This story is by Jan Darling and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
‘No! You won’t do it. You can’t do it. She’s only twelve and ….’
Mona freezes on the stairway. They’re arguing about her. She leans closer.
Her mother sounds close to tears. ‘Please don’t do this. Let her decide – when she’s older.’
‘Yes – when it’ll be too late.’ Mona is shocked by the hard edge on her father’s voice. She’s never heard that before.
‘What do you mean – too late?’ her mother is choking and sobbing. ‘Mona’s a good girl’ she sniffs, wiping the tears running down her nose on the edge of her scarf.
‘The flight has been booked, Daya will accompany her until she is handed over to my family.’
‘Handed over? She’s not some kind of criminal. She’s your daughter. She’s twelve years old. She has a right to make up her own mind. We aren’t living in Iran. She has a life here. And friends. She’s top of her class at school and she is not going to be circumcised. There – or here.’
Mona’s legs tremble beneath her and she sinks onto the top stair. Steadying herself against the railing she rests her head on her arm, trying not to breathe, afraid to miss a word. They’re talking about her! Circumcised? What flight? Who’s Daya?
She wants to walk straight into the kitchen and ask who they’re talking about. Suddenly she wants to die. Her legs are shaking, her lips trembling. A tear escapes from her eye and a silent torrent follows.
‘Yassi’ her mother is pleading ‘we can’t do this to her. I won’t allow us to do it.’
‘You won’t allow? Know your place woman. I would never have accepted you uncut. No decent man would. You will speak to her and explain our custom. Already I have waited too long. Now go do it.’
‘No Yassi, I won’t. I can’t. You tell her you don’t trust her. You tell her you want to hurt her, you tell her she’ll never feel fulfilled. You do it.’ Yerna is suddenly aware that she’s shrieking and sliding helplessly to the floor.
Yassi walks close to her ‘Look at me. She will be circumcised and you will tell her. I have already promised Imam Hassini.’
‘What?’ Yerna hears herself screeching ‘You sold her like a slave – just because you want a job in their family business? You disgust me.’
‘Disgusted or not – you will tell her.
‘Or – you can decide for her. She can marry Hassan – he’s seventy-nine and sick but he won’t insist on circumcision.
‘Or, she can marry the Imam’s young brother. He’s handsome. And rich. If he likes her he’ll marry her and she’ll have a life of luxury.
‘But she would have to be circumcised. ‘
He turns towards the front door ‘You have a choice – she marries an old man and doesn’t have to be cut – or she marries a young rich handsome man who will only accept her if she has been cut.
The door slams.
The house is quiet as a tomb. Mona tiptoes back to her room as Yerna slowly, with hate in her heart, picks herself up from the floor.
Who can she confide in?
Mona, still trembling, goes to her laptop and types into the search bar with unsteady fingers ‘female circumcision’. Entry after entry pops onto the screen – dozens of them headed FGM – female genital mutilation.
In a ghastly trance she reads, growing more horrified with each sentence. Can this be true? Is this what happened to her mother? Is this what her father wants for her?
She must talk with someone. Not her mother, not yet, not until she has more information.
She opens Mail and types a message to her best friend. She’s not Muslim but that doesn’t matter because they’re besties. They share all their secrets.
Seconds later she hears the cat’s miaow of her mobile. ‘Jenni?….it’s true. I heard them talking.
Mona’s forehead is burning hot and sweat drips from her as she leans over the basin in her bathroom.
She doesn’t hear her mother leaving the house to go to her friend’s place.
She remembers being held down by four village women while the midwife cut her. She thought that’s how periods started. How she bled. How it hurt. How angry she was when her mother explained it was to keep her marriageable. She never forgave her. She decided then that she would never let that happen to her own daughter.
She knocks tentatively and Carla opens the door ‘What’s happened? Are you alright?’
Yerna falls onto the couch, wailing ‘Carla, Carla, Yassi wants to circumcise Mona. He’s promised her in marriage.’
‘What? Circumcise Mona? She’s only twelve! Is he mad? It’s illegal here. No-one will do it. Trust me.’
‘Not here – back home. He’s sending her to his family. They’ll do it there.’
‘The law against female circumcision was made extra-territorial in 2016. She’s safe.’ Carla is very sure of her grounds.
‘What does that extra….mean?’
‘It means that if she’s a citizen here, it would break our law. It’s a twenty-one year jail sentence. Now tell me about it’ Carla sits beside Yerna and takes her hand.
‘I just found out. Yassi said we either marry her off to a hideous old man at the Mosque who won’t insist on cutting her or she marries the Imam’s brother, who’s young and rich. But he will insist on circumcision. He’s arranged it all without telling me anything! I hate him! We’re not in Iran, this is a civilised country where Mona can have a real life and make her own decisions. I trust her. She’s very clever and she’s always studying.’
Jenni and Mona are reading about FGM. They feel as though they’ve entered the middle ages, reading about different kinds of circumcision …..
Carla, meanwhile, has reassured Yerna that if they can stop Mona from going to Iran, they can also find a way to change Yassi’s mind.
‘But how, how do we stop her going?’ Yerna is weeping, defeated, knowing that she’ll never talk sense into Yassi. She wipes the tears away but they keep coming.
‘I’ll make tea while we talk about it. There must be an answer.’ Carla sounds much more certain than she feels.
Jenni’s mother, the headmistress, listens as Jenni explains the situation and Mona sits, still trembling, at her side.
‘Well, I think we can delay the trip to Iran. It’s only three months to your finals. I’ll have a word with the Schools’ Council about banning unnecessary travel for final year students.’
‘Could you do that?’ Mona allows herself to hope.
‘I think so, it’s been discussed before. It’ll put the problem off, not solve it. But it buys time.’
Jenni smiles and hugs Mona ‘Now go home before you’re missed.’
Seconds after her
Surprised, he turns to her and says ‘Hello Mona, I have a present for you. I was just going to wrap it.’ He hands her a beautiful Hamsa on a thick gold chain.
Mona, astonished, takes it and turns it in her hands respectfully.
‘You know what it is?’ he asks.
‘That’s to help your prayers to be answered, to find you a handsome and rich young husband and to endow fertility.’
‘But I don’t want a husband. I’m going to study to be a doctor. If I wear it, I shall wear it facing up, to ward off evil.’ Mona’s astonished at herself. Where did this new Mona come from?
‘You will do as I tell you, Mona. Give it back.’
‘You will give it to me Mona – or you will leave my house.’
‘I shall leave then, with my Hamsa. To protect me.’
She didn’t see the car.
They found the inert body of a young girl, her hand clutching a heavy golden chain carrying a golden hand, facing upwards.