It was a Dark and stormy night, thundering rain poured down. The road was surrounded by towering trees waving in the sky. The wind howled like a beast of prey scratching at the windows with claws of pine. The clouds were low and hairy in the skies, like locks blown forward in the gleam of eyes. The rain beat down on the car like a steady current. The car sped down the rocky streets of India past the hedges and bushes till it halted at the brink of the precipice. A few minutes passed, the car then continued through the darkness of the night as it tumbled into utter nothingness.
* * * *
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Amani looked into the mirror at her reflection as she smiled to herself. She was no ordinary girl; tall with exquisite amber eyes she was beautiful. Her curly russet brown hair cascaded down her back. Her complexion was like roses in cream. She had ideal body with curves in all the right places. With striking features and a dazzling smile she was just what the doctor ordered.
Amani turned around to look at the clock lying on her bedside cabinet. She cursed under her breath, it was 12 o’clock and he was an entire hour late. She sat quietly on her bed careful not to make any noise. She was meant to be asleep hours ago.
A smile appeared on Amani’s lips as she thought about Chad. She had met him at one of her friend’s parties. Since then she had been seeing him secretly. Chad was different from other guys that Amani knew and it was one of the reasons that attracted Amani to him. He was handsome with a hard jaw line and hazel eyes with flecks of green, bewitching Amani whenever she looked at him. Chad was open-minded, cool and vivacious.
Amani dared not to think what would occur if her parents or brother ever found out about Chad, but she was still prepared to take the risk. She enjoyed Chad’s company as much as he took pleasure from hers.
Amani was too deep in her own thoughts to hear the faint shouts coming from outside. She abruptly jumped when she heard something hit her window. Amani hurried to the window afraid that her parents might have awoken from the noise outside. She opened the window wide; a sudden cold breeze hit her face blowing her hair back as her eyes began to water. She could see Chad leaning against the wall. She waved at him; he looked amazingly handsome even in a pair of faded blue jeans and a plain black Nike top. She cautiously climbed out the window making her way down the wooden trellis that was attached to the wall of the house.
As soon as Amani’s feet reached the soft grass, she felt Chad’s hand slip into her own as he vigorously planted a kiss on her cheek. She experienced an electrifying sensation immediately race through her. She turned; her gaze met his as stared deeply into her eyes that were shimmering like the brightest stars in the night sky. She was amazed at how fortunate she was to have ended up with such a wonderful guy. Chad apologized for his delay even though it was the last thing on her mind. The full moon was shining brightly like a silver penny as a cool breeze was blowing sending leaves dancing noisily across the floor. They both walked hand in hand down the street, deeply in love.
* * * *
It was 1 o’clock when Amani returned to her house. She hated departing from Chad, especially knowing that she would have to wait till the following Saturday before they could possibly meet up again. Amani was enforced to keep her visits with Chad discreet. The last thing that she wanted was to be seen by her parents or elder brother. Amani was from an extremely strict and traditional family. In her community, love marriages were ostracised and unacceptable. She knew no one from her relatives that had married out of love. Her parents held a prominent position among the Asian community which explained their contentment and arrogance. To make matters only worse, her elder brother Raz was constantly keeping a close eye on her. At times she felt imprisoned even in her own house when her parents forbade her from going out with her non Asian friends. They were excessively protective over Amani, trying to keep their daughter away from anything that in their eyes was unconventional.
Amani brushed all her negative thoughts aside as she thought about the time she had spent with Chad. He was not only a boyfriend, but also a soul mate, a life partner. She smiled as she lay upon her bed, quickly drifting into a wonderful sound sleep.
* * * *
Amani awoke early on Sunday morning as the sun shone brightly lighting up her room. She could feel the heat of the sun over her face as if she was outside. After washing her face and brushing her teeth, she made her way downstairs. Upon entering her kitchen, she saw her mother Ritu, and her father Muhinder seated at the table. She smiled as she walked past, giving both of them a morning kiss on the cheek.
She was their only daughter and it was evident that her parents held high expectations for her, some that seemed unachievable. Her parents had a typical and traditional upbringing, this also explained their narrow-mindedness. They had Amani’s future planned out; the decision of whom she married was entirely in their hands alone. Amani was completely conscious of this but for some reason she was convinced that she would have it her way, somehow or another.
After finishing her breakfast, she sought her parent’s permission to go to the library. She hated lying to her parents but she knew that she had no other option. They informed her that they were going out to her aunts’ house for a while and that Raz had gone outside. She left the house with her parents as they had insisted on dropping her off to the library although it was only two streets away. Amani waited until her parents car had drove off and disappeared. She walked straight past the main entrance of the library and hurried down the street towards Julie’s house. Amani screamed as someone grabbed her wrist and spun her around. A look of relief swept over her face as she looked at Chad who was standing right before her with a charming side grin on his face.
She could not help but laugh at her self. Chad pulled Amani closer to him. He felt as if he was the most fortunate man in the world right at this moment. He had a princess who deserved to be a queen wrapped up in his arms. Amani suddenly pulled herself away from Chad’s hold, they were out in the public, and anyone could be watching. However, this did not seem to bother Chad as he pulled Amani near to himself one again, kissing her tenderly on the back of her neck. Just before she had the chance to move away from Chad she heard a voice yelling out her name.
She recognised the voice. Amani turned swiftly and to her alarm she saw Raz standing on the other side of the road, he was with someone. He was looking straight at Chad and shouting something, however Amani was unable to understand his words. She told Chad to quickly get away as she turned on her heels and ran as fast as she could, not daring to look back once. Amani knew there was no point in running; the worst person possible had caught her. She hoped that Raz had not done any harm to Chad, she was aware of what her brother temper was like; there was no stopping him in such a state.
Amani ran up to her bedroom locking the door behind her. She could feel her heart pounding in her stomach as she tried catching her breath.
BANG! BANG! “Open the door you fucking whore!” shouted Raz
He continued kicking the door, the noise hammering in Amani’s ears. The door finally sprang open as Raz towered into the room. His face was red and sweaty, his eyes full of disgust. Amani in all her seventeen years of her life had never seen him in such a state before. Raz began throwing Amani’s things around, smashing her mirror and destroying everything else that met his sight.
His jaws were clenched tight as he walked up to Amani. She moved backwards but he seized her arm as his grip tightened. Amani tried screaming but choked with her sobs, she saw his big silver rings shine ready to strike. She could feel the force of continuous blows on her face and body, her breath rasping in her throat. Her strength began to wane as she dropped on to the floor with a thud. She could feel her tears stinging her cuts on her face as her blood flowed. She saw thick scarlet red blood all over her clothes. Amani made an attempt to get up and open her eyes, but everything seemed to be getting darker and colder, she felt numb all over. She felt herself drifting, floating gently in midair…
* * * *
Amani awoke the next morning feeling weak and sick. She tried to lift herself but her legs failed her as she fell to the floor. After a few minutes Amani managed to stay balanced, her legs and arms were aching with a painful feeling.
Amani walked towards her bedroom door, her body throbbing as though she had been stung a million times. She turned the doorknob slowly as she carefully eased open the door. Amani walked into the bathroom and closed the door behind her. She was terrified to see the distorted image in the mirror stare back at her. Her once healthy brown hair was now dead and lifeless, entangled and flat on her head with a mixture of sweat and blood. Her eyes had sunken into her face with bruises all around.
Her creamy complexion was now deathly white with parts black and blue, swollen and bruised. Amani could not bear to look no longer as she turned her back on the hideous sight, making her way back to her bedroom afraid to face her parents. She comfortlessly sat on her bed, peering into the depths of her mind trying to make sense of what had happened. At the back of her mind was a glaring fact of what was to happen to her. Just thinking about Raz’s reaction made her head spin and her eyes swell up. Amani heard faint footsteps coming towards her room. Her mother walked into her room, her face looking grief stricken and tired. Ritu’s sight fell upon Amani’s bruised face and her eyes started watering but however she remained standing by the door. After what seemed like hours her mother finally spoke.
“Your father and I have finally decided to make a visit to India.” A few seconds passed by before she continued again, “we intend to get you married there, and it’s the best for you. What you did was absolutely unacceptable; you have left us no other alternatives.”
Amani sat motionless with a thousand questions running through her mind, all of them to be unanswered. She wanted to cry and beg for forgiveness, she did not wish to live in India never mind marrying a stranger from there. She knew it was pointless, according to her parents she had committed a sin of all sins. Her mother whilst fighting back tears spoke, “the tickets have been booked for the earliest flight which will be tomorrow evening. Pack and stay in your room.” With these last words Ritu left the room.
Time passed like the blink of an eyelid. It was already 10 o’clock; Amani had just finished cleaning up her room. She had picked up all the pieces of mirror and everything else that had been shattered all over her room. Amani stared at the food that her mother had given an hour ago. The food remained untouched. She packed her things ready for the following evening. She hoped that her mother had bought some mosquito repellent sprays and lotions for the trip to India. Amani looked outside there were no stars in the vast black sky, as everything had gone dark. She lay on her bed, staring up at the ceiling unable to slip into a blissful sleep once again. She thought of what was to come and how her life would proceed in India.
Amani could not help feel great sadness and regret. She had emotionally tortured her parents and now was going to pay for it.
* * * *
Amani was seated in the plane, her head tilted against the window. Loneliness blanketed her making her feel unwanted. She felt discarded as not one word was said to her during the drive to the airport; she had been disowned. She was a burden on her parents, a burden they were soon to be rid of once they arrived to India. Amani slept throughout most of the journey on the plane. When she awoke the lights in the plane had gone off and the entire plane seemed still and blank. The only sound she could hear was the relatively quite snoring of her mother who was seated alongside her.
There was a time when the sight of her mothers face bought a smile to her lips but now Amani felt absolutely nothing towards her mother. She thought about her friends and Chad who she was sure of not seeing again after her arrival to India. Amani wondered what they all would think of her sudden leave without any notice. Not able to keep her eyes open any longer, she rested her head on the pillow beside her and soon drifted off to a deep sleep. Amani dreamt she was in a beautiful field, with warm sunshine, butterflies and heavenly flowers scattered over the green grass. She saw herself sitting in the field with a genuine smile, beside her was Chad looking as handsome as ever. She longed to remain in the dream for eternity, wishing never to be awoken again.
* * * *
It was 6 o’clock when the plane landed in India. The sky was pale blue as the sun shone over powerfully, scorching everything from the land to those on it. The atmosphere was humid and sultry. Amani disliked India as soon as she stepped off the plane. She felt sticky and clammy and could feel her body heating up all over as a bead of sweat trickled down the back of her neck. She was surrounded by beggars who would not leave her alone. She struggled to keep up with her family through the crowds of people gathered outside the airport and the cows and donkeys that were tied up.
The smell was horrid, a mixture of foul body odour and animal manure. Amani felt sickened and uncomfortable, strange eyes followed her every move as she hurried to flee from such an eccentric surrounding. The woman stared at Amani, taken aback to see her in such clothing. Unlike all the women around who were dressed in cultural clothing, either a sari or shalwar kameez with a large scarf covering up most of their faces. Amani was wearing denim blue crop pants with a pink halter neck top. She was aware that soon she would be forced to wear such clothing seeing as India was where she was her destiny for eternity.
A car parked nearby as Raj, Amani and her parents climbed into it. Amani’s parents and Raj seemed to be acquainted with the driver. He was a middle aged man; his face was wizened aging him beyond his years. He had muddy brown eyes and his face looked somewhat familiar. However Amani did seem to actually know him at all. After a while he smiled as he addressed himself to Amani “Me Jarpreet, your dad’s cousin brother.” Amani could just barely understand the broken English. Throughout the journey he spoke continuously in Hindi and tried to enlighten the tedious trip by telling jokes and stories. He seemed friendly but Amani could not help but notice Jarpreet’s gaze that fell upon her more than necessary full of aspiration and desire, or maybe she was just being paranoid?
During the trip, Amani heard her father inform her mother that they would be staying in a village called Tendu. Amani felt weary and downcast. The strong and unpleasant smell of the car was getting to her. The roads were bumpy and dusty and the car was awfully stuffy and hot.
Amani was relieved and contented when the car finally halted. They all got out of the car and were standing before a white marble house. The village was deserted with only a few straw thatched huts here and there. The white house stood out like a diamond among pebbles.
Amani was comforted to discover that they would be staying in the house and not in the broken down huts near by. She was shown her room and then left alone. Her hopes were lifted at the sight of her room in which she would most likely be spending the majority of her time. The room was big with a double wooden bed in the middle. There was a huge matching wooden cupboard against the wall with a small straw thatched beside it. Not in the mood to unpack yet she decided to wonder around. Amani walked out onto the small balcony attached to her room. She breathed in the air which smelt fresh as a cool breeze swept past her. The view from the balcony was spectacular. She could see a clear blue river surrounded by beautiful trees.
Amani made her way downstairs towards the back of the house. Just a short stone’s throw from the back door stood the banks of the beautiful River Sharwana. The Dhok trees with drooping branches gently caressed the water like a child experimenting with water, for the very first time. There was also a huge Chila tree. Its smooth green leaves were crowded at the end of the branches. Its bark was of a whitish colour. The tree looked sensational with a riot of orange and red blossoms covering the entire crown and looking truly like a tree aflame. There were reeds that gave homes to many other forms of wildlife. Below the surface of the fast flowing water lived many different types of fish that could be seen darting in and out of the weeds. Birds would be singing in the trees and the chirping of crickets could be heard. Altogether it was the perfect place with a magical atmosphere.
* * * *
During the first week of Amani’s stay in India she visited the city of Mumbai with her parents, Raj and Uncle Jarpreet. The city life in India was the complete opposite to the quiet village Amani had come from. In India’s cities millions of people lived amidst cacophony, roaring vehicles, surging crowds, jammed apartment buildings, busy commercial establishments, loudspeakers that were blaring Bollywood movie tunes while breathing the poisons of industrial pollution.
Amani disliked India in almost everyway; she hated the fact that vast differences in status and wealth were evident everywhere throughout India. It was common in the city to see a prosperous, well fed man or woman in a fine car pass gaunt street dwellers huddled beneath burlap shelters along the roadway. Even in the villages that Amani had seen the solid cement houses of landowners did not rise far from the flimsy thatched shacks of landless labourer. Amani wondered how she would ever be able to manage living in India. She found it almost impossible to adapt to the lifestyle of an Indian woman. The behaviour expected of men and women was different, particularly in the village.
Just thinking about never going back to England, especially not ever seeing Chad and her friends again made Amani feel depressed. She felt as if she was carrying the world’s burdens on her shoulders.
Once married it would not be permissible for Amani to work. She would be forced to remain in the house as a housewife. It was even disliked for Indian women to go to the bazaar unaccompanied or without her husband’s permission. Marital life would most definitely place many restrictions on Amani but there was no way in escaping it.
* * * *
Amani continued to spend her days walking round the house lazily with nothing to do. Whenever she went she felt feelings of boredom. She spent incessant hours lying on her bed daydreaming. She had no company; her parents and brother were still not on good terms with her. Amani no longer had anything to look forward to since her fate seemed to have been decided. She would wed and remain in India. She was perfectly aware that she would have absolutely no choice in her marriage; her parents had made it crystal clear.
However Amani’s parents were finding it difficult to find a suitable man. Amani knew exactly why the search for a suitor was taking such time since it was deemed almost necessary in the Indian society that caste members are expected to marry within the group. Most Indians like her Amani’s parents used their social networks to locate potential brides and grooms of appropriate social and economic status. Therefore her parents were looking for a man who was from a prosperous and eminent caste.
The night sky descended over the landscape like a velvet blanket, Amani could overhear her parents next door. They were talking about a man from a village not quite from their own. Amani was conscious that the time for her to eventually get married was very soon, seeing as they had to been in India for two weeks. Her parents had found someone for her and she did not even know his name. She tried imagining what he might look like. She had expected her parents to at least have shown her a picture of her husband to be but it seemed as if they did not care less about Amani’s say. She would just have to wait till the wedding night to see the man with whom she would be spending the rest of her life.
* * * *
Amani awoke early the next morning and made her way to the kitchen. She was surprised to only find the cook in the kitchen. The rest of the house was empty; there was no sign of her parents neither Raj nor Uncle Jarpreet. She assumed they must have gone to see her suitor. With nothing else to do Amani decided to take a trip to the bazaar. Not wanting to be stared at and noticed she dressed in a brown shalwar kameez and wrapped a dupatta around her. She felt weird and could not see herself in the future always wearing such clothing. She took some money from her bag as she headed towards the front door. Amani knew that she should not be going out by herself but she could not stay in the house any longer.
It took Amani roughly fifteen minutes to reach the bazaar. A strong mixture of smells hit her nose, all which were not pleasing. The bazaar was overcrowded, people sticking to one another. Beggars followed Amani around as she rushed to a more open space. She wandered in and out of numerous shops and stalls. The heat was getting to Amani, her throat was dry, and her body was sweating all over as she loosened the dupatta around her neck. She stopped at a stall and purchased a cold kulfi ice cream to cool her down.
Time passed by quicker than Amani could keep track of it. The sky became dark and the stalls and shops nearby were beginning to close. The bazaar seemed fairly empty. Amani found it amazing that just a few hours before the bazaar was full of people from everywhere but now the streets had become quite and still. Amani turned round trying to find her way back. She struggled to remember the direction she had come from because the stalls had been removed and what was left was just an empty space. She walked about frantically unable to think properly. Her heart jumped as she felt a hand on her shoulder. She spun around and saw Jarpreet standing with a worried look on his face. She wondered what he was doing here at such a time but was relieved when he offered her a lift home. She did not hesitate to get into the car as Jarpreet told her that he had been sent by her parents to find her.
The sky had turned entirely dark, and the stars had been separated completely by a thick blanket. The fields nearby were beginning to feel empty since there were no trees or bushes, just plain grass. Amani looked for any signs or cars close by, nothing just a silent ambience in the surroundings. After a while the car stopped outside a hut as Jarpreet got out, he ordered Amani to come inside the hut. For some reason Amani felt strange but she did as she was told.
Once inside the hut Amani remained standing as Jarpreet stood by the window. She looked around nervously; there was only a thatched bed in the hut. Its walls had cracks and she could see cob webs in the corners of the hut. Amani asked when they would be going home but Jarpreet stayed silent. After a few minutes Jarpreet walked towards Amani with a smirk on his face telling her not to worry, he stroked her cheek and brushed her hair back. Amani felt disgusted as she moved back but Jarpreet edged closer towards her.
Without thinking Amani raised her hand and slapped his face as she turned and ran towards the door. She felt her kameez tear as Jarpreet took hold of it from the back and tossed her onto the bed. Amani’s head hit the side of the bed as she felt the world sinking. She could feel her head spinning around faster than a tornado. Jarpreet pounced on her like a ravenous beast leaping onto its prey. Amani tried screaming but he placed his hand over her mouth. She felt powerless as she lay upon the bed unable to do anything.
Amani started to feel continuous throbs in her head. The lights around her began to blurry and she felt her vision deteriorate. She tired scratching and hitting but he forcefully held her hands down making her hands all wet and clammy. Amani could feel her eyes shutting; pain began to grip hold of her as everything went blank.
* * * *
Amani found it difficult to open her eyes; they felt as if someone had taped them down. Once she opened her eyes she experienced the confusion that was in her mind. Everything around her was blurry, as though she was covered by a thick dense fog. Her vision slowly became crystal clear. She looked at her surroundings wondering what had happened, and then it all came back to her. She looked at her clothes that were torn and stained with blood. A river of tears tricked down the cold, unfeeling of Amani’s face. She began to sob, slowly at first, then like a torrential downpour.
Amani took hold of her dupatta and tried covering herself as she left the hut. The sun was shining and in the distance Amani could see the bazaar filling up with people.
After waiting for ten minutes a taxi finally passed by, Amani stretched out her hand as she quickly climbed into it. She received a few strange glances from the driver but she kept head down until she reached her destination. She got out of the taxi her hands shaking as she closed the door. The driver waited for the money but Amani continued walking since she had none. She heard him mutter something as he drove off.
Amani made her way inside the house as she stood at the entrance of the kitchen. Her parents glanced up at her as she burst into tears. She expected them to say or do something but they remained where they were. She caught a glimpse of Jarpreet who was standing behind her father. Her mother was holding a tissue and Amani could see that she had been crying as she walked up to Amani. Amani was taken to her room and was shocked to hear what her mother had to say.
“Amani your Uncle Jarpreet told us what happened. He saw you with a boy in the bazaar and you refused to return to the house with him. Now look what has been done to you. Amani what can I do? You have brought this all upon yourself.”
Amani opened her mouth in disbelief with tears streaming down her cheeks. “He raped me, he did it. It was Jarpreet” she cried.
Her mothers face changed as she refused to believe what Amani had to say. Ritu walked out of the room angry with her daughter for making up such lies. She knew what Amani wanted and that was to get out of marrying someone from India, but it was not going to happen.
Amani bathed and changed her clothes and lay on her bed. She still could not believe what had been done to her. She was infuriated with Jarpreet and could not believe the story which he had made up so rapidly and expectedly. She loathed her parents, how could they believe Jarpreet over their own daughter?
* * * *
Amani was sound asleep when she heard someone walk into her room. Before she even had the chance to open her eyes the door had shut and the person had left. Amani got out of her bed and was shocked to find two boxes left at the end of her bed. She opened the first box and was taken aback to find a gold necklace, rings and bangles of glass and gold. She bit her lip as she opened the second box aware of what would be inside. Her sight fell upon a beautiful red lengha with matching sandals.
Amani touched the golden embroidery on its blouse. She admired the lengha enormously however she wanted to get rid of it at the same time. Beside the boxes was a note. She recognized the writing, it was her fathers. After reading the note Amani sat on her bed not knowing what to do. She was not ready for the wedding which was tonight. From the note she learnt that she was to remain in her room and get ready for 7 o’clock. She knew the wedding would be soon since she had henna put on her arms and legs the day before but she was still not ready to go through with it.
It had been three weeks since the rape. Amani had missed her period and often felt unwell and vomited in the mornings. However she kept denying the obvious. Amani refused to accept the fact that she most likely was pregnant. The thought of carrying Jarpreet’s child made her feel sick.
Amani showered and stayed in her room. The lengha and jewellery were still in their boxes. A middle aged woman entered Amani’s room, informing her that she had come to do Amani’s hair and beauty. She waited for Amani to change into her wedding outfit and then started her work. She talked continuously, telling Amani how marriage was such a wonderful thing seeing as it combined two souls together. Amani was in her own thoughts and barely realized the woman leave until she heard the door shut. The thought of her own uncle raping her would not leave her at peace, worse of all her parents did not believe a word she uttered. Amani had had enough.
She was astounded to discover that the time was 5 o’clock already. She silently crept outside and peered from behind the stair banister. There were multi-coloured lights all around the house. The large room below was filled with laughter and music. The room was crowded; Amani could not believe how many people there were. She could see that most of the furniture was put aside for more space. She moved away and made her way to her parent’s bedroom as she stared into the mirror.
Amani looked amazingly different. Her hair had been put up in a bun with some curls let loose to fall gently on her shoulders. Her make up was done to perfection. The lengha was to the exact fit and the gold she was wearing looked extravagant. Even though Amani looked stunningly gorgeous she did not feel it in the least. Just before leaving the room Amani caught a glimpse of her father’s keys lying on the cabinet. She took the keys and returned to her room with a smile.
She sat on her bed deep in thought. Her life was pointless, she had no one. She could not go through with this and she would not go through with it.
Amani opened her cupboard and took out all her scarves; she tied them up into one long rope. She rushed to her balcony and looked outside, it was beginning to rain, but the back garden was deserted. Amani threw out the rope of scarves as she firmly tied one end to the balcony door. She grabbed her father’s keys and cautiously climbed down the rope. She could feel her glass bangles cut into her but she had no time to waste. As soon as she reached the ground she crept through bushes not wanting to be seen by anyone.
It took Amani some time to find her father’s car since the road was full of parked cars. She waited until the coast was clear before she hurried to the car. Amani started the engine, it had been some time since she had last driven a car but she did not care. She took one last look at the house before she drove off. The rain was beating down much harder, tears streamed down her cheeks. Amani could not believe what she was doing but it had all gone too far for her; she would not have to worry anymore, soon she was going to be away from all the misery and hurt that she could no longer bear… As she was driving she smiled when she saw the ‘NO ENTRY’ sign ahead and drove past it…she was free… free from everything.
* * * *
He was in the lecture room but his mind was else where, Chad stared at the teacher droning on. His marks had dropped during the past month since he could no longer concentrate. His life had changed drastically without Amani. A cave of loneliness had opened up inside him as Amani’s image flashed through his mind.
Every night as he lay awake in his bed he thought about her, did she marry someone? Was she happy? He remembered her smile, her eyes and most of all her touch. Was their love a forbidden love or had he lost his love..?