Trigger warning: Suicide
Pink sunlight flooded the room, caressing every surface with its light, rosy fingertips.
Zaneerah stared out of the open window, hands fidgeting with the dull sand-colored quilt on her bed.
Behind her sat her mom, who held a wooden comb and a piece of Zaneerah’s hair.
The brush connected with Zaneerah’s hair in soft strokes, brushing each piece with such delicacy-.
Zaneerah cried out as the hairbrush discovered a tangle in her silky smooth hair.
“Sorry, Zan,” her mother said, her eyebrows furrowed and her full, red lips pursed.
Blinking away the tears that sprouted in the corners of her eyes, Zaneerah nodded and gave her mom a closed-lip smile.
The silence in the air thickened and Zaneerah choked on it as the clock ticked loudly. She felt more uncomfortable than if she’d waved at someone who wasn’t waving at her.
So she tried to break the silence.
“Hey, Ammi! Guess what?” she asked, grimacing as her mom pulled at the hairbrush which had gotten stuck in her charcoal-colored hair.
Her mother stopped brushing and set the brush down next to her. “What, sweetie?”
“You’re supposed to guess!” Zaneerah whined, her pure, rosy lips scrunched together.
“I’m not good at that stuff, Zan.” her mother reminded Zaneerah, tapping her on the nose.
“Okay, fine. I know what I want to be when I get older!”
Zaneerah shifted closer towards her mother, but she wore a big frown.
“Zaneerah,” - her mom grabbed Zaneerah’s little hands and held them tight- “you don’t have to worry for your future.”
“Because you need not think that hard, we’ve decided everything for you. It’d be a shame if it went to waste.” Zaneerah’s mom said with a smile.
“Sit still now, میری محبت, so I can brush your hair.” her mother instructed, picking up the brush.
Zaneerah rubbed the wooden frame of her bed, sighed, and watched as the sky changed color.
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There she was.
A man with a receding hairline stood at the door, sweat dripping down his red face.
“He’s my...” Zaneerah said, turning back to her mother, who was staring at the man with a nonchalant expression.
A few minutes ago, after cleaning the dishes and cooking, Zaneerah’s mom had come out of her room and she had on one of her most refined dresses.
She’d instructed Zaneerah to put on something nice.
This was her first time in the mardānah, but her mother had assured her that everything was okay.
“He’s your husband.”
Zaneerah’s mother hugged her daughter, smiling at the man who had to be at least five years older than herself.
The man grinned at Zaneerah. She avoided the man’s eyes, feeling as though she were pizza on a fancy platter.
“Pleased to make my future wife, my name’s Hamood Farooqi.” the man said, holding his hand out to Zaneerah’s mother.
“Um... hello, I have a question.”
“Ask away,” Hamood said, his eyes glued to Zaneerah.
“How, um...” - Zaneerah stopped, not wanting to sound rude, and glanced at her mother, who nodded - “are you older than me?”
“Um...” Hamood mocked Zaneerah, “I’m 37.”
Ah, so he’s... what’s 37 minus 14? Oh, he’s 23 years older than I am. Great, wow.
“So, how did this,” - Zaneerah motioned to both her and Hamood - “happen?” she asked, ignoring the ‘what’s-wrong-with-you’ glare her mother was giving her.
“Your uncle, he committed a crime, and... let’s just say he owes us. So, you’re my prize.” Zaneerah’s froze, her eyes widening.
Oh. My. Gosh. What the hell is wrong with him?!
“We’ll be leaving now,” Hamood said, grabbing Zaneerah’s wrist.
Zaneerah felt the urge to scream for help as soon as she saw Hamood's gray eyes glaring at her.
“Um, no. I-I’m good. I have... school tomorrow?”
Zaneerah’s mother nodded slowly and grabbed Zaneerah’s wrist.
“She has to pack and finish her studies, don’t worry,” she told Hamood, who flashed her a suspicious look, “school ends tomorrow.”
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“Zan,” Zaneerah’s mother said, walking behind her. “Can I brush your hair?”
Zaneerah turned to face her mother, her arms crossed. “It’s fine, I could brush it.”
“It’s fine, I’ll do it,” her mother pleaded, “it’ll be just like old times.” She had a weak smile on her face.
“Alright,” Zaneerah said, walking into her bedroom. “When’s Dad coming home?”
Zaneerah’s dark brown eyes widened, and she said, “So, does he know about... this?”
“Yes,” her mother answered calmly.
Zaneerah nodded, pressing her full, peach pink lips into a thin line.
“Don’t be too hard on him, okay?” her mother asked, squeezing her shoulder. “He had no choice, and he loves you.”
“Fine, sure. Whatever. Choices are everywhere. Can’t we just move or something?”
Zaneerah’s mother sighed and patted her daughter on the back. “Sometimes it’s not that easy, پیاری.”
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“Now we’ll be leaving, right, Zaneerah?” Hamood said with a shark’s grin, grabbing Zaneerah’s wrist even tighter than before as if making sure there were no interruptions at that time.
Zaneerah’s mother aimed a tight smile at Hamood. “Your wedding is in a week, congratulations!”
Zaneerah’s eyes widened, and she felt numb as Hamood dragged her to his silver Audi A8.
“Love you, Ammi!” she cried out with tears in her eyes and the man forced her into his car.
Her mother waved before closing the door.
As soon as she was inside the car, she heard a click. Her heart stopped.
Are the doors locked?
She tested the door, pulled with all her might, yet it didn’t open. Hamood opened the door to the front seat and Zaneerah froze, jumping in her seat.
“Listen, girlie,” Hamood said, seizing her chin and inspecting her face. “You’re pretty, I could get some money outta you,” he muttered, not talking to her. He caressed her back, and that single action sent shivers down Zaneerah’s spine. “I want kids.”
Zaneerah’s eyes widened. “What the hell?”
Hamood grinned in a deranged way, letting go of her and starting the car.
“You’re my wife, it shouldn’t be a problem!”
“I’m not your wife yet.” Zaneerah reminded him, her arms crossed. “Plus, I never agreed to this marriage.”
“That’s the good thing about this. Nobody needs your approval. I’ll use you ‘till you’re worn out. That’s what you’re made for.”
Zaneerah snarled at Hamood, her nostrils flaring. She crossed her arms and turned away. The rest of the car ride was silent.
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Only one bedroom and the house itself was quieter than dust. From the outside, the house looked alive with all the colors, but the inside was one step above emptiness.
“Is there another bed or something?” Zaneerah asked, searching for another soft mattress.
“No, it’s this or the floor.”
“I’ll take the floor.”
“You’re going to sleep on the bed, honey. I’ll kill you if you don’t.” Hamood had tried to make his sentence sound humorous, but it just made Zaneerah want to scream and cry louder.
So she slept in the one bed. The night was more silent than the car ride, which Zaneerah hadn’t thought was possible. Even worse, Hamood’s arm was wrapped around her waist tightly.
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The cold metal pinched at her feet, but it was better than the last few weeks of her life, because she’d been with Hamood.
Everyone referred to her as Mrs. Farooqi. She was only 14, and Zaneerah had wanted to help animals.
She was married now, and Hamood had no intention of letting her pursue her dreams.
Zaneerah took a step closer. Closer to the end. To freedom.
That’s what I want. To be free.
She took another step, gasping as she did so. She plunged to the ground like a bird with broken wings. Yet she was soaring.