She’d never thought it would happen to her. Her mother had praised her beauty since she’d been a baby, constantly boasting triumphantly that she’d borne the one who’d be used to further their lineage and net her father a pretty sum from whichever family in their community wanted a beautiful daughter in law.
She would be sold, like they were all sold, but it would be dressed up in the pretty lie of a marriage. It would be honorable. Not like the others, who were quickly and efficiently disposed of by the men who came asking after unwanted children with their pockets stuffed with dollar bills.
She’d been named for it even. Amira – the princess. She should have been spared, kept buried safe in their home like the jewels her mother only brought out on special occasions. Her mother had treated her like a prized doll, rubbing treatments into her hair and skin and even taking the bother of educating her.
Later, Amira’s father would lament over the waste of it all. Every unnecessary penny spent on a daughter was better served being chucked in the sewers, he’d always lectured. It was why, despite their father possessing enough wealth to support twenty daughters, he’d readily handed over every one of Amira’s sisters to the first slavers who expressed interest. None of them had remained in their homes beyond the age of six.
Amira had been too young the first time to understand that her older sister would never be coming back home. She’d cheerfully waved at the sobbing, kicking bundle of young girl who’d been carelessly flung over a shoulder, thinking that the nice man who’d smiled at her and handed her a sweet was playing a game with Hana.
It was only later, when her second sister Taahira was being yanked away, with a paltry stack of bills left in exchange that she began to put things together. The girls were being bought like her mother bought fruit at the market. She didn’t eat the sweet this time.
No one had expressed interest in little Hajra, with her apple-round cheeks and infectious giggle. Amira had been the one destined to be hauled away but her mother had hastily stepped in front of her. Then, seeing the offence she’d caused with her protectiveness, she’d dragged her younger daughter forward. ‘Til the day she died, Amira would be haunted by her younger sister’s voice as the toddler screamed “Mama!” until she grew hoarse.
Her mother had sat with her that night and instead of telling six year old Amira a bedtime story as she usually did, the woman gave her a history lesson.
Women were inferior, she explained. Destined to leave their families and unworthy of being invested in.
Then, seeing Amira’s confusion, she simplified her words.
Little girls were sold away early so they didn’t burden their families. The slavers were doing Mummy and Papa a favour, taking away Amira’s sisters so they didn’t have to waste their money.
But Amira, Mama explained quickly when Amira began to look scared. Amira was special. Amira would stay until she was grown and then, when she was ready to be a Mummy herself, she would be taken away by a husband.
What a husband was, little Amira didn’t know. But her mother had told her she would be staying with her until Amira was all grown up so she didn’t particularly care. All was well in her world.
But then she remembered Hajra.
When Amira asked where her sisters had been taken, her mother’s mouth hardened. “Away, where they can be of use. And it will do you no good to remember them, Amira. Forget those girls.”
And Amira obeyed.
Another sister was taken away but Amira had grown enough that she knew not to get attached to them. The day her youngest sister was taken, she was thirteen and the man who came to collect gave her a very different look to the ones she was used to. It made her shudder and long to run back to her bedroom.
And so she did.
Later, her mother would half-heartedly scold her but the admonishment would fall on deaf ears. She was too confident of her safety. Young girls were threatened most often with being sold but the threat had never struck fear into Amira’s heart. Her mother had promised her she was safe and she’d heard many a woman remark on her beauty, young though she still was.
Nothing truly bad could happen to her.
Or so she thought.
Two months before Amira’s sixteen birthday, her father seemed to wake up and take notice of her existence. Suddenly, there were rules. She was expected to behave in ways that no one had ever truly demanded of her before. She’d been taught she was inferior, of course, but she’d spent so little time in the presence of men that it had never truly sunk in. And amongst the women, she was prized. She would be a beautiful bride and it made her valuable.
She’d never learned to bow. It would cost her.
Her mother was abruptly made aware of her daughter’s still intact spine when Amira challenged her father to his face, looking him dead in the eyes as she demanded to know why he’d forbidden her from going out to meet her friend. She tried in vain to correct this oversight but it was simply too late.
The second time Amira butted heads with her father was the last. She committed an unforgivable crime when he was admonishing her and giggled. It didn’t matter in the least that the laughter had come from nerves not derision.
She had disrespected him not once, but twice. To her father, it was enough of a reason to contact Karim, the same man who’d gotten rid of every other girl he’d deemed unworthy of remaining under his roof.
Her father’s first concession to her mother’s grief was to instruct Karim that Amira was not to be destined for prostitution, something that dropped her decent value to decidedly meagre. His second, final concession, was to allow her two full days to say goodbye to her unsatisfactory daughter.
Amira was exactly sixteen years old the day she left her home forever.
Naively, she still hoped that somehow things wouldn’t be so bad, despite having heard from her heartbroken mother that she’d doomed herself with her carelessness.
That optimism evaporated the moment she met the Mahomeds.