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Aug 02, 2017 at 08:55

Afra looked around the small clay hut with her vibrant green eyes. She straightened her hijab and walked outside. The salmon pink sky outside was melting, mixing and merging with the villainous blue. She saw her brother, Aaqil walking down the thin, rocky road. School books in hand he ran down and rushed into his sister’s’ arms. How Afra envied him.  How she yearned to learn.

She played with Aaqil the rest of the day and as the day came to an end her parents home. Her mother, Aabida had green eyes just like hers, except they were no longer vibrant, but dull from the pain and exhaustion. Her father, Omar; his face wrinkled and scarred from his usual squabbles at the bar.


Afra quickly slipped on her hijab, and sneaked out of the empty house. The dry brown leaves were lying dead on the sandy ground. She took a right and saw the small creek descending down the slope. The water that day was a cerulean blue, shimmering and glistening, mirroring her spirit. Why would she not be radiant? After all today was her first class.

She crossed the bridge and there he was, Irfaan waiting under the bare tree. She made sure her hijab was in place and walked faster towards him, her heart pounding loudly.

“I don’t know why you’re so keen on learning all this anyway. Most of us would die to be in your place.” Irfaan was in twelfth grade, and he was the kindest boy she had ever known. He was her only friend. But if her father ever found out that she was talking to another boy, the consequences would be disastrous. After hearing his comment on her decision to learn how to read and write she almost laughed at him. How foolish these educated boys were, not realizing the gift that they were given. The gift of freedom. The freedom to do whatever he wished to. He had winds beneath his wings. But she knew better than most that it was better to be humble than to mock. She shrugged her shoulders and with a dazzling smile said “You are making me sound silly and the class hasn’t even started yet!” Irfaan grinned, “Only you can make people smile like this Afra, Alright let’s start.”

Afra knew how to speak well although her vocabulary needed improvement, but she couldn’t read and write at all, so Irfaan’s first task, to tech her “the alphabet”. Afra learnt this with great ease; like a snowflake was gliding through the air. After an hour Irfaan was exhausted but Afra wouldn’t stop. She kept asking him for five more minutes and after half an hour he practically ran away. “Same time tomorrow Irfaan, don’t be late.” She said. “Normally the teacher says this to the student but alright”.  Afra giggled and ran home.


Afra couldn’t stop smiling all through dinner. Omar asked “What happened Afra some dust got into your head after cleaning the house or what? Smiling like a fool you are.” These words barely made a dent on her happiness and she couldn’t wait for tomorrow.


The past two weeks were like a dream to Afra. Her classes were going extremely well. Irfaan even sneaked in some exam sheets to test her progress and to her surprise she passed with flying colors. But it was going all too well.

Afra waited once more for everyone to leave the house and sneaked out. When she reached the creek she had this strange feeling that someone was following her. She turned around and to her horror she saw, her father. His eyes looked like black dark pools and for a moment she wished she could drown in them. It would be better than what was to happen next.

He grabbed her by her hijab and dragged her back to the hut. He slapped her face with immense force and succumbing to his strength and superiority she fell to the floor. “I hear that you’ve been studying, educating yourself. Your un- womanly demeanor shames me; it is shameful to our family. How dare you! Leave the house at this instant you ungrateful wretch and never come back.” “Abba please, I’m sorry. Don’t do this.” She whimpered. “Go. I wish to never see your face again.” In the corner she saw a plastic bag stuffed with all her belongings. He had packed for her. He knew she could do nothing else. She knew that he had made up his mind.

Afra went to the only house she knew of, the only friend she had. Irfaan opened the door, “Afra?” “Please can I come in?”


Irfaan’s face mirrored confusion, hurt and pity. It had been quite long since she had narrated the story. And then he spoke, “Stay with me and my family, they will understand.”

Afra stood outside the room Irfaan had just entered, She waited while he explained to them her plight and desperation. Afra was worried as if she wasn’t granted asylum here, she would have to live on the streets. Just then the door opened and his mother stepped out and embraced Afra. No words were exchanged. Afra returned the embrace, thankful that she was given another chance at life.


Today was Afra’s seventeenth birthday.Irfaan’s family had taken her in and treated her like their own.

Irfaan continued to teach her how to read and write and now she could even answer essay questions! Today was a big day as Irfaan was going to get her the present test paper and the take her answer sheet to the master. It was daunting but nothing compared to what she had experienced throughout her life.

His school had just finished and he put the paper in front of her, the timer started and her pen touched the paper and the words flowed out.


Afra waited patiently as Irfaan came home , she was wearing her green hijab which was a gift from Irfaan’s parents, her parents. She wore it for luck as she needed it desperately for today.

It was like déjà vu, she was reminded of that day one year ago when she anxiously waited outside that room waiting to hear whether she would rot on the street or live a life in the hands of people who cared.

Then Irfaan entered with a sullen face. “I didn’t pass did I?”  She said as she almost choked on her tears. “Well either that or my master wants to meet you tomorrow at school.” “What?” “You passed Afra! You did it, with your stubbornness and passion you did it! You and your strength proved everyone wrong! I am proud you Afra. So very proud.” Tears filled his eyes and he pulled Afra into a hug .For a moment she was speechless and then she cried. She cried and thanked him again and again. “Shhhh Afra, I did nothing, it was all you.”


Afra returned home, and saw Irfaan sitting next to his wife, Uzma. She lay down on the sofa and closed her eyes. She remembered that day when she met the master at Irfaan’s school, Who unlike most who had mocked and ridiculed her, praised her and asked her to study the twelfth grade at the all boys school. She would always sit at the back of the class, while all the boys talked about her and her ways. But once she topped the class they stopped and began to look at her, some with disdain and others with secret admiration.

After the twelfth grade she never went to college but instead with the help of her new parents, rented a room, where she taught a group of girls. When Irfaan came back from college, he helped her transform the small room into a class by pooling in some money. They divided the teaching slots; Irfaan would teach art, poetry and history for three hours in the morning and then Afra would teach English and Math for three hours in the afternoon. The brother and sister ran this small class successfully along with some help from Uzma who would cater to the needs of the school. They decided to name this class “The Hijab Class”, thus changing the meaning of this symbol of oppression into something to be proud of. At the time Afra didn’t care, she didn’t care about what the people said and how they judged her. She was giving those girls a chance, a chance to change the world, one hijab at a time.

Ishani Khemka