4. Captor And Truth

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It was narrated that Buraydah ibn al-Haseeb said: A girl came to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and said: My father married me to his brother’s son so that he might raise his own status thereby. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) gave her a choice (to leave), and she said : I approve of what my father did, but I wanted women to know that their fathers have no right to do that.

–Ibn Maajah; graded as Saheeh

* * *

Panic shot through her veins when she felt someone’s hand on hers in the dark. Her heart started beating frantically. Her breathing grew laboured. She opened her mouth, having decided on yelling and waking up the entire neighbourhood for her safety; but before she could put her thoughts to action, another hand made its way to her face, forcing her mouth shut. Eshaal was positive her heart gave a lurch and stopped functioning for a moment, then it restarted with full force, determined to jump out of her chest.

Her breathing grew laboured. Her thoughts turned incoherent. She couldn’t make out who or what it was in the darkness. There was no outline, no face, no clues. Not a single thing was visible.

Is it a burglar? Or is it a jinn? Is it going to attack me?

Whatever it was, it had her pinned to the kitchen counter and had her hands twisted behind her. She tried remembering the self-defence techniques her brother had taught her but to no avail. She was too stunned to retaliate. Her brain had stopped functioning and her limbs had locked. She couldn’t recollect a thing.
Ya Allaah! What have I done to face this?

Wherever she turned, nothing but darkness met her eyes. Her throat constricted at the realization. Helpless whimpers started to escape her; at the same time, suffocation descended upon her being. It felt as though she had been put inside a closed matchbox that was being squeezed minute by minute, crushed without an ounce of mercy.
There was an intense urge to puke her guts out, lament loudly, and thrash her brother for not being there. He tried being vigilant even when she didn’t even want his protection. Where had he gone now when she needed him the most? Why had he disappeared today of all days? She would not have been cornered like this had he returned home on time. She would not have been put in this situation in the first place.

What sort of  punishment is this? Help me, Ya Allaah! I don’t have the strength to fight this anymore. Please help me.

Eshaal was on the verge of losing hope when someone snickered. She grew silent, trying to figure out if she had heard right. The voice had sounded familiar—too familiar for her liking. Her breathing hitched. On a sudden brainwave that graced her, she used her feet to feel the leg of her captor. Another snicker. She recognised it for sure this time. There was no mistaking on who he was. She growled into the dark.

Ibrahim's laughter rang in the air as he released her. “Wow, Eshaal! Wow! The fierce lioness becomes a scaredy cat in the dark.”

Overcome by intense fury, Eshaal did what came to her mind. She flung herself onto her brother and started punching him. Left and right, she swung her arms. The darkness, this time, was not able to deter her.

“Ow! Ow! Ah . . . No! Eshaal! I’m telling Mom w-when she arrives.” Eshaal fumbled and took hold of his collar. “What will you tell her? Huh? What will you tell her? That I was scared to death by this insane brother of mine?” she said and resumed hitting him. “Or will you tell her that you planned on killing me and startling me this way?”

“Owww! Eshaaal! It was j-just for fun!”

“You call this fun? I’m so gonna kill you and bury you outside our house tonight. You won’t survive to see daybreak.”

The light chose that very minute to flicker; and it started burning, throwing light upon the duel that was taking place on the kitchen floor. Eshaal found herself on top of her brother who looked worn out. The amusement in his face however had managed to stay intact.

He smirked. “You wouldn’t dare.” They kept on staring at each other.

Eshaal was the first one to blink and look away. She shoved her brother aside, sinking comfortably on the floor.

* * *

A full smile broke on Ibrahim's face as his gaze lingered on his sister. His heart swelled with pride. There was difficulty in believing that she was the very same tiny bundle his parents had brought home—wailing and squirming incessantly inside the blanket. He had wondered how he could do away with it back then. Ibrahim chuckled to himself. She had grown beautifully over the years now.

Her waist-length hair, which she always kept braided, looked like a nest after the fight, settling all over her face. A hue of bright pink had spread across her cheeks, her chocolate brown orbs were throwing daggers at him, and her pink lips were quivering with barely suppressed anger. She looked breathless as her tiny form against the wall rose and fell in short intervals while she struggled to catch her breath. The stunt he had just pulled left her a mess. Yet, he couldn’t deny the nur glowing from her face even in the middle of the night.

A sudden surge of protectiveness overwhelmed him. He sucked in a deep breath as it dawned upon him that a single glance at her would be enough to knock the breath out of any guy, not that he would let them look at her in a way they were not supposed to. She was his baby sister, which meant that he wasn’t going to let anyone toy with her.

There was no doubt that even though they lived in the twenty-first century, the evils lurking around the globe increased with every passing day. Women were being treated as objects—sold, used, ill-treated, and even killed. Dowries and body-shaming and female infanticide were still rampant in the country. Even last week, a gang rape case was all over the news; and it had taken all his effort to control the anger that had erupted in him. Women weren’t meant to be toyed with, and he hated whoever did that. He just couldn’t stand those sort of people.

He felt bad for the victims, yes, but it went without saying he feared for his sister. After all, she was his blood—his kin. He wanted her away from all sort of perils. He wanted her safe. She was his only sister. One who chased him all over the house after he pulled pranks on her. One whom he loved annoyingly to no limits. One whose cooking he loved gaffing down. One he loved to bits. One he always looked out for.

As they grew up, his behaviour towards her had changed; but the fondness he had for his only sibling had remained the same. In fact, it had redoubled, growing and surpassing all limits as he fought in his own way to keep her safe from the world—from its harsh ways and bitter truths.

Ibrahim’s heart and mind worked in an unusual way; and because of it, there were so many mysteries revolving around Eshaal that no one knew.

It was still a mystery how the guy who had kept hitting on her suddenly got a black eye and then turned a saint over the weekend. No one knew how the soft copy of the project she had lost after putting weeks of hard work into it was suddenly retrieved over night. No one knew why their cousins spared her the rude comments or obscene jokes while they enjoyed others squirming in discomfort after making them their target. No one knew how the girl who had stolen her record in school had a change of mind after a week and gave it back to Eshaal, saving her extra hours of writing.

He held the answers to all the mysteries. It was him all the time, unknown to her, who was clearing her path; but she definitely didn’t have to know that.

Each person has their own way of showering their loved ones with affection—a way they find comfortable in showcasing their love—and this was his. He liked doing things in the shadows and watching the gleam in his sister’s eyes later on. He loved how her eyes came alive and sparkled when she related all that had happened with her during the day. He loved being a part of her life. He loved that she was a part of his.

Eshaal sighed, looking at him. “Why, bhai? Why?”

“What do you mean ‘why’?” He answered her question with one of his own.

“Why did you do this? For a minute, I thought that I was actually dead.”

Ibrahim scrunched his eyebrows, feeling an unnamed emotion wash over him. “That’s  exaggeration, alright. I just wanted to have some fun with you one last time. Can you not humor me?”

He watched as his sister wrinkled her nose. “One last time? Whatever do you mean by ‘one last time’?”

“You don’t know why Mom and Dad went to our hometown, do you?”

“Of course, I do. They went for Sayeed’s wedding.”

“An Indian Muslim wedding hardly lasts three days, Eshaal. At least in our village, it doesn’t exceed more than three days; but they would be gone for a week. Doesn’t that ring a bell?”

Confusion flooded Eshaal’s face for a second after which a smile lit her face. “You mean they’ve gone to get me a bhabhi! Alhamdulillaah. I hope that at least she would be able to tame you. I can’t wait. Congrats, bhai!”

Ibrahim sniggered. “Keep dreaming,” he said. “They haven’t gone to get you a sister-in-law. They’ve gone to get me a brother-in-law!”

Groaning, Eshaal covered face with her hands. She brought her knees to her chest and placed her elbows on them. “Why is everyone after my spinsterhood? Why can’t you people just leave me be?”

“Maybe because you’re getting old?” Ibrahim supplied in an obvious attempt of goading her.

She looked up, her eyes flashing. “Oh, please! You’re a century older than me. You don’t have to remind me my age. I should probably direct those aunties who hound me to you. Tell them they could find rishtas for you instead!” Her shoulders slumped, a sign of her having lost her strength. She put her head down. “Why does everyone have to ask me when it’s going to be my turn?”

Ibrahim could see that the constant taunts of desi aunties had really driven his sister over the edge. He knew she still considered herself a kid in her opinion; and at twenty-two, she couldn’t see herself getting committed. At least not yet.

“Bhai, if you people want me out of the house, just tell me and I’ll leave. Don’t push me into it.”

He looked at her, then clicking his tongue, he pulled her into a hug. Resting her head on his chest, he started to gently stroke her messy hair. “We aren’t those people who push their kids into doing things they don’t want to do, Eshaal.” His distaste showed on his face. “We love you, and as Muslims—practicing Muslims at that—we would never do such a gross thing. You know as well as I do that it is prohibited in Islaam.

“This isn’t the first proposal that had come for you, but this is the first we have taken seriously because of how the family is. They are good, Masha Allaah. Dad, especially, is happy with it all because he is friends with the guy’s father. He says he has known them for a very long time and that they are exceptionally well-behaved and practicing.”

There was silence on her part.

“It isn’t as if it is all decided anyway. You can discard your fear. All the details would be revealed to you, and your opinion would be taken before anything gets finalized. The final decision would be yours to make.”
“I think it is too early, bhai.”

“You have a degree, and you’ve done your master’s. You even have a job for crying out loud. You are sensible enough. What else are you waiting for? As far as I can see, there is no excuse you can use.”

* * *

Eshaal considered it for a moment. Yes, her brother had a point. It was part of a Muslim’s faith to not delay matters such as marriage. In fact, it was encouraged to marry early to save yourself from the fitnah of the world, but the voice at the back of her head always had negative points to say. What if the guy is bad? What if I don’t like him? What if he doesn’t like me? What if our personalities clash?

Her brother grinned with a teasing glint in his eyes. He coughed for show. “Someone seems to be considering it all.”

She slapped his arm. “Shut up.”

“But, seriously, Mom and Dad have gone to discuss a few things and run a background check on the guy. If it ends well, other things would follow. Nothing would be done without your consent in it. You can set your heart at rest.”

Eshaal hummed, unsure of what else to do. She got up from the floor and walked to her room, muttering something about wanting to have enough sleep for the long day ahead. She wasn’t comfortable discussing such things with her brother. Come to think of it, she couldn’t even think of marriage being the child that she was on the inside.

As she climbed up the stairs, she heard her brother call out to her, “You get to have the final say in this, Eshaal. Remember that. We will never push you to do the things you don’t want to do.”

Eshaal smiled into oblivion. Maybe . . . maybe one day she might consider it; but, for now, there were more important things that needed her attention. Her bed awaited her!


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