Art by Zunaira (@ladysethi)
TW: verbal and physical violence; explicit language.
The first time he threatens to hit you, you think he is joking.
But then he raises his hand to strike you and you are sure he is not.
Your heart lurches.
He grabs your face by the chin and jolts it sideways.
You try to push him to the side. He stumbles.
Then he turns around and lunges at you, spitting out expletives.
Your eyes lock for a moment.
Predator and prey.
You free yourself from his grasp and run out of the room.
He approaches you after an hour with a tray of food, urging you to eat.
You let him feed you.
‘I am sorry but your tone really angered me’, he confides in you.
You try to swallow his apology with a large bite of bhindi.
But it stays stuck to the roof of your mouth.
You lie next to him. His arm feels prickly on the nape of your neck. You close your eyes. Cologne and stale sweat lingers in the air.
You never felt like the prettiest girl in the room or even the group. You remember the first time someone called you beautiful. It was not out of pity or familial bondage or blinding love. Two random women stopped you in a mall and told you how beautiful you are. It was over in 14 seconds. But you were in a daze, for days. As the compliment settled in, you tried to peel 14 years of ugly from your face. It was the first time someone called you beautiful and you genuinely felt it.
You think of how, sometimes, strangers can leave you reeling from unimaginable emotions.
You trace his hand with your index finger and recount all the feigned compliments he has given you. They never seem to adjust. You look at his un-kissed mouth and brush your thumb over his lower lip.
You scan the room for your phone. You ask him where it is.
He produces your phone from under the cushion.
You throw him a look of confusion and remove yourself from his embrace.
He glares at you unapologetically and starts waving the screen in your face. He is now reading the contents of a private WhatsApp chat, out loud.
His litany ends with a warning, ‘Don’t message him again, apni aukaat mai raha karo.’
Bile rises up in your throat. You snatch your phone and leave his apartment.
But you know you will be back.
On your knees.
Smaller each time.
The slap lands hard and flat on your cheek.
His rage settles in your bones. It hardens a familiar fear of the type of men who feel the need to ram aukaat down your throat; while forgetting their own in the process.
You think of the men on streets and the men at home. Both, known and unknown. You weigh the differences, but end up finding similarities. The one on the street scans you with his lecherous gaze and blows you a kiss. He pinches and pokes you, secretively. The one at home, eyes you with his disapproving glare, as you leave the house in a pair of jeans. He pushes and slaps you, casually.
You recount what you did to deserve this slap. You are confused. You said no. You turn it over in your mouth.
An old thrill rushes through your body. Like when you bunked school with three other bigari hui sehaylian, at 13, just to go to McDonald’s.
Zaroor larkon ko milna hoga, these desperate girls, I tell you, they always start young. You now feel the gravity of the accusations pinned on you, like a deep blue sash pinned on a checkered blue uniform.
Slowly it dawns on you, the blasphemy of no, when uttered from a woman’s mouth.
You spend the afternoon crying, locked up in the dimness of your room. A tear falls on your finger and dissolves into a muddy colour. You suddenly notice the dried up mehndi on your hands and remember the excitement from last night. Chaand raat in Y-block. You close your eyes.
You remember the street lit up with countless stalls, overflowing with piles of jewellery and golden-green tubes of menhdi. Chemical, non-chemical, natural, organic, fresh. He fed you the crispiest samosa, as you sat on a rickety metal chair with your arms out stretched and palms lying upwards in the lap of a chirpy lady. She was intently pushing out brown lines from a long, twisty tube. He marvelled at how she manoeuvred the mehndi into intricate flowers.
‘Also, these white jhumkas really bring out your smile’, his eyes brimmed with fascination. Your mouth tweaked into a smile.
You open your eyes.
You bring your palms up to your nose and breathe in a strong, earthy smell. You scrub the cracking colour from your fingers. A bright orange shade peeks out from underneath. You rush to the bathroom and place your palms under the sink. The water runs cold over them.
Blood oozes from a tiny gash in your pinky. It trails down your finger and darkens the orange tint.
It looks like a faded sunset, splayed out on the palm of your hand.
He always asks you first.
‘Do you want me to break your face?’ You later learn it is a rhetorical question, and he will hit you anyway.
You answer with a feeble no.
He sinks his hands into your scalp and jerks your head back. You choke on your breath for a moment. His hand lashes across your face and the distinct smell of mutton karahi infiltrates your nostrils. A lump of fear constricts your throat. You see a flash of him taking his shoe off and duck in time. You knead your fist into his shoulder.
‘How dare you touch me, b*tch.’ Fresh rage drips from his eyes.
You flee from the room, while he regains his balance. You run down the stairs and lock yourself in the basement.
You can hear him banging doors and breaking plates, upstairs.
With each crash, you think of the things men demand from women. Hugs. Crash. Bl*wjobs. Crash. Silence. Crash. Smiles. Crash. Sons. But most of all, they demand to be revered.
Preserve my izzat by covering yourself up, behen.
Tame my anger by keeping your mouth shut, begum.
Fix me a cup of tea and do not forget your aukaat, beti.
Or I’ll remind you, with one. tight. slap.
Your head is throbbing now. You know you cannot spend your life hiding in locked rooms and concealing purple bruises.
You need to leave.
But he throws you the largest birthday party next month, after profusely apologising for weeks. ‘Ghalati hogayi meri jaan, it will never happen again.’
You collect your fears and place them in a box, under your bed.
Till next time.
The author is an aspiring writer and is currently studying Law with a minor in English at LUMS. She has a love for fiction and feminism.