This is a short story from my collection of interlinked short stories. Soon to be published, insha Allah. Request for duas for the editing process which has been a slow, almost painful one.
Farida’s mouth flooded with the metallic taste of fear. Her heart drummed. She held the girls’ hands tightly as her eyes restlessly scoured the Dadaville streets. Where was he?
Why did he do these things? Didn’t he know she needed him? Was he really no better than his bastard father? The man who’d abandoned her when he’d learnt of her pregnancy.
Her fear struggled to keep up with her mounting anger.
What kind of son was he? The ingrate! After everything she’d been though for him! After everything she’d endured to keep a roof over his head and food in his stomach!
Shanawaaz at the Corner Cafe, where his gang, The Kajala Boys hung out hadn’t seen him. Neither had Ice Man (whose real name was Arshad), the leader of he Kajalas.
She watched the yellowing sun with growing anxiety, barely registering the girls’ protests at her pace. She could delay no longer. Anu would be home. Anu would be waiting. And Anu didn’t like waiting...
As she rounded the corner, she saw him. Standing calmly at the gate. And she knew. She dragged her feet as she approached. There was nowhere to run, she accepted that. But still she could delay the inevitable.
He did not shout. Not that day. He just took her hand and pulled her into the houselocking the bewildered girls outside. There was no smell of liquor on his breath. And somehow, she knew, that today it would be worse.
He pushed her into their bedroom. Shut the door with a bang.
“Strip.” His voice like broken glass.
She stood, looking stupidly at his quivering face.
“Strip, you fucking hoer meit!” He grabbed her cloak, pulled her towards his chest and ripped it.
He threw her onto the bed. She watched his hand slide over the buckle of his belt. His movements sure. Deft.
She cowered, eyes closed, waiting to hear the familiar whistle of the belt. Oblivious to her nakedness. Her blood rushing against her eardrums drowning out the sound of the little girls pummelling the front door with their fists.
His weight bearing down on her caught her by surprise. And then he was on top of her. Thrusting. Prying her legs apart. She lay very still. Did not struggle. This was not happening. Surely that woman, so small, so fragile, lying spread eagled on a floral bedspread was not her. Surely that man was not Anu. He could never be her Anu.
With each thrust, she was aware of something inside of her breaking. Crumbling. Leaving a gaping abyss that swallowed all her fears. All her anxieties. Everything...
By the time he shuddered, lay still for a moment before rolling off her, she knew...It had to be done.
He stood up, stepped into his pants without even wiping.
“Just remember, bitch. I own you. Don’t go looking for that half caste bastard of yours when I am waiting here to be fed a decent meal. I work damned hard to look after all of you.”
The words did not sting.
She lay there, naked, legs scissored, until she heard him settle in the lounge, switch on the TV. Then she stood up, wrapping the sheet around herself and went to the bathroom. She did not let the girls in even though she could hear them crying on the stoep. She showered, dressed, straightened the bedroom and then opened up for the girls. Rayhana had fallen asleep, her head cradled on Fatima’s bony lap.
She averted her gaze from Fatima’s questioning eyes. She had no cure for the pain she saw. There was nothing left. She was empty.
That night she pretended to sleep when he sat down beside the bed. She did not stir when he stroked her brow. She did not blink when she felt his tears falling onto her cheeks. Did not answer when she heard him whisper, “Why? Why must you make me so angry? Why do you keep on doing these things? Like a stupid hoer meit! Don’t you know I love you?”
His snores resonated off the white walls of their shared bedroom. Sonorous. She studied the planes of his face and listened so long that the sound seemed to vibrate within her. His jowls quivered each time he exhaled. In repose, his mouth was not hateful. It did not spew vitriol. It was soft. She could almost remember their stolen kisses. But not quite. The memory, blunted by years of violent blows to the head.
His neck was no longer as firm; the skin sagged in places. Below the jaw too he was growing a pouch. The years had not only gnawed at their lives, they had eaten away at his hairline too. She was no longer surprised at the insipidity of her emotions when she looked at his face. It had been a slow process. Day by day the love had withered, dying a silently screaming death, taking its last breath on the day Zaahid had left for good.
The day she’d died inside and been left with one desire – only one Revenge. It was this thirst that got her out of bed in the morning. It was what got her through the days. It was what rendered her immune to his barbs. HE could not touch her. Nothing could touch her. He’d sensed the change.
But how? The question had eaten at her. Festered. And then came the call from Zaahid.
He’d slipped the suggestion so casually into the conversation that she’d scarcely noticed. Even told her where she’d find it. That was two days ago.
Early that morning, Farida went down the road to the house with the steel door set into the side wall. Head aloft. Ignoring the curious stares she attracted. Ignoring the shaking heads. There was a small window sliced into it. A little mouth, which when spoken to by young men with lanky hair and women with glazed eyes, would spew out small parcels. Dagga, cocaine, mandrax. All yours for the asking, provided you had the money.
She was not surprised at her lack of emotion. At the state of soporific calm that filled her to the brim. It had been with her since that day. The day she’d crumbled. Crumpled. Only to emerge taller. Stronger.
“Look, I know you sell regular drugs. But I need something different,” she said. “I want... arsenic.” The word tasted of freedom.
“Hmm, that can be done,” the window hissed. “For a price. Did you know that they treat cancer with it? Are you trying to cure someone’s cancer?” The window wheezed a discordant laugh.
“Come tomorrow afternoon. It’ll cost four hundred.”
She tried to rein in her smile. The money was no problem. Drunken men often forgot what they left in their pockets.
Farida smiled at the memory. She got up and tiptoed out of the bedroom.
When she entered the girls’ room, she stood for a long while, drinking in their features. Listening to their rhythmic breathing.
“It’s going to get better. I promise...” she whispered.
In the back of their cupboard she felt for the little bottle. She cradled it in her hands lovingly then replaced it in its little hidey hole. Tomorrow she’d start. Little by little.
She went to the bed and lay down next to Rayhana. Placed an arm around her.
“Zaahid is okay.” She murmured. “I spoke to him today. He’s starting to live again. I can hear it in his voice. We’ll be okay.”
For the first night in two weeks she slept.
Hope is a powerful opiate.