Run, Reshma, run

The liquid was intended for her face, but as she kept her determined grip on the bottle, the acid began to pour down her arm.

I watched her buckle. Her elbow bent in pain, she clutched her burning arm and screamed with a desperation I had never witnessed before in my life. ‘Run, Reshma, run,’ she shouted. ‘Run, Reshma, run, run, run,’ she went on.

I froze momentarily, and then realized the urgency of the situation. I knew I had to run as though my life depended upon it. I could feel the blood rushing to my ears and the world around me ceased to exist. My survival instinct kicked in, just as I remembered Jamaluddin’s nephew’s face.

Firdoz was with Gulshan, and I had to save myself. I whirled turned around to find myself facing two men on a motorbike. I recognized them both: one was Jamaluddin’s cousin and the other his nephew, both of whom had dismounted and were now running towards me. I suddenly felt trapped and turned around to find Jamaluddin also running towards me from the other end. Gulshan made to run after him, but she was delirious with pain, still clutching her arm as though it was her own crumbling spirit.

The panic, the uncertainty, the shock of it all, made me lose precious moments. The nephew and the cousin had already grabbed me from behind; they were tugging at my hair from over my sister’s niqab and pushing me down to the ground. The men were heavy and strong, but still I tried to fight them off, clawed them with my bare hands, but my physical strength was at best a feeble shadow compared to those monsters. I was, after all, just seventeen.

For a brief second, I managed to open my mouth and take in a few gasps of air. I tried to scream, but was unable to produce any sound. I believe that was my body’s way of telling me that I needed to save all my strength for the screams that would later traumatize me for nights without end.

The men were now on top of me. Jamaluddin’s cousin grabbed my hands and pulled them over my head, so there was no way I could fight. Without even removing my niqab, he emptied over my face the contents of a flask he had been carrying.

I remember wondering why they would throw warm water on my face, but that thought lasted only for a heavenly fraction of a second. I wish that the embarrassment of being treated like an animal, being pushed to the ground, and having an offensive liquid poured over my face, was all I would have to deal with.

But within moments I could hear at a distance a strange, terrified, unnatural, desperate scream. It was me. I was on fire, and the haunting screams were erupting from my own being. Even if I practiced hard I could never again scream the way I did that day. Even the devil would cover his ears if he had heard me that day.

I have later wondered if I should have slept in for those five extra minutes, worn my new burqa, stayed back with my mother, turned around for my cell phone, stopped and bought those shoes, or haggled over an apple.

Perhaps if I had done all those things, I would never have been attacked with acid.

They never even removed the niqab first so they could look at my face.

Reshma Qureshi

 

Excerpted from Being Reshma, Pan Macmillan, with permission.

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