CW: sexual assault, physical abuse, genital mutilation, violence
Woman. Virgin. I chew gum. The number 217 glides across the rectangular neon monitor. Matches the number on my token. I walk into a small room. Instructions on a laminated A4 printout tell me to change into the robe, lie on the examination table, place my feet in the stirrups, and wait. I do as instructed. Chew gum. A woman in a white lab coat walks in, a half-smile fixed on her face. She puts on blue latex gloves. The hard, cold, metal duckbill speculum pries me open. Breathe. It’s done. I collect my virginity certificate, attach it to the job application, press submit. Text my mother, “All done.” Chew gum.
Woman. Wed to the holy scriptures. The day my father dies, I inherit hundreds of acres of agricultural land. Land that cannot leave the family lineage. I am wed to the scriptures to protect my inheritance. Wed before my father’s corpse turns cold. My brother and uncle hold my thumb to the inkpad and impress it on a paper. Not once, four times. Each impression ties the land to my name, and after I die, to my brother and his children. Not mine. I am to have no children. No husband. No family. Wed to the scriptures, I am left to mourn, mourn my rich inheritance, mourn my impoverished womb.
Woman. Not quite. I am nine years old. This morning, mother gives me an unusually long bath by the stream. Her thumb presses deep into my neck, the pumice tickles my soles. Why are my grandma and my aunties visiting, I wonder. They stand together at a distance and watch me bathe. Mother’s hand slips between my thighs, rubs in coconut oil in and around me. Butterfly fingers prickle me there. Something in mother’s eyes stops me from giggling. Mother dresses me in an old wrap I never seen before. She hands me over to the older women, leans against the wall, and watches me walk off. We reach a mud hut. Inside, a woman squats on the bare floor. White wisps of hair crown her face. The women lay me down and kneel around me. I ask for mother. Grandma makes bee sounds from her mouth. Cold hands hold both my ankles apart. A cut is made. Bee sounds drown my cries.
Woman. I refuse. He beats me. I refuse. He leaves. He returns. Beats me again. I refuse again. I stand tall. Look him in the eye. Over my dead body, my eyes say. His fists and feet hit against soft flesh. My mouth cracks open from deep inside. Tongue rolls over a tooth come loose. He leaves. The metal chain hits against the door. I breathe in sync. I win. My little girl is safe. There will be no wedding. My girl is safe. There will be no child bride. The girl is safe.
Woman. I am seen. With him. We stand within our own shadow in a dark alley. His one arm holds me by my waist, the other pushes me from behind against him. I nibble the side of his neck. That is when I see them see us. My heart snaps. I hurry home. I confess. Tell mother. Father listens from outside the room. Mother cries. Father says nothing. He locks my door from the outside. Hours go by. Then the door opens. I sit up. The sound pierces my ear before the bullet burns through my chest. They enfold my body in a shroud, twist its end above my head and under my feet like a toffee’s. My body thumps into a dugout. Not a grave. An unmarked pit. My death is added to the numbers killed for honor that year.
Woman. A bride. Third wife to a man older than my father. He has small eyes and the largest house in the community. He walks slowly to the bed where I sit in my red bridal. Mother’s organza-silk scarf bordered with gold lace covers my head. Podgy fingers push my chin up. He grunts. Sits on the edge of the bed, loosens his shalwar’s drawstring. The flaccid penis shows. He pushes my head down. I take it in my mouth. His hand moves my head over it. I feel a warm spit on my tongue. I keep my eyes shut. Squeezed tight shut.
Woman. Afraid. My fear as thick as the chador that engulfs my body. The chador, my captor, and my accomplice, trails behind me on the marble floor. My bare feet slither over the stone and give out a silent hiss. I step out of one door and into another. Take what is my right. For the first time. I settle into the leather seat, turn the key in the ignition. Feet dance on the pedals. The car rolls, wheels race faster. The power of motion surges through me, the expanse of the road ahead fills me. I break through all barriers. For the first time. Sirens and spinning red-blue lights encircle me. I do not stop. I will not stop. I drive. For the first time.
Insha Hamdani is a communications and strategic management professional. During the day, she supports efforts for the inalienable right to health in low-resource settings and change-resistant environments as part of Jhpiego. By night, Insha writes stories, some fiction, others not as fictional. Insha has an M.A in Writing from Johns Hopkins University and lives in Maryland.