Friday, February 12, 2010

Traditions

This is how Tasha died: pinioned by the arms of her grandfather as her father struck her chest with her mother's favorite kitchen knife.  She expected her mother to scream, or rush at her husband, or call the police. She did not expect her Ammi would stand at the top of the stairs and nod her head in support.

Tasha has a sister, her mother thought as she watched, her eyes rimmed with dampened kohl.

Earlier, Tasha had returned home from an afternoon of studying at her best friend's house. She was introduced to an older cousin who was visiting for the weekend. He helped them with their studies and, several hours later, they walked Tasha home after stopping for a drink at the coffee shop. She waved goodbye and turned to see her parents and grandfather standing in the hall. “I'm late, I know, sorry but---”

“You were out all day with a boy?” Her father's spittle landed on her face and she stepped back.

“Not like that. We were studying!”

Her grandfather spoke. “You were told you will marry the young man we chose for you, with ties to our village. His relatives here saw you.”

Tasha did not want to talk about this. She was born in this suburban house 16 years ago, not a dusty village.  Yes, her mother and father were very strict, overly protective, and infuriating at times, but is that not the way of all parents?

“You know I don't want to get married,” she said. “Especially to some guy I don't even know. I want to study and get a job and not be tied down to your old-fashioned...”

Her mother's slap to her face sent Tasha running upstairs to her room. She sat on her bed and held her old stuffed bunny to her chest. It was her comfort in the night since she was four years old. A few minutes later she heard someone walk up the wooden steps to her room. Her father came in without knocking. He carried a cup of tea.

“You acted in a way that has brought shame to our family!” he said and closed the door. He held out the hot drink. “Your grandfather and I will give you the chance to do what you must to preserve the honor of our family members.”

He pointed to the cup in his hand. “It has rat poison.”

 “Abba?” Tasha pushed one of Bunny's ears into her mouth to stifle the scream and bile and moved closer to the window.

“No one will marry your sister until our name is pure again.” Her father placed the cup on her desk and left without another word.

Tasha's tears obscured the familiar. What was her father talking about? Those traditions had no place here. Oh, she grew up hearing about these honor killings, but they were stories - they belonged to the old country, to the villages, to the old ways. This is the United States, for goodness sake. Her father could not mean this. He was just trying to scare her. She needed to find her mother.

She knocked the cup to the floor and left her room, running down the stairs. Her grandfather stepped from the study and stood before her.

“Oh, Dada, Dada!” she wept as he held out his arms.

Tasha expected them to take away her phone, or ground her for a month, or any other loss of privileges as punishment. She did not imagine this.

“I am justified,” her father whispered as he pulled out the knife. “Allah Haafiz.”

48 comments:

  1. People do the worst things in the name of pride. So many relationships are lost for the same reason. Great story. Spooky, but great.

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  2. This story has kick. I like the choice of starting with the end on this one. Works very well. Some traditions die hard.

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  3. Utterly - thoroughly - chilling. Fantastic construction. My hair is standing on end.

    Could this cancer be *the* fundamental flaw in the Abrahamic religions? It's stitched in from the start. Really makes me think.

    Brilliant and important work Marisa.
    Simon.

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  4. What an intense, tragic and unfortunately, realistic story.

    From a writing standpoint, I love how you unfolded the plot through dialogue and showing narrative (flashback instead of telling). You always produce such high quality work. It is a pleasure to read your Flash Fiction -- no matter what subject you tackle.

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  5. Skycycler has it - chilling is the word!

    It is a sobering thought, to remember that this could well be "based on a true story".
    Such horror in the name of a deity that is supposed to be benevolent and synonymous with love...

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  6. I have to say, I'm shocked. I thought I had come to know your stories as humorous Marisa, but you keep throwing surprises at us.
    This is fantastically written, very hanuting, and scary as all get out. Great job!

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  7. Sorry, I didn't like it (although it's well-written). Too many people complaining about the same things for too long.

    Besides, I think it highly unlikely that a daughter of such a strict family would underestimate the consequences of her being with a boy who does not belong to the family. And there are other, more "traditional" ways of coping with situations like these in the Muslim world (no rat poison, no stabbing. Drowning alive, maybe).

    (Did you know that a few months back, a young girl in Turkey was buried alive because her family did not approve of her life style? When she was excavated she had earth crumbs in her lungs.)

    ***************************

    And before you ask, I am not Muslim, I never have and never will be, and I know my share of strictly religious Muslims.

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  8. Yes, Diandra. I do know about the young girl's death in Turkey.

    There have been honor killings in the USA in recent years.

    In 2008, A devout Muslim living in Georgia murders his 25-year-old daughter in an honor killing.

    And in Buffalo, in 2009, the founder of a Muslim TV station beheads his wife in the hallway for seeking a divorce. There are other examples.

    All the women knew the devoutness of the male in their family, but I'm not sure they believed they would be killed for their "infractions". Especially while living in a place that would not find any honor in such acts.

    The choice of having the women commit suicide by drinking rat poison, or shooting or hanging themselves is documented.

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  9. Great story, M. Enthralling. Everyone's already said everything I was going to say!

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  10. I read recently of this happening to a girl. Unfortunate that your story rings true. What a waste of life. This story is so well told, ripped from the headlines, and an intense journey for the reader. Well done.

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  11. The only thing that popped out at me was the second paragraph. Since the rest of the story is told from Tasha's POV, this thought from her mother seemed out of place.

    Even though these women might *hear* stories of honor killings, or know how devout the males in their family are, I don't think any one of them would expect to be murdered in this country for those beliefs. Especially if they were born or brought up here.

    It's like..."it would never happen to me." Or, "My daddy would never...my mother would never allow..."

    Until the blow falls.

    Excellent work, Marisa. This had to be difficult to write. It was chilling to read.

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  12. Holy cow, this knocked me over. It reminds me of a Danish film (I can't remember the name right now) that I watched recently--although the consequences were not nearly as severe (that is, deadly). Excellent construction, flow--unfolding. Just glanced over and saw David's comment about liking how it starts with the end. Representationally this puts to mind a horrible cycle that needs to be broken...

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  13. I loved it. I really loved it. You are in there with that girl, way there, and that ending kicks your butt. I don't think the girl should have known this was coming. I yell at my kids every which way but Tuesday and they still wonder why I am yelling about that same thing again.
    Great story!!

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  14. To Netta,

    I disagree, I think the point is exactly the generation gap between those children born in America with a Western outlook and their parents still imbued with their traditional outlook and scales of justice and honour. The fact the girl imagines the punishment to be a confiscation of her mobile phone shows the huge, unbridgeable discrepancy between the two points of view and I believe Marissa to have hit that spot on.

    marc nash

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  15. A stunning rise of anger moment. I liked that you revealed the essence of the story before you told it, rather than leaving it for a surprise at the end. Brilliant.

    Your dialogue, as usual, is excellent and your characters true to life.

    "Tasha has a sister," was particularly poignant.

    One thing I was a little unsure about was the name Tasha - I felt as though I wanted her name to be something a bit more Arabic or Asian.

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  16. Yowza. This is a powerful piece of fiction that will stick with me throughout the day. You set the scene effectively and with very well crafted language. I'm all riled up inside. Ouch. Thank you.

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  17. Ouch. Unfortunately very believable :(

    I agree with the others that the flashback was a good way to do it?

    I'm curious -- are you a Muslim yourself? It would seem a little cheeky for an outsider to write this.

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  18. Quite chilling, and one that won’t be easy to forget. It’s well written and you capture the viewpoints of the major players in the story convincingly, even if some of those viewpoints are shown in just a sentence or two.

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  19. Great opening paragraph. Just gripping.

    A little like Diandra, I have my reservations. I'm addicted to the BBC news website and this sort of thing is reported there with depressing regularity. Heart-wrenching stories that I struggle to understand. You really captured that and it's the veracity that has me wanting to turn away.

    With the utmost respect, you really caught a moment there, but it's not my idea of a kodak one. More like a kodiak one.

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  20. Holy cow, I struggled with that previous comment THAT long?

    @Dana - not cheeky, IMO. This is a crime that the vast majority of Muslims in the West would not defend. To suggest its cheeky is almost to suggest that there's a counter-viewpoint where this is an acceptable response to such a situation. There isn't.

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  21. Wow! I think the comments with chilling, intense and tragic really capture this story. And, I agree that you wrote it perfectly to capture the generation gap in these families.

    Really, really well-written!

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  22. Intense, haunting, and powerful. This is the best piece I've read from you.

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  23. I also like that you started with the end. I'm not sure I could have read it if I had anticipated the ending ... having it established prepared me for outcome and opened me to progression of events.

    Wow.

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  24. This is powerful, chilling writing about an all too true setting and the clash between generations in their traditions. You provoked strong feelings here - the best compliment a writer could have.

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  25. It's really hard to pull off a story when you give away the ending in the first paragraph, but you did it brilliantly here. And I have to commend your bravery. Tough, emotional subject to write about but these women's stories must be told. (I've actually read worse true life cases than this) Maybe someone will eventually be able to stop this madness.

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  26. Wow! Gripping story. It reminds us that women will not really be free until we talk about these issues that still (unfortunately) haunt us all over the world. Gripping story. One of my favorites, so far. Bravo!

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  27. Quite a disturbing story.

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  28. A really thought provoking story - well done for tackling such a controversial story. There have been several high profile honour killing cases in the UK recently and i think you did a really good job of portraying a situation which it is very hard to comprehend as someone outside of the culture that you portray. Not sure if it will have been covered in the US but the case of Tulay Mahmood in the UK has been well documented; worth researching for further insight into the shocking and important subject that you have bravely documented.

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  29. It is so sad that we live in a world where acts of such brutality, cruelty and evil are not works of fiction - as many have said this could have so easily have been "based on a true story". As well as entertaining and inspiring people, I believe fiction should also ocassionally put a spotlight on the darker side of humanity, in the hope that one day it helps to stamp it out. You do that masterfully here. Well done.

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  30. Your opening line was perfect, and I don't say that lightly. It was such a punch of an opening and it suits the story. It's difficult to comment on such a weighty topic, so I imagine this was a tough one to write, but I think you handled it really well. The POVs, the generation gap, the tragedy. Beautifully done. ~ Olivia

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  31. Disturbing and difficult to read (subject matter). Execution was impeccable.

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  32. @Anton Well, maybe cheeky wasn't the right word. I can't think of the right one but....to take an example nearer to me: where I live we have a very substantial First Nations population which makes native issues fairly prominent.

    As a writer, who isn't native, I'd feel pretty uncomfortable writing about some of the social problems and crime the First Nations face. Like...it doesn't feel as though it's my place.

    I also wouldn't write a story from the perspective of, say, a black inner city kid in the US, for the same reason.

    I might be talking out of my ass though.

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  33. Oh wow, that's pretty chilling. I was hoping she'd run away, but I guess it was not meant to be. Great story!

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  34. Great job, Marisa. Starting the story with a powerful first paragraph really slaps the reader in the face. Gets their attention. You obviously provoked pro and con responses which, I think, is a sign of a good story. It provokes debate. I have worked with Muslim men from Saudi Arabia and Sudan and had conversations about such controversial subjects. We have a case awaiting trial in Canada about a man mudering some female members of his family.

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  35. Marisa, you must have been utterly exhausted after you wrote this. It is so emotionally draining to read, I can imagine how you felt writing it.
    This is one of my favourite stories this week and I think it will stay with me for a long time.
    How anyone could kill their own child because of some stupid cultural code is just way beyond me.
    Anything that brings attention to the plight of women and children is commendable.
    I loved the story. Unreservedly.

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  36. This was truly creepy. Putting the ending at the beginning worked really well for the emotional impact and the story in general. It makes me so mad for these women!

    CD

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  37. Marisa, you've written a very powerful piece.

    Dana: it is in Marisa's place to comment on this issue. It's in everyone's place. There are crimes committed in the name of all religions. These crimes must be denounced, and it's up to all of us to do it. I will applaud anyone who does it. Looking away because you are not a part of the clan only feeds the problem.

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  38. I almost didn't read past the first paragraph. You told a difficult story well.

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  39. In our little world of flash fiction, you've told a story so realistic that it will haunt for some time to come. Is this what they call Literary Horror?

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  40. The opening paragraph was perfect, it drew me in and set up my expectations for a very different kind of story. That it then turned into something very real made for an excellent twist, and delivered that shock element that made this a very powerful story. Great writing.

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  41. O.O You did good here. Chilly in here. Brr. Great job. I love your work.

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  42. Thank you for your visit and your sweet words. Have a wonderful day.

    Lori @whenwelisten

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  43. I don't know what to say... it was moving, because I've read real life stories very similar to this in various cultures. You handled it such a topic with care and reality.

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  44. Didn't check back till today... there have been honor killings in Germany as well (I recall 7 cases during the last year), but it's a band waggon everyone seems to ride on these days. Besides, in most cases I recall, there have been long ongoing family fights about what the women were allowed to do, with them fleeing from home, returning because they missed their families, supervised visits, promises, compromises etc. before one of the males decided to solve the problem "the old way". So even if the women did not believe they would end up dead, they knew their families were opposed to their ways of living. In the story, it seems as if everything comes out of the blue.

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