It wasn’t fine. Iman ducked to avoid a gorgeous porcelain vase, wondering how long this was going to go on. She’d never seen Aasia quite so out of control before. If she were a cartoon, she’d have steam pouring out of her ears.
“Honey?” Iman’s stepfather said cautiously, poking his head into the room. “Don’t you think that’s enough?”
Aasia rounded on him. “Excuse me?” she hissed. “What did you just say?”
He backed up, holding his hands up in surrender. “It’s just… you might scar her face like this. We wouldn’t want that, right?”
Iman backed away instinctively as her mother came towards her. She hit the wall and shrank back, half-wishing that she could just sink through it. Aasia seized her chin roughly in one hand. “You’re beautiful,” she said, giving Iman a once-over. “Exquisite features.”
Iman said nothing and Aasia squeezed harder. “But no manners. What do you say when someone compliments you?”
“Ow,” Iman winced. “Thank you!”
“That’s better. It really is a shame,” Aasia tutted. “You are so beautiful.”
Before Iman could even wonder exactly what was a shame, Aasia struck. Her manicured nails raked across Iman’s cheek, tearing deep enough that blood immediately began to well up in their wake.
She caught the hand Iman had raised to try and protect herself, pinning it to the wall, and studied the damage she’d done. “Almost. But not deep enough, I think.”
Again, her nails dug in. Iman screamed. “Let go of me!” Aasia’d had let go of her arm in order to scratch her again and Iman used this to her advantage, bringing both her hands up and shoving as hard as she could.
Aasia stumbled back and Iman ran, pushing past her stepfather and not stopping until she’d gotten to her bedroom and locked the door behind her. She left the key in the lock so it couldn’t be turned from the other side and propped her desk chair under the handle for good measure.
Only then did she allow herself to look at the damage.
There were four deep gouges stretching from just below her eye socket all the way down to her jaw line. The entire left side of her face throbbed angrily. Would she have scars? Aasia’s nails were sharp enough to do lasting damage, her arms were proof of that.
Iman turned away from the mirror. There was no point in worrying about that now. A compress would help with the pain. She reached for the little cloth that hung on the rail and promptly dropped it, her fingers fumbling to catch it before it hit the floor.
She looked down at her hands. They were shaking. She balled them into fists and waited, willing the shaking to stop. She took a deep breath and scooped up the cloth from the floor, clutching it so tightly that her fingers started to hurt.
She held it under the running tap and messily squeezed out the excess water before slapping it onto her face. The impact made tears spring to her eyes and she sniffed hard.
‘Don’t cry. Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry!’ It wasn’t her own voice that she heard but Aasia’s. It had always enraged her whenever Iman had started to cry. Iman had eventually learned to stop herself, after several occasions where crying had resulted in screaming and a good few slaps or pinches from Aasia until she’d stopped.
The conditioning had worked incredibly well. Even now, Iman hated crying. It made her feel like she was doing something wrong that she had to hide. And it always gave her a raging headache.
It took several moments of pressing the palms of her hands hard against her eyes but finally, Iman conquered the tears. She wanted nothing more than to curl up in her sheets and sleep away the day but experience had taught her that the sleep she’d get would be plagued with nightmares.
It was better to stay awake and tire herself out enough that she fell asleep by accident when she was too tired to resist it any longer. That way she’d at least have fewer nightmares.
She’d never found a way to get rid of them completely.
‘Mom, I’m getting married.’
It wasn’t that hard to say. In theory.
In practice, it was a little bit different. Adam had been sitting at his mother’s dining table for the past forty-five minutes, trying to force the words out and he’d gotten no further than ‘Mom’ before chickening out. Twice.
He knew that the longer he took to tell her, the worse it would make things for him.
It was three little words. All he had to do was open his mouth and say them. Surely he could do that.
A door slammed and his stepfather strode in, a filthy look on his face. He walked straight up to the table, stopping when he stood opposite Adam, and leaned his weight on his hands. “When were you going to tell us that you’re engaged to Ibrahim Khan’s only granddaughter?”
Or someone else could say it for him.
“Adam, is this true?”
Adam looked at his mother. “Yes,” he said simply. “It’s true.”
She let out a squeal and jumped out of her chair, rounding the table to take his face in her hands and kiss him soundly. “Congratulations! But wait…” she frowned. “I thought you didn’t want to get married?” She crossed her arms. “I’ve been trying to find a nice girl for you to settle down with for the past six months! If you already had a girlfriend, all you had to do was tell me so,” she scolded, looking vaguely hurt.
“I don’t want to get married,” Adam grumbled, pulling away from his mother’s soft hands. “And I didn’t – don’t – have a girlfriend.”
“What? Then how are you getting married?” Lina looked crestfallen. “Is your father mistaken? No, you said he’s not.”
“Stepfather,” Adam corrected automatically.
Lina flapped her hands at him. “Same thing.”
Adam ignored this. “It’s complicated. All you need to know is that I’m getting married on Saturday, okay?”
“Saturday?! What’s the rush?”
Adam sighed. He should have just sent a text. “It’s-”
“Don’t you dare tell me ‘it’s complicated’, young man! Uncomplicate it! And quickly.” Lina fixed him with a stern look. “What’s going on?”