She: A Short Story - Rania Nasir

She looked into the mirror. She couldn’t see herself. She saw the faces of heartbreak, manipulation, and betrayal sneering at her. Her reflection became nebulized by the images of devotion and domination, but they weren’t looking at her. They weren’t looking anywhere. They had nowhere to look. They had nowhere to go.

She lifted her fragile fingers to stroke the wrinkles on her face. The same face that she had adorned countless times to present herself as ‘the perfect hostess’ even if the siege within her didn’t make her as perfect in reality. Once upon a time, her complexion was creamier than cream itself, her skin tighter than the shackles she put on herself. Perhaps if God hadn’t made her so beautiful, would she have been a luckier person? But she was a lucky person. Wasn’t living in a mansion lucky? Wasn’t hosting lavish parties in five-star hotels lucky? Wasn’t traveling in a private jet lucky? She was just a thankless woman.

She stared into her eyes. They seemed perfectly hollow. People could see the color of her eyes, their shape, and of course, her perfectly winged eyeliner, but not the emptiness of her eyes. After all, it was plausible to omit the expression of her eyes when she was laden in solitaires, shahtoosh, and holding a Saint Laurent. Seriously, who cared about the rest?

‘Forgive and forget! Let it go!’ advise her insightful children. If they could ever fathom that choices never existed for people like their mother, that sometimes hard work can only create futility. When people latch on to every morsel of your existence, you cannot let your existence go. All those hopes attached to every compromise she made vanished in vain, so it was best to forget them. But how could she forget, how could she forgive till she did not let herself go?

Slowly, she gazed deeper into the jeering faces that had never appeared before her. Or perhaps she never wanted to see them. But she couldn’t hold them back any longer. Not anymore now. The mirror before her eyes became a projector screen, displaying everything she wished she hadn’t overseen earlier. It was her entire life, the life she never knew she had lived.

The first image that rolled in front of her was the first time she fully experienced betrayal, the kind of casual deception which turned her life around. An eight-year-old whom she immediately recognized as herself was encircled by a massive swarm of children, waving a skin-colored bat in the humid Karachi air. While half the multitude was chanting 'Hooray!' at a six, their teammate had just scored for them, the rest of the children were arguing about counting it as a four. Suddenly, there was pin-drop silence when the dusty iron gate rattled, and Abba Miyan had come back from the factory. It was only eleven in the morning, and he had only left an hour ago, promising to bring a brand new kitchen set from Light House in the evening for his two youngest daughters, who had to give up their share of toys just like every other time to their brothers’ children. But there was no kitchen set in Abba Miyan’s hands. His hands were trembling, his ironed sherwani collar unbuttoned. He didn’t stop to kiss any of the kids, didn’t respond to any of their salaams, and took slow, unsteady steps toward the main entrance in the angnai into his bedroom.