Written by: Sophie
Below is a story I wrote about domestic abuse. Before beginning, I would like to emphasize that there are different types of abuse, and that abuse can happen to anyone, male or female, from any community or background. This particular story is about a girl who is mistreated by her in-laws after arriving from abroad.
Please note the characters and incidents in the story are not real. If anything is similar to real life, it is purely coincidental.
“Mehreen!” My cousin Sara squeals with joy when she sees me. I laugh and hug her tightly. “Mubarak on your wedding! Sorry I couldn’t come.” She looks down, pointing to her stomach. “Really?” I ask excitedly.
“Yes, you are going to be a khala soon,” says Sara.
“That’s it. Sit down, and let me lay the table.” I make her sit and then head to the kitchen.
Hassan is in the the kitchen eating the pakoras we prepared earlier. “What was Sara saying to you, Mehreen?”
I spin around excitedly and tell him the good news. I’m honestly not sure if I’m excited because Hassan is home or because Sara is expecting.
“So what Mehreen, what are you getting happy for? It’s not you who is pregnant! ” He laughs and walks out.
I pause for a second. Did I hear him correctly? I take a deep breath before the tears roll down my face. I breathe out and immediately smile.
Everyone enjoys the food. I look at Sara laughing with her husband. They seem so happy together. Hassan finishes his food and stands up. “Hey, where are you going, mate? Sit down–we are still visiting!”says Sara’s husband.
“I really have to be somewhere,” he replies and leaves.
I look up and see Sara staring at me. I collect the empty rice tray and excuse myself, saying I will fetch some more.
Sara follows me to the kitchen and asks, “Mehreen, where has Hassan gone? “
“To work,” I smile and reply.
“Oh, really? He was telling my husband he’s still looking for a job.” Sara looks at me, searching for an answer.
“Aapi.” I don’t what to say.
“Mehreen, what’s going on? Tell me. I’m always here for you, remember that!”
She hugs me tightly. I feel so comforted in her arms, like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I move back and say “Aapi, I’m not–“
“Mehreen, what are you doing talking here? We are waiting for the rice,” says my mother-in-law from the doorway.
“Ji, Mama,” I say as I scoop more rice out of the saucepan. My mother-in-law ushers Sara out of the kitchen.
The rest of the evening is spent talking and then Sara leaves. When she hugs me she whispers ,”Mehreen, remember, I’m here for you.”
These words linger in my mind all night until I fall asleep.
One year later:
“And you say you sustained this injury when taking items out of the kitchen cupboard? “
I gaze silently, not knowing what to say. It’s like there’s an endless echoing in my head.
“Mrs. Akhtar? Mehreen?” prods the doctor again.
“Yes, sorry, what did you say?” I ask.
“You said that you–” the doctor begins to say.
“Yes, Doctor, she hurt herself when she was taking some jars out of the cupboard,” says Henna. She squeezes my hand under the table in warning.
Confused, the doctor looks at me, waiting for a confirmation.
“Yes, she’s right. That’s what happened, Doctor,” I say, avoiding her gaze.
“I’d like to speak to Mehreen on her own, please,” the doctor says to Henna.
“What for?” asks Henna.
“It’s confidential,” she replies.
“Listen Doctor, we are in a rush, and I have to get back to work too,” Henna grabs my arm and I stand up, immediately turning to the doctor. My eyes are screaming, Please help me! Do something! But nothing comes out of my mouth and we leave.
Three hours earlier:
“Hassan, can I use the phone please?” I ask my husband.
“Yes, of course, use the one downstairs,” he replies.
I go downstairs and lift the receiver. “Please enter your pin number,” says the lady from the calling card company. I ring my parents back home and speak to them.
“How are you, Mehreen, beta?” asks Aba.
“I’m fine, thank you!” I laugh.
“You don’t sound it,” says Aba. “Here, speak to your mama before she breaks the phone trying to grab it from me.”
“Hello Mehreen, my sweet beta, I miss you,” she begins crying.
I clutch the phone and hold back my own tears. “Mama, please don’t cry. I’m so happy here,” I say, scratching my wrists.
We speak for some time and I feel better.
As soon as I place the receiver down–whoosh! My head goes flying towards the wall near the sofa I’m sitting on.
“Who said you can use the phone?” Henna screams in my ear, pulling my hair.
I open my eyes but I can’t see properly; it’s all blurry.
“I can’t see!” I rub my eyes in a panic, and Henna slaps me on the head from side to side and then pushes me off the sofa.
“What are you doing?” shouts Hassan, running in to the room. “Are you crazy, Henna?”
“She was talking for so long on the phone, and I needed to use it,” says Henna.
“And so you do this? Are you nuts?” shouts Hassan.
Henna mutters something and walks off.
Hassan turns to me. “Don’t worry, I’ll take you to the doctor.” He guides me to the front door.
“Hey Henna, drive us to the gp. That’s the least you can do,” shouts Hassan.
Henna makes us wait, but eventually comes downstairs and we go to the doctor. On the way, I look out the car window and cry. I can’t even see properly.
I hear Hassan whispering to Henna that she should go inside with me to make sure I don’t say anything about what really happened.
“Well, why can’t you?” she asks impatiently.
“I’m not good at this stuff. Besides, I need to get dropped off on the way.”
I cry even more when he leaves the car. I’m alone with Henna and frightened. We arrive at the doctor’s office.
Another day in the house, and it seems like seconds are hours and days are years. I bring my father-in-law some tea and sit with him.
“Mehreen, beta, I’m so sorry about everything. Maybe if I hadn’t asked for your marriage to Hassan you wouldn’t be suffering like this.” He hangs his head in dismay.
“No, Aba, it’s not your fault, you only wanted the best for your son.” I look at the clock–tick, tick, tick, tick–and my heart beats faster. I need to make lunch so that it’s ready for everyone by noon.
My mother-in-law and Henna sit down to eat, along with Amir and Hassan. I make hot chapatis and keep bringing them to the table as everyone eats.
“Mehreen, I told you I want fresh salad with my food. Where is it?” asks Henna.
“Um, it’s finished, we need to go to the–” I begin saying.
“Um, um, um! What’s the matter? Can’t you speak English? Oh, I forgot, you can’t,” she sneers.
I start trembling and she shouts, “At least go and get me the coleslaw from the fridge.”
I go to the fridge and take the bowl of coleslaw out, but the glass dish drops from my shaking hands to the floor.
I start shaking and crying silently.
“Mehreen, what have you broken now?” screams my mother-in-law.
“Can you guys just stop yelling? I’m fed up with this!” Hassan leaves his food and goes back upstairs.
I begin picking up the glass from the floor. Henna leans over and picks up a piece, slapping my hand with it. I jump quickly and start panicking.
“Don’t worry, I won’t cut your hand with this glass. Well, at least not today.” She smirks and leaves me alone to clean up the shattered bowl.
I hear my mother- and father-in-law arguing in the background. I stand in the storage cupboard and sob till my eyes hurt.
Later that day, I hang the washing in the garden. I glance next door, hoping to see Pam. I like her. She always greets me with, “Hello, beautiful!”
Eventually, she comes out. “Hello, beautiful! How are–” Pam pauses, looking at my red eyes.
“They’ve been nasty again to you. Listen girl, why don’t you leave them?”
“I can’t, Pam. It’s not that easy.”
She sighs, leaning over to pull one of the roses from her garden. “Here my darling, take this,” she squeezes my hand and says, “You want to leave, say the word, and I’ll help you.”
“But where will I go? I don’t know anyone, have no money, I don’t know anything, and they have my passport,” I say to Pam.
“You leave it to me, I’ll find out,” says Pam. “And yes, these are the new flowers that I’m growing,” she says suddenly.
I look around and see my mother-in-law walking into the garden, and I realise why Pam changed the subject.