A Broken Girl

Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem


Our eyes locked for a mere milli second, but little else was to be done. We already knew. We knew that it would be futile to initiate a friendship, because just from this small exchange, we both knew that this would never work. We were too different.

I already knew that they were moving in. Abba had said so. Moving into our home to start something new. But the irony here was that it was already doomed. I wasn’t willing to give anyone a chance.

I stifled a yawn, trying hard not to give the girl too much of attention. Ahmed and Yunus were looking at her inquisitively, and Zuleikha had a slightly surprised look on her face as the intruder spoke again.

“This is my daughter, Hannah ,” she said, smiling at us as she nudged Hannah forward, obviously eager for her to sociauilize. To ‘make friends’.

Such was life. Often, we found ourselves in situations that we didn’t like and were forced to make the most out of. Situations where we just had to do what was expected. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be friends.

I turned my face away rudely, pouting slightly, not worried about any formalities. These were not my guests. I didn’t ask them to come stay.

It was just my luck that Abba walked in at that exact moment. Khawlah was the bad girl today. First with Foi Nani, and now with Abba. Today really wasn’t a great day for me, but I felt little remorse.

“Khawlah!” Abba boomed, and I already knew that I would be punished for my behavior. It had been years since I heard Abba shouting, and I already hated these intruders because it was their fault.

All their fault, I thought to myself bitterly.

I scrunched up my nose and looked back at my father courageously, unaffected by his reprimand. I wasn’t scared of much. Fearless, and annoyingly unfazed. That was me, and I knew it too.

He gestured to me to leave the room, and for once, I couldn’t be happier to be away from them.

“I don’t care,” I muttered, rolling my eyes as backward as I could, not caring about the consequences.

Why would I care? All this was too much. Too sudden. Maybe too soon?

I trudged noisily up the stairs, glimpsing the carved mini wooden furniture that was displayed there, remembering my mother’s hands showing their intricacies to me when she first bought them for Zuleikha and I. I remembered her after a long time that day. I least expected the tears filling my eyes, and I ran as fast as I could to my room, diving into the bed that I had slept in since I was four.

I buried my face in the feather pillow that hadn’t been puffed up in two years. I remembered the last time I had done it, before Mama passed away. Now it lay there, like a defeated victim who had definitely seen better days. Very much like my somewhat battered heart.

My old pink and grey duvet throw was looking morbid and crumpled, and I blinked back the next wave of tears that were on the verge of surfacing, refusing to give in to them.

Mama always said I was tough. Too tough for my own. Maybe she was right.

I lay still and sucked it all up, knowing that tears didn’t get anyone anywhere. I had to be strong. Big girls didn’t cry, and nothing was final here. This lady and her daughter may have entered our life and home, but it wasn’t the end of the world, right? Nothing was final.

I would go through the motions and hope for the best.

I didn’t say a word to Zuleikha as she entered the room we shared later that evening, although I was dying to know what was going on. I kept my head buried in my pillow, and finally fell asleep, not even seeing Yunus come in or Foi Nani peep in to check on me before she left.

I wanted to run away. The days were a blur, and I didn’t quite remember how anything really became the norm, but Aunty Nas, as we would call her was now part of our household. Abba and her were married, and although it was a huge adjustment for us, we would have to get used to this. He didn’t even ask us.

I was beginning to hate my own home, because it didn’t feel like mine anymore. Encounters were brief and strained. Suppers were quick and silent. No- one talked. No-one laughed. And no, no-one gave it much thought either.

Life had become like that, and as always, I would find my refuge in the garden down the road, escaping through the back door calmly whenever the suffocating environment at home would get too much for me.

Zuleikha was busy with school. She wanted to do well. Her and Aunty Nas would have small exchanges, but she never said anything. At the end of the day she would just sigh and tell me that soon Abba might get tired of the fights too.

Ahmed was entering his teen years, and would retreat into his room more often than come out to play. He was boring.

As for Hannah, she was different. She seemed to give me more attention than she let on, as I would catch her stealing glances at me while we sat to eat, or as we would sometimes go to madrassa together. Maybe she wanted to be friends. She was in a different school to mine, and I couldn’t have been happier about that. Her hours were longer, because she always did extra curricular activities that I’m sure her mother insisted on. Whatever it was, it made life more barable and it meant that there wasn’t much opportunity to get in each other’s way. But of course, it was only a matter of time.

Winter’s icy and short days crept by that year, and summer holidays were nearly here again. I was half looking forward to them, and half dreading them. I knew that I would be having lots of extra time on my hands, but the worst part was that Khalid’s family was going away to visit his mother’s family in the middle-east. His mothers parents had come from Egyption borders years ago, and she hadn’t been back since then. It was really an exciting trip for him since he would be flying after a really long time, but I had to think of myself too. It would mean that he would be gone for more than a week, and I would die of boredom.

With Khalid away, It had been a long week of frustration and avoided encounters. Aunty Nas preferred us to sit in our rooms, or be outside. We weren’t allowed to play in any of the other rooms, because she said she needed some peace and had lots of work to do. Yunus and I would sometimes peep into the TV room and watch whatever Hannah was watching, but Zuleikha scolded us because Mama had never allowed TV.

”We are Muslims,” she explained when I told her that everyone had a TV. “We don’t do what everyone else does. We do what is best for us. When you are bigger you will understand.”

Wrong is wrong is everyone is doing it. Right is right even if no-one is doing it.

I was a whole two years older and I still didn’t understand what the big deal was.

It was a new addition since the newcomers. One addition that I actually didn’t really have a problem with. Everything on TV looked so lively, exciting and fun. Little did I know that the liveliness was fake and excitement was short-loved. When I would hear Hannah talking to her mother like she would speak to her friends, I didn’t realise that it was the effect of the junk she would watch. I just thought it was cool.

I sighed emphatically over the coloring book I was forced to use, drowning out Zuleikha’s voice as she reprimanded me about the Shaitaan box for the fourth time that day. I really didn’t care.

I was just really glad when the next day came, because I knew that Khalid was coming home. Yunus was equally ecstatic and we dressed speedily, getting ready to wait for Khalid to make his appearance for the first time after a week.

I put on my cleanest jeans that I made sure Aunty Agnus has washed. I took out my glitter tackies with the straps, and pulled on my newest t-shirt. I wasn’t dressing up for Khalid, no. This was an event I had to look my best. It was a special day.

I was all ready to leave as I stood at the back door, waiting for Yunus to put on his shoes, when Hannah waltzed in and opened the fridge door. I narrowed my eyes, thinking it so unfair that she could just take whatever she wanted at her leisure, when we had strict instructions that we weren’t allowed to.

Foi Nani would bring us yoghurts and apples when she came, but often they never reached us because of the stupid rules. The familiar monster started rising up within me, and I swallowed, trying to control the anger and brimming feelings of inadequacy.

That was so unfair, I thought to myself as she grabbed a naartjie and slammed the fridge door.

It made me feel for one too. Those naartjies were our naartjies anyway. I knew Abba had bought it for us on the weekend.

“Give that to me,” I snapped, instantly grabbing the naartjie from her hand and putting it behind my back.

She looked startled but didn’t say anything. Instead, she put her hands on her hips and raised her eyebrows at me.

“I will tell,” she said threateningly.

I didn’t care. I lifted my chin stubbornly and held my ground.

“Awh Khawlah,” Yunus said as he realised what was happening. “Just give it to her. Abba will give us later.”

I shook my head stubbornly, ignoring him.

Hannah looked from me to Yunus, wondering what to do next. I sensed her uncertainty, at the same time, not letting down my own guard.

“Come, Yunus,” I said, turning around and heading out the door. “Khalid will be here any minute.”

I wasn’t sure what time he was coming. I just wanted to seem like I was going somewhere important.

“Where are you’ll going?” Hannah’s voice queried inquisitively.

“None of your business,” I snapped at her, not wanting to entertain her nosy questions. Yunus followed me without a word. He was scared of what I may do if he didn’t.

“Who is this Khalid?” She enquired, to no-one in particular.

I turned around and put my hands on my hips in a no-nonsense way, emphatically correcting her.

Khaw-lid,” I said, as if I was speaking to a small child, saying his name the way his mother did, with the most pungent Arab accent I could manage.

She rolled her eyes at me and shrugged, turning to open the fridge door once again to grab something else. I spotted an apple in her hand, and I was about to let her get away with it, when she suddenly turned back, looked me in the eye, put it to her mouth and took a huge crunching bite.

Whatever,” she muttered to us, spinning around again and heading to the direction of the spare room that had become her new room by default.

I was outraged.

Oh no she didn’t, I thought to myself in disbelief. This girl knew just how to press my buttons.

Besides that, no-one invades my house, digs in my Mama’s fridge, takes my apples and then ’whatevers’ me and gets away with it.

Oh no, they don’t.

Without a warning, I raced after her on a whim, and although she had a good head start, she was quick to realise I was onto her.  Her little legs moved like a force had engulfed them, and sped to her destination, shrieking her had off in the process.

Now the spare room had always been the fanciest room in the house, and since Aunty Nas had moved in, we never went in there. It was the first time I had been there since then and I was startled by the changes that had happened, starting with the flowery-printed curtains to the huge dollhouse that was in the center of the room.

I altered my pace as I entered, and although raging, I blinked as my eyes settled on the new additions in the room, a bit annoyed that our spare room had become a girly-girl’s element.

I stared next at the unusually big dollhouse that Hannah was trying to hide behind with a terrified look on her face, my own eyes finally settling on something that was familiar to me.

I looked once. I looked again. No. It couldn’t be.

Was it really there? In her dollhouse? How in the world….?

No way.

The fury that had been buried momentarily, resurfaced, and I could literally feel it bubbling within me. I so wished that I was seeing wrong, but the evidence was right in front of me.

The tiny furniture from upstairs that Mama had bought for me all those years ago had somehow found its way into this wretched girl’s room, and I could not have been more infuriated. My eyes flashed with anger as I saw her glancing at me and recognize the craziness that I could no longer contain.

I shrieked, and then she shrieked. It was like a shrieking match that no-one in the house could ignore. We both knew that there was no going back from here. No point of return.

The footsteps from behind us didn’t stop me. From this point onwards, as I lunged forward at her with all my might, I knew there was no use stopping myself. The damage was already done.

We were already a broken family. And the only way to put this right was to break this little girl.


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