Desi Contemporary Drama

CRASH! Ruheen sighed, trying to focus on her Du’a. She’d managed to complete 4 rakat, units of prayer, during Dhur namaaz, the afternoon prayer. She should have guess that silence in the Ahmed household only meant chaos would ensue.  

“Maryam! Give it back!” 

“It’s my turn to feed him!”  

Ya Allah, give me the patience.” Ruheen sent up a silent plea, feeling her blood rise. Five days a week, she attended high school, slogging away at her studies to maintain her high grades. In the evenings and on Saturdays, she worked labouring shifts as a house-maid.  

It was common in India, especially in the more rural areas, for young girls as old as 12-years of age to have jobs. Girls from the slums had very few options, since most of them weren’t allowed to be educated. Ruheen was grateful for her intellect and any opportunity at earning a living.

“Muskaan! He’s mine too!” 

She couldn’t think of a single day the girls hadn’t fought. Even though it was a far-fetched dream, she'd hoped to have a quiet day at home today, alone.

They were fortunate to live in a detached house. It wasn’t big, roughly the size of a large bathroom. Muskaan, Maryam and Ruheen all shared the same dusty mattress at night. The walls had mould and were almost always damp, a dreary grey to reflect their quality of life.  

Sewage ran in a constant stream like a river throughout the slums; they were all used to the pungent smell. While Ruheen was off during the week, the girls would try to catch cockroaches that scurried anxiously out the sewers, plump and as brown as the human waste that was carried through the murky waters.  

“Mama! Mama! Maryam won’t give it to me!” 

“It’s not yours!” Maryam whined. “Enough!” Ruheen rubbed her temples. She had asked her Khala—her aunt—to look after them for the day, but Khala was a nanny and was called back to work after the madam's son wouldn't stop crying. Ruheen didn't trust the other adults in the slums to look after her girls.

“By Allah’s grace—what have I told you about feeding that damned mutt!?” she growled, snatching the piece of stale bread from Maryam’s tiny grasp. 

Muskaan snickered as her younger sister hung her head. “And you! You should know better." Ruheen's brows crossed. "While I’m reading namaaz! Allah have mercy!” she diverted her attention to Muskaan, making her blush with embarrassment and lower her eyes.  

Ya Rahman!” Ruheen threw her hands up, exasperated, as if the gesture would bring her some kind of relief. She was only one girl, a child at that. How was she supposed to raise two children by herself? She could barely discipline them. Feeling the dread and unease she had fought so hard to ignore returning, she decided to target the dog.  

“Every single day, that bloody dog barks and barks and barks!” she seethed. “Should I do the same, huh? Will you listen to me if I start barking like a mindless animal? What have I told about feeding the dog?” Ruheen’s face turned red.  

Maryam let silent tears roll down her face as Muskaan swallowed hard, trying to stand still. Ruheen nearly turned the bread to crumbs in her hand, crushing it with a claw-like grip to emphasise her point. As soon as she her Maryam hiccup, however, some of her rage seemed to ebb away.  

Ruheen closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths, trying to remember all the times her father would yell at her the same way. He’d rock the entire house, roaring insults, smashing his beer bottles against the walls, even grabbing her arms to hold her still while he slapped her. She could still feel the imprint of his large, calloused hand across her cheeks. The bruises would be swollen and purple within a few hours, aching all throughout the cold nights.  

“Mama, I’m sorry,” Muskaan whispered, holding back a sob. “Sorry Mama!” Maryam wailed, her tiny eyes red and puffy. Ruheen couldn’t stay angry any longer. All her anger, her frustration, it all seemed to dissolve.

She knelt down and opened her arms, exhaling as the children ran into her embrace. “Ah, forgive me. I forget your just little kids sometimes.” she said, softly. She used to be like them after all.  

“I’m sorry Mama. I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Maryam repeated, creating a wet spot on her mother’s Kurta. Ruheen kissed her head, then Muskaan’s, “Mama forgets to be patient sometimes. Please forgive me too, okay?” 

“We forgive you Mama.” Muskaan said. Being a 7-year-old, she was quite perceptive for her age, and Ruheen was often grateful for it. Maryam was only 4, but Ruheen knew she would grow to be a very compassionate.  

“Alright, where’s your pet?” Ruheen closed her eyes, finally giving in. The girls immediately perked up, smiling to reveal a lack of teeth. “Come Mama! Come, come, he likes you too!” they dragged her along to the back of the house to where an old, tan-coloured dog lay waiting. His ears stood up and he wagged his tail as the girls approached him.  

Ruheen shook her head, scolding herself for being so lenient. Muslims weren’t allowed to have pet dogs; they were too dirty to keep in doors. As if to illustrate her point, the dog was covered in a layer of slick, black oil and had grime in his eyes. Regardless, as soon as his slobbery pink tongue lapped her wrist, Ruheen felt her heart melting.  

“Mama, can we please name him?” Maryam begged with her hands clasped together. Ruheen forbade it, because naming him would mean the girls had gotten attached.

Soon, she’d have to start earning money for the dog’s food as well, including any extra savings she’d need in case he fell sick from eating glass or other such risks. Not to mention the shots the girls may need if they catch an infection or disease from playing with him.

Ruheen could barely feed the three of them on her salary, and she had to keep in mind the school fees she’d have to save up for once the girls were old enough to attend. Her eyes glanced from Maryam to Muskaan, and then the dog—who seemed to read the situation and stared at her with absolute adoration. 

You sly creature... Ruheen suspected his show of affection was a ploy to get her to give in. “Ya Malik...” she prayed Allah was hearing her, knowing she couldn’t object, "there goes my 'quiet day'. Alright, what are we calling him?" she sighed, closing her eyes.

July 29, 2021 22:58

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