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Neeha Roomi was only twelve when she was raped for the first time. She was a famous model and dancer. Her delicate untroubled style was famous throughout the Arab world; it aroused the deepest emotions of her audiences. It was hard to tell, as you watched her perform, that she had been raped repeatedly in her childhood.
I had known of Neeha for many years. I had seen her dance on Arab T.V. But I did not meet her until my friend, Abdullah, took me to one of the most highly reputed Arabian nightclubs, to a special show in which Neeha's dance was featured.
As he and I found seats at a small table, Abdullah said, "I am going to tell you something about which you will want to write a story."
He knew that I was a writer, and I knew that he was a good story teller. And so he spoke, and I listened. Abdullah poured wine and passed a cup to me.
He began, speaking slowly:
"Rape is very common thing in Pakistan."
"So what is strange about that?" I said. "Evil itself is very common in our country. Some are dropping bombs on innocent people and others are raping girls. More important, our leaders are raping the whole land, while we are exchanging talks about our fatherland like a volcano vomiting. Let us drink and forget our aching prayers." I raved on, indifferent to the poor, ravished girls. I stood up and looked out at the sun, like a golden ball growing smaller, which was disappearing behind the fast shut eyelid of the ocean.
"Did you not hear what I just said?" asked Abdullah with the sound of anger in his voice, thinking I wasn't listening or that I cared not for what was happening in our country. He set his glass down heavily, seeming very annoyed.
"Yes, I heard you. Speak, I'm listening."
Abdullah stared at me for a while. Finally he began: "Neeha is a Pakistani girl. She left home at a very tender age. She was sold to a brothel house and was exposed to endless rapes."
Abdullah walked toward the window where I stood, both hands in the pockets of his pants, as though in thought. He then turned his back toward me. I could tell something was not right as he walked toward the table.
I frowned. "Girls are taught about this danger from an early age. When a young pretty girl runs away from home, she takes her chances."
I felt no remorse for my unconcern. However, I then spotted an opportunity. Perhaps the outrages about which Abdullah wished to speak would make a good story, a story which might be beneficial to my reputation as a writer. As the band played the unmistakable theme song from "Magnolia Girls", I clinked my glass with Abdullah's and urged him to go on.
Abdullah continued, while the music's resounding beat snaked through the bar. "Neeha ran away from home because she had been raped by her father."
I snorted with disbelief.
"Believe it, my dear writer," Abdullah said. "Facts are always strange."
He looked at me closely. "Shall I continue?"
I was not sure. Abdullah and I had been friends since college, and I'd never known him to lie. But it was such a bitter truth, so hard to believe.
Why her father? It was such a disgusting truth. As I sat with my face in my hands, pouring out my heart, Abdullah poured himself another drink of wine. "Care for another?" he asked offering me my cup.
"No, I just want you to tell me more about Neeha."
Abdullah proceeded; "I was in my twenties when Neeha was born. She was the daughter of Fatima Dai."
Dai is the title for women in the villages who earn their living by singing at weddings, and births of male children. These women live to entertain others. They make people laugh, children happy. Lovers use them to deliver secret messages while elders delight in them. They are like minstrels. They live on peoples' joys, though no one cares for theirs.
"At seventeen, when I became a man and first felt the stormy urge for sexual satisfaction, my friend revealed another secret of Fatima. He told me about 'feeding time', when young men are trained for sex.
"One day I stole five rupees, the fee for 'feeding', from grandmother's old box and walked to the dark hut of Fatima. As I knocked on the door of her muddy, dirty room, my hand trembled.
"She came outside. There was a strange look on her face.
"'Is your mother okay?' she asked.
"'I'm not here for my mother. I have come...' I paused.
"'Don't be afraid,' she said. 'Tell me frankly why would you come here in this darkness?'
"Fatima broke into startling laughter.
"'What is it you will do with me?' she laughed.
"I started to laugh as well. My fears melted away.
"'Yes Fati, I am here for feeding.' She grasped my hand and took me inside.
"'Where is my fee?' she asked immediately.
"I gave her my five rupees."
Abdullah paused. He did not meet my eyes.
"What did she do?" I asked with great intensity.
"Knowing that I was immature, she did everything."
"So you got what you paid for."
I looked at Abdullah and waited to hear what else he had to say.
"I am not sure. There was an intolerable smell on her body and mouth, like the stinking smell of a dead animal. Even at that young age, I sensed that sex should be sweet and gentle, not repulsive. But that is not the worst of it. Afterwards she told me, 'Run away now'."
"No love or kindness? She just told you to run away?"
"Correct," Abdullah said, lowering his voice to a whisper. "I looked at her dumbfounded. 'Why should I run?' I asked her."
I moved closer to Abdullah. "What did she say?"
"Her answer was quite upsetting for me." Abdullah moved back to the table, sat down, and examined the tablecloth closely. "She said, because now it is feeding time for your father. Your mother is pregnant, you know."
"I felt as if someone had thrown a bomb on me. I ran and ran until I came to a graveyard. I fell to my knees near a saint's tombstone and wept bitterly. For many years afterward, I was sexually abnormal because I had been exposed to sex in such an insensitive manner."
"A year later Fatima married Ghulami, the male Dai. His status was the same as Fatima's. A year after that, she bore Neeha. It was hard to believe such a pretty girl could come from such ugly parents."
"Later, Neeha's father became another victim to the young men from the Pakistani Army. In those days there was tension on the borderline between India and Pakistan. The army would come and forcibly take poverty-stricken men away to fight against the enemy. As you know, dear writer, a poor man is unlucky by birth."
"The Indian Army conscripted Ghulami for ten years. When he returned he was not the same person. He looked 100 years old, like a moving skeleton with a long white beard. We hardly recognized him."
Abdullah went on, "That is when Neeha was raped by her father."
I turned my eyes away from my friend. Was I, a born writer, actually beginning to regret asking him to tell me this story?
Abdullah sighed, "In those days Neeha used to go to Mosque to learn the Holy Quran. She always kept her head properly covered. Her father encountered her at the mosque. When he was taken away by the army, she was two. Now she was twelve; he did not recognize her. He also experienced severe memory loss; he probably did not even realize that he had a daughter."
Abdullah persisted with the story. "Neeha's crying brought tears to the eyes of the most stonehearted people of the village. I am sure that even God in Heaven was weeping. When Ghulami discovered his victim's identity, he was driven out of his mind with remorse. He disappeared into the barren mountains and was never seen again.
"I went on with my life. I forgot about what happened until one night when I saw Neeha in a dance club. And now you will see Neeha for yourself."
Soon after, the emcee announced Neeha's arrival. Tears sprang to Abdullah's eyes. "She is still so beautiful!" he said.
I was amazed to see how well Neeha danced. Her every step seemed to hold the breath of life. With a delicate, untroubled style, she aroused the emotions of the people. Her style perfectly combined both both beauty and art, both the promise of heaven and assurance of pleasure. She was amazing. She was wonderful. Her eyes held a feeling of hope and charm. My mind went back to the time when she was raped.
On the way to the bar to see Neeha, Abdullah wondered if Neeha would dance as she did the last night he saw her. To his surprise, she captivated his very soul.
After the show Abdullah introduced her to me. "He is a writer. He has a rich heart and great love for life and arts."
But does my base love for money and fame surpass the loves my friend has mentioned? I wondered. Aloud, I said, "Though we have lived through different circumstances, it seems as if I know you. How might we become acquainted?"
A coy smile slowly crept across Neeha's face. It lingered as we walked out the door.
"So you want to write a story about me?" she said still smiling. I did not answer. I was beginning to question my desire to use the outrages of her life to raise my own status, to wonder if debasing her in such a way might debase me still more.
She bent down, picked up a stone and cast it out toward the dark waves.
"What odd chaps you writers are," she said. "You sell the afflictions of people and gain reputations. Then you die and other writers sell stories about your miserable life. First you talk about others, and then others talk about you. What a foolish desire to be known. I learned a long time ago that we should walk away from this life silently. Remember, all roads lead to the dark grave."
Her talk of death fascinated me, frightened me, and confused me. I lost all desire to exploit her for gain. My mind returned to the group of men who had exploited her so mercilessly, a group I no longer wanted to join.
How could she have put up with so much? I wondered. She was smiling, but I was sure that deep in her heart she was aching with sorrow.
She looked me in the eyes and in a most delicate tone she said, "Do you hear the sound of the sand constantly running? Do you hear the waves splashing against the cliff?" She hesitated, ever so slightly. "Do you hear steps creeping around the wet road on a stormy night? Do you hear the songs of a traveler singing in the vast desert? Do you hear the tragic music of falling leaves in autumn? Do you..."
I stopped her and said:
"Yes, yes, you are like me, a child at heart, even in this commercial society where feelings have become commodities. You love nurture and the arts."
My heart was developing feelings that I had never thought it could contain. I felt free, totally lost in the moment.
The waves had thrown a fish upon the sand. Neeha noticed this and ran to throw the helpless creature back in the water.
"We are like that fish," she said. "We get out of the water and someone, much like death, throws us back in. In this world, we are actually out of water but death takes us back to life. Death, in fact, is the real name for life. The rest is all sand! The desires we have are just love for sand."
My heart began to beat more rapidly. Neeha seemed to have a strange power over me. She had changed my mind, my feelings, and my outlook on life. We walked hand in hand along the seashore, looking out over the ocean waves. We no longer spoke.
The sweet confusion grew. My manhood bloomed with the desire to be closer to her. I was overwhelmed with the frightening but wildly exciting desire; I suddenly wanted nothing more than to love her forever.
We stopped and looked at each other. In the twilight of early morning, I could see her eyes glitter as if accepting my silent commitment. I took her face into my hands. She closed her eyes in surrender, and I softly placed a kiss on each of them. My heart leapt with joy.
"You are so beautiful!" I whispered.
But then I sensed a change in Neeha's manner, a sudden distancing. She pulled away from me and looked at the rising sun.
She said softly, "Yes, but this beauty is for the beasts." And she walked away.
I stood alone on the sands of time waiting for someone to come to throw me into the water.
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