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TEARS OF THE GODDESS by Alcina Amara

© Alcina Amara

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1992

A pickup truck tootled through the noisy crowed in the town square. Workmen were busy finishing the mobile platform they fitted. Police putting barriers to keep the public from getting near wooden construction. Most of the men standing 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 of the truck. The spectators jeered.

Omid with his hands tied behind his back held his head high, droplet of sweat run down his forehead.

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 against the revolution?”


Omid shook his head. “I did not fight against the Shahs dictatorship to replace it with the dictatorship of the mullahs.”


The guard pulled a long black band out of his pocket. “Here, let me put this over your eyes it will make it a easier on you.”

“Leave it off, please. 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 holding the blindfold halfway to the prisoner’s face. “Are you sure?”


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. “Are you not afraid?”

“Afraid? It’s irrelevant if I am or not, what matters is that I refuse to allow tyrants to use fear as a tool to stifle the voice of the people. I meet fear as a stone meets the wind.”

“But you are minutes away from death?”

Omid looked at the remains of the cigarette, all twisted and crumpled on the ground, and shrugged. “Isn’t that not how we all end up? Dead and 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, Omid; I wouldn’t miss the most important day of your life.”

“Hoping to see me beg for my life?”

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

“The cloak does not change you, you was a pimp before and your pimp now.”

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

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

Parvez turned back and got close 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.”

“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?”

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

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. 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 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-”

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.

***

My world changed the moment my grandmother was taken from life. I lost the one remaining person in Iran whom I trusted. With her gone everything good in my life ceased, the very light of the sun dimmed, I didn’t know if it would ever be bright again.
With no family left, Parvez knew it was the time to do what he always wanted, so he made his move-he took control of me, changing my path forever, putting my destiny in his hands.

2009

The awkward silence was practically audible, pulsating and filling the car to the point of suffocation. 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 could sense his tense arousal filling the car. 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.

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.

12.11.2009

My jaw dropped, I stood in stunned silence, my skin flushed–it had nothing to do with the sickening wet heat that filled the room. Or the cracked tiles on most of the walls. It was the naked women lined under the showers.
I had seen nothing like it, I wanted to return to my horrible, dank room but, I couldn’t look away. It was wrong; I knew. It made me feel sick to my stomach to think of the complete lack of privacy and modesty… but I still stared.

“What’s wrong with you?” Soraya asked.

“I had never seen a nude stranger, let alone so many,” I said as I continued to stare at them.

In a sudden unexpected move Soraya pulled off my robe and instinctively I covered my breasts.

She smiled. “Well, go wash yourself?” Said Soraya, 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 swayed with each stroke, I tried to turn away but my gaze would only fall upon another. There were so many of them. None seemed to care about their lack of privacy or modesty.

The sight of one woman smirking at my awkwardness made me feel 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, she grabbed my arm and pushed me closer to the showers. “If you don’t shower, you will go to the basement.”

“I don’t care about no… did you say basement? “

“If you haven’t showered when I come back you will go down to the basement.”

“I don’t give a damn about…basement?”

“You heard right.”

“What is in the basement?”

Her face became intense and very serious. “Pray you will never find out.” She said walking away.

A chill run down my spine; something in the way Soraya looked at me told me I didn’t want to see what the basement was.

I took a step towards the showers, then another, and then another. I knew I’d have to be naked before stepping into the tiled floor but the thought made me sick to my stomach.

As slowly as possible – hoping that some miracle would happen to stop this whole terrible scene from unfolding I wrapped the towel around me 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.

With the towel wrapped around my body 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 and shower.

I felt someone next to me. Soraya, I thought but when I looked I saw a woman with sparkling green eyes, and blond curly hair also wrapped in a towel. She had an array of perfectly aligned dentition. I noticed her sharp features, her evident cheek bones, jutting out elegantly under her facial skin.

I stared for a little longer than necessary. There were few beautiful things left in my life; I wanted to enjoy the sight of her.

“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 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 invading her privacy.

“You are uncomfortable?”

I nodded.

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

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.

I looked at the women again. They were all so different – different hair colours, different skin tones, different body shapes – and yet they were all beautiful in their own way. I remembered Parvez trying to convince my grandma to let him bring me here before, and wondering why he’d been so interested.

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

Samira stood in silence for a few moments, “I don’t think they were 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 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.

“We should go take that shower before Soraya comes back,” she said as she untied the knot on the towel and let 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 a curvy 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 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 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. 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. I stammered, “S-sorry.”

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. “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.”

*

My wet hair glistened as I ran into my room with the towel tied under my armpit. I threw my head back, making my hair drop behind, then dried them in smaller sections.

I let the towel pool on the floor, then stepped over it, and laid on my bed. I locked my arms around my shins and closed my eyes and thought about what the future might hold for me. I had fears about my current situation, but at the back of my mind, there was a lingering fear; What if this becomes my new norm? This thought scared me to my core.

I walked to the window, opened it, and breathed in the morning air. I smiled at a mother bird, making a nest for its chirping, young one. A gentle breeze came in the room, touching my face.

“You are lucky to have someone who cares for you at your tender age. Make the best of it. Who knows what tomorrow would bring?

Who knew I would end up here? Maybe Parvez.”

I walked back to the bed and reached for my crucifix under the flattened pillow. I sat up with my legs folded and crossed like a Buddhist monk in meditation. With my eyes closed, I held my precious crucifix between my hands. I was in transcendent place beyond the prison of Soraya. A while later, I got up and wondered what to wear.

I searched through my bag for a perfect dress for the day and smiled when I held up my black satin briefs. I pulled the satin 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 lifted my bag, placed it on the edge of the bed, and rummaged through it. I picked out a white 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.
Soraya walked in.

I covered myself with the towel.

Her hands were behind her back. “No need to be shy of me.”

I tightened the towel on my body. “I don’t enjoy being naked in front of others.”

“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.

I wrinkled my nose. “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. I couldn’t see myself in such dark clothing. It was bad enough I was already in such a dark environment.

“They’re all black.”

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

“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. “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.”

“You can’t leave me like this.”

“You decide, Roxana.” Her lips tilted up in the corners. “Put your uniform on or come in your underwear. It’s that simple.” She shrugged and gestured to leave.

“I’m cannot come like this, and I will not wear these smelly old clothes!”

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

I stepped forward and clasped her elbow.

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

“I’m hungry.”

“Then you’ll wear them?”

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

Soraya’s smirk wavered. “Suit yourself.” She shrugged and grasped the knob.

“Wait.”

Soraya released the handle and pivoted to stare at me.


“Please wait,”

Soraya stepped closer to me. “I am listening Roxana?”

I want to make a deal.”

Soraya’s eyebrows shot up, and her lips pulled into a larger grin, “A compromise, eh?”

“Yes. I will wear the uniform, but only if you let me keep one dress… the yellow one… for my birthday in two days, I -”

“We do not celebrate birthdays here.” She waved her hand.

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

“Please, Ms… I-”

“No, we do not make deals. Parvez does not like them. What he likes is obedience. Failure to comply is not an option.” She walked out and slammed the door.

My body trembled with rage so I took a deep, steadying breath as I stared at the closed door. My glare drifted from the door to the hideous garments on the floor.

I picked up the black dress and stared at it for a moment as I swallowed hard, “I hate that woman, but I won’t let her beat me… I will stand up for my rights, no matter what!,” I shook my head, tossing locks of my hair in front of my face at the sight of the ugly garments. 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.
“I hate her, I hate this place, and I hate you too.” Shaking the dark dress clutched in my fist furiously, I threw the detestable dress 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 had become my life behind me

*

My stomach rambled at the smell of food that hanged heavy on the air. I looked to my right, everyone was already eating on tables that spanned the length of the hall; I rolled my eyes; they seemed like carbon copies of each other. All dressed in black but unlike me they did not seem to mind.

“Come on, we haven’t all day,” said a rotund woman standing next to the serving table, she was the cook,

“Thanks, Im so hungry.”

She piled some rice on a plate, “here you are.” I waited, expecting more.

“Theres no more,” she said.

“What is this? Crumbs?”

“You’re not in a hotel you know.”

“This couldn’t satisfy a mouse.”

She grabbed me by the shoulder. “What do you expect, you arrived late so you take the leftovers!”

“You are all monsters?”

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

I glanced at the cafeteria; all were looking at me.

She squinted her eyes, “Did you call me a monster?” Putting her hands on her hips, she said, “Answer me, girl!”

I jumped. “Y-yes.”

A burst of laughter filled the hall.

The heat of my anger burned through my body like fire, “I did, you’re inhumane.” I threw the dish with the rice on the floor, smashing it to pieces.

*

Two hours of washing, cleaning and scrubbing in the kitchen and being mocked, may have drained me of strength but not of my spirit to fight back. Hungry, angry and frustrated I threw myself on the bed, and pulled my knees to my chin, tears rolled down my cheeks.
The door burst open; Soraya came in holding a small plate.
Not wanting to look weak I covered the blanket over my legs I wiped my eyes.

“I brought you a sandwich.”

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

She handed me the sandwich. “Eat it, you’ll need the energy.”

“why? why do you care?”

She tilted her head. “Everyone here 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 cook nice, 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 -”

“Theres no time to listen to your silly fantasies, you do not get to choose your own work, you shall do what I determine.”

folded my arms. “Please.”

“I said no, that is final.”

"What will you have me do?”

“Eat the sandwich, I will tell you when I return.”

***

A gentle breeze carried the combined fragrance of several flowers to my nose, confusing my nostrils, bright colours dazzled my eyes, the added sounds of birds and rustling wind tickled my senses, bringing them to a new, heightened dimension. In that instance, every negative thought and emotion I had been harbouring inside my heart evaporated. such beauty to behold being almost sacred.
I imagined if this would be some kind of heaven, perhaps. Maybe here, we could see nature for what it is and make the essence of our adolescent tenderness blossom.

With the gentle breeze tickling against my face, I felt like a princess walking on a red carpet. I dropped my hands down by my side to hold up my skirt, and I lifted my head, half-closing my eyes. At that moment, fear did not exist in my ecstatic state of wonder. How is it possible that such immense beauty existed within this ugly building?

I pushed my hijab back—allowing the wind to blow on the front of my hair—I stood, feeling a little awkward.

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

I shook my head. “Ms. Soraya asked me to help Golnaz.” I looked around, to see if anyone else was here.

She looked around too. “I am Golnaz.” She stood up and came close to me. “What is your name?”


“Roxana.” I shoved my hijab further back.

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

I felt a hot flush on my cheeks.

“Okay, Roxana.” Taking a survey of the area, she handed me a pair of garden scissors. “I’ll do the right side, and you can do the left.”

I nodded and got on with the task. Soon I was absorbed in pruning the flowers, and I started humming a tune.

“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…” I saw a shadow on the ground of someone standing above me. I looked up.

A big man with short, dark curly hair and a scar across his right cheek; his green eyes looked at me. I froze and could not look away from him. He shook his head, then walked towards the trees.

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

“It’s an old American song I learned from my grandma, who was that man?”

“Zoori, Parvez calls him the enforcer. It’s not a good idea to sing American songs here – it might get you in trouble.”

I stood up. “Trouble?”

“Yes, of course, America is the big Satan.”

“What is the therapy?” The sudden question escaped my mouth before I could stop it.

Golnaz looked around the garden then at me. “Roxana. That’s your name, right?”

I nodded as I took an involuntary step back.

“You shouldn’t be asking questions like that; I don’t know you ….” She glanced around her again, “Do what they tell you. That’s the only way to survive here.”




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