Mountain by Hawra’a Khalfan

The first time the police drove me home I was eighteen years old. I couldn’t be at home anymore, I couldn’t breathe in that unswerving state. It didn’t matter how hard I inhaled, I was gasping empty breaths. I carried around a wrinkled old brown bag everywhere with me. I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without it. It was an extension to my being. The more wrinkled that bag got, the more I realized that this isn’t it for me. That’s when it all started. That’s when I realized I couldn’t live that life anymore. The way I saw it, I was living in a small cave in an undiscovered mountain in a far corner in the world. I had no contact with the outside world, the only places I saw were the ones I read and dreamt about. There are still two parts to who I am. There is the voice inside my head that whispered in my ear, telling me I need to run, and then there is the asphyxiating good girl in me that tells me I have to be patient, because patience is the only virtue that will allow me to keep existing. At the time, I knew life had more to offer. I knew it was impossible that all the women of the world lived like this. I knew that I had some strength in me, despite the years he spent dedicating his time to overpower me. Despite the years he spent teaching me nothing but diligence.

The three meals I cooked daily were the staples that dictated what I could do. I was only allowed to cook and clean in between meals. On a bad day when his sloppiness conquered the house and lunch was a little late, a bruise would blaze my supple skin. The only time I had to myself was when I went to take a bath and even then, if I took longer than expected the door would burst open and my demon would hunt me down. I remember going for my usual “bath”, which actually just consisted of a quick shower, wiping down the bathtub and rolling my books out of the towels I had allocated in the corner under the sink. I memorized those books cover to cover, but they were still as exciting to read as they were the first time I picked them up.

I knew if I didn’t do it that day, those smothering cave walls were all I was ever going to see. All I had to do was wait for him to fall asleep and only then I could finally do it, breathe. I could finally breathe. I just wanted to breathe. I just wanted to tear that bag into shreds and surrender to my own will. As soon as I heard his frail snores, I grabbed my empty wallet and took my first real step. I looked at the brown bag, threw it under the bathroom sink next to the stack of my veiled books and took my last solid lungful. Every step I took until the age of eighteen was fixed. It was watched. It was planned. This is the first time I had taken a real decision. My own real decision.

I couldn’t believe that I had managed to build up the courage to tread outside of the house without consent. My whole body was shaking with fear.

Don’t look back. Don’t think twice. Don’t talk yourself out of this. Don’t. Don’t. Just don’t.

I unlocked the kitchen door with the key I hid a week before as quickly and quietly as possible. As soon as the wind touched my virgin skin, there I was in the welcoming warmth of the world.

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