A Hibiscus Touch

A Short Story by Marijka Bright

Fadwa had accepted her fate long ago, when she had decided to put love ahead of all else. She couldn’t know however, that her fate would catch up to her so soon. She stood, surrounded by angry faces; faces of those she knew and some she didn’t. How could something so pure and innocent as love cause such rage? Fadwa would never know.

*

The taste of gin and stale cigarettes sat on Maxine’s tongue as she awoke from her slumber. She raised her head off the pillow and checked the time; quarter past two. She couldn’t remember at what point the party had gotten out of control. Come to think of it, she couldn’t remember much of anything at all; other than David.

She needed a shower, she had to wash off the stench of it – the stench of him. She let the hot water run down her back, scrubbing every part of her body, inside and out. Everything blurred in and out of her consciousness from the night before; she could only grasp fragments, but none of them were kind. What were her friends going to think of her at school on Monday?

*

It had been innocent enough in the beginning. Fadwa and her neighbour Abla, were being taught in the traditional ways of the kitchen by their mothers. It was something that all the girls of the village were shown when they came of age; it was their education. They were both eleven and still loved by their fathers – still treated like little princesses.

The first dishes that she had learned to cook were, aloo gosht and gulab jamun. They had attempted chapati that first afternoon, however both Fadwa and Abla had burned them to a crisp. Their mothers had found them laughing together by the tava, poking at the seared remnants of what was once a very fine dough.

“This is serious – your husbands will expect perfection,” Fadwa’s mother had chided.

*

Maxine flicked on her computer. Her head hurt and her mouth was dry. She took a sip of water and enjoyed the cooling sensation, until it hit her stomach and then she was consumed by a wave of nausea. She resolved in that moment, that she would never drink again. She didn’t even like the taste of alcohol anyway. It was her friend Sadie – who looked much older than her 15 years would suggest – who always bought it and pushed it on her and Maxine always drank.

She logged onto her account and was bombarded with over a hundred notifications.

‘What the hell?’ she thought to herself.

Her phone rang. It was her best friend Morgan.

“Hey Max, I’ve been trying to get a hold of you. Have you checked your news feed today?”

“I was just about to. I only woke up twenty minutes ago; and I just had to have a shower first.”

Morgan hesitated for a moment and replied, “I can see why. Don’t freak out but you need to check your notifications. I’m coming over.”

*

By the time Fadwa and Abla were 15 years old, they had become extremely adept in the kitchen. That was a good thing given that they had both been promised to the Siddiqui brothers, to marry at a time which most suited them. The brothers were in their twenties and already respected members of the village. Fadwa’s parents were very proud of the honour that this union would bring to their family.

It was the end of Ramadan and Fadwa and Abla were charged with the responsibility of preparing the Eid al-fitr dinner. The kitchen was hot and Fadwa had removed her dupatta scarf and used it to wipe away some of the sweat, which had begun to drip down her neck. The evening’s feast was all the more important as they were cooking for their future husbands for the first time.

Suddenly Fadwa could smell smoke. She turned to see Abla standing over the tava, which was up in flames. She grabbed the flour and threw it over the pan and the fire subsided. The chapati sat in cinders. Fadwa put her arm around Abla and could feel her shaking.

“It’s all right, my dear Abla, we can make another batch,” she said with a reassuring smile.

“It’s not that,” Abla replied looking up at Fadwa.

“What is it then?”

“I don’t want us to marry them,” Abla said and she took Fadwa’s hand.

Their eyes met and Fadwa’s heart leapt, as she read a reflection of her own heart in Abla’s eyes. She hadn’t dared to think that anything such as this was possible. She had loved Abla from the first moment that they had set fire to the kitchen together as two naïve eleven year olds and she had hoped that by marrying the Siddiqui brothers, that they would be able to remain close. But she had not allowed herself to think of anything beyond that, not until that very moment, not until they had kissed.

*

Maxine was frantic. At first she hadn’t realised what all the comments were referring to – they had seemed like they were directed at some other girl, from some other time.

I hope you choke on it.’

Spit, swallow or gargle – either way, you’re gonna have an imprint of his balls on your chin for all eternity.’

He’s ball deep in her neck and she’s lovin’ it – that’s the definition of slut right there.’

The comments were coming thick and fast and were not only from people she knew, people from her school – but also from complete strangers. She scrolled and scrolled through all the notifications until she found it; a photo of her on her knees with David’s cock in her mouth. She felt sick. She didn’t even remember doing it, yet there it was depicted so vividly in front of her.

“Fuck!” she exclaimed.

She checked David’s profile. The posts on his wall all had a common theme; Good one mate, back slaps and congratulations all round.

Maxine wanted to scream.

The doorbell rang. It was Morgan.

“Why are you even reading that stuff anyway?” Morgan retorted, after Maxine had told her about the guy who had told her to go and hang herself. “Switch it off; it’ll all die down soon enough if you just let it go. You know what it’s like – next party and someone else will take the spotlight.”

Morgan snatched her laptop away and logged into Netflix.

“Let’s watch a movie and by the end of it, everything will have calmed down,” Morgan said.

Maxine tried to watch the film, but the thought of what people were saying about her, spreading about her on-line, gnawed away at her, like rats chewing through cement. Her imagination ran wild and was much crueller than reality.

What was she thinking? She had been so drunk. She didn’t even like boys anyway. Why did she do it?

She looked across at her friend. Morgan had always been there for her and it was Morgan who she had always wanted to be with. Maxine could feel the movement of Morgan’s breath. Her perfume smelled so good – Maxine could always smell it on her pillow after she left. She smelled just like a hibiscus.

Morgan turned to Maxine with a smile and asked, “What?”

Maxine leaned in and kissed her. She felt all of her vulnerability melt away in that one moment; she felt safe.

*

Fadwa and Abla had packed their bags. They had decided that evening to run away; they would go to America, find a place where they could belong. Fadwa snuck into the room of her father and found the place where he kept the money that was paid to him by her betrothed; she reasoned that it was her money anyway. They didn’t know exactly how they were going to make their escape, but they knew that it had to be now; it had to be before the weddings.

The plan was that Fadwa would leave a hibiscus on Abla’s window sill when it was time to leave and then they would meet at the field by Fadwa’s house. Her bag wasn’t heavy, she had packed light as she knew that they had a long journey ahead by foot. She smelled the hibiscus which she carried in her hand, the floral notes of her heart. Fadwa smiled. She felt free and her heart was light at the thought of what was to come.

She lay the hibiscus carefully on the window sill, positioning it so Abla could see its petals from inside the room. Suddenly everything went black and she could smell the hessian cloth as it scratched across her face. Someone had a hold of her arms and as much as she struggled, whoever it was, was too strong for her to fight.

*

Morgan tore herself away from Maxine and jumped up from the bed. The laptop made a thud as it bounced onto the floor.

“What the fuck was that Max?!” Morgan exclaimed.

“I thought….”

But Maxine couldn’t find the words to finish her sentence.

“You really are a slut, aren’t you?” Morgan shouted as she picked up her jacket and stormed out of the room.

“Morgan, wait!”

But it was too late – she had gone.

The heat of her tears washed down her cheeks, before she even realised that she was crying. She felt a pain in her heart so severe that she didn’t ever think that it would beat truly again. She had loved Morgan for as long as she could remember and it had only taken one reckless moment to ruin it all.

Maxine picked up her computer. Notifications kept popping up, one after the other in the corner of her screen.

Fuck them all,’ she thought to herself and she typed a message and posted it on her wall.

‘So what? I sucked It and I loved It – tasted like bubble-gum.’

But it didn’t stop. The barrage continued and grew. She had always been taught that if she showed the bully that the bullying didn’t bother her, then they would move on to someone else. But her bravado had provoked them. It was as though they could smell blood, her blood, and had come in for the kill. This was no longer the school ground – it was cyber-space, there were no rules and it was relentless.

In the corner, another notification, this time from Morgan. It said:

‘Hey everyone – she doesn’t just do boys – she’s a leso. She’s a stupid, carpet munching, cock sucking bitch.’

Maxine grabbed a hold of her stomach. She was doubled over and couldn’t straighten herself up. How could Morgan have done that to her? The one person that she trusted, the one person who had always been on her side. Maybe Maxine didn’t deserve to live.

Mum, dad, I’m sorry,’ she typed.

She went to the bathroom and gathered all the pills that she could find. She filled her glass of water and then sat on her bed with her laptop upon her knee.

One pill, two pills, three pills, four.

Five pills, six pills, seven pills, more.

She swallowed.

*

The room was in a haze. Maxine rested against the bedhead. She felt peaceful, relaxed.

A message came through – from an anonymous sender.

Don’t give up hope – you are not alone in this and things can always get better.

Maxine opened the attachment.

It was a video from a news story. She turned up the sound.

“Our reporter was on the ground for this and able to film it on his smart phone. This footage may be disturbing for some viewers.”

*

Fadwa’s captor removed the sack from her head. She had been made to sit with it on her head the entire night, her arms and legs bound. The sunshine made her wince as her eyes adjusted to the brightness of the morning. She was surrounded by at least thirty men all with bricks and rocks in their hands. In front of her stood her father and her fiancé.

“I saw you. In the kitchen, you dirty whore,” her fiancé jeered.

Fadwa’s thoughts went directly to Abla. She looked around to see if they had captured her too. She was nowhere to be seen.

Fadwa replied, “It was only me. I forced myself on her – it was all me.”

Her father stepped forward and said, “Abla is her own family’s concern. You are ours and you have brought dishonour upon all of us. What you have done is against Allah and the hadith says we need to restore the honour that you have taken away from us.”

She looked upon the circle of men. Uncles, cousins, people from the village and her own father.

Her hands were no longer bound. She reached towards her father and implored.

“Please, you don’t have to do this. There must be another way.”

“I wish there was,” he replied as he cast the first stone.

It hit her on the side of the head. She could feel the blood running freely down her cheek. It took all of her strength not to fall. She raised her fist above her head and she said,

“I am proud to be a woman…..a woman who loves another woman.”

Another rock hit her. This time in her stomach. It took all of the air from her.

Her fiancé called to her, “You have nothing to be proud of. You are nothing; all you are is a grain of sand in vast desert.”

As the avalanche of rocks and bricks and sticks and stones pummelled her from every direction, Fadwa replied, “Your desert is made up of but a billion grains of sand and without us, you would be nothing.”

*

Maxine sat for moment and contemplated what she had just borne witness to. She jumped off her bed and ran to the toilet. She stuck her fingers down her throat and vomited up the pills – she counted them just to make sure. She returned to her bed and she smelled her pillow as she always did after Morgan left. Hibiscus. It made her smile. She thought;

‘Murdered just for loving – where is the honour in killing someone for that.

 

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