This story is by Atiya Zaidi and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Warning: This story contains violence, abuse and disturbing imagery.
Blood ran down my legs, and filled my shoes. Each step was accompanied by a sloshing sound as I made my way to freedom from the men holding me captive. The thumb pin under my toe was about to poke the toenail bone. I am wanted for murder, for blasphemy, for embarrassing the one and Almighty God’s minions, for being a girl who has outwitted men and for being 13 years old.
How did I get to this wilderness I know very well, and I know that I have no desire to return home – The home where I was considered a freak. I looked at the family pictures for hours at end and drew many conclusions, the three main ones were 1). that my family were extremely modern and carefree before I was born, they wore western revealing clothes, indulged in playing poker and boosted of their bar in the living room filled with illegal and un Islamic alcohol 2). They were social butterflies 3). They desperately wanted to have a daughter. The picture of my mom showing off her pregnant belly and my dad holding a little pink dress in his hands told me so.
This was all before I was born. They were happy; before I was born.
Two sons, heirs to my father’s business empire and one little girl who he can spoil. And spoil me he did, so much that I am spoiled goods today.
“Idhar gai hai”( She went that way) shouted the man behind me. They are getting closer and I can’t run anymore. Then I saw my knight close by, somehow I had managed to make it to my father’s cars. “Baba!!” (dad) a shout escaped my lips, giving away my location.
Baba!!! Baba!!! I was shouting at the top of my lungs. The car slowed down and I saw my father’s face.
“Ruk ja larki nahi tou goli maar dein gae” (stop girl or we will shoot you) shouted the voice behind me. I fell down and stuffed my scarf in my mouth to stop me from copying their voices. I pressed down on my toes making the pain shoot up my body to prevent me from mirroring their actions.
“Pretend you are invisible, shut down your ears, stuff your mouth with a cloth, press on the steel pin you have inserted in your shoe and just think of the pain and not the people around you. Disappear and you wont mirror.” I heard Ahmed’s voice in my head, my only sympathizer and the first causality of my curse.
Pair of hairy arms grabbed me and the scarf in my mouth muted my screams. Another filthy hand slapped me across the face and my cheek started bleeding. I know I am captured, but my father is right there in the car, he will save his precious daughter.
Before I can un stuff my mouth and call out to my father again, another punch knocks me out.
I open my swollen eyes with difficulty and find myself in the same smoke filled room which I escaped earlier. The fat and evil man of god was not there. Only dim lights & Arabic chants heard from the other room. This time I know I will get raped again; oh no no cured by mystical means as my mother puts it.
What is my medical condition? There is something wrong with my brain as I can’t help copying people. What Ahmed and myself have been able to find out so far is that there is a thing called Mirror neurons in everyone’s brain. These neurons make people cry at movies and make them buy useless things after watching commercials on tv. They are the reason that we copy yawns and laughs. I am cursed with hyperactive mirror neurons. I have been copying ever since I gained control of my body as a baby. My mother didn’t notice for a long time as she was hardly there and my nanny Shakila liked her job in a big house with good pay and a rent free quarter for her family to say anything. She kept it a secret as long as I learnt to talk and downplayed it for many years.
My father was very proud of me. “My daughter is an active learner; she copies whatever I do”. He looked pleased when I also pretended to place an imaginary whisky glass on the table and pour an imaginary drink. His loopy smile and care free eyes were my most precious prize. At times of anxiety when I know that my neurons are going to get me into trouble, his smile was all I needed to visualize and I would at least start breathing like myself.
This all changed as soon as I turned 12. My periods started and with that my carefree period in life ended. Puberty messed up my brain further. Whatever condition I had, it was getting much; much worse.
I was expelled from 9 schools on accounts of unruly behavior. Mostly the complaint was the same, “She is a rude and conceited child who insults the students and teachers around her by copying them. She is so full of herself”
My mother heard these and similar complaint on the first two expulsions and after that she just sent the nanny to collect the security deposits.
My nanny and my neighbor’s son Ahmed were the only ones who saw through the whole this-is-punishment-from-God sob story. My mother decided that I am indeed too unruly for school and a girl doesn’t need that much education anyway. She can read and count and that is enough. My father could see nothing wrong in my expulsions. In his eyes his daughter was too good for the schools and yes a girl doesn’t need that much education anyway.
But they both knew that there is something medically wrong with me. I was taken to many doctors, there were some who called me an attention seeker girl who is too full of herself and others who called me just an overactive teenager who is too full of herself.
The more the list of my doctors grew, the more my father’s beard grew. He stopped drinking and gave up poker altogether. All of my mother’s dresses were now stitched with long sleeves and matching head scarves. Whatever is wrong with me is a test from god and is a result of their evil deeds. Instead of being top of the who is who list, they were now on top of who is who in religious preaching group’s list. God was punishing them through me and my behavior. Every drop of alcohol that they consumed must now be returned in the forms of tears in prayers of repentance.
The biggest sign from god arrived when there was a Dars (Sermon) happening in our house. The women were to be seated in one corner of the house and the men were in the other corner with the preacher- a renowned religious scholar. His sermon was to be transmitted across the ladies’ section through large speakers installed in a surround sound manner. Many of my parents new found religious friends were in attendance and also the people from near and far family.
Everything was in order. The food was prepared and the little fake flowers dipped in musk ready to be distributed were kept in bowls of sterling silver. The incense was burning bright giving each corner of the house a mystical aura. The “H” in Allah was being uttered with reverence and emphasis in greetings and salutations. Everything was indeed in order and I was ordered to stay out of everyone’s sight including Ahmed’s and nanny Shakila’s. They were both needed at the Dars. This Dars was the fusion of Eastern religion with Western event management. From the bearded and topi clad valets to park the cars, the surround sound system playing Naats and Nasheed’s in the grounds to the scarf wearing waitresses serving the shots of Zamzam Holy water; everything was an epitome of innocence and piety.
Until, I got out of my room, it was not my fault that the window was not locked and I peeked out and saw a servant opening a door, I had to copy the gesture and the mirror neurons in my head started a game of blinding reflection of the surrounding people. I walked like the servant walking in front of me pretending to carry a tray filled with holy books, and marched down the drive way where the valets were busy taking the cars from guests. There was a young valet in my line of vision and unconsciously I became him, I started copying his walk, took the key from the guest, who had trained himself never to look at servants and didn’t give me a second thought, tipped my imaginary topi and gave him a big smile, even my eyes reflected the same hope of a big tip like the valet in front. I sat in the car like him with one hand on the wheel and other casually in my lap. The valet drove ahead and turned out of the drive way, as soon as he got out of my sight, I remembered who I am and that I don’t know how to drive. I crashed right into the marquee in the men’s section. Hurting many guests and killing the dumbfounded Ahmed who was too shocked to see me driving to move out of the way. Amidst the screams the more shocking scene was me copying the suffering and last breaths of Ahmed as he twisted and thrashed about living his last moments.
The Dars was meant to teach us ways to open the doors of heaven, at this one all hell broke loose.
Oh how I wish that the neurons would have actually brought on my death and not only an act, how I wish I had listened to Ahmed and stayed hidden under the bed with my devices of pain. The thumb pins in my shoes, the handy needles in my sleeve. I wish I had learned to mirror Ahmed’s obedience and his selfless nature and most of all to have never been born.
App ke gunha hein is ki wajah(your sins are the cause of this situation) Tsk Tsk…. Continued the mystic with his diagnosis and his prescribed treatment. I am to be left at his shrine, given to the men of god to rid of this curse and the parents who have committed these sins must now be committed to the cure. The cure will come at a hefty price which is to be paid until the treatment continues.
Hence I was sent away. I am beaten, bruised and belittled on an hourly basis. For the first month I would copy back. I would repeat the holy words, the sacred actions, the slaps and the punches until I was knocked senseless.
Once I woke up the copying will return, the curse will return. This went on for a week until I got the chance to run away and was caught again. I am back in the mystic’s room and today he will finish undressing me and I would not copy him like the last time. I will not copy his lustful sounds or his grunts. Like last time I wont have the pain from the pin to stop me from copying my rape. I would only need to think about my father’s face as he looked at me from the driving seat and drove away.
Today I am back home, in my own room alone which has been the case since I have been cured. It was not the mystic who cured me it was the betrayal of my father. I will not need any pins to inflict physical pain; I have a permanent and never ending supply in my heart.
Michelle Chadburn says
oh my.. my vote is for you Atiya..what a powerful story, I just wanted to keep reading to see how the story unfolded. Well done.
Karin Johnson says
Powerful story to remind all of us not to judge a book by its cover and the necessity of empathy
This was a clever story mixed with strong emotion and tough subject matter. Combined with an eloquent writing style that really hits home, this is definitely an amazing story!