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she did not deserve to die. (True Story)
I remember the day Maria came to me after another day of volunteer work at an organization helping displaced families. Her face was flushed; her round grey eyes shone and there was an unmistakable smile on her faces. She was always a generally happy person; she took everything positively. Even with the war raging around us, and our country falling to pieces and chaos- she kept her head high. Still, I had never seen her this happy- at least, not for a long, long time. I remember how her hair, which were usually tied back in a braid by her mother, were let down that day. She was the most beautiful girl I had ever come across- and I am not merely saying this because she was my best friend; it’s because it’s true, and everyone acknowledged that fact. In our tiny neighborhood, people referred to her as ‘Angel’ instead of her real name. Her father had come up with it, and although I could tell she was proud of that fact; she was exceedingly humble about it.
Before I could ask her what incident had occurred to bring about such an extreme uplifting of her mood, she pulled out a teddy bear, slightly bigger than my hand, with a bright red heart on it, from behind her back. She laughed gleefully at the sight of my confused expression.
“Guess who gave this to me?!” she asked, her voice excited.
“Hmm,” I had replied, pretending to look clueless. “I don’t know… Simon?”
“Yes, yes, yes! And he told me I looked beautiful today,” she had said, a shy smile playing on her face.
It had turned out that the real reason she had come to see me unexpectedly that day, was not to gush about Simon, her new, exciting, and undeniably Christian friend from the volunteer organization, but to ask for a favor.
“Please keep this teddy bear safe for me! He gave it to me. I would love to take it home and keep it with me but if Ammi or Abu see this, I’m dead!”
I wish she knew how literal her sentence could actually turn out to be.
I had kept it. Next came flowers. A pretty bracelet. An expensive locket.
I knew they were just friends, though. Although Maria had told me that she was in ‘love’ with him, she knew the feelings weren’t mutual- and they would never be. She would never betray her religious family like that. She did, however, have no intentions of ending their ‘friendship.’
I saw her the night before she was killed. She had left her house with the excuse of going to get water, and stopped at my place on the way. My mother reluctantly let her in when my father was busy, and she excitedly told me that tomorrow, she was going to go have lunch with Simon, after college, but before her volunteer hours. Just the two of them. It was the first time they were meeting outside of work, and the prospect of that excited her immensely. I was happy for her, as well, obviously, but I told her to be careful. I hugged her, and told her to not let anyone see them. She brushed that away, saying it could not possibly do any harm, and that they were meeting at a public place, so avoiding that would be hard.
She left. I worried a bit, and then brushed it away myself, knowing she wouldn’t do anything stupid, and that everything would go perfectly.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what did not happen.
Maria lived in the huge mansion right next to my comparably smaller house. I always left the window of my bedroom to let the fresh air in; usually, it would also carry in noise from Maria’s house, but it never bothered me.
The next afternoon, I was sitting on my desk, intently staring at words of the Quran, reading them, but not understanding them. My father had forced me to sit and read it, after scolding me for spending more time immersed in my course books than on my religion. Suddenly, however, I heard cries from my window. Looking out, I saw the silhouette of someone being dragged roughly towards the threshold of the house. I gasped, and ran downside to see the cause of the commotion.
There stood Qabir Al Hassan, Maria’s father, his face masked in fury; his features were so contorted with rage that his eyes were red. Below him, on the ground, lay an almost unconscious Maria, overturned, as whip after whip came in contact with her back, and then her face. A slash across her face poured forth blood, a crimson red. Her mother stood besides her, yelling, “Stop it! Please!” with tears streaming down her face. A man held her arms behind her to stop her from intervening.
“I wish you had never been born, you shameless human! What happened to everything I taught you? Everything your religion taught you? And you think it is perfectly okay to be infatuated with a Christian man? I curse you! You are not my daughter, you shameful brat-“
I stood frozen in place, shocked, frightened, knowing that if I stepped ahead, the same fate would await me. I breathed in and out, as I struggled to maintain my consciousness; the sight made me feel faint. From where I was standing, no one but Maria’s mother could see me. She signaled to me; I understood that she wanted me to call Maria’s other two brothers.
I ran, faster than I thought I was capable of running. I found them at the factory where everyone in the neighborhood worked; through tears, I told them that their father was beating up Maria, and unless they went to help her, he would kill her.
We all rushed back, but I reached a few seconds after the brothers, only to hear Maria’s father yell, “-with a Christian man! This devil- no, she is no daughter of mine- has shamed me and my family!”
The next thing I knew, they were kicking at her limp body, and one of them, to my horror, pulled out a knife.
Her mother’s wails rung in my ears, and it was all I could do to not cry out as Qabir Al Hassan grabbed the knife, and stabbed his own daughter, once, twice, thrice. She moaned… and just like that, her eyes turned lifeless. I still remember the way they stared; hollow, empty. Blood seeped through her, and as she lay in a pool of her own blood, I saw my best friend for the last time. Covering my face with my veil, as my eyes filled up with tears of anger, hatred and pain, I walked past the now laughing men to her hysterical mother, and pulled her away from the scene into my own house.
I saw the TV crews; I heard from my window as her father told the reported how proud he was of the “honor killing” he had committed. From the newspaper that lay on my table, I found out that her father had been taken to the local prison, but released only after two hours, after being congratulated by the policemen.
I am filled with bitterness now. I have distanced myself from my religion and family; I still believe in my religion, but I am educated enough to know that all these illiterate, extremist people around me go too far; they think they are doing everything right, practicing their religion the way they are supposed to. I know they are not. They are wrong; everything about their ideas are wrong. This is not what my religion teaches. Even the death of one of the bravest people I know did not teach them, though. They will learn. I know they will. In hell, or whatever fate it is they think they are avoiding. It will teach them, and they will pay for what they did.
For now, all I can do is pull my veil lower onto my face; so the cruel world cannot see me, and I cannot see them. I will finish college and move to a country where I am given my rights. I will then let down this veil, which surrounds me with a world of darkness, and live the life I deserve to live. The life my best friend deserved to live. The life no man in the world had the right to take away from her. This is war; and they will not win this.