It was just a dreamAmina’s sleeping body thrashed around in bed, the sheets tangling around her figure. Her legs kicked at the blankets that restrained her body, and her neck was dank in sweat. Despite the chilly weather outside, her skin was hot and clammy. Her eyes twitched, and her body shuddered and jerked as the nightmare raged on; whimpers trembled out of her lips like silent cries of help. Her head shook back and forth as her body continued to fight against itself, her subconscious mind telling her, screaming at her, to wake up. At last, after a few moments, she escaped her mental confinement and jolted up in bed with a harsh cry.
Her wide eyes were alert and full of fear, and her heart was pounding wildly beneath a heaving chest. She wrapped her slender arms around her chest to control the tremor that quivered through her small body, and stared into the wretchedly silent, dark room. It’s okay, she reassured herself, rocking back and forth on the creaking bed- it was just a nightmare. Wiping the cold sweat off her neck, Amina pulled the blanket over her body and tried to fall back to sleep. But after a few minutes, feeble rays of light started to filter through her small window and Amina knew that this was not a day she wanted to waste sleeping. Besides, even if she had tried, it would be impossible to go back to sleep given the events of the day.
Slowly, and unwillingly, Amina clambered off her cold bed on to the hard, stone floor; on her bare feet, she walked across to the small white sink, which was the only piece of appliance in her otherwise barren room. More light now penetrated through the window, so that Amina could clearly see the tarnished silver of the tap. She pulled the ‘hot’ valve and put her hands beneath the trickling water. Icy shivers ran down her spine as the bitter-cold water pooled into her cupped hands. Wincing slightly, Amina splashed the cold water over her face; it seemed to numb her skin. But she didn’t stop. She splashed her face again, and then again two more times, relishing the water on her skin. The cold was biting into her face now, but she wasn’t going to complain. No, she would cherish the feeling- for one last time.
When she was done with her face, Amina washed her hands and arms till her elbows, and then ran her wet hands through her limp hair, and the back of her neck. After she was done, it was with reluctance that she looked up at the cracked and clouded small mirror that hung above the sink. It was a sight that over the years Amina had gotten so used to, it failed to bother her the slightest. Her once lively, big brown eyes now looked empty, dull and sunken into their dark sockets. Fading yellow and blue bruises mapped her pallid skin that stretched tautly over her narrow face, and sharp bones protruded from the side hollows of her cheeks. On her lower lip, the remains of a deep gash had begun to scab over. The abuse that Amina had suffered for the past many years of her life, wasn’t just a fragment or measure of pain that she had had to endure; it was a living, breathing beast that had stripped Amina off her beauty, dignity and freedom.
Breaking her gaze from her reflection, Amina made her way back to bed and wrapped the blanket around her torso as tightly as possible, in a frail attempt to keep warm. Hugging her knees close to her chest, Amina took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Her mind lingered back to last week- her trial. She remembered how short it was, how ruthlessly her pleas and appeals were snubbed, and the apathetic faces of the jury as they had made their final verdict: “The court hereby condemns Miss Amina Baloch….charges her with first degree murder… and sentences her to death”. Sentences her to death…to death…
Suddenly, soft thudding footsteps broke the silence, causing Amina to surface back into reality. She could hear low voices- she distinguished one of a man and one of an old woman. A few seconds later, the footsteps came to a halt behind Amina’s cell. In the dusky light, Amina could make out the tall, uniform-clad prison guard (she remembered he was the one who had mercilessly thrown her here), but she could only see the small silhouette of the other person.
“Woman!” the scowling guard barked, “you have a visitor”
Now that she had stepped out of the guard’s shadows, Amina could clearly see who the second person was.
“Maa?”, Amina managed to choke out. She quickly scrambled out of bed and made her way to the bars, leaving the blankets behind, as though her mother’s presence was enough to keep her warm.
“You only have five minutes, make it quick”, growled the prison guard; Gulzer Shah was his name according the badge pinned on his chest.
Amina knew better than to argue, so she nodded and waited until the guard’s heavy footsteps faded into silence once again. Then she looked at her mother.
“Amina, my child…”, her mother’s voice shook as she called out to her only child. Tears threateningly brimmed around the edges of her eyes and when she couldn’t seem to hold it in anymore, - she let them fall.
“No, Maa, don’t cry , please..” Amina whispered, afraid that she might also breakdown into tears she was fighting so hard to hold back. This was not the time to cry, this was not the time to fall apart, Amina knew that with all her heart. This was the time to be the strongest she had ever been in her life.
As tears fell from her mother’s eyes, Amina reached her worn hand between the bars and wiped them off. “Shh… Maa, don’t cry…” she repeated soothingly. She curled her fingers around the solid iron bars, which were the only barrier between the two women. Even though she had been barricaded behind bars for the past week, Amina had not felt the hatred towards her captivity that she did now. It was just because of these iron rods that she could not embrace her mother, and feel her reassuring warmth for one last time.
Her face streaked with tears, Amina’s mother took her daughter’s hand into her own. Amina gave her a gentle squeeze, as though afraid she might break her frail bones.
“He will be in Hell right now, I tell you, for putting my daughter through so much”, Amina’s mother said, her voice slightly shaky. “You always had so much promise dear, such a bright future. And then he came along, and destroyed it all…just like that”, her voice broke on the last words. Amina remained silent, but she tightened her grip in her mother’s hand.
“What has he done to my beautiful Amina”, and now her mother, no longer able to keep a brave face, broke into sobs. Her fragile shoulders heaved as she cried, and she lifted the end of her chadar (a shawl draped around her head) to her eyes; it was able to soak her tears, but could not take away her suffering.
As Amina watched her mother weep, she couldn’t help but wonder the same thing. What had he done to her? Looking down, she saw the answer linger on her arms, felt it on her ribs, her back… it was drawn out very clearly all over her body in yellow, green and purple ink. It was etched into every fading scar, and pulsed behind every healing wound.
Amina released her mother’s hand and ran her finger along the fading bruises on her left arm. With a sudden wince of pain, she realized that the burn on hand had not yet healed. Amina knew that each bruise and gash on her body had a story to be told, but none had a story as terrible as this one. Closing her eyes, Amina’s thoughts twisted their way deep inside her head and unearthed her most raw and painful memory that she had visited countless times in her imprisonment, despite her efforts to block them out.