A tumultuous black sea between her fingers, the fabric waved and rippled. Midnight without moonlight, just the way she wanted it. Hair, face, skin, nothing should be showing. Shadows loomed on the wall beside her as she pulled on one garment after another, cloaking herself in her own piety.
Control. Islam. Superiority.
Finally, the last piece of her puzzle: the mask she wanted to hide behind: murky, yet transparent, it obscured her face, her features, her eyes.
Her lips smiled beneath the fabric. Alone and silent, this was what she wanted. It was God’s will. Take a deep breath, you’re doing the right thing. I love you. You’re better than them. Look at you, covered the way a woman should be. You’re better. Because you cover.
You never used to cover. Back then, there was the cacophony of sound, music, raised voices, always. Three children and a house was all that remained. He was not the man everyone thinks. It was all his fault. Him. On the ships all the time. Leaving you alone to care for the children. Truthfully, you preferred it; you could control everything. Because that’s what you loved. Control. Power. Islam. Superiority. Islam.
But he came back. Injured and constant and not able-bodied, bringing with him the shadowy chasm of distance between you. Hounding you. Watching your every move. You were stifled; he had no business being in your business; telling you what to do all the time; you and the children were fine when he was away. But he was your husband. You needed him, yet you needed him out. Had he done anything wrong? Yes. Everything. And nothing.
Sometimes, she caught herself staring at mundane objects, wondering and waiting. Possessions. Things they had accumulated together were now hers. That lamp on the table was from their trip to Morocco; the rug in the living room from Egypt; wooden carvings of holy words from numerous trips to his family. Transported back to faded holidays every time she cleaned, she often breathed out dusty discontent, reminding herself of what he was to her: everything. And nothing. Wrapping away the feeling that this darkness was of her own making, she adjusted the veil over her face, engulfing the spectres of her past with swathes of fabric, obscuring her doubt with the inky black shadow of her own piety.
This is you. You are doing the right thing. God’s will. Her lips smiled.
“Did you know she was married before?”
“I mean, I heard something.”
“I read it actually. She admitted it herself. I didn’t know she was married before she married your son.”
Nargis shifted uncomfortably; soft, pliable rolls enveloped her, usually a protective layer against her husband’s sister. Not today. Today she was cornered: naked and exposed, caught off-guard with a question she couldn’t answer. Uncrossing her feet, leaning forward, reaching her tea, sipping slowly bought her some time.
“Salma, does it matter if she was? I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter. She’s married to my son now and that’s all that matters.”
Salma bristled impatiently at the lacklustre gossip. She pulled the shadow of her headscarf, protectively, flinging her niqab and religion on the sofa. Fine. If she couldn’t get a straight answer she’d have to keep digging.
“Yes, but I read it on something she wrote online.”
That one word, loaded with meaning, tainted the room. It hung in the air like the smell of over-ripe, rotting fruit. It was public; everyone knew except them. What did they know about the girl’s past? Nothing. After seven years of marriage to her son, should it matter? Whatever happened before those seven years shouldn’t matter, should it? Nargis tried not to shift in her seat, tried not to give her sister-in-law the upper hand, but over thirty years of confrontation had left her weary. Thrice-related, her first cousin, her husband’s sister and her brother’s ex-wife, Nargis would never escape this woman, the woman she had helped raise. She sighed.
“She’s married to my son now and that’s all that matters.” Her tone dejected, defeated. “Have a biscuit with your tea, won’t you?”
Salma’s lips smiled.
***This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.***