“Aabirah! Come down to my study, I need to speak with you.” The intercom emitted a beep, signalling that the connection had been terminated.
Aabirah huffed irritably as she rolled off her bed. Her father’s habit of using the intercom as a summoning device always set her teeth on edge. It invariably resulted in her spending an uncomfortable half hour in her father’s study, listening to him lay down the law, as he put it.
She wondered idly what today’s lecture would be about.
The intercom crackled and she winced in anticipation, shutting her eyes and holding her hands over her ears.
“Aabirah! Stop dawdling!”
She leaned forward and pressed a button. “I’m coming!” Hold your horses, she didn’t add.
Thirty seconds later, she was standing in front of the heavy oak door, waiting to be let in.
“Come,” came from inside.
‘Here we go,’ Aabirah thought to herself, taking a deep breath before finally walking in.
Mehmood Amal was sat at his desk, imposing as always. Aabirah’s earliest memories were filled with the same sight of her father – sat at his desk, looking down at her in disapproval.
She fought the instinctive urge to fidget and concentrated on making her movements smooth as she took her seat.
“Finally,” Mehmood grumbled. He proceeded to ignore her in favour of his cellphone for the next few minutes.
Aabirah rolled her eyes internally at this and turned her eyes to the ceiling, cataloguing the cracks for the thousandth time. There was a new one, she noticed with interest. If she looked at it just right, it seemed to make a shape!
“Aabirah, what on Earth are you doing?”
Aabirah jumped. “Nothing, sorry,” she said guiltily.
Mehmood sighed. “Pay attention, will you?” he said testily. “This is important.”
“Sorry,” Aabirah said again. “I’m listening.”
“Qasim and I have been working for the past few weeks to get this done for you,” Mehmood said. “It’s been incredibly time consuming and I’ve personally had to deal with going up and down three separate times so I hope you appreciate this properly.”
“Thank you,” Aabirah said hesitantly, trying frantically to make sense of what was going on. The last time her father had gotten something done for her, he’d enrolled her into a high school that had made her miserable for four years, from start to finish.
The thought of something like that happening again made her nauseous.
Mehmood didn’t seem to notice the lack of conviction in her thanks. “Yes, everything’s set now,” he said, more to himself than her.
Aabirah waited for more details but Mehmood seemed perfectly willing to continue silently patting himself on the back for the foreseeable future.
“What’s set?” she finally asked.
“Honestly, Aabirah, have you listened to a word I’ve been saying? Your marriage, of course!”
“My what?” Aabirah shrieked. Even to her own ears, she sounded deranged.
Mehmood scowled. “Don’t you start with your tantrums,” he threatened her. “I’ll keep you sedated until this is all over if I have to!”
“You can’t do that! You can’t do any of this, it’s illegal!” As she said it, Aabirah knew she was going too far. But she was too furious to care.
“I can do whatever I please,” Mehmood said sharply. “Have you forgotten who I am?”
“You’re not above the law,” Aabirah protested weakly. But this was a lie. It was a well-known fact that Mehmood used his money to evade the law. Bribery was a hobby to him. It disgusted Aabirah but the few times she’d tried to bring it up with either Qasim or her father, she’d been assured that this was the way the world worked and bribery was unavoidable.
“I am above everyone, you stupid little girl. Now, enough of this. You were supposed to be getting married in three months but now it will be at the end of this week. I’m tired of having you in my house. You can become your husband’s problem now.”
Mehmood pressed a button on the underside of his desk, summoning one of the guards that stood outside.
“Take her to her room,” he instructed. Then he looked at Aabirah, “Does he need to lock you in?” he asked brusquely.
“N-no,” Aabirah stammered.
“Fine. But don’t even think about trying to escape. I will find you and all you’ll have done is wasted everyone’s time and my money. This is what you were made for, Aabirah. To marry someone and be useful for once in your life.”
Mehmood gestured and the waiting guard took hold of Aabirah, gently pushing her out of the room.
The second the heavy study door shut behind them, Aabirah burst into tears.
The man holding her winced and quickened their pace.
“Could you… stop doing that?” he asked once he’d gotten her to her bedroom.
Sniffing and gulping, Aabirah still managed to dredge up a glare at this ridiculous question. “I’m being sold!” she shrieked. “I think I have a right to be upset!”
“Well, yeah. But the guy’s pretty rich. All you’ve gotta do is sleep with him. There are worse gigs.”
Aabirah just stared.
The guard rolled his eyes. “Ah, forget it. I’m just saying – you’ve got it pretty good, sweetheart.”
“You think I deserve this?” Aabirah said slowly. “Why? Because there’s a lot of money attached?”
“Well, yeah. People have dealt with worse for less.”
“What’s your name?”
“Well, Jake, think about this – none of this money is mine. And none of my husband’s money will be mine either.”
“Oh. Yeah, that is rough.”
Aabirah rolled her eyes. “Get out,” she instructed, pointing to the door. “Just get out.”
Jake held up his hands. “Sorry. I was just trying to help.”
“Jake? Get. Out.”
“You’re not gonna get me fired for this, are you?”
Once the hapless guard had left, Aabirah went straight to her bathroom for a facecloth, setting the bath to start filling as she went.
She’d stopped crying while talking to Jake, the ridiculous conversation having unexpectedly calmed her whirlwind of emotions.
She gave a last sniff and then began to wash her face. ‘There’s no way out of this,’ she realized and that made the tears begin to flow once more.