1. Say it
The plan had to go ahead tonight. Time and excuses were running out. It was either today or Ariana was going to lose her dignity to a man she loathed with all her heart.
‘'Anything else?'’ The shopkeeper asked in broken English. The short, round-stomached man peered at her suspiciously. Not that she blamed him. After all, Chloroform and sleeping pills weren’t exactly a day to day grocery items; or maybe because it was due to her skin colour that she stuck out like a saw thumb.
‘'No, thank you.'’ Handing over the money and grabbing the bag, Ariana rushed out.
The bus rumbled forward, jerking and jumping along the bumpy road, passing the dusty roads, the dried out yellow coloured grass and the burnt out trees. The sun beamed and the heat was inescapable. The women opposite stared at Ariana as she sat in the overcrowded bus. What was it with these people? Had they never seen a white Muslim girl before? She wondered if the woman could read her thoughts, if she could see past her poker face? Ariana shook the thought off. Luckily only God could do such and the fact that humans couldn’t was something to be grateful for.
The bus stopped a few yards away from the apartment building she had been residing in for the last few days. After taking the lift up to the tenth floor, She stepped out of the urine-stenched lift and took a deep breath. Since she hadn’t been given her own keys, she rang the bell on the red front door and waited for it to be answered. Her heart pounded and dread invaded her. She could just run away. Right now. Go back home to England, but how? It wasn’t an option since everything: her passport, clothes and money, were all inside this apartment. More importantly, the bond she had been forced into had to be broken.
‘'You took ages,'’ Juned, her awfully vile husband of eight days, said as he dragged her by the arm and threw her onto the floor like a piece of rubbish. ‘Get the food ready. I’m starving.’ He barked.
It had only been eight days since she had been forced into the marriage and she was already being treated as a personal slave and a punching bag. He was beyond ignorant to women’s rights in Islam. However, she would teach him. She would teach him tonight. The plan was becoming a reality and there was no backing out now.
As the pasta cooked and the wonderful smell of tomato and herbs waffled in the air, a handful of crushed white pills were sprinkled into the pan. Was a handful too much? Frankly, Ariana didn’t care. He just needed to drop unconscious for a while. As cruel as she felt, desperation had made her blind to moral conscience.
‘'Is it done yet?'’ His voice thundered from the living room as he sat lazily watching the large TV.
‘'Almost,'’ she replied quietly. Walking into the room, her hands shook as she placed the plate and the drink onto the dark wooden table.
‘'So, tonight’s the night?'’ Juned’s dark eyes narrowed as he sneered at her. Ariana forced herself not to cringe. Tonight she would become clean and he would take her virginity -or so he thought. Since intercourse was forbidden during menses, he had been forced to wait. He watched her nod slowly; his grin evil and calculating. With a wave of his hands, he dismissed her as if she was a servant and not his spouse. However, she in a few hours time, she would no longer be his spouse.
After a few moments, Ariana peered around the wall watching him devour the pasta like a hungry dog. She waited for the effect of the pills to come into action. But it wasn’t happening. Patience she whispered to herself. He got up having finished the entire plate. And finally, he stumbled, touched his head and then with a curse, he fell with a heavy thud. Ariana walked slowly towards him, making sure that he was unconscious and unable to rise to attack her.
After much heaving and lifting, she finally managed to have him sitting and bound tightly to the chair. There was no way she could risk him escaping. Whilst he slept, she went into the study room and removed the beautiful canvas of the Indian Ocean from the wall above the leather sofa. Behind it was the safe which contained her freedom and money that she desperately needed. She removed the thin piece of plastic sheet from the keypad which she had secretly placed on it after she had caught Juned putting cash into it. Luckily, it hadn’t moved and he hadn’t realised it was there.
Her plan had worked but now it was the case of figuring out in what sequence the password had to be typed into the silver keypad. Carefully she focused on the faint outline of the four fingerprints on the thin piece of plastic; there were four numbers and she had three crucial attempts to crack the safe open. Since Juned wasn’t exactly smart, she managed to succeed on the first try by typing it in from the first letter on each line. Inside, there were large bundles of cash, passports and a 9mm silencer. In this part of the continent, almost everyone had guns and hence Ariana wasn’t surprised.
She nevertheless hesitantly took the deadly weapon into her palm and was slightly shocked by the heaviness of it. In the movies, they held it so easily but her hands were shaking. She was going to be needing it.
‘'Say it and say it three times.'’ Her voice was calm and cold.
‘'No.'’ Juned croaked. The safety of the black 9mm silencer clicked back. She was not in the mood to play games.
‘'Say it you motherfucker. Say it!'’ She demanded. The smirk disappeared from his face. She had sworn which was something women never did in this part of the world. But she wasn’t from here and she really didn’t give a shit. She looked outside the apartment window. The rain was pouring down making the view in front her grey and bleak, yet the heat continued to be stifling. In frustration of the heat, she tugged on her brown coloured headscarf.
‘'No.'’ The words remained firm. She looked at his greasy face and jabbed the gun hard on his forehead and clenched and unclenched her free hand. It was a habit that helped her calm down.
‘'Right, when I shoot you and leave you to die, I’m going to get what I want anyway. So I’m giving you an easy way out. Just say it. English or Arabic it’s up to you.'’ And again the fucktard refused.
Ariana groaned and violently smacked the gun across his face. Blood started to drip from his lip. She wasn’t a violent person and was surprised by her own actions.
‘'See, I am not joking. It’s three simple words and you just have to say it three times. That’s all I want.'’
‘'Uncle will not let you get away with this.’'
‘'We’ll see about that.'’ Everything had changed after her parents died. Everything. A-Z. She had been tossed under the care of her merciless Uncle Kamal. Her own uncle who hated her mother for ruining their family’s reputation and stealing her father away from them. Also, the fact that her mother had been white added insult to injury. It didn’t matter that her mother had followed the religion better than him. It was her colour. Islam wasn’t a race or religion based on skin colour or race but a religion that invited and consisted of all. But her Uncle, along with other culture-following ignorant people couldn’t see that. He hated Ariana even more because she was a confirmation, a living reminder of her parents love and was ultimately the seal of their marriage.
But what made Uncle Kamal get her married to his own nephew; Auntie Rashida’s son? Ariana was baffled. He hated her and the last thing she expected was him keeping her within the family. What was Uncle Kamal's cause? She wanted to ask but she had been too afraid and now it was too late.
‘'You not have guts.'’ He said in his broken English. Another reason why they were completely, diametrically mismatched. He didn’t even speak her bloody language properly!
‘'Why is that? I tied you up; hit you, which resulted in you bleeding, why can’t I shoot you?'' She said irritated. She had nothing to lose and was ready to set the misogynist straight.
‘'Oh, is it because I’m a female? You sexist bastard!'’ To prove her point she aimed next to his right feet and the bullet flew somewhere else. Shit. The force jolted her but at least fear appeared in his eyes. Finally, they were getting somewhere. ''See girls can shoot. Now stop wasting my bloody time and say the damn words or I swear to God, I will shoot again and this time I’m going to aim at your heart.′ She moved the gun towards his chest. This time my her aim wouldn’t miss. His eyes widened in terror. But she wasn’t really going to kill him. She wasn’t a murderer.
‘'I, your husband.'' He scorned. He still didn’t look like he believed her.
‘'No you're not. Not after the words you are going to say within the next few seconds.'’ Ariana shifted the gun and the gun went off. He screamed. That wasn’t supposed to happen but it had. Ariana had just shot someone! A live human being. Blood spilled out gruesomely from his thigh. But she couldn’t let her guard down. This was not the time for sympathy.
‘'Five seconds or I’m going to shoot again.'’ she closed her eyes and breathed in. ‘'Five. Four. Three. Tw-'’
‘I -divorce you.’ He said the magical words with pain evident in his voice.
‘'Okay.'’ She opened her eyes and nodded, willing him to go on. It was ironic. A year ago, when she had been unmarried, happy and had a normal life, she would have dreaded those words to come out of her future husband’s mouth, because never in a million years would she have guessed that she was going to be in this damn situation. She was supposed to marry prince charming, have a fairy-tale wedding and live happily ever after. Well, Mr Disney was a lying prick for making her and many others believe that it was possible. Life was no fairy tale and most definitely not for her.
In this religion, getting a divorce was simple and thank god for that. All the guy needed to say was ‘I divorce you,’ three times and the marriage was completely over. If she wanted to marry him again: then she’d have to marry another guy before she could return to the first one, not that Ariana ever would. But different rules apply to saying one divorce because then he had three menses cycles to take her back and she couldn’t risk that and hence was she was adamant that he gave her three divorces. Juned was like a bad apple. His appearance was rotten and his insides were completely decayed. It had taken her less than a few hour to discover that. God knows how she survived a week?
‘'Again! Another two times.'’
‘'I- divorce you...I divorce you.'’ As those three sweet words came tumbling out of his mouth, she felt an invisible rod snap around herself. She was free. Silently, she praised God.
‘'Uncle Kamal murder you when he-'’
'’That’s if he finds me and he will never.''
‘'He will and then we will kill you!'’ He spat at her. She wiped it off.
‘'Look you douchebag,'’ She said putting her face close to his. Telling him not to come after her would be futile because he was, no doubt, going to do that anyway. She grabbed a cloth and dropped a few drops of chloroform. ‘'I am going to disappear, vanish. Remember I am no longer your wife. I hope that one day you can forgive me for all this.'’
Before she held the cloth under his nose and mouth, she couldn’t help but slap him. Please work, she prayed pressing the cloth onto his face. A few struggles later it had.
She was hollow inside and hated the man but she wasn’t mean enough to leave him with an open wound and hence she put her first aid course into use. He had put her through hell but what she had done was already too much. After cleaning up his wound and bandaging it, she rushed to the study room, cleaned the gun and placed it back into the safe. It was only a matter of time before he woke up and called her uncle.It was time to go.
She opened the wide window and looked down. She sucked in her breath. Was she really doing this? She couldn’t be caught on the CCTV camera. No doubt it was the first thing Juned and her Uncle would check. She needed to buy time and by them not knowing what time she left the building, it left her in a better position to get away.
The small bathroom faced the back and quieter part of the area and not the busy front road. The apartment was on the fourth floor but the ground looked so far below. She gulped and put her packed weekend bag out on the medium sized ledge. After tucking in her long black dress into the waistband of her jeans, she carefully climbed out. As soon as she was out she pressed her body against the wall. If she died now, would people classify it as a suicide?
This was not the time to scare herself and pushing the thoughts away. Ariana continued edging forward. The building was old and the design of the outer walls had gaps, gaps wide enough to dig her feet into. After reaching the edge of the ledge, she turned around slowly and bent her knees. She had gone rock climbing before, she could do this, but this time there was no safety ropes to save her. The rain had stopped but the slippery surface wasn’t making matters any easier. Her hands and arms were hurting from having to hold the weight of her upper body. But after a few near misses and much effort, she made it to the bottom. She almost knelt down in prostration out of gratitude, but there was no time to waste. Juned would wake up soon and her uncle would begin the search for her.
Ariana stepped out of the airport bathroom. Dressed in a pair of dark skinny jeans under a black coat with her newly-dyed red hair covering most of her face, she fit into the crowd perfectly. But it didn’t feel like it was her that had come out but someone else; someone she had been forced to become. She felt abnormal in the sea of the people; exposed and naked. Imagine a girl who always wore trousers and suddenly she wears a leotard or mini skirt that didn’t even cover her bottom. It kind of felt like that for her. She had worn the Islamic clothing since she started her menses and now at eighteen, she was doing the opposite. Guilt twisted in her heart. She had considered going the other way and covering herself completely but how far could she get by wearing a face veil in this part of the world? She was by herself now and had to earn her own living. Would Sainsbury’s or Tesco’s hire someone who covers their face? No. She had no option and right now she had to get as far away as possible from her identity and the only way to survive was by exposing herself.
Soon the search for her would begin and knowing her uncle, it wouldn’t end until they had her blood; until they had her dead and buried 6 feet under the ground. He was a ruthless man. Her uncle was like Costello fromThe Departed, the difference being that he was far,far from cool. He had contacts everywhere. She had brought shame on them much greater than before and even shot Uncle Kamal’s beloved nephew. She could never see them again otherwise it would undoubtedly be the death of her.
All she knew was that from this moment onwards, she had to keep her head down and go to a place where she was a stranger. It was time to disappear and become someone else. But one thing was for sure; she wouldn’t trust anyone or let them close enough to know her or her past. It just hurt too much to lose someone or be betrayed by them. She couldn’t afford that. She was her own women and emotional attachment was definitely no longer an option. She couldn’t afford to endanger anyone else.