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© Alcina Amara

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10 October1992

A pickup truck tootled through the noisy crowd in the town square. Workmen were busy finishing the mobile platform they fitted, and the police were putting up barriers to keep the public from getting near the construction. Most of the men waiting for the show were Basijis—one of the five forces of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard. The truck parked under a tree and the driver stepped out and went to the back to help the prisoner out. The spectators jeered. Omid, with his hands tied behind his back, held his head high, a droplet of sweat ran down his forehead.

The guard placed a cigarette between the prisoner’s lips and lit a match. “You were a great agitator against the Shah. Why did you turn against the revolution?”

Omid shook his head. “I didn’t fight to overturn the Shah’s dictatorship to replace it with the dictatorship of the mullahs.”

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

“Leave it off. I don’t wish to be in darkness… I prefer to die with the light.” He looked toward the crowd, the guards, the police, and the hooded man standing on the wooden platform.

The guard held the blindfold halfway to the prisoner’s face. “Are you sure?”

Sweat ran down Omid’s brow. He took his last drag of the cigarette, then nodded.

The guard took the cigarette from his mouth and dropped it on the ground, crushing it under his boot. “Are you not afraid?”

“Fear is irrelevant. What matters is that I refuse to let tyrants use fear as a tool to stifle the voice of the people. I’ll meet fear as a stone meets the wind.”

“You are minutes away from death.”

Omid looked at the remains of the cigarette, twisted and crumpled on the ground, and shrugged. “Is that not how we all end up?

Dead… used up, lying lifeless on the ground like that broken cigarette?”

“The brave Omid,” said 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, would I miss your most important day?”

“Hoping to see me beg for my life?”

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

“You were a pimp before and you’re a pimp now. Hiding behind a cloak doesn’t change you.”

“I guess there’s nothing more to say to you. Try to enjoy your ending. I will,” he turned to leave.

“Keep away from Helena.”

Parvez turned back, “Helena… yes, your dear wife.” His mouth curled into a thin line. “You idealistic fool you should have thought of her before you tried to be Che Guevara.”

“I am not asking much, damn you.”

“No need to worry about anything my dear nephew. I will not leave your unborn child to its own devices. If it’s a boy I will recruit him and see to it, that he becomes a loyal servant but if it’s a girl I assure you, when she’s of age, I will take her under my wing.”

Omid squeezed his eyes into thin slits. “You stay away from my family.”

“Goodbye, Omid,” he leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead. “Enjoy your journey to hell,” he said, then made his way through the crowd.

“You leave them alone, you hear me?”

“It’s time. let’s go,” said the guard.

The guard marched the prisoner toward a small mobile platform at the edge of the crowd. With a firm hold on his arms, he pushed him onto the stage.

As he stood on the platform, Omid glanced at the man who’d been waiting for him: a giant figure dressed in black, whose hood hid his features along with his humanity, for it was vital to shield the face of the person who was about to commit the most inhumane act. There was no humanity here. None.

The tall, hooded figure reached out for Omid, and lead him to the ladder in the middle of the 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 and the rough surface scratched against his skin as it tightened. The hooded man stepped back down to the stage, leaving the prisoner alone at the top of the ladder.

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

The jeering crowd lapsed into silence.

“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-”

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

The guard looked at the floor. Omid’s last cigarette lay there, crushed.

11 November 2009

The drive was long and tedious. We drove past many towns and villages. The awkward silence was almost audible. 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. The back of the driver’s white turban reminded me of everything I wanted to forget. My cheeks flushed, I opened my window. The cool breeze assuaged the heat from my face like a lover’s caress. The smell of creosote bushes wafted toward me. I closed my eyes, my heart pounding with a yearning for something I didn’t know.

“Are you worried Roxana?” The driver said.

Scowling, I looked into the rear-view mirror, the eerie sight of his eyes bore into mine. Something passed across his eyes, causing them to sparkle. Eagerness, perhaps?

I rubbed at the goose bumps on my arms. “Why? Should I be?…Haji Parvez.”

“Nah, I don’t think so. No need to worry about your new home.”

“Home, don’t you mean my new prison?”

“It doesn’t have to be… unless you make it one. This will differ from the orphanage.”

“How will be different?”

It’s a place of learning. You won’t be treated like a child. You will get an education. Learn new skills. You will become…” Parvez turned his head slightly towards me, “very effective.”

Disgust filled my belly. I didn’t understand what he meant by me becoming effective. The way he said it—I didn’t dare ask him.

The car slowed to a roll; I shifted my eyes to the windshield. Endless miles of scarred terrain stared back in isolation; peaks of jagged mountains formed across the horizon in a menacing manner. Miles of aged military wire stretched along the worn path of the 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, entered a code, and the gate opened. We drove in; the gate closed. We were in a yard enclosed by a wired wall.
He got out and opened my door.

I stepped down and streched my arms. It was dark. Rain was imminent. The weather echoed my own feelings. “My bag?” I said pointing to the boot.

“I’ll bring it in later.” He gestured at the large building nestled amongst many trees.

“My God, what is this place? It looks like an isolated prison.”

“This is where we turn girls into women.”

His words cut through me but I didn’t want to ask him to say anymore. I dragged my feet along the gravel, towards the front of the house. It was quiet except for the rattling of bird feathers on the trees, and the rattling of my heart.

Parvez pulled out a key and went to unlock the door, but it creaked open. A slim figure of a woman dressed in a black chador stood on the doorway leaning on the sill.

“I saw you approaching,” she said in a husky voice.

Parvez looked at me. “Soraya misses nothing,” he pointed at her, “you will obey her every command… am I understood, Roxana?”

I stared at him in silence. If looks could kill, he would’ve dropped dead on the spot.

Soraya flashed her bright hazel eyes at me with an intense penetrating stare. Did I see a glimmer of kindness in her eye?

Parvez pulled out an envelope from his trouser pocket. “Take her details.”

She took the envelope. “Roxana, come with me.”


I followed her through a long stretch of arched corridor that had brown doors on both sides. She opened the last door on the right. “Come in.”

My stomach rumbled with nerves, as I stepped in. A clock on the wall showed 11.10 pm. “I’m exhausted.” I yawned.

“Any one would be after a thirteen-hour drive. You may sit down.”

I glanced at her. She wasn’t wearing makeup. I saw dark circles under her eyes, but she had somewhat of a natural beauty. I gave her a weak smile and then sat on the chair. She opened a small fridge, poured a glass of water, and offered it to me. I didn’t need asking twice, I quickly gulped most of it, quenching my thirst. She pulled a blue register book from the top drawer of a metallic file cabinet and sat behind her desk. She placed her glasses on the bridge of her nose, picked up a knife from her desk, and eased open the flap. She withdrew the letter.

She glanced at me. “You’re a Christian?”

I nodded.

“Your father was a Muslim, that makes you a Muslim.”

I shot her a furious glance. “That’s your opinion.”

“Don’t roll your eyes at me,” She said than continued to scan the note, “Your father was hanged?”

I closed my eyes.

“The court convicted him as an arsonist.”

Anger spiralled from the pit of my stomach causing me to jump from my seat, “my father was not an arsonist.”

She looked straight back at me. “According to the record he was.”

I narrowed my eyes into thin slits. “It’s lies, I tell you, it’s all lies. He stood up against injustice, that’s all he did.”

She stood up. “Remove your hijab and sit back on that chair.” She pulled out a small comb from her desk draw. “I need to inspect your hair.”

I took my time to drink the last bit of water, then slowly I untied my hijab and sat on the chair. A monitor on the desk showed CCTV feeds from the camera at the front of the building. Parvez was taking my bag out of the boot of his car. Looking at him made my stomach churn with anxiety.

“Your hair is clean, there’s no need to put your hijab back on.” Soraya said. “I’ll take you to your room.


I retched at the damp odour pervading the air. My roving eyes scanned the little room. Patches of green mould covered the walls. The white tiles of the floor turned into a greyish brown colour. A sleeping mat on the floor seemed to have seen its better days. There were several holes around the lower part of the walls. Disgusted, I folded my arms.

“What are you looking so horror struck for?” Soraya said.

“You expect me to live here?”

“Why not? What’s so special about you?”

“I’m a human being, not an animal.”

She jerked her head back. “How ungrateful you are. You just left an orphanage; you have no qualifications. How will you survive outside? What will you do? The state is providing you with free shelter, food, clothing, and education, so don’t complain.”

“If you’re planning my future then tell me exactly what I am here to study?”

She nudged her finger on my chest. “As a daughter of a criminal… a traitor, you will learn how to serve your country.”

“Liar, my father was not a traitor.”

“You listen to me very carefully.” Her hazel eyes stared at me unblinking. “You are a nobody. You have nothing; no family, no friends, no home, do you hear me? NOTHING.”

She walked behind me, bringing her mouth close to my ear. “Nobody wants you. All of you in here are rejects of society. If it wasn’t for Parvez, you would be a prostitute, selling your body in the streets. Do you understand?”

Straightening up, she walked over to the door. “You sleep on it… when you wake up, you’d better find some gratitude, otherwise things will be very difficult for you.” With that she went out, slamming the door behind her, making me jump.

I saw myself in the mirror on the door, my long black hair, my well-defined face, and my dark brown eyes. I was wearing a black blouse and tight black jeans under my white manteaux.

You have nothing, no family, no friends, no home, nothing. Nobody on earth wants you… Soraya’s words haunted me. I moved over to the room’s only window, staring out at the evening sky trying to find some comfort in the stars. I used to be part of a loving family… the family was gone. The love was gone. Everything was gone. Forever.


The door flew open. “Wake up, come on.”

I rubbed my eyes, then raised my glance to the door. Soraya was standing there holding a garment.

“What’s the time?” I said.

“Six a.m., bath time.”

“Why so early?”

“Don’t ask questions,” she said, pulling the blanket off me.

“I’m tired.” I yawned. “I didn’t sleep enough.”

“That’s tough,” she said, throwing a bathrobe at me, “put that over yourself.”

I staggered out of bed and slipped the robe around my shoulders.

“I see you have become accustomed to the room,” she said.

“Did I get a choice?” I asked, rolling my eyes.


A sickening wet heat filled the room. I stood, stunned into silence. My skin flushed. Dozens of naked women lined under the showers.
I wanted to return to my horrible, dank room but I couldn’t look away. It was wrong; I knew. It made me sick to my stomach to think of the complete lack of privacy… but I couldn’t help but stare.

“What’s wrong with you?” Soraya said.

“I’ve never seen a body nude, let alone so many.”

She smiled. “Go wash yourself.” Shoving me closer to the showers.

I took a step backwards, it was useless; I felt my back thud against Soraya. My previous curiosity gave way to dread. Does Soraya think I will get naked? No way!

Soraya smiled. “This is the daily routine, so I suggest you get used to it.”

A brunette was bent over, her palms rubbing soap on her calves, her hips swaying with each stroke. I tried to turn away, but my gaze would only fall upon another. There were so many of them. Not a single person seemed to care about their lack of privacy.

The sight of one woman smirking at my awkwardness made me feel even more embarrassed.

I scratched the tip of my nose. “I… I can’t, I can’t.”

Soraya chuckled.

How can I pretend I don’t care who sees the most private parts of my body? It’s just unnatural to me. “No, I need privacy.”

“Enough!” Soraya shouted, pushing me closer to the showers. “If you don’t shower, you will go to the basement.”

“I don’t care about no—” I paused and gaped at her. “Did you say basement?”

“You heard right,” her face became intense, “pray you never find out what is down there,” she said, walking away.

A chill ran down my spine; I took a step towards the shower. I removed my panties without exposing myself. It seemed silly trying to keep some of my privacy, but I wanted to cling to my decency for as long as possible. A woman smirked at my awkwardness. I took in a shaky breath and stepped into the shower area, trying to stick to the side-lines as I gathered the courage to drop the towel.

I felt someone next to me. It was a woman with sparkling green eyes, and blond curly hair wrapped in a towel. Her sharp features, cheek bones, jutted out elegantly under her skin. I stared a little longer than necessary. I wanted to enjoy the sight of her.

“You’re new, right?” she said.

My cheeks flushed from embarrassment. She must have noticed me staring at her.

“I’m Ava,” she said with a soft smile.

She was trying to spark up a conversation, not angry at me. “Ava,” I repeated, looking down at the floor tiles.

“Right, you are?”

“Oh, I am Roxana.” I tried to not think about the fact that Ava was naked under the towel she was clutching to her chest. I felt like I was invading her privacy.

“You are uncomfortable?”

I nodded.

“I know, everything is weird here. You get used to it.”

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

I had seen little of this place but already realised there was something wrong with the house, wrong with Parvez. “Can you elaborate on what you mean?”

“Nothing specific.”

I looked at the women. They were all so different–different hair colours, different skin tones, different body shapes–yet they were all beautiful in their own way.

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

“I don’t think they are comfortable. They’ve just… accepted their situation.”

I felt my heart sink. What if Ava is right? Does that mean one day, I would act like them? Will this place change me? Something tells me there are far worse things waiting for me here.

“Let’s go take that shower.” She untied the knot and the towel fell into a pool at her feet.

Her curvy body matched her beautiful face. A rush of heat with a tingling sensation attacked me.

“Well, are you coming?”

“Erm… ye… yes, sure.” What’s wrong with me?

She walked to the showers. Small scars lined her back, some bruises on her buttocks.
Oh God, what’s that? Who did that to her? How could someone cause so much pain to someone so beautiful?

It was time to face my fears. My heart thudded. I removed the bathrobe and placed it neatly on the floor.
I stepped under another faucet and turned on the shower. The sudden shock of the cold water made me tense my muscles. I gasped and bit my lip to stifle any sound. The water slowly warmed, soothing my body.
I slid my fingers into my long black hair, then poured soap into my hands and rubbed it over my body, soothing my skin. The soap caressed my neck, and down to my breasts. My nipples were hard, running along my body, my vagina was moist. What’s wrong with me? Why is my body reacting this way? I couldn’t understand it. A lone tear ran down and tickled my cheek and mixed with the running water.


“Try to pretend you’re alone–it’ll make your showers easier,” Ava said, wrapping the towel around herself and tucking the knot on the side of her breast under her arm.

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

“Hey!” An unknown voice called out, making me jerk back. Startled, I clutched the towel against my hammering chest.

I bumped into a tall, full-figured woman. Her curvy body uncovered.

My eyes travelled from her furious dark eyes, full pink lips, down to her robust cleavage. My gaze fell on her flared hips, thick thighs, a faint shade of hair between them. Heat rushed to my cheeks. I pulled my hand closer to my chest. “S-sorry.”

“Are you blind, girl?” She narrowed her eyes, her full lips twitching into a sneer.

“It was an accident, it’s no big deal,” I said.

She pushed against my shoulder.

“Don’t push me.” I glared at her.

“How do you propose to stop me?” she asked, propping her hands on her hips.

I glanced towards Ava, who was standing by.

A smile curled up her lips. “Ava can’t help you.” Her hand clutched my towel.

“No, please… no!” I stepped backward and almost fell. My towel fell on the floor.

Ava snatched the towel and wrapped it around me. “She’s new. I apologise on her behalf. It won’t happen again.”

“Who made you her advocate, Ava?” The tall woman asked.

“I have to escort her to Ms. Soraya, so please forgive her.”

I glanced at Ava; whose face was an unreadable mask. I blinked in awe at her clever fabrication.

The tall woman moved closer to me; her face an inch away from mine, so close her hot breath fanned across my cheeks. “You’re pretty.” Her mouth claimed mine in a crushing kiss, the breath leaving my lungs. She pulled away. “I’ll see you about.” She turned to Ava. “Take her to Soraya.” She sauntered into the shower area, hips swaying with confidence.

I took a hard breath, 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 is she?”

“Shahla,” Ava replied. “She’s been here longer than anyone. She can get you in trouble. Try to stay away from her.”

“What is wrong with her? Why is she like that?”

Ava shrugged. “I heard she wasn’t like this when she first came here, but the therapy… I guess it’s become her nature.” Her eyes went glossy.

“Therapy?” My brow furrowed “Is she ill?”

“No, she isn’t,” Ava said, not meeting my gaze.

“What is the therapy?”

“Nothing… forget I said anything… don’t think too much about it,” Ava added with a forced smile. “Just avoid her and do what they tell you.”


I removed my towel from my body, sat on the rug and searched my bag for something to wear. I held up my black satin briefs and pulled them over my legs. The fabric felt wonderful on my skin. I stretched before the mirror. A woman stared back. With my long hair, perky breasts, and sultry curves, I oozed sensuality. I rummaged through my bag. This time I picked out a yellow dress and held it up against my body. The feather-light garment was a mere whisper against my bare skin. Soraya walked in; I covered my breasts with the dress.

“Wear these.” She dumped a pile of black clothes on the floor.

My stomach soured. 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 squinted my eyes to differentiate between the pile of darkness. Black gown, black leggings, black mantle, black hijab, plain black shoes. I put my dress back in the bag. I held each item against my body while being careful not to let the fabric touch my skin. The intensity of the odour on the clothes made me sneeze.

“They’re all smelly.”

Soraya snatched the yellow dress from the bag. I tried to snatch the dress back from her, but she moved her arm out of my grasp.

“Wear them.”

“No, I don’t want them.” 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. Unable to stand her stare any longer, I tore my gaze away. My lips trembled with frustration.

“Wear them,” she commanded.

Fear squeezed my chest, but an anger arose that was stronger than the fear. I clenched my teeth. “I will not wear these dirty clothes. Let me have my dress back or give me clean clothes to wear.”

“That’s fine. Don’t wear them.” She picked up my bag and walked to the door. “Don’t wear any clothes.” She opened the door. “Come along with me.”

“What?” I asked with widened eyes.

“It’s breakfast time, I will take you to the dining area.”

“What? Are you serious? You’re taking all my clothes away… how can I come?”

“Don’t come then, go without food.” Soraya shook her head. “You’re not special, no matter what you think.”

I squirmed under her gaze. “Don’t leave me without clothes.”

“You decide, Roxana.” Her lips tilted up in the corners.

“No, I can’t wear smelly old clothes. I’m not a slave, I have rights.”

“Fine, have it your way.” She turned to the door.

I clasped her elbow.

She jammed her hands on her waist. “What?”

“I’m hungry.”

“Will you wear them?”

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

“Suit yourself.” She grasped the knob.


Soraya released the handle. “I am listening, Roxana.”

“I want to make a deal.”

Soraya stepped closer to me, eyebrows raised, and her lips pulled into a larger grin, “A compromise, eh?”

“I will wear them, if you let me keep one dress… the yellow one… it’s my birthday soon and I -”

“We do not celebrate birthdays here.”

My mouth fell open. No birthdays? Why wouldn’t they celebrate birthdays here? What kind of place is this?

“Please, Ms… I-” My mind scrambled trying to come up with a way to convince her.

“No, we do not make deals. Parvez doesn’t like them. What he likes is obedience. Failure to comply is not an option.” Her tone sounded sad. I wonder if she had first-hand experience. I didn’t have a chance to ask her because she was gone, the door slamming loudly 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 swallowed hard and picked up the black dress and stared at it for a moment with disgust. 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 garment. Just then, a mouse emerged from a hole at the base of the wall and skittered across the floor in a grey flash. I glared at it, my skin crawling.

“I hate her, I hate this place, and I hate you too.” Shaking the dark dress clutched in my fist furiously, I then threw it at the nasty rodent. It darted back into the hole.

How I wished I were that mouse so I could climb through that hole and leave the nightmare of what my life had become.


My stomach rumbled at the aroma of food that hung heavy in the air. I stood by the entrance of the large dining area; pictures decorated the white walls, images of the twelve Imams, and Khamenei the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Ayatollah Khamenei—the supreme leader, and some various mosques. On the floor, several young women sat around a big sofa, eating their food; I rolled my eyes; they were all dressed in the plain black uniforms, looking like carbon copies of each other. A serving table stacked with cutlery and dishes lined the wall to my left. Two women dressed in white aprons were busy clearing empty plates. One was fat and the other thin. I imagined them to be the female version of Laurel and Hardy; I giggled at my private thought.

I picked up a plate, turning my nose up at the stains; I went to fill my plate. “What’s this?”

The rotund woman in the white apron stared at me. “What do you expect, you arrived late.”

“This is crumbs, it wouldn’t feed a mouse.”

She grabbed me by my shoulder. “You’re not in a hotel.”

“Don’t touch me, you monster!”

“What did you say?” Her face was slick with sweat.

I glanced at the cafeteria; all eyes were on me.

“Answer me, girl!” She squinted her eyes. “Did you call me a monster?”

“Yes, I did.”

The hall fell silent, no whispers, no nothing. The rotund woman was staring at me, her eyes wide. A shiver ran up my spine. I knew I was in for it.

“Get her to wash all the dishes,” added the thin woman.

“No problem, I’ll wash all the dishes… the proper way,” I said.

A burst of laughter filled the hall.

Hungry, humiliated, and worst of all, with an injured pride caused by capitulating to Soraya over the dress made my blood boil into a roaring heat of anger that burned through my body. I threw the dish on the floor, smashing it to pieces.


Two hours of washing, cleaning, and being mocked in the kitchen drained me of strength. Hungry, I sat on the rug, and pulled my knees together and rested my chin on them. Tears rolled down my cheeks.

The door burst open; Soraya came in holding a small plate.

Not wanting to look weak, I wiped my eyes.

“I brought you a sandwich. Eat it, you’ll need the energy.”

I tucked a lock of hair away from my eye and looked at her with suspicion.

“Well, take it before I change my mind.”

I took the sandwich. Why does she care if I starve?

“Everyone does chores, I decide who does what.”

“What do you mean?”

“Did you think you will spend your time idling in bed every day, doing nothing?”

I tossed my hair. “I don’t mind working. I am a quite a good cook; my grandmother taught me.”
“It’s out of the question.”

“Grandma was a good dressmaker, she showed me how to use a sewing machine.”

“So?” She shrugged.

“I can mend clothes, even make dresses -”

“There’s no time to listen to your silly fantasies, you don’t get to choose. You do as I say.”

I folded my arms. “What will you have me do?”

“Eat the sandwich, I will decide when I return.”


A breeze carried the fragrance of several flowers to my nose. The bright colours dazzled my eyes and the sounds of birds and rustling wind tickled my senses. All negative thoughts and emotions evaporated. A sense of sacredness fell upon me. At that moment, I could be whatever I wanted, I was free. Fear did not exist in my ecstatic state of wonder. Maybe here I could see nature for what it was and make the essence of my adolescent tenderness blossom.

How is it possible that such immense beauty exists within this ugly building?

I pushed my hijab back, allowing the wind to blow on the front of my hair.

A redhead pruning roses glanced at me. “Are you lost?”

I shook my head. “Ms. Soraya asked me to help Omideh.”

“I’m Omideh.” She came close to me. “What is your name?”


“You’re the new one; I saw you this morning at the showers.”

I felt a hot flush on my cheeks. She handed me a pair of garden scissors and told me to work on the left side.

Soon I lost myself in singing and pruning.

“Why you wanna fly Blackbird, you ain’t ever gonna fly
No place big enough for holding all the tears you’re gonna cry
Cos your mama’s name was lonely and your daddy’s name was pain
And they call you little sorrow cos you’ll never love again
So why you wanna fly Blackbird, you ain’t ever gonna fly
You ain’t got no one to hold you. You ain’t got no one to care
If you’d only understand dear, nobody wants you anywhere
So why you…”

A shadow covered me. I looked up.

A tall man with bulking muscles, and short curly black hair stared at me with his green piercing eyes that said I wouldn’t hesitate to break your fucking neck. His face was hard with a scar on his forehead. His nose was flat as a boxer.

He shook his head, then walked towards the trees and out of sight.

Omideh stood up and rubbed her hands on her thighs. “What was that song?”

“It’s an old American song I learned from my grandma.”

“It’s not a good idea to sing those kinds of songs–it might get you in trouble.”

I stood up. “Trouble?”

“Sure, America is the big Satan.”

“Who was that man?”

“Zoori, Parvez calls him the enforcer.”

“What’s the therapy?” The sudden question escaped my mouth.

Omideh looked over her shoulder. “You shouldn’t be asking these questions. I don’t know you.” She glanced over her shoulder. "If you want to survive, then don’t ask questions, just do everything that they tell you.”


Running on empty, I tucked myself to bed. The door burst open and Soraya walked in.

“Come along with me,” she said.

I rubbed my eyes. “I was about to sleep.”

“You’re going to the doctor,” she replied with a cold expression on her face.

I pushed the blanket off my chest and sat upright. “Why do I need a doctor?”

“It’s routine.” Her smile seemed to conceal something sinister.

“I’m in my pyjamas.”

“Its fine, just come.”

“It’s late… I’m tired.”

“Roxana, stop stalling, do what I say.” A flush of red appeared on her cheeks.

“There’s no point arguing with you, is there?”

I followed Soraya across the corridor. She opened a door. Long cold stairs descended into darkness.

Panic clawed at my chest. “Basement?” I swallowed hard. A tightness in my chest hurt me so much I thought a heart attack was imminent. “Why are you taking me to the basement?”

“Don’t worry. The basement has different sections; we’re going to the medical department, not the dungeon.”

Dungeon? Did I hear, right?


The room was huge with various cabinets surrounding it. Black-and-white tiles covered the floor. All kinds of medical instruments were spread out across the tables.
There was a metal bed in the middle of the room, above it was a large bulb hanging by a cord from the ceiling.

Soraya pointed to another door. “This way.”

I followed her into a small bathroom.

“Remove your clothes and wash.” She placed a sponge and soap on a little stand.

I looked at her with raised eyebrows. “I had my bath this morning.” My heart beating fast.

“It doesn’t matter.” She turned on the silver-rimmed shower faucet, causing water to sprinkle, filling the tiled floor. “You need to be clean for the Dr to examine you.”

I frowned. “Examine me? Why?”

“Medical examination is routine, I told you that already.”

“I hate this place.”

“You can love it or hate it, it doesn’t matter either way, you will conform.”

I glared at her; to hell I will, bitch, I said with my eyes.

“Go on, take off your clothes.”

My cheeks flushed; I fixed my eyes on the floor.

“Stop wasting time. Move.”

With trembling hands, I peeled off my pyjamas. Wearing only my cotton panties, I looked at the older woman, hoping she’d understand and leave – or at least, turn around.

“Everything I said.” The look in her eyes reminded me what she’d said about the dungeon.

Do what they tell you. That’s the only way to survive here. This is what they told me.

Concentrating on those words, I pulled down the last cloth covering my modesty, and stepped under the cold stream of water. Shivering, my skin felt numb. Why couldn’t Soraya have warmed it up? Why couldn’t she have been nicer? It was useless to wonder, so I lathered the soap all over my body, letting the strong fragrance wash over me. At least I enjoyed the smell.

Soraya handed me a white gown. “Are you a virgin?”

I looked at her with squinted eyes, heat burning my cheeks as I slipped the gown on.

“Well, are you?”

I shot a furious glance at her. “Yes, I am. I’m not married. Why do you ask stupid questions?”

“Good,” she said as she tied my gown from the back.

I looked down: The gown was so short it left my legs exposed right up to my upper thighs. I felt as naked in the gown as I had without it. “It’s very short.” I felt the heat on my face. “I want to wear my knickers.”

She shrugged a shoulder. “Okay, if that makes you feel better.”

I wasted no time in putting them on. We went back to the adjoining room.

Soraya pointed at the bed. “Lay down on there before the doctor gets here.”

I gazed at the bed; dread darkened my heart. I could taste fear in the back of my throat.

What are they planning on doing to me? Why do I need an inspection? Why do they care whether or not I am a virgin? Is this what Ava meant when she said weird things were happening in this place? Because this is indeed weird.

“I don’t… I-I don’t like this. I want to go back to my room.” My heart raced like a marathon runner. I tried to leave through the same way we came, but Soraya’s tall form filled the doorway. She arched a perfect brow at me, and a drop of ice sliding down my spine was enough to let me know that it wasn’t smart to resist. This wasn’t even a punishment, after all, and it was horrible. How bad would the actual punishment be?

I sat on the bed, the contact with the cold metal made me shiver. Terrified, I wanted to retrieve the crucifix from my dress, holding it always calmed me, but it would probably anger Soraya, and she would confiscate it.

The door opened. A tall, thin, bald man with glasses wearing a white coat walked in. “I’m Dr. Hamid,” he said.

My jaw dropped and my fear turned into disgust. I pressed my knees together. “A man!”

Being examined by a woman would have been humiliating enough, but a man? That was too much. I looked at Soraya, but to my horror, she didn’t intervene – she didn’t even look shocked. The urge to murder her with my bare hands was strong.

“Do not be frightened. I will not harm you. Relax,” he said softly, moving closer to me.

I shook my head, flinching back. “Don’t come near me, I’m not dressed.”

He placed his hand on my shoulder. “Calm down.”

I pushed his hand away. “No! I won’t. Let me go back to my room. Even Parvez will not agree with this!”

He stepped back. “Fetch some water,” he instructed Soraya.

She walked to a nearby cabinet, filled a glass with water then offered it to me.

I looked at the glass with distrust.

“Take it, please,” he said.

My throat was dry, so I took the glass of water, but before I could drink it, he shook out two tablets from a bottle. “I want you to swallow them.”

“No way will I take them!”

“You leave me no choice.” The look on his face remained friendly. He turned to Soraya and said, “Prepare the injection.”

With wide eyes, I looked at Soraya. The stern look on her face told me she wouldn’t be helping me. With a trembling heart, I took the pills, and gulped the water, swallowing them both.

What are they? Would they make me sick?

“That’s a good, obedient, young woman.” His sickening smile looked threatening. “I’ll be back soon – sit tight.”

He walked over to the back of the room and sat behind a desk, writing into his notebook. I kept my eyes on him–to make sure I knew where he was and what he was doing.

He walked back over. “You may leave.”

I watched Soraya’s retreat through the door. Even though I despised her, I wished she had stayed; I was terrified of being alone with this creepy doctor.

Holding an injection, he lifted my arm. I felt too sleepy to resist and found it hard to keep my eyes focused. Everything seemed blurry, hazy, dreamlike. I watched him injecting me from far away, like it was happening to someone else. He held a metallic instrument that looked like a pair of long scissors shining in the light. He untied my gown, and I lost consciousness.


Drowsy and disoriented, I lifted my head. A light above cast a dull hue over me, everything seemed blurry. I squinted my eyes a few times: The room was empty, without a window so I knew I was somewhere in the basement. In front of me was a door. Soraya walked in holding a bag.

“How do you feel?” She said.

I covered my mouth. “I think I’m going to puke.”

“You will be fine,” she said, lifting the blanket of me.

A cold breeze rushed over my body, I was naked. I glanced at Soraya standing over me. I was too exhausted to cover myself or care about my modesty. “What happened yesterday? Why does my body hurt?”

“That’s the side effect of the medication.”

“What medication?”

“As from today, you will take them on a daily basis.”


“You suffer from a rare mental disorder.”

“Mental disorder,” I squinted my eyes.

“Yes, MPD,” she said, pulling my clothes out of the bag.

“What's that?”

“You have various personalities that you have no control over. The drugs, along with regular therapy, will keep them in check–otherwise, they would spiral out of control.”

I frowned. “I don’t suffer from any disorder, there’s nothing wrong with me! It’s this horrible place that causes me stress. I don’t need any treatment.”

“You need them, for your own good.” She placed my clothes on the bed. “Get dressed when you can.” She turned and left.

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