Short Story: Cut From a Different Cloth
I wrote this in 2015, on the 2nd of September.
Every day was just another day.
The same tasks carried out over and over. Ruth washed all the family garments until her hands throbbed and turned red from the force she used. She washed, imagining that she was cleansing herself. She wished she could wipe off the traces of failure but to no avail as she still felt like she was worthless. She swept the compound grounds, the goats trotting around and bleating as she hummed silently to herself. She watered the vegetables in her mother’s garden and chased the pesky birds away, but in her mind she was in another world.
She had locked herself at home, locked herself out of the community but not voluntarily. She had been destroyed, the experiences of yesterday still fresh in her memories and haunting her at every turn. She had brought dishonor to her family, unable to carry out the tasks of a ‘real woman’ in the eyes of the community and in the eyes of the world.
Every morning she woke up to the crow of the fattened rooster, the sun rising from the valleys in the distance and the purple sky seeping in through the cracks of the house wall. Unlike before, she had no appreciation for the rooster, only being annoyed that she was to live another day.
She had been shunned by most of her family except her younger siblings, and was bound to live the rest of her days in the shadows, away from the scrutinizing eyes of the village elders.
She had ran away from her husband’s home, she had destroyed the sacred marriage. Who would have known that this young girl married off young and beautiful to a reasonably wealthy family would’ve brought disgrace?
She had been discovered as she trailed behind her father in the markets, holding bags containing the groceries for the family. She had stood out, with her deep dark purple robe adorning her young and fragile frame and her bright green eyes outlined in kohl, which she had snuck from her mother’s room.
She had stood out, because she wore colour in the sea of grey and black robes and the occasional white from the male traders. Her soon to be mother-in-law had immediately struck up conversation with her father and soon the plans were made. The promise of a wedding brought the community together, mouths salivating at the thought of all the exotic foods that would be present, bodies ready to sway to the melodies of the band and voices poised for the shouts of encouragement.
Everyone was so blinded by the promise of extravagance that they failed to see the fear that had gripped the young and vulnerable girl. They failed to see the way the life had escaped her eyes, they failed to see that she had lost a bit of weight as a result of refusing to eat three days before the ceremony, ignoring the pleading from her mother and father who eventually gave up.
The new in-laws whisked the young girl away, taking her in the dark of the night after the celebrations had died down, and her family stood in the doorway with cries and shouts, wildly waving at the dark car their pride and joy was seated in. They didn’t know that she was to suffer, they didn’t know that the in laws would beat her day and night as well as her so called husband. They didn’t know that she would be violated, physically and emotionally. She would be locked away when she didn’t do things the right way, she would be cursed if she dared to speak up.
And so they didn’t expect that one rainy night, close to midnight, this young girl would fight for her life. She tried to overcome the weight of the hideous man who was trying to attack her and she reached for the lamp by her side and knocked him in the face, the flame licking his neck as he screamed. She ran, opening the door wide and escaping into the valley with no shoes on.
She had been travelling for so long and was so exhausted. Hours later she fell on the ground, body weakened and clothing now soiled by the thick mud. Eventually she made her way home, with assistance from one of her village shepherds. Rather than coming home to open arms she had been shunned, her mother refusing to regard her broken daughter.
From then on, things had changed for the worst. The fights occurred every night as her parents debated over their miserable and now ‘worthless’ daughter, who had brought shame upon the family.
One day she stepped out of the house, driven by curiosity as she spotted a book on the ground. It was tattered and flattened, with holes dotting the pages. The streams of words contained in the book were intimidating but made her curiosity to grow. On the front of the book was a note written in the local language stating ‘’If found, return to Ibrahim’’, and next to the name was an address. The broken girl wanted to abandon the book and return to the confines of the compound but something willed her to take an adventure, and she walked the short distance quickly, eyes trained on the ground as she had been used to.
The house she came across was small but well kept, a bright blue colour to match the cover of the book. There were stains from the red dust like every other house, but the house looked full of life, hibiscus bushes dotting the outside of the house. A timid knock on the sturdy brown door saw a thin woman come face to face with her, smile plastered on her young, round face. The woman was dressed in bright blue and adorned in jewelry and her beauty was striking. She oozed a confidence that was intimidating and the way she stood made Ruth want to fall back.
Without uttering a word, Ruth brought forward the tattered book, shaking already at the presence of this woman who seemed very much better than her. The woman laughed with joy and took the book carefully from Ruth’s hands and there was a striking difference between both women. Ruth’s hands were hard from the intensity of the work she had been doing recently, while the mysterious woman’s hands were soft and motherly.
‘’Thank you, please come in for some tea, as I know you must have travelled far,’’ Ruth was reluctant but out of politeness decided to enter the house, her steps sluggish in comparison to the older woman. Nobody would have known that this girl clad in black was only fifteen years old.
Her eyes nearly popped out of their sockets as she took in the beauty of this small house. The walls were a light blue to match the outside of the house, and were adorned with photographs of men, women, children, animals and plants. The floors were clean and cool and the hallway they walked in led to a small kitchen, which was beautiful. The house in comparison to Ruth’s humble and hellish abode caused curiosity to grow intensely, almost bubbling over. She had many questions, she wanted to know where the pictures were from and how all this could be afforded.
Chamomile tea was poured from a silver kettle into two wide blue cups placed on plates, coupled with some freshly baked bread. The woman then turned around, going towards two large bookcases in the corner of the kitchen and sliding the book into a vacant spot after dusting the sand off it.
‘’My name is Vashti, I only recently moved to this small town from the city,’’ The woman said, now returning to the table and placing a plate in front of Ruth, who salivated at the thought of the crisp bread which resembled that you would see at the shops.
‘’My name is Ruth, how did you get so many books?’’
‘’Ah, I knew you’d ask. My husband is a businessman in the city and I was a teacher before I got married.’’
This small conversation grew bigger as the questions continued to spill out of Ruth. The two females talked within the safety of the kitchen, and Ruth felt like a burden had been lifted off her shoulders. Ruth found out many things that day. She found out that in the city girls and boys went to school, and girls could read as many books as they wanted to.
She found that marriage was reserved for older girls in most cases and that most of the time such marriages were not arranged. She realised there were big buildings called universities were people went to further their education and become great members of society. As the conversations were lengthy, time was running out. As Ruth left Vashti’s house, she mourned having to return to the place of desolation she had been forced to call home.
She felt robbed most importantly, as she did not have access to anything the girls in the city had. She had wild dreams of wearing school uniform like the many young boys in the community, books poised under her arm as she went to learn something new each day. She remembered before her marriage when she would sneak behind the large groups of boys headed for school, hiding behind the bushes to take a peek at the big school they attended so her older brother wouldn’t catch her.
She dreamt of abandoning the mundane chores that her family piled on top of her, she dreamt of making money for herself and being able to support herself, not spending each day and night worrying that the rough hands of her husband would come and snatch her away once again. By being exposed to an educated woman, Ruth now had a reason to dream, seeds of inspiration planted deep within her heart.
And so she endeavored to visit Vashti as frequently as possible under the guise that she had found domestic work. Instead of cleaning, Vashti would pour all of her knowledge into this young girl, sharing all the books and encouraging her to dream. They would sit on a carpet in the sitting room with books spread all around them, each book holding its adventure and its bit of knowledge. She was like a sponge, absorbing each knowledge that was passed down to her without giving up. When things got hard, she kept strong, being encouraged by Vashti and her husband.
The way she so quickly understood information had her going from reading at a low level to writing her own stories. One day, she sat in the kitchen with Vashti, filling in the application for a scholarship to a prestigious high school in the big city. She felt intimidated, but knew deep within that this was what she wanted for herself more than anything.
‘’Do your parents know about this?’’
‘’No, and I don’t want them to. They won’t let me, they want to continue punishing me for bringing shame upon the family. I caused them pain, I caused them to have to lose a lot in order to pay for the so called damage I caused.’’
Vashti and her husband showed up at the house the next day, aiming to campaign and advocate for the rights of Ruth. Her parents were strongly against it, and at one point Vashti was denounced as nothing but a human trafficker.
‘’She can’t go anywhere! How dare you plant such evil ideas in her head! She’s worthless! If you want to give a scholarship, give it to our first born son Ali as we cannot afford to send him to the city schools.’’ Ruth’s father argued loudly pointing towards Ali who was hunched over his dinner of rice and vegetables, deep in thought.
‘’We need her hands around the house since she cant do anything better with herself. She is my daughter, and I can do whatever I want with her,’’ Ruth’s mother argued, glaring. Vashti and her husband were sent away, and Ruth was beaten, forbidden from seeing them again.
However this disappointing event did not cause her to turn back into a shell. She remained bright and continued to go outdoors. One day, as she stood in her mother’s garden watering the vegetables, her name was called and she rushed to see that it was Vashti’s husband. He handed her a thick envelope and rushed away before anyone saw him. Ruth retreated to the back, sitting on the ground as she opened the envelope. Cash and a letter were contained in it.
Grateful tears formed in her eyes and fell as she realised that she had been accepted into the school, expected to commence in two weeks when the term would start. She folded the contents of the envelope up and hid them in her clothing, trying to mask the joy she felt.
The time had come for the bird whose wings had been clipped off too early to fly. Ruth knew what she had to do, and once again in the dark of the night the young girl now set off on her adventure, a sack of clothing on her back as she walked to the future, aided by Vashti and her husband who were going to move to the city.