In this beautifully-written story, Dawson student Maryam Parvez reveals how gender-based violence touches generations, but remains surrounded by silence.
Darkness overwhelmed her, it seeped into her pores and grew. She was not always like this, frail, weak with a body that was just bones, and eyes that were lifeless. No, she was not supposed to end like this. Her once round and beautiful face had shrunk to the point her eyes seemed to be bulging constantly; as if there were two hands taking her life away slowly. No, she had had eyes that showed eagerness to enter the world and make a change. She could not have known that she would end up here, at this moment, in a room where darkness was her companion where she lay sprawled on the floor, unable to move.
“Mama! Mama!” she wailed at four years old. Her mother silently shook and did not respond to her daughter’s cries. She would not face her daughter to show her what her face had become. I mustn’t let her see me, she thought, she needs to sleep, she needs her teddy; yes, I’ll turn the light off. Darkness will help me.
The light is off and her cries seem ever more so haunting like a wolf howling in the night.
“Hush, baby, hush. You can’t cry like this. Be brave, my child, be brave.” The pain was torturous when she spoke. Open her mouth and she was beaten, open her mouth to comfort her child and she was punished. Stay quiet forever. Yes, that is the solution to my problems, the mother thought. Her eyes had swollen to the size of a fist and were the color of a ripe plum. Blood seeped out of her nose into her mouth and she could not stop it. The smell of the blood, like coins in her hand, was making her nauseous.
Yet, she fought when he attacked her with a knife. He had gotten her, swiped that knife into her flesh as if her skin was made of paper, a clean cut down the arm and across her jaw.
My baby needs a mother, my baby needs me.
Her mother had ironed her clothes stiff for her graduation. She was excited, and so eager to walk down the aisle to get her diploma. After all, it’s not everyone who gets to graduate grade six, especially in her family. At the ripe age of twelve she almost had the same level of education as her parents. But this is why her father came here, for a better life for his children. This girl adored her father, but didn’t understand why her mother was so quiet all the time. She barely spoke. A little nod here and there, a hmm and ohhh. Her father, too, was somewhat reclusive and scary, she thought. His hands were scary. Big with veins sticking out like tree roots. Nonetheless, she loved her father dearly: he gave her the opportunity to get a higher education. And she would make her father proud. High school: the next step. She felt a shiver at that thought.
Thud, thud, thud. No, no, no, no. No more please, she begged, in her head. Never did she voice her pleas. No use, just like an animal can cry all it wants in a cage it never gets out. Why did she say yes to her father when this wedding proposal came? How could she ever have loved this man? He was so gentle at first. His eyes would gleam whenever she walked by. Now, there’s an emptiness, a void. It’s not her fault she aged. It’s not her fault he’s always in a drunk stupor. It’s not her fault he can’t keep a job. Yet, he blames her. You are the worst thing that has happened to me. And from there on, he becomes more creative: I only married a whore like you so I can come here; you were a disgrace to your father and a burden to me, and he would continue with a slur.
The worse is when the children are there. The daughters are beaten along with the wife. The two boys are shielded from this and sent to their rooms. The boys, the boys, the boys! What if they become like their father? After all, if I become as mute as my mother why can’t they become as violent and inhuman as their father?
She heard the expensive perfume bottles breaking. She imagined her mother fell and her father was picking up the tiny shards of glass, while cautioning her mother to not step on the glass. The tiny shards scattered on the floor. There was blood. Undoubtedly, father would tell mother to be more careful; and if there are any bruises on her it must be because of the fall. No more thought was given, she had homework.
All the men were sitting and having an uproar. “You saw that sweet thing on the street? Aye, was she something! Her legs never ended and her hair”, she was next to her mother making tea for those men. Is this what they think of us? No, no, of course not. She noticed her mother was trembling, she looked smaller as if she was cowering in her own shadow. Lately, that’s what she was: a shadow in the house.
Slapping their thighs they continued their meaningless talk while smoke swirled around them. The girl (or should we say woman as of now?) entered to bring tea and pastries for those men. She didn’t go back inside. The men stopped talking. “Go inside”. “Yes, yes I will sir,” she began, her heart was pounding, “I just wanted to know who you were talking about?” Her father stood. He walked towards her. She remained standing, but not for long. It burned, that spot where his hammer like hands made contact with her doll-like face. It was red and it throbbed. The men were quiet. No body rose to stop him. But truth be told, this was not the first time.