“IMAN! Get down here right now!” The enraged shriek seemed to bounce off the walls.
Iman looked up from the book in her lap, marking her place quickly before laying it down with the rest under her bed.
“Yes?” she asked, pausing at the top of the stairs. “What is it?”
“Come here,” her mother demanded, pointing to the floor directly in front of her.
“Did you want something?” Iman asked innocently as she walked down. She came to a stop, carefully keeping herself out of Aasia’s range.
“Come here,” Aasia said again.
Iman inched closer, wondering how far she could push her luck.
Not far enough, it seemed.
Aasia’s hand shot out and she grabbed the ends of Iman’s long hair, yanking hard. Iman stumbled forward, fetching up right against her. “I told you to come here!” Aasia shouted, her pretty face flushing crimson.
“Let go!” Iman cried, tears of pain springing to her eyes.
Aasia yanked harder. “Why don’t you listen?”
Iman gasped, reaching up to try and ease the pressure. It felt like her hair was about to be torn from the roots. “I’m sorry,” she gasped. “I’m sorry! Please let go.”
“There,” Aasia cooed. “Was that so hard?” Several strands of light brown hair remained in her grasp even after Iman had pulled away.
“What did you call me for?” Iman asked, fighting to keep her voice level.
“My friends were here,” Aasia reminded her daughter. “They came with lovely news. One of them has a new grandchild. The other one is due to set off on a trip to travel three different continents in two weeks once her youngest gets married.”
She paused expectantly, lifting a perfectly plucked eyebrow.
“That’s… nice,” Iman said hesitantly.
“Yes,” Aasia agreed poisonously. “It is nice. But do you know what isn’t nice?”
Iman felt a sense of foreboding. “What?” she whispered.
“My life. My daughter isn’t getting married or having a baby. All you are doing is sitting in your bedroom and weighing me down like the world’s ugliest milestone. Well, it stops now!”
Iman’s eyes widened. Was Aasia about to throw her out. Hurriedly, she put a hand over her mouth, trying to conceal the smile that was creeping over her face.
She needn’t have bothered. Aasia’s next words wiped it clean from her face.
“It’s time you got married,” her mother announced.
“Don’t you dare raise your voice at me!” Aasia snapped. “I said it’s time you got married and clearly, it is. How rude can you be?”
“But… to who? I’m not dating anyone.”
“Don’t you worry about that. I will pick your husband. It’ll be fun,” Aasia smirked. “I know exactly what you need.” She patted Iman’s cheek reassuringly and Iman had to work to keep herself from flinching away from those long nails.
“I’ll take care of everything.” Aasia grinned unpleasantly. “Just you wait.”
Married. To a man of Aasia’s choosing. Iman’s legs felt weak. She didn’t know how she’d gotten back up to the bedroom. She vaguely remembered stuttering something faint to Aasia but she had no idea how she’d come to be sitting on the floor of her shower with the water pouring over her head.
The water in her en suite was set to her favourite temperature but for some reason today it wasn’t getting hot properly. She could see the steam in the air but it was still too cold. Impatiently, she turned it up as hot as it could go and settled in, leaning her cheek against the cold tile.
It still wasn’t enough. Eventually, she gave up, shutting off the taps and reaching for her towel to cocoon her dripping hair within it. Vaguely, she became aware of a stinging sensation on her back.
What had she done?
Looking in the mirror made her gasp. The skin from her neck to hips was cherry red. Had the water really been that hot? But she hadn’t felt it at all…
She reached behind herself, carefully touching the skin and winced at the sharp pain. She’d burned herself… In the shower?
Her back began to throb in earnest and Iman winced, making a beeline for the painkillers in her first aid kit. Checking the supply made her wince again. She was running low. She’d need to be more careful about how she used them until she could get more.
She swallowed two of the pills, bending over the sink for water to wash them down.
As always, a wave of tiredness hit her and she had just enough time to shrug on the softest clothing she had – an old dressing gown long since beaten into submission by the washing machine.
Hours later, she woke when the door to her bedroom creaked open. Her stepfather stood in the doorway, an odd expression on his face.
Iman sat up, suddenly very aware that her gown had slipped off one shoulder. She pulled it back into place quickly, belting the gown firmly around herself.
“Did you need something?” she asked wearily.
He smiled widely and a shiver ran down Iman’s spine. She slid a hand underneath the sheets, groping in the space between her mattress and the bed frame for the knife she’d stashed there months ago.
“I just wanted to check if you were alright,” her stepfather said in a casual voice, coming into the bedroom. He shut the door behind him with a click.
Iman squeezed the knife. “I’m fine,” she squeaked.
“Are you sure?” He came closer and leaned over her in the bed, making to sit down.
“Yeah,” Iman insisted, throwing the covers back. “But I really need to use the bathroom.”
She darted into her en suite and slammed the door shut behind herself, breathing hard.
She didn’t know how long he stayed in her room waiting, but eventually, she heard the creak of her door shutting behind him from where she stood with her ear pressed against the door.
Quietly, she crept back out. She stayed awake the rest of the night, despite the locked door and the knife that had made its way to a new home underneath her pillow.