It was already dark when we got there. Myself and four other girls. The night was quiet, save for the occasional hooting of a cricket. It was a moonless night. They had bounded our hands with rubber threads cut off from raffia mats and made us sit on the dirty floor of the pickup truck. I had recognised the thread almost immediately. Mama taught me well. I wonder how worried she would be now, how she would feel if she knew I had volunteered for this and not taken like the others. I had tricked them into believing my good intentions.
There were fifteen girls in the room. Two men whom I assumed were the guards had emerged shortly after we arrived and shoved us in, locking the door behind them. Three of the girls were crying. My attention was drawn to the girl at the east side of the room. She was seated with her legs crossed, staring unblinking into space. She couldn’t be older than thirteen. Unlike the others, her hijab was laying on the floor besides her, the wool of her newly plaited hair shinning in the dim light. It was my first time of seeing a Muslim girl leaving her hair uncovered. I walked up to her and stood, but she still didn’t move. I sat and crossed my legs, mimicking her exact position. It was then that I saw her arm. There were cuts on them. The fading bruises were dark against her yellow skin. Her lips were broken, her eyes bloodshot. Beneath that was a beautiful girl, but that beauty was lost.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Zainab,” she answered in a surprisingly calm voice.
“How long have you been here?”
“I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.”
“Being here is better than staying back at home.”
“Why would you say that?”
She looked at me for a long time before shaking her head, saying nothing. It came together then. There had been rumours about girls beaten and molested by their father. I never believed the story. I always thought every father was like mine, with so much love to give, until now.
The door opened and a girl was pushed inside. Her clothes were half torn, blood dripping down her legs. I closed my eyes and clenched my teeth. I needed patience and control if I would succeed in what I had in mind. The thread was getting slippery on my sweaty wrists. I concentrated on my breathing and began to work on the knot. Like I said, Mama taught me well.
The time finally came in the morning. This time, it was the driver of the truck who opened the door. He scanned the room and came straight to where I was seated. He grabbed me on both arms and yanked me up. I bit my lips to keep from whimpering. This was going to be tougher than I thought. There was a separate building behind our little cell. I hadn’t noticed before. Must be why they brought girls in after dark. It had only one entrance.
The inside wasn’t what I expected. There were seven men altogether. Four different girls were slouched on their hands and knees, the men laughing as they grunted and relieved themselves. I watched in horror as their clothes were torn from them.
The community had been lied to. The people were being deceived for a long time. This wasn’t what everyone believed. Parents had given their children because they believed they were doing something good. I never understood people who would give their child to a stranger to bed and get pregnant before giving her away in marriage.
Test of fertility, they called it. If a child didn’t return, she failed the test, no questions asked. They never believed anyone could die in the course.
My mission was forgotten. The lose thread abandoned as I watched them advance, strange men with strange glint in their eyes. I was going to strangle the leader. I was going to murder him and put an end to the misery, to save girls from being shamed and debased by a people and culture who should have been a shelter. But I failed. I couldn't possibly take on seven men determined to make me pay. I failed them and humanity. I failed their unborn children.
I would later learn, before I bled to death, that my father was a resistant. They had to cut his head off in order to have me. I was the one who got tricked, and I died wondering if Mama knew about it.