Laughter echoed through the house, shattering the silence.
Saam’iah gritted her teeth and rolled over in bed, suppressing a scream of frustration. She looked over at the little clock on her bedside table and groaned.
23:49, the display read. She groaned again and fell back on the bed with an exasperated sigh.
It was the third time this week that she’d been kept up past midnight by her step-mother’s entertaining. The woman had a habit of inviting guests over for supper which invariably turned into them staying for tea and talking the night away.
Saam’iah generally managed to beg off these occasions with a quick comment about the difficulty of eating and drinking in niqaab. She would make herself a plate and come up to her bedroom, content to spend the evening with music blaring from her earphones and pretending that nothing outside her cosy little room existed.
But her earphones had stopped working at the beginning of the week and she was still waiting for the replacement pair to arrive. The pair she’d purchased in the meantime were shoddy quality and hurt her ears if she wore them for more than a little while and she’d eventually given up wearing them as they didn’t block out the noise, simply dulled it.
She sighed miserably, hating everything and cursing her fate. Saam’iah hated being kept awake. Sleep was one of her vices and being kept from it made her ridiculously grumpy – ever since she was a little girl. She’d loved nap time and had rarely complained about her early bedtime.
She fought the urge to get up and shriek at the obnoxious people underneath her, reminding herself that she wasn’t in her own home and resolved, once again, to start looking through wanted ads. Surely there was something she could do to earn her own money.
‘Staying in university would probably help you there,’ a nasty little voice whispered. Saam’iah shut her eyes and shook her head violently, trying to get rid of the intrusive thought.
But it was no use.
She knew that she’d made a huge mistake by not taking her classes seriously but, at the time, she’d just been thinking of how miserable attending them was making her, not of how valuable they could be in the future.
‘Short sighted as always,’ the voice commented, sounding uncannily like her grandmother.
‘It was a mistake,’ Saam’iah defended feebly. ‘I wasn’t coping!’ But the defence sounded weak even to her own ears. She should have been stronger, she knew. Should have pushed through the pain and discomfort and stuck it out, the way she’d done for as long as she could remember.
But she hadn’t. She’d just snapped and thrown in the towel and now it was too late to fix things.
There would be consequences for what she’d done, she knew. Saam’iah didn’t know her father well enough to know what those were but she imagined they’d be similar to what her grandmother would have done – kicked her out and made her fend for herself.
The old woman had always been perfectly clear. Saam’iah would behave in a certain way or she would be abandoned. It was her choice.
And now she had three months to find a way to support herself or she would be on the streets in a country that was still largely unknown to her and where crime was rampant. The thought made her tremble lightly in her bed.
‘Don’t think about that,’ she told herself. ‘You’ll figure it out. You have to figure it out. There’s no other choice.’
Mentally exhausted by the turmoil, she slipped into a restless sleep and spent the night tossing and turning.
The next morning, she woke feeling as though she’d had no sleep at all. Her muscles were sore as though she’d been battling in her dreams and she was bleary-eyed.
She’d overslept enough that her father and his family were sat at the table by the time she pulled herself from the comforting heat of her shower and made her way down the stairs. The exhaustion made her too slow to dodge her step-mother when the woman cornered her on her way to the front door.
“Saam’iah!” Haseena called perkily. “I’m so glad we didn’t miss you today. Come sit, you’ve got time before your first class.” She took hold of Saam’iah’s arm, pulling her towards the large dining table.
“I’m not that hungry,” Saam’iah lied, wincing as her stomach took that as a cue to rumble loudly.
Haseena laughed. “Sounds like you could manage a few pancakes. Come on, we’ve barely seen you.”
Pancakes. Saam’iah loved pancakes and her little café made horrible ones. Would one meal be so bad?
“Okay,” she nodded, letting Haseena pull her along and promising herself that she’d eat fast.
‘It’s only for a little while, right? Should be bearable.’