Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Asia (02/26/09)
TITLE: Running Away With Rehana
By Jeannie Morse
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Kathleen tucked the black robe and scarf closer to her as she scanned up and down the street. Hoping no one recognized her, she slipped through the wooden door determined to visit Rahana, a woman forbidden to leave her apartment, or even have visitors. She tripped on an uneven step in the windowless stairwell and wished her husband, Dan, had joined her.
Dan taught at a medical school in Karachi, Pakistan. For eighteen years she and Dan had worked here in Pakistan’s over populated port city.
Rehana’s in-laws, the Samejas, had once lived in a traditional one-story house with a red slanted roof. Muslim customs required brides to move into the groom’s home and produce heirs, male children. To accommodate the extended families, the Samejas had added rooms then built a second and, finally, a third floor above the old walls. Clotheslines decked their flat roof.
The stairway lit up as a door above Kathleen opened. Rehana glided down with silent steps, a finger to her lips. “Auntie, come quick. My mother-in-law is below. If she sees you she’ll be angry. I can’t live in this house another day. She took all my gold, bangles, earrings, even my wedding ring.”
Kathleen smelt mutton roasting in curry and garlic as they climbed quietly to the third floor.
Rahana whisper, “Omar drove our two daughters to their cousin’s marriage ceremony, but my mother-in-law stayed home to cook for the wedding party.”
Inside the apartment Kathleen noticed dark bruises on Rehana’s arms. She drew back. “What have they done to you?”
“My father-in-law beat me, this time for asking to attend the wedding. He says I’m too forward.”
Kathleen tenderly touched a red lump on Rehana’s forehead.
“What my father-in-law has planned next month is far harder than a beating.” She motioned Kathleen to sit by a plate of yellow bhajihas, spicy fried potato patties. Rehana removed her head scarf. A thick black braid fell to her narrow waist.
From an Arab tea pot she poured milky chai, steamed with cardamom, through a strainer and into little matching cups. “My father-in-law has arranged a second wife for Omar, an uneducated sixteen-year old.”
“Where will she live?”
Rehana paused. Would Auntie, a foreigner, understand the custom? “The new wife will live here. She’ll use our furniture, gifts given at our wedding. They’ll sleep in our bed.”
“What about you?” Kathleen fingered her ring.
“The pantry off the kitchen is wide enough for a small bed.” Rehana swallowed. “I’ll be told to cook and clean for her as well as my in-laws.”
“What does Omar say about this?”
“What can he say? He doesn’t blame me for not having sons, his father does. But to gain honor and respect he must obey his parents. His family is his life, and he’s worked twenty years for his father.”
“Doesn’t Omar love you?”
Rehana shook her head. “You people, who believe Isa, Jesus, always talk about love. What benefit is love to a woman like me?”
“If Omar truly loves you he’ll do anything for you. The greatest love is when a person is willing to die in the place of another.”
“I will never be loved that much.”
God, help me explain your perfect and deep passion for Rehana. Kathleen prayed silently and then asked Rehana, “Do you care for Omar?”
“I’ve begged him to move us away but he is silent.” Rehana’s chalky skin indicated depression. “If he left with me he’d lose all his money and inheritance, and his parents would disown him.” She wiped tears from her hollow eyes. “I must leave him.”
“Dan and I have a guest room. We want to help you.”
“I would have to leave my daughters here. No, I can’t...”
“Would Omar help the three of you run away?”
“Omar says he loves me but I don’t trust him,” she sobbed.
Two days later a truck loaded with furniture hooted at the gate. Dan ran to open it. Omar, two girls and Rehana jumped out. Omar shook Dan’s hand. “I ran away with Rehana. Will you help us?”
Dan clapped Omar on the shoulder. “You’re always welcome here.”
“We won’t stay for long. Within a month I hope to find a job and a flat. For now I have no inheritance or money, no car, and no job.” He reached for Rehana’s hand. “I’m willing to give everything to keep her.”
Tears of hope swelled in her eyes.
He smiled. “I love her.”
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