You may read the first part of the story here: https://creativewritersleague.co.ke/unappreciated/
Sarah examined each piece of clothing before dipping it in the basin full of soapy water. Whenever her husband asked why she did that every time she laundered the clothes, she said she did not want to miss any hidden stain. However, checking for stains would not have taken the amount of time she took. What she really did was to either examine a unique stitch that joined the different parts of a complex garment or imagine whether she could reproduce a particular design if given a yard of fabric. Sometimes she went ahead and thought of how she could have spiced up a plain piece of cloth that happened to be more expensive than she thought it was worth.
Tailoring and fashion design excited her in a way that she could not explain. She had even taken a short sewing class some few years back but she had not put her skills to use yet. She had almost applied for a job in a new clothing line company but her fiancé then (her husband now) had been against it saying the job would involve working with the opposite gender and she might have to design clothes that were not to her standard of modesty. Agreeing with his point of view, she halted the application but her passion did not die.
After getting married, she started saving with the dream of buying a sewing machine to start a small sewing business at home. When she had almost reached her target, she consulted her husband on which brand to buy. That was when hell broke loose.
“Where do you expect me to get money to buy you a stupid machine?” Murad barked.
“But I don’t want your money, I’ve been saving and soon I’ll have enough to buy it myself.” She was quick to clarify.
“And where did you get the money you have been saving? I give you money for food and here you are, busy saving it as if it is yours!” His face was turning red.
Murad took all the savings saying it was his money in the first place. She cried herself to sleep that night and learned never to involve him in any of her future plans. From that day, the amount of money he left was slashed and it was just barely enough to meet the household needs.
Even this did not kill her ambition, crushed she was, but a little ember was still kindling in her heart. All she had now were the little escapes into her dream world whenever she did the laundry. Had her husband known of her daydreams, he would have tried to put a permanent stop to them.
Sometimes she laughed when she thought of how her married life had become a game of hide and seek. She had no permission to read books. ‘Did she not have enough house chores that she found free time to read the devilish books?’ So she learned to smuggle them into the house for her sanity. The television had only 5 channels installed; 3 news channels, a football channel, and a sports channel. He asked for all the other channels to be disabled because he thought she would waste time watching filthy programs. She wondered whether staying up all night watching football counted as wasting time. But then he must have been tired from toiling all day so he deserved the little entertainment. She had no idea how hard working in an office must be because all she did was stay at home and just do simple house chores. A year ago, she thought getting married would bring a huge change to her life but this wasn’t the change she had envisioned.
Since her parents’ demise in a train accident, life had been very tough. She was only 13 then and her eldest sister Latifa was 18. She will always have a lot of respect for Latifa for raising her and her younger brother Naif when all their relatives turned them away after squandering the little wealth left by their parents. They were only left with the house they lived in. Instead of joining college as was already planned by their parents, Latifa had to look for a job. The salary she got wasn’t enough to run the house and so she started making some local snacks in the evening which she gave Sarah to sell at school. Sarah felt very embarrassed selling foodstuff to her peers but when she thought of the struggle her elder sister put for their sake, she ignored her feelings. When Murad asked for her hand soon after she finished high school, she could not have been happier. Murad was a well-known businessman in town and the prospect of marrying a rich man blinded Sarah.
“Are you sure you want to get married? Don’t you want to continue with studies?” Latifa had asked her repeatedly.
“I’m sure Latoof. You have already done more than enough for me, I can’t let you worry about my education anymore, especially when my grades are ever unpleasing,” she told her.
Sarah wasn’t very strong in academics. She preferred arts but the public school she went to had no place for artists. Naif, on the other hand, was the genius in the family. Though he was two years younger than Sarah, they both finished high school at the same time because Sarah had repeated a class and had stayed out of school for a year after her parent’s death because Latifa could not afford to pay fees for both of them at once. While she barely passed, Naif was the second-best student in the country and won a full scholarship to study civil engineering in Turkey.
“Rah-rah, if you want to study anything, I’ll find money to pay for it. Now that I have a stable job it would not be as hard as it was before. Don’t let money be a barrier.” Latifa had told her.
But Sarah knew even though she never showed it, Latifa was overworked and college fees would surely put a dent in her meagre savings. Back then, marriage felt like the only solution.
She finished hanging the clothes and proceeded to cook supper. She finished much earlier than usual since she was just frying the leftover rice and it was a whole two hours before Murad would be home. Whenever she was busy, she had no problem being the only one at home but once she was idle, every creak freaked her out. She would keep on checking and rechecking each room to ensure no one had broken in. She decides to read the new Arabic poetry book she had smuggled. She is grateful that Samia, her best friend since childhood had taught her bits of Arabic every now and then over the years. Without her help, she would not have been able to enjoy this beautiful piece of fine work in her hands.
“Arabic is the language of the Qur’an; if you don’t understand it how will you understand the message?” Samia would say whenever she complained that Arabic was not meant for her slow brain.
She hears a low pounding sound but she dismisses it thinking it must be her baseless worry but the sound repeats after a few seconds, this time more intense. She looks up from the book and looks at the clock and gasps realizing it must be her husband knocking. She had been so engrossed in the book that she lost sense of time. Not having enough time to hide the book in her usual hideout, she quickly raises the cushion on the sofa and shoves the book. She casts one last glance at the couch to ensure nothing looks out of the ordinary before running to the door.
“SARAAAH!” Murad bellows as he bangs on the door.
“Just a moment I am here.” She raises her voice above his.
He continues to knock as she is opening the door and before she could stop herself, her tongue speaks on its own accord.
“Ya Ismailu swabran.” O Ismail have patience!
Murad stares at her, his right-hand midway in the air on its way to another knock.
“What did you just call me? Were you expecting an Ismail?” he asks his face a mixture of bewilderment and wrath.
“No, it was just a p..” she pleads as he yanks her by the ear but her husband’s voice drowned out her words.
A series of filthy words were rained on her, some of which she did not know the meaning of. He goes through her phone but her phone book had only 19 contacts; contacts of people he knew. He proceeds to the call log and then to the messages. When he fails to find proof of his wife’s infidelity, his anger doubles and he tells her to leave his house within the next hour or else he will finish her with his own hands and then he storms out of the house.
Sarah wonders whether he has gone in search of the tool with which to finish her. Knowing not to take her husband’s threat lightly, she pulls a few clothes from the drawer and puts them in a bag. As she heads to the bathroom to pick her toothbrush, she dials her sister Latifa who picks up on the third ring.
“Latoof, Murad chased me I’m coming, are you at home?” she says in one breath, panic in her voice.
“What is wrong Sarah?” she asks her concern rapidly turning into a panic.
“I’ll explain when I come, are you at home?” she says urgently.
“I’ll be there in about an hour but Laith is at home, I’ll tell him you are coming. Take a taxi it’s almost dark.”
“I don’t even have a shilling.” She thinks out loud.
“Laith will pay. Just take care of yourself OK?”
The last thing she does before leaving the house is to pick her illegal book from underneath the sofa. The source of her predicament!
“Welcome home rah-rah, we haven’t seen you in a while. Just yesterday Latifa was saying how much she misses you.” Laith said after opening the door. “I hope you did not bite yourself though.” He jokes referring to the belief that one bites themselves when their name is mentioned in their absence.
Laith was the type of person who could make anyone feel at home anywhere he was, especially in his home. Whenever relatives visited, they stayed a bit longer than they had intended to because he made people feel like their stay was really wanted. Sarah always admired this about him and she always tried to copy him whenever she had guests in her own house but she never achieved even an iota of his mirth. She could not put a finger on what exactly he did to achieve this effect.
Today, however, his warm welcome could not cheer her up. After greeting him she headed straight to her room. Latifa had decided to stay in her late parents’ house after marriage for fear that if she moved out, their greedy relatives might get an opportunity to usurp its ownership. They made some changes to the house but they left her room the way it was so that she always feels at home whenever she visited.
She locked the door and threw herself on the bed and the tears she had been holding back came in torrents. All the abuses Murad threw at her replayed in her mind until she fell asleep.
Latifa came to wake her up for dinner. She said she wasn’t hungry but Latifa insisted that she eats something.
At the dining table, she felt her sister’s eyes on her as she toyed with her glass.
“Murad called,” Latifa broke the silence. “What is this I’m hearing about an affair with Ismail? Who is he?” She continues in a forced cordial tone.
“That is what he said? How dare he!” Sarah was shocked.
“He was so angry he said he wanted nothing to do with you anymore. I had to convince him to come tomorrow so that we can talk this matter out. Eventually, he agreed to come but he said he will be accompanied by some of his relatives.” She finished.
“What business has his relatives got to do with this?” Sarah asked angrily.
“You should be grateful that he agreed to come at all after what you did,” Latifa said not bothering with the cordial tone anymore.
“Do you believe what he said? Are you even going to ask for my side of the story?” Sarah felt hurt.
“I felt embarrassed enough hearing the story once, I don’t need to feel the embarrassment again,” she retorted.
“At least hear what she has to say first,” Laith interjected.
“This is between me and my baby sister so stay out of this!” Latifa said pointing a threatening finger at Laith and he recoiled in his chair. Even though he had learned to stand up to his wife, a part of him still feared her.
“Is this how I raised you, Sarah? Is this how mum and dad raised you?” Latifa turned back to Sarah.
“Don’t you drag mum and dad into this!”
Sarah left the table with tears in her eyes. Back in her room, she felt so lonely and she let the questions in her head engulf her. If her own sister was against her, who else would fight for her tomorrow? She felt so humiliated when she thought of how many people were going to discuss her case. Had she ever been disloyal to her husband for him to over-react to such a trivial thing? Didn’t she overlook his comments on girls’ photos on Facebook? Wasn’t she patient when his female clients called him late at night? Why did she have to be a slut for mentioning a man’s name? Couldn’t he assume she was listing the names of prophets? Something she could have explained to her husband in five minutes and got solved now had to be judged by a whole tribunal!
She removed the poetry book from her bag and examined it. She wondered whether she should destroy it because it was the cause of her trouble or keep it because it kept her company. Now that she felt very lonely, she opened it once more and dived into oblivion.
The next morning, Murad came with his brother Basim (the one he always complains of to Sarah) and his elder sister Batool who had never bothered to hide her contempt for Sarah.
Murad, Basim, and Batool sat on the large sofa with Batool in the middle, Latifa and Laith sat opposite from them on the two-seater and Sarah sat on the armchair next to Latifa.
“I don’t have much time so I think we should start.” Batool started with an air of importance. “Murad, tell us what happened.”
Murad started saying how he had a doubt that Sarah was going behind his back. He spoke of how she delayed opening the door because she was busy talking to her secret lover and how she deleted the call history. He somehow managed to put in how she delayed his food last week and how she had burnt his shirt some few months ago. All these seemed to be extra proof of her infidelity. The various synonyms of the word prostitute had replaced her name in his narration.
When he was finally done, Batool asked Sarah to speak.
“Are you sure you haven’t missed out anything? Because when I start talking I don’t want to be interrupted.” Sarah addressed Murad. The anger she felt gave her courage she never had before. Right now she did not care what would happen to her.
“I think I am done.” He said surprised at her bravado.
Sarah let out a long sigh before beginning her narration. She talked of how she was alone at home most of the time and how that made her paranoid. She told them how Murad went smoking with his friends every day after work and how he spent the whole Saturday with them. She explained that she needed to find something to occupy herself with to put her apprehension at bay.
“Have you ever tried dusting the house? It‘s ever dirty when I visit.” Batool interrupted.
“SHUT UP! I’m the one speaking.” Sarah said with authority before continuing her tale.
She told them how she had come across a new poem yesterday that interested her and she began explaining the poem to them.
طَرقتُ البابَ حتى كَلَّ مَتني * * * فَلَما كَلَّ مَتني كلَّمتني
فَقالت يااسماعيلُ صبراً * * * فَقلتُ ياأسماعِيلَّ صَبري
I knocked on the door until I got tired***and when I got tired she talked to me
She said oh Ismail have patience***I said oh Asma my patience has waned.
She said she particularly liked the play on words in the poem. The words ‘kalla’(exhausted) and ‘matny’ (my back), when combined, formed the word ‘kallamatny’(she talked to me) and the words ‘ Ismailu swabran’( Ismail have patience) when rearranged formed ‘Asma ’ila swabry’ (asma my energy has waned)
“When he knocked on the door yesterday, I was trying to memorise the poem and as I opened the door, the realization hit me that the situation unfolding before my eyes was similar to the one in the poem and the words ‘Ismail have patience’ slipped from my mouth.”
She folded her arms around her chest as she finished her version of what happened the previous evening. The silence that followed was so loud.