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TEARS OF THE GODDESS by Alcina Amara

© Alcina Amara

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1

The ominous weather – with plenty of dark clouds, an inherently gloomy atmosphere, and not a ray of sunshine in sight – seemed to know exactly what was about to take place as Dozens of people crowded in the town center. Most of them were Basijis—one of the five forces of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

A white pickup truck pulled up near the crowd, causing the men to turn and stare at the man sitting in the back. A guard jumped from the bed of the truck and walked towards a policeman nearby, handing him a document. The policeman studied it then nodded. Satisfied, the guard hurried back to the truck and helped the prisoner climb out. His hands were tied behind his back, but he held his head up high. The spectators jeered; The show had begun.

The guard pulled a black band out of his pocket. “This will make it easier on you.”

“Leave it, please. I want to see everyone here to witness my death.” He looked toward the crowd, the guards, the police, and the hooded man standing on the wooden platform.

The guard holding the blindfold halfway to the prisoner’s face. “Aren’t you afraid to die?”

“Tyrants use fear as their tool to stifle the voice of reason but I will meet this fear as a rock meets the wind.”

The guard placed a cigarette between the prisoner’s lips and lit a match. “You were once a great agitator against the Shah. What made you forsake the revolution?”

Omid shook his head. “We did not overthrow a royal dictatorship to replace it with a religious dictatorship,” he said while inhaling his cigarette.

“The brave Omid,” said a voice from behind the two men. This was a huge, broad-shouldered man with a white turban and a black cloak.

“Parvez…” Omid said. “I should have known you’d be here.”

“You know me, Omid; I wouldn’t miss the most important day of your life.”

“Think you will see me break down and beg for my life?”

A smirk appeared on Parvez’ face. “That’s not very polite. It didn’t have to end like this, but you had to be stubborn like your father.”

“You are nothing but a cheap pimp who hides behind the cloak.”

“Is that the best you got?” Parvez asked. “I guess there’s nothing more to say to you. Try to enjoy your ending. I know I certainly will.” He turned to leave.

“Don’t stop Helena from leaving the country.”

Parvez turned back to Omid with a big grin on his face. “Helena… yes, your dear wife.” His mouth curled into a thin line. “You’re an idealistic fool. You should’ve thought of her before you tried to be a Che Guevara.”

“I am not asking much, damn you.”

“I will keep her safe until she gives birth. If she gives birth to a girl, I assure you she will have a secured future under my wing.”

“You keep them out of this.” Omid’s stomach tightened as he suppressed a wave of nausea.

“Goodbye, Omid.” Parvez leaned forward and kissed Omid on his forehead, then made his way past the crowd.

“You leave them alone; you hear me?” Omid’s heart thumped louder.

“Let’s go,” said the guard.

Sweat ran down Omid’s brow. He took one long drag on the cigarette and then turned to the guard and nodded.

The guard took the cigarette from his mouth and dropped it on the ground, crushing it under his boot. “How do you feel being minutes away from death.?”

Omid looked at the remains of the cigarette, all twisted and crumpled on the ground, and shrugged. “Isn’t that how we all end up? Dead and used up, lying lifeless on the ground like that broken cigarette?”

The guard marched the prisoner towards a small mobile platform at the edge of the crowd. With a firm hold on his arms, the guard pushed the prisoner onto the stage. As he stood on the wooden platform, he glanced at the man who’d been waiting for him: a giant figure dressed in black, the hood hiding his features along with his humanity. It was vital to hide that part of a person—this wasn’t the most humane occupation. The tall, hooded figure reached out for Omid, and lead him over to the ladder in the middle of the little structure. Omid looked up at the six-foot-tall ladder. His knees trembled, threatening to give out with each step. The noose slipped around his neck. The rough surface scratched against his skin as it tightened. After tugging at the rope one last time to check it was in the right position. The hooded man stepped back down to the stage, leaving the prisoner all alone up at the top of the ladder.

Omid glared at the crowd. “You can kill me, but you can’t kill the ideal freedom.”

The jeering crowd lapsed into silence; they weren’t used to such slogans made by men who were seconds away from death, and an eerie hush fell over the horde of spectators.

“The desire for freedom will become an unstoppable ocean that will crush this regime that has no sympathy for human dignity. Long live free Ira-”

The hooded man along with the guard pushed the ladder aside. The hanged man swung on the rope; the crowd shouted, “Allahu Akbar!”

The guard looked at the floor. Omid’s last cigarette lay there crushed. A rush of wind blew it out of sight.

*

The heavy rain thumped on the small window, and the tension in the room mounted.

Trying to calm herself, Helena stared at the crackling fireplace. "What do you think mother, will they free him?”

Maria smiled at her daughter, “Parisa’s son is one of the best lawyers in Iran. Try to relax. It’s not good in your condition to worry.” Maria reached out for the samovar, “Let’s have tea.”
“I can’t.”

“They will be found not guilty. The fire started after Omid arrest.”

“Yes, I’m sure your right.”

The door handle rattled, “That must be Parisa,” Helena said as she rushed to open the door.

Standing in the doorway was the figure of the middle-aged woman.

“Come in, quick,” Helena said. “What news do you bring?”

Parisa walked into the house, “They will drop the arson charges.”

“Are they going to release him?”

“Well, no, not quite.”

“What does that mean?”

“They will prosecute him for his part in organising the protest..”


Helena rested one of her hands on her belly. “Is he going to spend the rest of his life in prison?”

“My son reckons he is looking at a three-year sentence.”

“Three years?” Helena said as she gripped the table.

Maria placed her hand on Helena’s shoulder. “Darling, try to calm down.”

Helena stepped back. “How can I calm down knowing Omid will go to prison!”

“Darling sit down,” Maria said.

“I don’t want to sit- “Helena’s hands moved to her belly as she struggled to catch her breath.

“Helena, are you all right?” Parisa rushed over to her.”

“The baby’s not due for another two weeks,” Maria said. “It must be the worry.”

“I’m fin—” Helena stopped in her tracks. A rush of fluid drenched her pants and dripped onto the floor. She stared wide-eyed at the liquid pool on the floor.

“The baby is arriving,” Maria said, “try not to worry, sweetheart. We have Parisa, the best midwife in the village.”

Parisa nodded, “Yes, I helped dozens of babies come in this world.”

Both women held Helena’s hands as they led her to the bedroom.



11:45 p.m.


Parisa laid the newborn on Helena’s abdomen. “You have a beautiful baby daughter; she’s happy and healthy.”

Helena stared down at the amazing little life resting on her stomach. She held her with such tender care against her body, feeling the bundle of love in her arms, her eyes filled with tears. “I dreamed for this moment for so long but Omid was supposed to be here, peering down at the two of us with love in his eyes and happiness in his heart.” She glanced at the two women.

Maria nodded, her own eyes filling with tears as she looked down at her wonderful granddaughter. She stroked Helena’s hair. “I know my dear, but the little girl will have her daddy back in Three years maybe sooner.”

“Your right mother, at least he will be out in a few years.”



18 Years later.

The awkward silence was practically audible. The drive had been long and tedious. I had lost count of the villages and small towns we had passed. I pushed my hijab back, liberating the front of my hair, as we continued trailing along winding, narrow roads. The endless desert stretched out ahead made me feel insignificant and powerless. I moved my view to the driver’s white turban. It reminded me of everything I had been trying to forget. My cheeks became flushed, so I opened my window. The cool breeze assuaged the heat from my face like a lover’s caress. The scent of creosote bushes wafted toward me and my mind drifted to a distant memory. My heart pounded with yearning for something far from this place. I was in the little mountain village where I was born and spent most of my early childhood.
The driver cleared his throat, shattering my blissful moment. Scowling, I looked into the rear-view mirror. The eerie sight of his eyes boring into mine caused goose bumps to form on my arms. Something passed across his eyes, causing them to sparkle. Eagerness?
I sighed, rubbing my arms, and tried to calm my nerves.
“Worried, Roxana?” I thought I heard some kind of emotion in his voice but couldn’t place it.
My eyebrows furrowed. “Why? … Should I be?”
Parvez, turned his head towards me. “No need to fear your new home.”
I bit my lower lip. His words cut through me. “Home? Don’t you mean my new prison?”
“That’s up to you.” He paused for a long moment. “I am sure you will enjoy living there. You will have sisters… you will learn new skills… you will become… very effective.”
His eyes flashed and I sensed his tense arousal filling the car. Disgust filled my belly. I didn’t understand what he meant by me becoming effective. The way he was staring at me and his voice—I didn’t dare ask him to explain any further.
The car slowed down, and I shifted my eyes to the windshield. Endless miles of scarred terrain stared back in isolation. In the distance, peaks of jagged mountains formed across the horizon in an oppressing and menacing manner. Miles of aged military wire stretched along the worn path of the now-dirt road. There were no signs of life aside from the sparse shrubs that dotted the landscape. We were in the middle of nowhere, between Pakistan and Zahedan. Left and right. The car turned left toward Zahedan and continued forward on to my destiny… whatever that was.



*
The car halted in front of a black iron gate with a sign on it that read: Private Area: Keep Out. Parvez leaned out of his window and entered a code, which caused the gate to open. After driving in, the gate closed behind us. I was curious as to what lay ahead and I was suspicious of Parvez and of this place. I peered up at the large building, nestled amongst numerous trees. A large wired wall surrounded it as well. This looked like a prison in the middle of nowhere.

“It’s so isolated here,” I said.

“Indeed, My dear. indeed.”

I couldn’t see his expression as he spoke, and part of me was glad.

Parvez had already exited the car, but I found myself frozen. He opened my door and shouted, “Get out!”

With a heavy heart, I obeyed. I stared up at the sky, it was gloomy and covered with shadowy grey clouds. It was dark and depressing. Rain was imminent. The weather echoed my own feelings.

Trying not to show my fear, I pointed to the boot. “I want to get my bag?”

He gestured at the building. “Come, let’s go inside, I will bring your bag later.”

I followed him to the front of the big house, I felt I was going to my funeral.

A smile crept across Parvez’ face. He headed towards the main door, his strides grew almost into skipping, his smile widening as he swung his arms.

I followed him, dragging my feet along the gravel. I shivered as soon as I stepped up to the door. “What is this place?”

“This is where we turn girls into women.” he said with a huge grin as he turned toward me.

My stomach churned—something here was terribly wrong. Parvez went to unlock the door, but it creaked open before he could insert the key.
A slim figure of a woman dressed in a black chador stood by the doorway. “I saw you approaching.” Her voice was husky.

“Nothing here goes unnoticed,” Parvez said, glancing at me before pointing at the lady. “This is Soraya, who you are to obey. Understood?”

Soraya flashed her bright hazel eyes at me with an intense penetrating stare.

My eyes met hers. Apart from the dark bags under her eyes, her face had a natural beauty even without makeup. I looked deeper, trying to find at least a tiny glimmer of kindness, but I couldn’t tell. This woman was unreadable.

“Go with her.” Parvez said before turning to Soraya, “Take her to her room.” He pulled out an envelope from his pocket and handed it to Soraya. “Here are her details.”

“Well, Roxana,” she said without looking up from the envelope, “come along.”

I followed her through a long stretch of arched corridor with brown doors on the left hand side. The place felt devoid of life and joy.

Soraya opened the last door. “Come inside.”

My stomach was rumbling with nerves as I looked around the room. A clock on the wall showed it was past midnight. Soraya pulled a register book from the top drawer of a metallic file cabinet.

“How was the journey from Tehran?”

“I’m very tired… after a thirteen-hour journey.”

“I should imagine so,” Soraya said as she sat behind a large desk. She placed her glasses on the bridge of her nose, then opened the envelope and started to read my details.

Soraya glanced at me. “So, you’re a Christian?”

I nodded and I covered my mouth as I yawned.

The woman started writing my details in the register book. “Your father was a criminal.”

My blood boiled, I shot her a furious glance, “My father was not a criminal.”

Soraya looked straight back at me, “According to the record he was an arsonist.”

I narrowed my eyes into thin slits as anger spiralled from the pit of my stomach. “It’s lies. It’s all lies. My father was no criminal—all he did was to stand up against injustice.”

“The court found him guilty, but we’re not here to reopen his case” She stood up and placed the register book back in the drawer.

“Remove your hijab and sit on that chair.”

“Why?” I frowned.

Soraya pulled out a small comb from her desk draw. “To inspect you for lice. Sit down.”

I untied my hijab, my stomach churning with anxiety, and stroked my long black hair to make sure it was untangled and then sat on the chair. I looked at a monitor on the desk that was showing some CCTV feeds. From the camera at the front of the building, I saw Parvez taking my bag out of the boot of his car. Just looking at him made me angry. I shifted my gaze to the other end of the desk, where a red, juicy-looking apple was sitting.

“Okay, you’re clean.” Said Soraya.

I kept my eyes on the apple. “I’m hungry.”

Soraya picked up the apple. “Have this and follow me.”

With the apple in my hand, I followed Soraya back through the long corridor at the opposite end and down a few concrete steps in front of a brown heavy wooden door. Soraya pushed the door open and went inside.

As I walked into the room, I almost retched at the damp, sour odor pervading the air. A wave of nausea hit my gut from the smell, I placed the apple on the night table.

The small space consisted of a long mirror on the wall, a rug on the floor where I was to sleep on and a jug. Its white walls were covered in patches of ugly green mould, the once white tiles of the floor having long since turned into a greyish brown colour. A small window with bars reflected the small hope I had inside my heart. The room was as plain and unwelcoming as could be.

Disgusted, I folded my arms across my chest and glared at Soraya, with a frown on my face.

“What are you looking like that for?” Soraya asked.

I shook my head. “I can’t stay here.”

“All newcomers stay here first.”

I shifted my eyes around the space again, this time noticing a little hole near the floor.

“But I can’t sleep here.”

Soraya gawked at me, her eyebrows raised. “What do you mean, you can’t sleep here?”

“It’s dark, smelly and it’s scary, and … I can’t stand mice. It isn’t a proper room.”

“Are you finished?”

“You must let me have a proper room.”

“Oh, Must I?” Soraya shook her head in disbelief. “listen very carefully: You should be grateful that you are here to get free housing, free food, free clothing, and free education.”

“Education? What exactly am I here to study?”

“You and the rest are in this place for one reason and one reason only… because you are nobodies. You have nothing in life – no family, no friends, no home, nothing. And we are going to teach you … you, the daughters of criminals, traitors, and unbelievers to be useful.”

She walked behind me, bringing her mouth close to my ear, “Nobody on earth wants you, you are rejects of society and if it wasn’t for this place, you’d all be street prostitutes, selling your bodies for crumbs. Do you understand me,?” Straightening up, she walked back over to the door. “Now, you sleep on it, and when you wake up in the morning, young woman, you’d better have a new attitude – and some gratitude. Otherwise, things are going to be very difficult for you here.” And with that she went out, slamming the door behind her and making me jump.

You have nothing in life, no family, no friends, no home, nothing. Nobody on earth wants you… Soraya’s words haunted my mind as I moved over to the room’s only tiny window, staring out at the evening sky trying to find some comfort in the stars. Once I had been part of a loving, caring family, but now… now that family is gone. That love and security is gone. Everything is gone. Forever.

I sat down on the bed and took my crucifix out of my pocket, holding it in my hands when I heard a quiet rustling sound. I watched, horrified, as a mouse came through one of the holes in the wall. It squeaked as it went sniffing around oblivious of me.
I stared at the mouse for a quite a while, and when I couldn’t take it anymore I crouched down, removed one of my shoes, and flung it at the tiny rodent. The thrown shoe missed the little creature – causing it to scamper away – at that very same moment I broke down in tears.

***
Soraya headed to the samovar and poured herself a tea. Parvez stepped into the office with Roxana’s bag slumped over his arm, then let the bag fall to the ground.

“I’ll fix you a tea, “Soraya said.

Parvez sat on the chair, “Yeah, you do that, my throats dry. How did she take her room?”

Soraya placed his tea on the desk next to him, “She asked for a different room.”

“She will learn,” he said, sipping his tea.

Soraya walked over to the open window and noticed the rain had come, “That girl stands out from the others.”

“Indeed, she does, indeed.”

“She’s a rebel, I can see it in her eyes.” She turned to face Parvez, studying his face to guess what he was thinking.

“So, were you. Now, look at you.” Parvez smiled, showing off his impeccable white teeth before proceeding to sip his tea again. “You must understand, Roxana is special.”

“Special?”

“That's what I said!” He sipped his tea, this time draining the cup. He picked up the envelope from the desk and crumbled it in his fist.

“She will break. Am I understood?”

“Understood.”
“Good,” he said before walking out of the office leaving the door ajar. Soraya watched as his shadow receded through the dark, cold corridor.



Chapter 3

12.11.2009

The door flew open, and Soraya barged through. “Wake up, Roxana. Get up.”

Startled, I rubbed my eyes. Soraya was standing by the doorway holding a robe. “Why so early?” I asked, still groggy from sleep.

“Bath time.”

“But I’m still tired,” I yawned. “I didn’t get enough sleep.”

“Tough. Now put the gown on, and let’s go.” She threw the robe at me, “I see you have gotten accustomed to your room.”

“It’s not that I had much of a choice, is it?” I staggered out of bed and slipped the robe around me before following Soraya along the corridor. Having a shower will be nice. I could do with washing off the sweat, not to mention washing away the unpleasant feelings swirling around inside me.

“Take this.” Soraya slammed a bundle of items in my hands, a bar of soap, shampoo, and a ragged old towel. It felt coarse against my skin, and a quick sniff told me there was nothing pleasant from the smell of the soap or the shampoo, either. So much for a nice shower.

“Get in and get washed,” Soraya said, pushing me towards the door.

My heart thudded hard in time with the heavy iron door closing behind me. I just stood there in stunned silence, my skin flushing – vast number of naked women lined under the showers.

A few spared me glances as I forced myself to move forward. I tried to turn away, but my gaze would only fall upon another. Streams of water poured over a redhead in the corner. She rubbed suds up on her body. I tore my eyes to a brunette that was bent over, her hands rubbing soap on her toned calves and thighs, her hips swayed with each stroke.

I averted my gaze. There were so many of them. None seemed to care about their nudity. I had never seen anything like it. I wanted nothing more than to return to my horrible, dank room. I wanted to leave; I couldn’t look away. It was wrong, I knew. I felt sick to my stomach to think of the complete lack of privacy and modesty… and yet, I still stared. I had never seen a stranger’s naked body before, let alone so many of them at once.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Soraya asked, pulling my robe off and shoving me closer to the showers.

I took a step backward, though it was useless; I felt my back thud against Soraya, who was still standing behind me. Dread substituted my curiosity.

Soraya thinks I will get naked too. No way I’m going in there!

“No… I can’t. I can’t undress in front of all those women.” I cocked my head to face Soraya. “Please don’t make me.”

Soraya smiled at me, but nothing was comforting in the grin on her face, she looked almost like she was enjoying seeing me so uncomfortable. As if it amused her. “This is how everyone takes showers here, and it’s how you’ll take them too.”

I bit my bottom lip as I looked back at the naked crowd once again. One of them had stopped what she was doing and stared at me as I hovered in the doorway.

They don’t look like they care too much–none of them seem ashamed of their nakedness.
How could I act like them? How can I pretend I don’t care who sees the most private parts of my body? It was so unnatural to me.

“But I—”

“Enough,” Soraya said, grabbing one of my arms and pushing me closer to the showers.

My cheeks and ears felt hot. I wrapped my arms around my breasts since Soraya had stripped me of my robe, but at least I still had my panties on.

“If you don't shower, you will go to the basement, and you do not want to go there, trust me.”

I wanted to tell her I didn’t care, but the way she looked at me told me I didn’t want to see the basement. I took a step towards the showers, and then another. I knew I’d have to get naked before stepping into the tiled area, and it made me feel sick. A woman smirked at my awkwardness as I left the soap and shampoo on the floor next to my feet and held the towel in my hands. I wanted to cling to my decency for as long as possible. So, wrapping the towel around me, I did my best to remove my panties without exposing myself. It seemed silly trying to keep some of my privacy, but I succeeded, leaving my underwear on the floor.

With the towel wrapped around my body, I clutched the soap and shampoo before I stepped into the shower area. As I tried to gather the courage to drop the towel and shower, I felt someone next to me. Soraya, I thought but when I looked a blonde well-defined elegant face with sparkling green eyes, wrapped in a towel stood near me. I stared for a little longer than necessary since there are fewer beautiful things left in my life; I wanted to enjoy the sight of her.

I couldn’t see Soraya anywhere; she must have left while I had been psyching myself up.

“You're new here,” she said.

My cheeks flushed with heat as I realised, she had probably noticed me staring at her. Unable to speak from my embarrassment, I just nodded.

“I’m Samira,” she said, smiling.

I felt relief as I realised, she was trying to spark up a conversation and not angry at me; “Samira,” I repeated, looking down at the floor tiles.

“Right, and you are?”

“Oh, I am Roxana… I arrived last night,” I tried not to think about the fact that Samira was naked under the towel she was clutching to her chest. Despite the circumstances, I felt like I was breaking her trust and invading her privacy.

“You are uncomfortable?” Samira asked.

I nodded.

“I know, I was at first.”

“Now, you don’t?”

“Yes, I still do but not as much, you get used to it.” She motioned towards the naked women.

I looked at them again. They were all so different–different hair colours, different skin tones, different body shapes–and yet all beautiful in their own way. It felt so strange, watching something beautiful and yet so wrong. It made me feel uneasy. I remembered Parvez trying to convince my grandma to let him bring me here when I was younger. I wonder why he’d been so eager. I couldn’t help but shiver.

“Have you seen anything like this before?” Samira asked.

I shook my head as I glanced at the naked women. I hadn’t ever seen anything like this–nothing like a communal shower, or a group of naked ladies showering together. Above all, however, there was one thing that I found stranger than anything else.

“How can they act like nothing’s wrong? How can they all be naked, and act like it’s normal?”

Samira stared in silence for a few moments, her mood darkening. “I’m sure they were not comfortable at first; they were like us. They just… accepted their situation.”

I felt my heart sink. What if Samira is right? Does that mean that one day, I would act like them? Will this place change me, too? Something tells me there are far worse things waiting for me. This place won’t be a happy place, no matter how comfortable these women seem with each other.

“Things are weird here,” Samira said.

I looked up at her, my curiosity piqued. “What do you mean, weird?”

I have seen little of this place but already realised there is something wrong with the house, wrong with Parvez and Soraya. Since the other woman seemed fine as they showered together, I wanted to know why Samira felt that way.

“Can you elaborate on what you mean?”

“Oh, nothing specific. We should go take that shower before Soraya comes back,” she said as she untied the knot on the towel. It fell into a pool at her feet, and she stepped out of it.

I sucked in a harsh breath as I stared at her body. Her blonde hair was dark as honey with the dampness of the room, making the curls rest heavily on her bare skin. She had an amazing shaped body that matched her beautiful face. She turned her back and walked to the showers, small scars lined her back, and I could see bruises along her shoulders and spine. How could someone cause so much pain to someone so beautiful?

It was time to face my fears. I couldn’t escape or change my fate, so I might as well face it. My heart beat rapidly in my chest. My hands trembled as I untied the knot to my towel and folded it, more out of habit than preservation. I placed the itchy fabric on the floor and retrieved my soap. I stepped under another faucet, my face and ears felt hot with my embarrassment, and I tried my best to keep myself covered.

I turned on the shower. Coldwater struck my body. I gasped and bit my lip to stifle any sound. The water didn’t turn warmer. I cleared my throat. My long, black hair swished around my waist as I turned my head to ensure no one was paying me any attention. I might as well have been a ghost; I breathed a sigh of relief. I rubbed the bar in my hands and rubbed my breasts. I hissed at the contact.

“You okay?” Samira asked.

“Yes,” I said.

I tried not to look at any of the other women while I washed, and I hoped they wouldn’t look at me, either. They used to be scared as I am, once. They had only grown used to it. I hope I never would.

***

“Next time pretend you’re alone–it’ll make your showers easier,” Samira said as she wrapped the towel around herself and tucked the knot on the side of her breast under her arm.

I mimicked her and secured the fabric under my arm. We walked together towards the door. “I don’t think it will ever become easier for me. I-”

“Hey!” An unknown voice called out, making me jerk back. Startled, I clutched the fabric against my hammering chest.
Standing in front of me was a tall, full-figured woman. Her long, black hair curtained around her face, complimenting her rosy pink lips, but her facial beauty was not what made me blush. She had her curvy body uncovered, and when I realised that I touched her breasts, I pulled my hand closer to my chest as I stammered, “S-sorry.”

My eyes travelled from her furious dark eyes, full pink lips, down to her robust cleavage. My cheeks heated when my gaze fell on her flared hips, thick thighs, and a faint shade of hair between them.

She narrowed her eyes, her full lips twitching into a sneer as she looked at me. “Watch where you’re going, girl,” her shining black eyes beamed hatred as she pushed against my shoulder. My towel fell askew, and I clutched it to my body to avoid exposure.

“I… I…”
“What language are you speaking?” she asked, propping her hands on her hips.

My gaze fell to the floor. “I am sorry.”

“Sorry? Oh, wait,” the girl said, a smile curling up her lips. “Are you trying to seduce me?”

“No... no, I didn’t see you.” I glanced towards Samira, who was standing nearby.

“Well, you won’t have any such luck unless you’re exquisite.” Her hand stretched out for my towel.

“No, please… no!” I shouted, drawing the attention of several of the women in the room. I stepped backward and almost fell, but Samira’s arms caught me. It was too late. My towel hung from the other girl’s hand, and I swiped at it, trying to retrieve it. “Please stop,” I pleaded and gestured for the towel which she snatched away with a snicker.

Samira snatched the towel and wrapped it around me, covering my shame. “She’s new here. I apologize for her mistake. I promise it won’t happen again.”

“Who made you her advocate, Samira?” The tall woman’s eyes flashed.

“I have to escort her to Ms. Soraya once she’s clean, so please forgive her. We won’t get in your way again.”

I spared a glance at Samira; whose face was an unreadable mask. I blinked in awe at my new friend’s clever fabrication, and I turned back to the girl.

“Okay, take her to Soraya,” she said with irritation.

She moved closer to me and bent forward, her heavy breasts sagging forward. Her face an inch away from mine and so close her hot breath fanned across my cheeks. “I’ll see you around.” Her mouth claimed mine in a crushing kiss, the breath leaving my lungs. She pulled away and with a smile, sauntered into the shower area, hips swaying with confidence.

Once she left, I breathed. I could feel my heart hammering against my ribcage so hard that I feared the bones would crack. With shaking hands, I tied the towel back around myself. “Who the hell was that?”

“That’s Shahla,” Samira said as she looked towards the showers. “She’s been here longer than anyone. People like her can cause you problems and get you in trouble.” She sighed. “Just try to stay away from her.”

“I promise I’ll be more careful,” I frowned, “but why is she like that?”

Samira shrugged, a smooth roll of bare flesh. “I heard she wasn’t like this when she first came here, but the therapy…” her voice trailed off and her eyes went somewhere I couldn’t follow.

“Therapy? What therapy?” My brow furrowed. “Is she ill?”

“No, she isn’t,” Samira said in a clipped voice, not meeting my gaze. “Forget I said anything… I guess it’s become her nature.”

“I see,” I said, still frowning.

“Don’t think too much about it,” Samira added with a forced smile. “Try to avoid her and do what they tell you.”

I nodded, my hair swishing around my shoulders, though my mind was awhirl with a hundred different thoughts, the main one being; what on earth is this place.


*

I strode into my room and discarded the scratchy towel, letting it pool on the floor. Stepping over the bland fabric, I picked up my bag, placed it on the edge of the bed, and rummaged through it. I pulled out a yellow dress and held it up against my body. The feather-light garment was a mere whisper against my bare skin, and I caressed the fabric as though it were a lover. I had bought the garment only months ago, and I had never worn it. I froze mid-spin and the happy noise strangled in my throat.

Soraya had let herself into the room. “Here, wear these.” She dumped a pile of black clothes on the bed.
My stomach soured as I squared my shoulders. Soraya’s eyes swept from my toes to meet my gaze. Heat crept into my cheeks. My hands clasped the dress closer to my naked body. I glanced at the pile of darkness on the edge of the bed and struggled to differentiate between the all-black clothes. Black gown, black leggings, black mantle, black hijab, and a pair of black non-fanciful shoes; staring at them, I wrinkled my nose.

I turned to Soraya. “What are these?”

“Just put them on.”

I laid my dress on the bed, and inspected my new clothes, holding each item against my body while being careful not to let the fabric touch my skin. The intensity of the odor on the second-hand clothes made me sneeze, coating my tongue like bile, I couldn’t imagine myself wearing such poor garments.

“They’re all black.”

Soraya rolled her eyes at me, and I was glad they were off my exposed skin.

I couldn’t see myself in such dark clothing. It was bad enough I was already in such a dark environment. “No, I don’t like black.”

Soraya moved a few steps closer and snatched the yellow dress from the bed. I let out a sound of fury and tried to snatch the dress back from her.

Soraya moved her arm out of my grasp and huffed in aggravation. “Wear them.”

“No, I don’t want them. I have my own clothes.” I fought the urge to stomp my foot in a childish display.

Undeterred, Soraya walked over to my bag. She stared at me with her eyes boring into me like a drill. Unable to stand her stare any longer, I tore my gaze away. My lips trembled, and my eyes stung in frustration.

“Wear them,” she said.

Fear gripped my body and squeezed my chest in a vice-like grip. But my anger was stronger than my fear. I clenched my teeth, “I will not wear these dirty clothes. Let me have my dress back.”

“That is fine. Don’t wear them.” She picked up my bag and walked back to the door. “In fact, don’t wear any clothes.” She opened the door motioning for me to follow. “Come along with me.”

My eyes widened as I opened my mouth, but no sound came out. I closed it, realizing I was gaping.

“I will take you to the dining area for breakfast.”

“But you’re taking all my clothes away… how can I come without my clothes?”


“You have the uniform; you will wear it like every other girl in here.” Soraya laughed as she shook her head. “You’re not special, no matter what you think. I’ve been here a while and trust me, I would know. You’re like everyone else here.”

Anger turned my blood to steam. “You can’t take away my clothes and leave me like this.”

“You decide, Roxana.” Her lips tilted up in the corners. “Either come as you are in your underwear or put on the uniform. It’s that simple.” Soraya shrugged and turned to leave.

“No, I’m not going like this, and I’m not going to wear these smelly old clothes either!”

“Fine then, have it your way. Don’t wear any clothes.” She turned to leave the room again.

I stepped forward and clasped her bicep, softer than I wanted.

Soraya sighed and jammed her fists on her waist. Aggravation made her expression shuttered.

I thought I saw a faint flash of amusement, which only fuelled my anger. “But I’m hungry, “I said, my stomach growled so loud I wondered if Soraya had heard it.

“Then you’ll wear them?” Her question sounded more of a statement, and already, I heard the sound of triumph hitching her voice.

I glanced at the pile of black clothes on the bed. “No.”

Soraya’s smirk wavered. “Suit yourself.” She shrugged and started toward the door. Her hand grasped the knob.

“Wait.” I said.

Soraya released the handle and pivoted to fix me with an impatient stare, her hands grasped her hips.

“Wait,” I repeated.

Soraya’s took a step closer to me. “What?”

“I want to make a deal with you.”

Soraya’s eyebrows shot up, and her lips pulled into a larger grin, flashing crisp white enamel. “A deal, eh?”

Yes. I will abide by the rules and wear the uniform, but only if you let me keep one dress – the yellow one – to wear for my birthday, you see, I -”

“We do not celebrate birthdays here.” She gave a dismissive wave of her hand.

This statement caught me off guard for a moment, and my mouth fell open.
No birthdays? Why wouldn’t they celebrate birthdays here? Exactly what kind of place is this? I suppose, though, I can see the reasoning behind not wanting to celebrate the day you were born in a place such as this.

“Please, Ms… I-” My mind scrambled trying to conceive of a way to convince her.

“No, we do not make deals. Parvez does not like them. What he likes is obedience. Failure to comply is not an option.”

Her tone sounded sad. I wondered if she had first-hand experience. I didn’t have a chance to ask her because she was gone, the door slammed behind her. I took a deep, steadying breath. I stared at the closed door, my body trembling with rage. I balled my hands into fists at my sides, and my glare drifted from the door to the hideous garments on the bed.

“I hate that woman, but I won’t let her beat me – I will stand up for my rights, no matter what!”

I picked up the black dress and stared at it for a moment; I swallowed hard as I flinched. I will never wear these witches’ clothes! I shook my head, tossing locks of my hair in front of my face at the sight of the ugly garments.

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