35. Picture Perfect

COARIN

After a tiring day at school, where I had to remind myself to stop acting proud at practically every turn, all I wanted to do was throw myself onto my bed and sleep. But life doesn’t happen how you want, and i jumped when I saw Papa’s car in the driveway when I walked home from school.

It should have been a pleasant surprise to come home to a father after years of an empty house with just a housekeeper, but my tummy pooled with dread. Unable to stop myself, I did what was fast becoming my comfort blanket. I pulled out my phone and called Matron.

“Please can you come, please? I can’t do this alone. Please.” Desperately, I pleaded. I waited till she acquiesced and then I squared my shoulders and walked in to face the music.

Papa would be sitting in the lounge waiting for me, I…

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34. Picture Perfect

COARIN

Plz Read chapter 33 again. I added a little more to the end.

That morning was eventful like never before in my life. We went back to matrons house, and after Matron made me pray Fajr AND gave me an earful about listening to orders, I hit the sack.

Less than two hours later, I was forced to wake up and then my whirlwind of activities started again. I took a brisk jog back home, and after a quick shower and breakfast, exited the house. Deciding that I was way too tired to walk, I rang Papa’s driver and asked him to drop me off to school. While I was waiting, my phone rang. Pulling it out, I saw a strange number and hesitated. Should I answer? Or not? What if it was… The creep?

Still debating with myself, I decided to answer. “Hello?”

“Assalaamu Alaikum Haalah. How are you?…

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33. Picture Perfect

I woke up to a load shrill. I groaned and groped for the light. I had promised Matron I’d go through with whatever she said and I basically committed to being your typical goody two shoes Muslim Girl for a while, but already my resolve was waning.

If it involved awakening so early every morning, there was no way I was going to be happy about it. I looked around the room, puzzled. I didn’t see Matron and where did the ringing come from. Rubbing my eyes, I stepped out of the guest room and saw Matron rushing towards the telephone in the hall. I followed behind her and stood straining to hear the conversation. The few words I picked up didn’t give me too much of a clue. Emergency… Resisting… Medical assistance… Immediate help… Urgent…

Matron put down the phone and she was running around like a mad woman the next moment, grabbing her abaya, hijab, niqaab and handbag. Everytime I tried to ask her what was going on, she disappeared in some other direction.

Eventually, just as she was about to exit the front door, I grabbed her arm. “What’s going on? Where are you going?”

“Not sure. Go to sleep Haalah.”

“No, tell me!”

“I honestly don’t know myself. I got a call from the police department with directions and telling me that it’s an emergency. Now I really need to go.”

“I’m coming with you,” I insisted.

She shook her head but I persisted.

“I’ve never stayed a day of my life alone in a building at night. I’ve always one person, even if it was just the housekeeper. I’m not staying here.”

She sighed and relented, “Okay but you’re staying in the car.”

I noded and shrugged. We drove in silence until Matron pulled into the parking lot of a building. “This is the address the inspector gave me.”

I stared at her dubiously. “You’re sure this is not a prank? You know what this place is? It’s the most popular outlet for sporting goods. Practically every teen has shopped her at least once in their lives.”

The next five minutes passed by tediously slowly. Matron forced me to wait in the car. Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore, so I got out and went searching to see where Matron had gone to. Hearing a soft hum of voices, I followed the noise till it led me inside the outlet.

Bile rose in my throat as I watched the scene in front of me. I squeezed my eyes shut and I had to resist the urge to vomit. My head spun. Oh god! I can’t handle blood.

I forced my eyes to open and take in the scene in front of me even though my feet were itching to run away. The was a boy on the floor, excessively bleeding from his right leg. A few paramedics hovered uncertainly around him.

No one had noticed me yet. I stared at them incredulously. Why were they not helping him! Even if he was a criminal, he still deserved medical assistance. Just as I was about to say something, one of the paramedics stepped forward and attempted to examine the man’s wound. I sighed in relief but then gasped as I watched the man thrash and fight against the paramedics hold. He was desperately injured and I have no idea where he found the energy to fight, seeing the amount of blood pooling beneath him.

My eyes suddenly found Matron, rushing towards us. Next to her was a man dressed smartly in a formal suit. Rochdale’s police chief, I realised. I recognised him from the local gazette.

Matron rushed towards the injured man and knelt down next to him. I crept forward, desperate to hear what was being said in their hushed tones. One of the paramedics was speaking to Matron, “…just need you to administer a sedative if you can manage that. We’ve tried but cannot manage, he’s fighting everytime we get close to him.”

I glanced down at the man, now that I was nearer, I recognised him. He was the same guy who had called Matron, ‘Ummi. In my peripheral vision I noticed the paramedic unwrapping a needle and attaching it to a syringe. Oh god! I squeezed my eyes tightly shut, and tried to block out all sounds and thoughts about that huge terrifying needle, from my mind.

So focused was I on blocking everything out, that I jumped 2 feet when a hand rested on my shoulder. “What are you doing here? I gave you clear instructions to wait in the car.”

Uh oh!

32. Picture Perfect

COARIN

Haalah

I felt light pressure on my shoulders, and suddenly my whole body was shaking and vibrating. It stopped and I froze in shock. Slowly, I lifted my gaze and stared at matron. “Did you just… Did you just SHAKE me?” I stared at her incredulously.

She shrugged. “Someone needed to shake some sense into you.”

I gaped at her in horror. Who was this person in front of me? The matron I knew was prim and proper and… Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine her ever shaking someone. I opened my mouth to protest but she stopped me.

“Shh! I’m going to talk now Haalah, and you are going to listen to me. You claim that you are not turning to Allah because you are such a terrible sinner. Do you realise that you are actually insulting Allah? Do you?” She questioned, her eyes boring through me…

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31. Picture Perfect

COARIN

“I don’t think it’s your fault, but neither do I think that you’re free of all blame,” she stated bluntly. “Tell me something, this teenage club is connected to the normal one where alcohol and stuff is served, right?”

I nodded mutely.

“And from all the people you knew, I suppose they were at least a few who broke the rules and touched alcohol?” she probed.

“Yeah,” I whispered, “It’s not even hard for them to access it. As long as they have the money to bribe a few guys, you can get access to anything there.”

“So do you agree with me that it was not a safe place?” she asked, her voice terrifyingly low.

I nodded shamefully.

“Knowing that it was not a safe place, you still chose to go there willingly. Correct me if I’m wrong. Where you forced to go there?”

“No,” I said quietly, my…

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29. Picture Perfect

COARIN

We ate in silence. I finished eating before Haalah so sat and nibbled a little, waiting for her to finish. A few minutes later, she finished and pushed her plate forward, dropping her head onto her place mat.

“I’m going to tell you everything now, please don’t disturb me till I’m done,” she requested, her voice muffled into the table.

I waited and then she began again, “I told you about Kevin, remember? I would spend my time with him all the time at these dinners and events, and occasionally, mama would join us. I loved those times because I had two people I liked spending time with me. After a while, mama was joining us more often than not. And I loved it.” she laughed bitterly.

“I came home early from school one day to find Kevin at home. While I didn’t catch them doing anything indecent, I was…

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28. Picture Perfect

COARIN

After about ten minutes of silence, my patience waned. “And then?”

I regretted it as soon as the words were out of my mouth. It was as if she’d shut down. All her features went blank including her eyes, absolutely expressionless. She smiled politely and shrugged. “I think I need to get going, it’s quite late.” Her voice was cold and expressionless.

She stood up and began to walk away. I jumped up and grabbed her arm, stopping her. “No! Wait! You didn’t finish telling me what happened.”

She wrenched her arm out of my grasp and started backing away. Questioning if I was making the right decision, I followed her. “Come on Haalah, what’s wrong? We made a deal, remember? You tell me what happened and then I’ll instruct you and help you to find happiness. Have you forgotten? Or do you no longer want to be part of…

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27. Picture Perfect

COARIN

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Ayesha*

I sat and listened silently as Haalah spoke. I didn’t dare say a word, lest she close up and go back to her normal cold, reserved self.

But my efforts were in vain and as soon as she finished telling me about the day she made a vow to never let anyone make her cry, she closed up again. I was confused. I had no idea what this story of her vow to never cry again had to do with her problems but it was clearly important to her, from the way she hesitatantly spoke and how she now stared at me as if she regretted speaking.

“Haalah, please, I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s wrong. I want to help you. Let me, please,” I stared into her eyes and pleaded.

She stared at me, her expressions carefully schooled. “Okay, if…

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26. Picture Perfect 

COARIN


As I turned around and began to walk away, my phone pressed to my ear, I heard the squeak of a door-hinge behind me. I spun around so fast, the phone slipped from my hand. It crashed into the ground and the back cover along with the battery fell out.

I knelt to pick it up, much to my relief to screensaver had done it’s job and my phone looked to be in working order. I straightened up to find matron in front of me. So she had been home afterall.

I stared at her blankly. Now that she had actually opened the door… I was at a loss for what to do.

“Haalah! What’s wrong? What happened?” she blurted out. Not waiting for me to answer, she grabbed my hand and ushered me in. She pulled me into the lounge and sat me on the couch. I blinked at…

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25. Picture perfect 

COARIN

His name involuntarily passed through my lips, a soft breath that was remarkably close to a sob. Regret rose in my chest almost throttling me with its intensity. But more than the choking regret was the dull throb of sadness that pounced through my entire being at the look in his eyes.

The sadness that was always there, that never left me, returned with increased intensity, until I felt myself reaccustoming to the sad, melancholic, utterly miserable feeling that plagued me perpetually.

I swallowed hard as I realised how utterly selfish I was. Clenching and unclenching my fists, I bit down hard on my bottom lip.

Why was I such a terrible person? Why did it take a certain dark eyed, curly haired boy’s persistence to get me to open my eyes to reality.

A reality that shocked me to the core. I guess you can never get better insight…

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