She Liked Fire_A Short Story
Fareedah watched from a distance as her sister Hadiza, and her husband Hamza, Hassan Yakubu the senator’s son, had gone into the main room first, greeting and responding to her father’s guests. The men and women had already formed separate clusters at the ‘celebration’ as her mother would call it. Just as the thought crossed her mind, her mother beckoned with her hands for Fareedah to come over.
She was escorted by her mother through the gathering and to her father around whom many important men had congregated. It was done in a very calculating way. Even everything she wore was handpicked and elaborate. She looked exquisite. A potential bride at seventeen.
Her father glowed with pride as many gave their approving looks and comments. She looked so modest, and yet beautiful, sending the right messages not excluding the clear message of Mahmoud’s power. Did he really ever see her? Fareedah blushed like she was supposed to. She gave the impression of a pure unstained virgin, and that was who she had to be.
On her way out after much parading and pandering, Fareedah noticed a man she had never seen before. Musa’s usual second photographer was nowhere to be found. It seemed like this stranger had taken his place at the occasion. She thought she would never see his handsome face again until Chak-chak her best friend introduced them on an auspicious day.
Chak-chak’s parents gave her much freedom, and fortunately for Fareedah, her parents seemed to trust the girl. They let Fareedah accompany Chak-chak as she planned her big birthday party for her eighteenth.
One of the stops they had to make was at a popular young and budding photographer’s studio, who Chak-chak spoke nonstop about. He was avant-garde, one of Chak-chak’s conditions for a man to obsess over.
She finally saw him. They were mere inches from each other. Chak-chak said his name was Kasim. Kasim flashed her a smile. It really seemed like a flash as light reflected off his silver tooth.
Fareedah felt small in her own eyes. She realised she was just a teenager and he on the other hand, was nothing of the sort. She attempted a desperate recovery by trying to flirt with him. He laughed. She smiled inwardly, relishing the fact that her had noticed her, and noticed she was not a little girl.
After another supposedly chanced visit to Kasim’s studio by the girls, Kasim was sharing his vision for a project with the eager girls.
“Fareedah. Come over here for a second.”
Fareedah exchanged looks with her friend, who did nothing but egg her on. Kasim paused. He looked at Fareedah and asked her to turn around. He looked at her one way and then another, and finally, “Perfect. You’ll do perfectly.”
That was how Fareedah found herself modelling in a supposedly modest shoot for an ad campaign. Kasim had insisted that her face wouldn’t be shot, and it was all for the sake of art. Chak-chak had left Fareedah at the studio not long after they arrived. She promised to be back in a few hours.
“Chak-chak!” Fareedah called after under her breath.
“Have fun!” Chak-chak shouted back on her way out.
That was the beginning of the end.
After a few encounters, Fareedah had started to feel very much in her element with the other new friends she had made – all this under the guise of spending time with Chak-chak.
It had become apparent to Fareedah that her love interest Kasim had no interest in her or any girl for that matter. As avant-garde as he was, he preferred a different kind of companion. But he opened up the door for her to meet a few rich, charismatic young men, and one in particular who found her to be just his type.
After being alcohol induced and practically coerced, Fareedah found that her first time was nothing like she dreamed it would be.
Amina, a brazen-faced girl, found her sobbing in corner by herself. The other young men and women in the large house that belonged to the rich boy were fast asleep and mostly drunk.
Amina handed Fareedah a half-finished bottle of wine. “This would help.”
Fareedah looked doubtful, but Amina smiled at her approvingly and said, “You’re liberated now. No one gets to tell you how to not use your body.”
Fareedah thought about her father, knowing that she would never be what he thought she was, and that made her happy – very happy indeed. She took a swig from the bottle. She was going to make this work.
And try she did. She tried everything, every new thing, every new arrangement, every new person. The poor girl didn’t know that she was set up from the very beginning to fail, and fail she would.
Mahmoud was a very proud man. He would rather see her dead than bear the shame. The abortions didn’t protect her from having her tell-tale video leaked into the bottomless hole of the internet- the unending loop of unforgettable.
That day Fareedah thought to herself that Mahmoud never really saw her, a quiet whisper warned, but she let anger fill her. That moment she saw Kasim at the party, she already chose.
When Chak-chak took her to the studio the first time, Meenah had said “This is a bad idea”. Chak-chak had responded to Fareedah, “Ignore her. This is going to be fun.”
There were whispers, and people, and situations Fareedah forced to change. Every no she said, and every yes led her to this inauspicious place.
Eunice came into work that day like any other day. Working in an N.G.O. for women had its ups and downs though, and today, Eunice was not particularly feeling any love. She was tired of all these stories of girls making the same stupid decisions.
Fareedah was the new girl. She sat destitute on one of the benches, and she smelled badly.
Eunice looked at Fareedah’s hardened face, and in the very moment she would pass judgement, Eunice heard a familiar still small voice. Eunice looked right into Fareedah’s face and said, “He still wants you.”
Fareedah’s face was marred with confusion for a moment, but then something so subtle but recognizable adorned her face: hope. Eunice pointed up towards the ceiling and Fareedah inadvertently looked up. Eunice answered her unasked question. “God does, and Jesus died for you to prove it.”
A preacher on the street she and her friends had once mocked had said something about this before, but now it broke her heart. Fareedah’s broken heart melted Eunice’s. And there they both were, strangers in this forsaken place, crying together, Eunice’s hand holding Fareedah’s.
“Today’s my eighteenth birthday,” Fareedah said through ever flowing tears.
“Happy birthday Fareedah.”
There was yet hope.
*This short story was previously published on Uplift Girl under a different title