“My dad didn’t send me anywhere. I sneaked out of the house like I do every night, and now my parents will know I’m a shameful disgrace. They’ll kill me dead, the same way they killed my sister….” Fatima screamed.
Trapped inside the elevator, Sarah and Grace tried to soothe the girl in black with thoughts of a colorful future. It wasn’t till she started relating her story that they realized; some people were destined to live in the dark…
Four years ago…
It was the third day in a row. Zaynab hadn’t joined the family for dinner again, and no one seemed to care except her younger sister, Fatima. She lowered her head, chewing on her food silently, and debated whether she should say something to her parents or not. Was Zaynab sick? Was she grounded? Why was she always crying alone in her room?
No, she shouldn’t say anything. What’s the use? No one in this family listened to her anyway.
“You have to eat something. Please” Fatima begged her sister on the fourth night. She had secretly made her a plate of leftovers and hidden it till after everyone went to sleep.
“I’m not hungry” Zaynab whispered, her voice strained and her eyes swollen from all the crying.
“What happened? Did Dad hit you again?” Fatima asked, looking around to make sure no one heard her.
The last time Fatima had witnessed her eldest sister get beaten was when Zaynab intervened in a fight between their parents and used her body as a shield to protect her mom, who later blamed her for disrespecting her dad! (Like seriously, what gives?) Her dad’s foul temper was legendary to say the least, and he never failed to demonstrate it at the slightest trigger. Even though he was considered by many to be very religious, he was oddly and extremely violent. He grew more and more aggressive towards his wife and kids, especially Zaynab, whom he viewed as a rebellious, disobedient, scandalous offspring. From finding makeup in her purse, to catching her at the library reading a romantic novel to finally grounding her and confiscating her cell phone because a guy from college texted her on it, Zaynab was proving day in day out, to this family she was the personification of BAD news!
“I can’t wait to escape from this prison. I feel trapped and suffocated in this house Fatima, I swear I can’t breathe.” Zaynab cried.
“What happened? Tell me” Fatima insisted.
“You won’t understand. It’s too complicated. You know, I tried to become what they wanted me to be. I really tried. But it didn’t make a difference. I never felt loved by mom and dad. All I wished for was to hear a word of praise… one word….” Zaynab’s voice trailed off. “Dad thinks we’re like cattle in a herd. He thinks his job is to feed and restrain us, but I’m not gonna let him do this to me anymore. From now on I’m gonna be myself Fatima. I’m gonna pursue my dreams and no one is gonna stop me. And I advise you to do the same.”
“And then what happened?” Sarah asked curiously, munching on plain taco shells Grace had fetched from her grocery bags. They were both drawn to the story, completely oblivious to the fact they were still trapped inside a broken elevator with no prospects of getting out anytime soon.
“I only know bits and pieces. I had to put one and one together because no one cared to explain.” Fatima replied sadly. “So my parents finally let Zaynab go back to college after being grounded for a whole semester. She wasn’t allowed to go anywhere alone. Javed, my younger brother became her new bodyguard. I remember one time he came home fuming because he saw Zaynab walk out the gate alone with her professor. Dad was travelling at that time, so Javed took it upon himself to punish Zaynab. He slapped her hard and kicked her till she vomited blood. My mom watched, proud of her 15-year-old son for being such an ‘honorable man’. I’ll never forget the look on Zaynab’s face. I swear I could literally taste the bitterness. I never saw her since that night. She escaped. A few months later we heard she died in an accident and that was the end of it. We weren’t allowed to mention her name in the house anymore. Some people say she eloped with her boyfriend and my dad tracked her down and killed her. Others say she committed suicide. Till this day, I don’t know the truth about my sister’s death. I don’t even know where she’s buried and I’m too scared to ask.”
“I’m so sorry” Grace said. “But it definitely can’t be your dad, otherwise he would’ve been charged with murder. Maybe they’ve disowned her?” “I don’t know..” Fatima sighed.
“But you said something about like Allah’s revenge and Him punishing you. Like what’s going on there?” Sarah asked.
“Why is it all about me suddenly?” Fatima wiped her tears. “I’ve been talking for hours. It’s your turn now.”
“Were you like gonna elope with your boyfriend, too?” Sarah winked. “What no! AstaghfaruAllah. Are you crazy? Of course not” Fatima was very offended.
“You wouldn’t risk sneaking out when you’re obviously this terrified of your dad. You must be a little daredevil otherwise it just doesn’t make sense” Grace added, putting her long red hair up in a careless bun.
“Daredevil? Yeah right.” Fatima laughed sarcastically. “Then what were you doing out so late?” Grace asked.
“I’ve been trapped at home since Zaynab left. My parents never allowed me to go to college. I now do distant learning instead. I can’t have a cellphone or watch TV or have access to the internet. I’m their helpless captive and sometimes I just wanna break free. I sneak out to sit on the sidewalk. I watch people live their lives since I can’t live my own. I sometimes see men pass by and I start fantasizing about love and stuff….… even though I knew Allah would punish me for that one day.” Fatima admitted.
“I don’t think you know God at all. Your parents obviously made you fear Him instead of love Him” Grace said.
“Exactly, Islam is like based on love and peace, and these feelings are very normal. Allah is not gonna punish you for like having romantic thoughts or having like crushes and stuff. That’s ridiculous” Sarah insisted.
“Can you ‘like’ stop saying ‘like’? You’re pushing buttons I didn’t even know I had” Fatima sneered. “Now I get why Grace would say that, but you. You’re Muslim Sarah, you believe in the Hereafter. Where’s your loyalty? This is classic ‘white trash talk’. You’re such a wannabe” Sarah felt her blood boil it almost shot out of her nostrils. She remained silent though. It was Grace who stood up for her this time. “Is this what your religion teaches you? To judge and belittle others? Who gave you that power, Fatima?”
“I’m not judging her, I’m merely stating facts. I mean come on, leggings and Techni-colored turbans? You call this ‘Hijab’?” Fatima cringed. “So God wants Muslim women to always be covered in black? Why?”
“You know, in case someone dies” Fatima mocked.
“Aren’t you a sarcastic ray of sunshine” Grace said. “Listen Fatima, calling people out like that is mean. You can say what you want without insulting her. We always hear stories how many Muslim women hate on each other and mercilessly judge instead of help and support. Well, you guys just proved it’s all true” Grace words echoed inside their souls, rendering them both completely tongue-tied. She was right; their hostility was giving a horrible impression about their peaceful religion.
“I’m sorry, Sarah” Fatima blushed.
“Don’t be…. You nailed it actually. I’m everything you said and more. I know I dress inappropriately. I get paid to do that….” Sarah admitted.