“Where is it? Is it here?!”
The excited shout was followed by a whirlwind of wild curls, as the dark-skinned teen came crashing into the room, almost falling over her feet in her haste.
“It’s here, it’s here! Calm down, you crazy girl before you bring the whole house down!” Malika exclaimed, shaking her head at her niece as the girl in question tried to cover up the pieces of the vase that had ended up on the floor when she stormed in as if the sound of the glass breaking had somehow slipped Malika’s notice.
“Sorry, auntie.” Nura said, looking properly chastised but for a glint in her eye still present as she eyed the big envelope clutched in Malika’s hands.
“Here.” the woman sighed before handing it to her, knowing full well that her niece wouldn’t be able to concentrate until she read its entire content.
“I’m in! I got in!” Nura screamed after a minute, making Malika almost fall out of her chair at the suddenness of it.
“I swear you are going to give me a heart attack one of these days, Nura.” she chastised trying for a glare but as she looked at the girl and saw her elated face, the image of pure happiness etched into every inch of it, she just smiled indulgently and got up to give her a proper hug.
“Congratulations, habibi. I knew you could pull it off.” she said as Nura hugged her back and felt tears starting to soak into her dress.
“What am I going to do? You know that father will get mad when he finds out. I seriously doubt that he’ll let me attend. And if he doesn’t, there is no way I can go. I have no money.” Nura said once she calmed down, as she took a seat next to her aunt feeling slightly dejected.
“We’ll figure something out, habibi. Don’t you worry.” her aunt said, patting her back comfortingly and even though Nura still had her doubts she couldn’t help but smile as she hugged the letter declaring that she had been accepted into University in Madrid close to her chest.
“Get your hijab and come downstairs, Nura. There is someone your father wants you to meet.” her mother’s stern voice drifted from the doorway making her look up from her book. The woman was unsmiling like usual, her eyes scanning the mess strewn across Nura’s room with a disgusted look on her face. Thankfully she chose not to comment and just turned around and left, which told Nura that she better hurry herself because if her mother thought that there was no time for a fight then those guests must be important.
Nura got out of the bed, frowning in confusion as she went to do as her mother had asked, thinking about the mystery person her father wanted her to meet. It was an unusual request since on most days her father was happy to pretend that she didn’t exist, choosing to focus solely on her brother whom he was grooming to take over his spice business once he was old enough.
She pulled the hijab on, the material soft and lovely-looking with its dark red color and small white petals painted sparsely over it, but as she looked at herself in the mirror she felt as if she would suffocate if she didn’t take it off.
It was not that she hated it or what it represented, on the contrary, she thought that it was a wonderful thing and always caught herself admiring the other girls and women she encountered on the street during her walk to and from school, but when it came to her, there was just something that didn’t feel right.
She sighed and closed her eyes for a second or two, breathing in and out evenly until she was sure that she was in the right mental state to endure her father’s presence before she left her room and started making her way downstairs.
As soon as she entered the room that her father used to greet guests, her heartbeat spiked up as her eyes fell on the people gathered around the table that was filled with cups of tea and an assortment of sweets, pastries and fruit.
“Nura, daughter, there you are.” her father said as he stepped closer, catching her elbow in a tight grip and pulling her toward their guests.
“This is Nura, my daughter.” he said to the man that was standing a few feet away from them. The man who must have been close to fifty, his hair streaked with grey and receding at the temples, his belly big and almost bursting out of the smart, white shirt at the middle, smiled widely at the sight of her.
His beady, black eyes slid down her body and back making her shiver in disgust as a vicious glint appeared in them and his smile turned gleeful.
“Nura, this is Mr. Yazid. He owns the chain of stores we sell our spices in. He’ll be your husband once you finish high school.” her father suddenly proclaimed with a big smile on his face, something she rarely got to see directed at her.
And as soon as those words hit her ears she was suffocating again. She couldn’t breathe and her heart was beating up a storm in her chest as she took a step back and then another without realizing it until she was actively running out of the room and up the stairs not stopping until she was in her room, behind locked doors.
“Nura!” she could hear her father’s voice booming from the other side as she slid down to her knees feeling completely numb while her entire life flashed in front of her eyes.
“What is the meaning of this!? Open this door right now!” the man continued to shout, but she could barely hear his voice anymore, her mind echoing from her own screaming.
She was mad. No, she was more than mad, she was absolutely furious.
Husband! That slimy, fat rat is the man she’s supposed to marry! Hell no!
She stood up and fixed her clothing slowly, not minding one bit her father’s ragging on the other side of the door as she did so, before she calmly opened the door to be met with her father’s red face.
Her head snapped back in the next moment as her father’s palm connected with her cheek, fierce burn spreading through the skin soon after making her vision swim with tears.
“You insolent little child! How dare you disrespect me so in front of our future in-laws!? I have never been so humiliated in my life! I’m going to call them back and you are going to go back down and apologize for your abhorrent behavior. Is that understood!?” the man screamed in her face, a vein in his forehead fit to bursting, so big was his anger.
“I’ve said no.” Nura said as she straightened up, her chin up and her head held high as she faced off her father.
“I’m not going to apologize, and I’m certainly not going to marry that man. I’m going to Madrid. I’ve applied to University there and I’ve just got accepted. I’m going to study graphic design and there is nothing that you can do that’ll change my mind.” Nura said, her voice confident and strong even though she felt the complete opposite.
And as her father’s face suddenly went slack, not a trace of anger or any other emotion in it, her blood turned cold.