Penny Allsop, Short Story
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Lost Childhood

lostchildhood

A young girl realizes her time has come. 

The heat was unbearable. Ishta was one of the many children forming an endless snake-like queue to the well.  Her eyes had no expression. You could not tell if she was troubled by the heat or something more sinister was eating into her youthful soul.

She filled her bucket with water and started the dreaded walk back home.  Her feet felt heavy, lead-like, as fear seeped into her mind. As her family home loomed over the hill, her mother’s figure emerged from the tent.  She wasn’t sure if it was really her or just a mirage.

But her mother’s shout awoke her from her reverie and jolted her back to reality – “What took you so long?”

“I had to wait for my turn” said Ishta submissively.

“You know this is an important day for you” retorted her mother, grabbing the water canister off her shoulders.

Indeed, Ishta was fully aware of the fate that was awaiting her. She was now 8 years old and her time had come.

“Go and wash yourself and get ready.  You will feel much better afterwards and you will be a real woman” her mother assured her.

Ishta came out of her tent in a pure white dress. She was an angel walking the earth.  Led by her mother to another tent, Ishta saw a sheet on the ground. Her grandmother and two other women were waiting for her.

“Run, run, run” echoed at the back of her mind. Too late.

Powerful claw-like hands grabbed her and wrestled her down on to the sheet. One of the women held her legs while the other two tied strangling ropes around them.There was nowhere to turn, nowhere to hide.  Her grandmother loomed above her head, a large rusty razor glistening in her hand. Ishta’s body arched and struggled to no avail. She stared at the ceiling of the tent and gritted her teeth. At that moment she felt Godless. No words can describe the pain. She fainted, she came back, she fainted again, her mind drifted into a state of delirium.

The cold water brought her back. The women were washing her wound with water and salt. Someone was dusting ashes on to the bleeding wound.

That loving woman, Ishta’s grandmother, whom she had cherished and considered to be the kindest woman on earth, proudly announced to everyone: “Now Ishta is the most beautiful girl for miles around.” Her grandmother’s image would never be the same again.

In the state of delirium she could barely understand what the women were saying. It felt like a burning iron was going over her feminine wounds.  For weeks she could barely walk. The pain was excruciating. There were moments when she could not see the point of living. Her childhood had disappeared at the flick of a blade, leaving nothing but painful memories.

Now, 12 years on, the trauma is as alive today as it was that day. She wakes up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, and all she wants to do is hide herself away in the darkest corner of the room.

With faint murmurs, every night, she prays religiously that no other girl has to end her childhood by the law of the blade.

 

—x—

 

“Lost Childhood” won second prize at the Colliers Wood Arts Festival Short Story Competition in May 2014.

 

 

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