I don’t know if it’s a mistake to put this online, but I worry if I don’t put at least the start of it somewhere, I’ll never finish it, and I think these characters deserve some airtime. So here goes. I’m eager for any feedback. This is the first chapter of seven (so far).
PART ONE: CAPTIVITY
When Saamiya first saw Aadel, she felt only revulsion and fear, but in a short time she also felt the soul-deep burn of shame.
When Aadel first saw Saamiya, he saw a wounded spirit, a frightened refugee, and beneath both, a woman of striking resolve with wisps of isolated and deeply guarded beauty that encircled her like a gossamer shawl.
Saamiya would have sacrificed anything, her own life even, to not be a woman, to take the form of a man, to revel in unearned respect, to wear undeserved pride, as men in her world could, like a coat lifted from an unsuspecting victim, without a trace of guilt to stain the stolen prize. She longed to shed all femininity, all weakness, real, projected and perceived, and disappear, unnamed, unharmed, into the world of men. For to be a woman was a cruel job, thankless in its entirety, an effort rarely rewarded, often punished, and more often for no crime at all.
Aadel knew at once he would do all he could to help this girl, to rend the pain from her eyes and heal the scars on her body. He did not understand why she struck a chord so deep in him, but as soon as he saw her, laying limp on the gurney, looking nearly dead, he gave up his only break of the shift in the always-busy clinic to do what he could and more.
He approached her carefully, clearing his throat to preempt his arrival, as he gently touched the gurney on which she lay. “Miss?”
She startled, jerking her arms away, lifting her body away from his reach, though he had not intended to touch her, only the side rail that kept her from falling off of the makeshift mattress. From a distance, she had looked as though a gust of wind might knock her over, but now–close up, sitting up, wide-eyed, and staunch-jawed–she looked as though she might kill him with the battered body he hoped to heal.
“Do not touch me.”
To hear such firm command from a woman to a man, a man who was a stranger, a man who wore a stethoscope, a man with years of education, a man of service, a man who was a doctor–her tone, so unfamiliar to him, with none of the respect and veiled adulation to which he was so accustomed–all of this, which he digested in just seconds, startled him into a stunned and, in its own peculiar way, contrite loss for words.
What expectations he had! Why should she respect him? Why would she owe him any adulation? What had he done? He could not put his finger on exactly why, but in those scattered seconds before he found his own words, he felt the slow burn of remorse. Deep and dark in his belly, like something he had eaten which had long ago spoiled, he felt shame. He searched for words. Slowly, they came to him, but his voice did not sound like his own.
“Miss,” he repeated, quietly, more timidly, without an air of confidence, for it had left him completely, “My name is Aadel.”
He rarely used his first name, always introducing himself as ,“My name is Dr. Hassan. What has brought you to the clinic today?” He forewent this introduction, for he could tell by her battered face–eyes nearly swollen shut, the dark skin surrounding them bruising to a dusky blue; her nose decidedly crooked, as if someone had tried to knock it off her face; her lower lip split and bleeding; her upper lip so swollen it did not look a part of her face at all–he could tell that he need not ask what brought her in today, but rather, who.
She did not answer him, but at the sound of his words, he saw her shoulders relax, but just ever so slightly, noticeable to him only because he observed her so intently.
Her eyes continued their stare, unwavering, ungiving, and their scrutiny seemed to bore deep into him, as if trying to strip him of his skin, exposing his vulnerable flesh, turning him slowly inside out. For a moment, he could not catch his breath or organize his thoughts to continue.
So he said in a voice more hushed than before, “My name is Aadel,” as if to remind himself of who he was, and then, “I’m here to help you,” as if to remind himself of why he was there.
Her eyes darted away for a second, but he noticed, and it occurred to him that maybe, if he approached her carefully, as if she were a wounded animal, with care and humility, with earnestness and without threat, he could help her. But he needed her trust.
So he repeated himself, more softly even yet. “I’m here to help you.”
“So you said.” Her voice was low, almost a whisper, as if she were afraid to make even a sound, but her words were clear, defiant, without deference, and her eyes continued to hold his gaze, and they did not waver as she spoke. “I do not need your help. I need to go.”
Her voice, though quiet, never vacillated as she spoke. She enunciated clearly, even though the lips that formed the words swelled merely in the speaking. She winced, just a moment, and with that briefest hint at vulnerability, at injury, she captured Aadel’s attention and his devotion. And though he did not know it at the time, for he had only just laid eyes on her, he would remain hers forever and without regret, even with all that would come.
“Please,” he moved half a step closer, but took his hand off the gurney, as if a sign of compromise, a peace-offering, “Let me help you,” he said. Her shoulders resumed their original tension, and she stiffened while withdrawing from him, as if cornered, hopelessly, by a predator.
“Please,” she whispered, her voice less steady than before, but no less dire in its urgency, “Leave me. Let me go. I need no one’s help.” Again, her eyes left his for just a moment, darting at the hall behind him, watchful, fearful.
But she made no movement to go, to evade him. She put forth no effort to rise up from the flaccid mattress. She did not swing her legs over its edge, did not pull her shawl to her body to leave in haste. He wondered if she did none of these things because she wanted the help he offered or because she could not manage the will of strength required to leave on her own.
His heart beat furiously in his chest. He felt like a child lost in the desert, and suddenly, he wanted her to reach for and hold his hand. He felt at once wildly frightened. He could not imagine why, and he stepped away from her, as if in horror at his very thoughts, as if he had spoken the very words aloud. He had misread everything. In her, he had seen his own injured soul. He turned to leave.
“No,” she said, suddenly with more urgency, as if she had changed her mind. He turned back, looking right, then left, trying to find to whom she spoke. No one stood nearby or noticed these two souls, slowly connecting, though neither knew how or why.
And then she said to him, “My name is Saamiya.”
His breath caught in his chest as he saw her eyes soften, her misery bleeding into him, as if transfusing from her core to his, and he knew she could see his reaction, for a tear slipped down her cheek, her brow furrowed, and her shoulders slackened. She leaned back into the gurney, her arms collapsing under her in surrender. Her defenses caved, as well.
She began to cry.