Maryam was already late for work when her mother shouted, “Maryam, make sure that your hijab is proper. Don’t bring shame to the family.” Maryam slammed the door and cussed her mother. She hated the fact that her parents were so ‘conservative’. How she wished she could wear tight jeans with tank tops and feel the wind in her hair. She did not understand why she was forced to cover herself when all around her girls were wearing sundresses. It wasn’t winter, nobody was forcing the other girls, so why was she being forced?
‘Shame’. Oh how she despised that word! She was tired of the constraints it put on her. She was lost in her thoughts, when the bus conductor announced her stop. She hurried to get off and rushed to the nearest ladies’ room. She took off her scarf and fluffed her hair. She then, proceeded to walk towards her office. She wished she didn’t have to go through this arduous ordeal every single day, but she had no alternative.
“Mary, where have you been? We’ve been waiting for you.” called out her manager.
“Sorry Sir, you know how it is. The damned bus was late again.”
“One of these days I’m going to get you a car. Don’t you worry, you pretty little thing.” leered her manager.
Maryam smiled at him continued to walk on towards her cubicle. “Why would you let him talk to you like that? It is disgusting.” said Jude. Maryam shrugged, she liked the attention. Maryam was a beautiful woman, and she flaunted her beauty every chance she got. She loved coming to work. It was the only time she really felt free, away from her mother’s constant bickering and the neighbors’ watchful eyes.
Soon, it was time to go home, she put on her scarf and waited for the bus. She waited for an hour but the bus did not arrive. She decided to walk home. As soon as she reached her house, her dad asked, “Where have you been? Do you realize what time it is?” Before she could answer her mother chimed in, “Is this the time for a respectable woman to return?” Maryam took a deep breath and said, “I waited for the bus, but it didn’t come. So I walked home.”
This further infuriated her father, he yelled, “You walked back home at this time? Are you daft? Don’t you realize that it isn’t safe for a woman to be alone at this time of the night? It’s nearly midnight. What if something was to happen to you, imagine the shame it would bring to the family.” Maryam did not reply, she knew it was a dumb move on her part. She was aware of the risks but she also hated the fact that her father cared more about his honor than his daughter. She went to her room, which she, unfortunately, shared with her younger sister.
She hated her younger sister, Noor. She was everything that Maryam was not. Noor obeyed her parents’ wishes without questioning them. She was the epitome of perfection in her parents’ eyes. “You’re back. Alhamdulillah. Everyone was getting worried.” Her sister’s sweet voice brought her back from her thoughts. She turned to see Noor smiling at her. Maryam rolled her eyes and said, “You are well aware of what they were concerned about.” Her sister was unable to meet her eyes and said, “Nevertheless, Alhamdulillah that you’re back safe and sound.” “Whatever, I’m tired.” retorted Maryam and lay down to slip into blissful and much needed sleep.
The next day, as she was getting ready to go out with her friends`, her father called her into the sitting room. She saw her mother and was taken aback to see her aunt there. Her father ordered her to sit down and be quiet. Her mother said, “Fatima says that she saw you yesterday. You were without your scarf. Is that true?” Maryam had two options, she could tell her parents the truth, or pretend that it never happened. She opted for the latter and said, “What? Are you people crazy? Why would I do that?”
“We know that you’re lying. You’re a disgrace to the family. If I had my way, I would have disowned you a long time ago.” said her father through gritted teeth.
“I am not lying. I swear.”
“My daughter, tell us the truth, we won’t do anything.” coaxed her mother, running her hands through Maryam’s hair.
“Who would you rather believe? Me or this woman?” asked Maryam angrily.
Her father got up, pulled Maryam towards him and said through clenched teeth, “Right now, I would rather trust Fatima. I know that you are lying. I have had this hunch for a very long time now but I never thought that my own daughter would do this.”
Tears welled up in Maryam’s eyes, she knew that she was at fault, but she still wished that her father would trust her just a little bit. She said, “You know what? Yes, I did remove my scarf and I do it every day. I don’t want to hide it anymore. And I hate that you are so conservative. I mean this is the 21st century. Nobody cares if you cover your hair or not.”
Her father then asked Aunt Fatima to leave. Now, Maryam got scared. She had never seen her father like this. She waited for someone to say something. Silence prevailed for a while until her father said quietly, “I think it’s time that you went to your room, we will discuss this tomorrow.” Maryam wanted to say so many things but she decided that it was better if she kept silent. She went into her room and was greeted by Noor.
Noor had heard everything that transpired downstairs but she did not know what to say. She tried comforting her sister but words eluded her. Noor said, “Maryam, I’m sorry that mom and dad had to find out like this. I’ve known about this for a while now, but I never had the guts to question you…”
Maryam cut her off before she could complete her sentence and shouted, “Go away Noor, this is all because of you. I hate you for ruining my life.”
Maryam hid under the blanket and cried till she could cry no more. She wondered what the new day would bring. She expected that she would have to withstand her father’s wrath, but she could not be more wrong. She fell asleep with these thoughts.
To be continued…