers to play with their daughter’s honour and lure her into a trap with promises of freedom in exchange for a few, crisp notes.’
She tried to argue with her subconsciousness, but failed; not because she had no courage in her, but because she knew it was wrong to reject the truth. With trembling hands, she pulled at the box under her bed. She stared at it for a long time, stared at the hidden secrets and felt the pain from all those years come back to her. She felt her wings break, the wings she herself had built with the dreams the man had allowed her to see. She opened the box slowly, running a thumb over its contents. Hidden beneath the laces and bangles of her dead mother, she found exactly what she was looking for. It was one of the only two times she had stolen something from her father; he had gone into a fit of anger on finding two of his most precious belongings gone. His dead son’s only picture, and his pistol.
She had been beaten then, the worse beating of her life, but had borne the bruises on her body like a medal for the next few years. The scars were supposed to be a reminder that she had been the reason her brother had died. Had she not been born, he would have been here today.
She looked at the picture; remembering how the midwife had emerged from the room with the news of the birth of a son and his twin sister. Her father had taken his son in his arms, kissed his forehead and said proudly,
“I name him Khaleel. He shall be my friend, my honour.”
Najeeba wanted to ask her father how he could blame her when Khaleel had died two months later. Had she not shared her mother’s womb with him? How could she be the reason he had died? But her father held onto the doctor’s statement, repeating it day and night before Najeeba until she too began thinking if she really had been the reason behind his death. After all, the doctor had said that Khaleel had died because of ‘lack of proper nutrition in the womb which often happens in case of twin births’.
Trying desperately to forget that her father had rejoiced the birth of a son, completely ignoring his wife’s death and a daughter’s arrival, she hugged her brother’s picture one last time, and kissed it, whispering to him that she was going to be with him soon. With one last prayer of mercy and justice, she wiped away her tears and pressed the trigger.
They found her in the morning in a pool of dried blood, her face contorted in anguish, the picture of a small boy clutched in her hands.
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