Hide and Seek


I flick back my daughter’s curly locks. Her curly locks and hazel eyes are what make her mine. “She looks so much like you, a little Sara isn’t she?” They say. I’m glad she does because, looking at her delicate little eyes mirroring mine, I adored the power of creation vested to all mothers. There are no visible traces of her father. She is a fine young lady now. They ask, but I do not answer, or humor them with a friendly nonchalant shrug. They talk but I choose to ignore; some things are meant to be hidden, meant to be buried behind. After all everyone lives with that potent secret within and this was mine. A secret attached to the strings of the past, of the bygone. It was secret to be kept, for it instilled fear where it pricked the most. A secret that wasn’t meant for the open ears of the world, for it was a sin and most sins are our greatest secrets.

I was eleven and I was wearing my light blue frock with those lacey frills on it, I’d always been typical girl ever since. We were at our Alibagh farmhouse for Mother’s family’s annual reunion. It was not every day that Kabir Mamu and his family were in India after all. Like every summer, Kabir Mamu’s family would come down to India and what followed was an event of gala dinners, political debates, enquiries about the children, and ice-cream extravaganzas. The ice-creams were always there, and at that age, it was those rich dollops that excited me the most. Kabir Mamu was one of my favorites. He bought me chocolates and candies that you’d never get in India, along with pretty skirts and random souvenirs that were thrown in a new bag every time.
Kabir Mamu had two children, both were older than me. Sami was three years older and his elder sister Zara was studying to become a doctor. She was too old to play along with the little ones, but Sami somehow enjoyed playing with me and our five cousins. We were called ‘the little ones’.

That year we were playing in the little garden outside the farmhouse; it boasted of a small unicorn sculpture too that sprouted water from its horn. We all belonged to the same age group. Sami, being fourteen was the oldest, and supposedly hip, but still loved to spend most of his time with us.  Like all the children all over the world, we were playing hide and seek and Adnan was counting while the rest of us rushed to find the best place to hide. Hide and Seek is one of the evergreen games that have been played for centuries, long before the men came up with wooden and electrical toys.
There were a bunch of bushes outlined along a circular path. “Come, come here, no one will find us here.” Sami called out as he guided me to hide with him behind those bushes. One generally trusts someone older to be creatively amazing in coming up with the most interesting places to hide. It has always been such.

“Sami, what are you doing here? Mummy’s calling you. Go.”  Kabir Mamu called, one hand on the back of the unicorn.

“Papa! We’re hiding. Go away, he’ll catch us.” Sami whispered, motioning him to keep moving.

“Sami! Go bête, I will hide with her if you want. Go. Mummy’s calling.”

Sami muttered something and got up as his father squeezed down and got closer to hide with me. He smiled cheekily and I smiled back, no one was going to find us here after all. We waited; the smiles still in the air.

He held my hands, and peeked from behind the bush. He cupped my cheeks, and stroked my hair. I had always liked Mamu. His hands agilely went up to my then barely developed breasts, caressed them and gradually stroked my thighs. I shrugged a little then, for I felt slightly uncomfortable.

“You’ve grown up quite a bit haven’t you, Sara” he said, whilst he put his hands on my waist.

“Mhmm” I responded unknowingly.

I felt strange, I shrugged and he stopped but it felt weirdly eerie, darkly unsettling. Sometimes you don’t need someone to tell you what is right or what is wrong, the feeling within is deep enough to convince you.

He smiled cheekily, and I smiled back as I viewed Sami standing at the distance. As a kid it was funny to see my cousin secretly, not listening to their parent.  But, sometimes it wasn’t listening that mattered. It was observing.

Seven years had passed. I was in college in the United States, studying Economics. I’d never had a boyfriend whilst most of my friends did. Having a boyfriend always meant that there were going to be physical touch, and I was too fearful of that. The typical family reunion continued, year after year. Kabir Mamu always looked at me in a strange manner, leering, I figured later. His eyes and the unsolicited showing of teeth held me back every time he came close. I was growing up and my instincts and consciousness were only growing stronger, maturity came dawning. I didn’t smile at him anymore; I could barely look him in the eye. The thought, the inadvertent sensation of his touch back then would still come back to me every time I touched myself. I felt like a stranger to my own body, because I felt I had betrayed it.  I remember when my mother was trying on a piece of clothing on me and I shivered a little away as she touched me.“Don’t be shy, silly girl” she said. I wasn’t being shy. But she wouldn’t know, no one would know.

We were at the farmhouse in Alibagh, again, like always. It was nearing midnight, the aunties and uncles were sharing stories over drunk laughter while I was sitting in a one of the first floor rooms, alone, spending time with my books. Snuggling up in bed with an old hardback parchment-smelling book, and a loose nightie draped over, is my fondest of all fondest memories. I still remember the aqua-blue nightie and the copy of Jane Eyre of that day.

The door opened and Sami walked into the room. I shot up to sit modestly and put on the blanket over my thighs.

“Hi there”, he said smiling.

We had lost touch gradually as we were growing up. Hide and seek was a thing of the past or, was it really?

“Hey, what are you doing here?” I asked, my love for my privacy and my time, shattered. Briefly, I hoped.

“Well I  just wanted to chill you know?”  He said as he came and sat on my bed, yawning as if this was normal.

“Yeah, well I was just going to sleep anyway.” I said casually as I tried to avoid conversation and wished for him to leave soon.

“Oh well, you could do with some company, right?” He smiled a smile I knew well. And to the horror I wished wasn’t, he looked at me and rested his hand on my thigh.

“Excuse me?”

“Yeah? What is it Sara, stop being this shy girl that you’ve become. Remember how we used to play together?” he said, it stung and swelled in me a sense of vexation.
As I took a few seconds to string together words to be thrown back, his seconds were used in pulling out the blanked in one swift motion.

“It’s hot isn’t it.”

“Umm no it’s alright” I replied in reflex and took back my blanket.

“C’mon Sara.”

“What’s wrong with you, Sami? Just go, go hang out with people your age who would actually want to be with you”

“You know you’re a woman now.”

I screamed. I called out. No one heard me. But I didn’t struggle. Before my voice could reach out to the drunken beings outside, the string of moments passed by quickly. Nothing was said, while it transpired. The sound of the unbuckling of his belt, the known sensation of his hands over my breasts, the mien of his dominance over my body, the gasp of the first thrust, and the tears, left me scarred. The pain and consequences  lingered behind as he left like a bird that had just finished its pecking of grains.

“A child out of wedlock?” they say in astonishment. My family was quiet, unnervingly cold. I had expected anger, frustration, disowning, and worse. What I was met with, was perpetual silence. We were a family that drank alcohol, ate pork, never prayed five times a day and the least, we rarely ever fasted. Everyone including us knew we were Muslims, just by namesake. But the notion of a child out of wedlock was now subjected to a major sin. Oh, the irony. People somehow, never failed to surprise me.

“Abort the child, what will people say?”

“Okay, give it for adoption at least? You are so young, how will you take care of this child?”

I didn’t tell them and I didn’t fight back but I conceived and I am, yet bringing up my own daughter. “You are a woman now” he had  said after all.  
Settling comfortably in the United States took time to get accustomed to. I didn’t have the money, or the father. I became a teacher, my Economics degree now defunct. I saw the first graders, and wondered how many of them were born out of such dark nights and above the hardbound copy of Jane Eyre. None, I hoped.  

“Sara, are you sure you’re okay with me publishing your story?”

Yes . I am a woman now and a real woman does not hide. A real woman does not embrace pain in silence. No, not anymore. A secret can only be bottled up for so long. The bottle needs to be opened and some secrets are meant to be unrivalled . They say some of our sins are our greatest secrets but this isn’t my sin after all.

I looked at the student. She was from one of the batches I had taught, a good fifteen years after coming to US. Well, my daughter wants to be a writer. 

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Anonymous said...

Admirable. Astonishingly admirable. The change of scene was perfection. Do not get carried away in the flattery for the originality lacked and with the pace of writers budding it might forever lack.

Huda Merchant said...

Thank you :')
I do not wish (and hope so too!) to get carried away but I would like to know why you thought the originality lacked cause it was solely a story of mine, a little inspired from personal encounters and stories learned.

Anonymous said...

The point of view obviously yours. The desi touch yours undoubtedly. The plot just like the others. I either read too much or generalize too much. The characters play their same roles. Another story without a purpose.

Huda Merchant said...

Maybe that's cause it happens too often in the society? Because, umm honestly it is inspired from a personal experience and two other experiences from people I know about. :) So just trying to put forward a few points in here.

Ridx said...

I read your story. Each and every word of it. You have written it well and pointed out something that happens a whole lot in our society. And I totally agree with what you said in the second last paragraph. The bottle needs to be opened up. Like really. That's one of the reasons why I write. There is so much to tell and no other way except to let it out on papers. I like your blog Huda. I stumbled across from somewhere. I don't where. Anyway that doesn't even matter. Lots of love. Keep writing. :)

Huda Merchant said...

@Ridx: True :) Thank you for your thoughtful comment, I'm glad you like what I post here :)

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