Fiction in response to Gender Equality
May 2018
By Grace Muresan
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I shivered at the night breeze that nipped at my thin dress. But I slipped along. I have to do this.

 

The packed-together houses–if they could be called that–were ominously silent and dark even though many people lived there, but my familiar house, with its rusty tin roof and gaping cracks that lay unfixed, seemed to whisper, “All is well!”

 

“I sure hope so.” I muttered to nobody but the wind and the moon.

 

I skulked past the rest of the little homes that grew more and more wretched as I passed them. Eventually, I reached the main path.

 

For about half an hour I walked and tortured myself with guilt, worry, and fear, then finally I reached my destination.

 

It wasn’t much, the house was large and clean compared to mine, with a classical tin roof and painted brown with a scrappy white door. There was one window, but the curtains were drawn, and a single wooden board had been nailed to it from the outside. At the front, there was an unruly bush that seemed to be overwatered despite the current drought.

 

I took a deep breath, tugging down my hijab a bit. Suddenly, the door slammed open and a strange woman holding an American designed broomstick jumped out. She had reddish-brown hair that was graying, and she had a hefty build and foreign clothes.

 

“Aye, child. Name?” the woman talked heartily in an American-Irish accent.

 

I looked back, nervous. “Fitri,” I mumbled. The room behind her was dark, but it already did seem welcoming.

 

“Password?”

 

“Uh, Equality.” The word was strange and probably not in Indonesian.

 

“Come in. Make yourself at home. Welcome to the learning club.”

 

Once I entered the house and also the point of no return, the lights turned on and in the room was a series of girls in nightclothes. The girls seemed to trust her.

 

“Welcome Fitri to the learning club, everybody.” Most of the girls seemed uneasy, but one squeaked, “Hello! I’m Ari! I’m learning to read!” The old woman chuckled heartily and passed out books on the floor. Then she sat with me and showed me the written letters.

 

Each day for weeks I would go by night to learn what we had been denied at home.

 

“If they read, they will cheat,” The townspeople said. “They will be lazy and run away. Girls cannot learn to read. Only boys can.”

 

I knew their rules. I obeyed them all but that. I couldn’t stop. I had caught the learning bug.

 

But one night, I was followed.

 

It had started just as a regular day. Work, work, work in the morning, then I’d look forward to a privilege most take for granted. I reached the house rather carefreely this time. I was excited because I would start learning English this lesson.

 

The door opened before I could knock, as usual. “Fitri!”

 

I smiled, but it turned into a grimace and gasp as a cold hand grabbed my throat. I felt the sharp end of a knife slide to my throat. The woman was seized and held by two men and a large knife slipped to her throat. Four other girls were dragged out and the same happened to them.

 

A huge, heavily-built man strode out. “You have done a disgrace to the country, and to Islam! Admit, and we shall behead you in public.” The man growled.

 

As the sun went up and the moon down, we were tied up and guarded. They would wait for the townspeople to arrive before putting on a show.

 

The messengers went out with the light of day to spread the news. I saw my parents in the crowd, my mother sobbing and my father bewildered. I closed my eyes. Not with pain but with guilt and anger.

 

They seized the woman and dragged her to the chop. “I admit to all my crimes against your people and religion. But if I die, just do not harm the girls.”

 

I don’t know what took me over. But I leapt forward. “Stop!” I shrieked. For a second everyone was too stunned to speak. And then I took my advantage. I started with the beginning of a translated speech from America.

 

“Am I not a woman? I plowed and planted in the fields, working alongside my brother and father, from dawn until noon. Then I helped my mother with babies, I tidied the house, I cooked and cleaned. I could outwork my brothers. I could be smarter than them.”

 

I paused a half second to clear my throat. No more rash decisions.

 

I slipped my hands from the rope tying my hands and ripped off my hijab. A collective gasp arose. Maybe too rash.

 

“If working, unnoticed, if never learning to read or write, if always being lower despite how high I am, is being a woman, that is not what I am,” I shouted.

 

A woman in the crowd stepped forward. “I was owned by my father, and later my husband. Treated like a slave. If that is being a woman is, I am not a woman.”

 

More and more women came forward, stating their hardships.

 

Then a man came forward. My brother. “If pushing down my sisters, who should be my equals, if treating my hardworking colleagues like slaves, is being a man, then I will not be one.”

 

An outcry arose. “Let them go free!” Shouts rang out. “We should be equal!” The executioner looked at his axe. Then he threw it to the floor. “If killing an innocent woman is being a man, then I cannot be a man.”

A cheer came from the townspeople. Quiet at first, then louder. Right here, where I stood, a battle for female rights had been fought. And it was a victory. But the thing is, when it is a battle for rights, nobody loses.

 

Or at least, that’s what I wished had happened.

 

None of us dared to so much as open our mouth against the authority. A tear rolled down my cheek and I squinted my eyes shut. I’m next.

I lay with my head down on the stone, the sticky blood of my companions already drying there.

If only the men would open their eyes. I had tried to be their seeing-glass, but maybe I was still too blurry. Maybe more women would have to suffer before we become all equal.

My mother had collapsed, and she was simply bawling now.

If dying is being a woman, and killing is being a man, I’ll be neither. I thought to myself. Then my eyes closed and the last words I uttered were, “Allahu Akbar.”

 

 

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