reviewing and redrafting

Censorship (Draft 02)

I remember that on the day Fatema was born, what hair she had was curled so sweetly that it was as if angels had been twirling it around their fingers. I remember her beatific smiles as she grew from baby to child. I remember her gurgles and burbles turning into words and sentences that spoke of her growing love of language. I remember her trusting nature and the care she took to please family and friend alike. I remember the day that her trust was betrayed.

It happened on a bright day – the kind where the sky and the sun bid you welcome to the world and the sidewalk was full of greetings and friendship. When the car stopped, Fatema smiled at the man who asked her name, and gave it gladly as was her nature.

She was still smiling innocently, thinking perhaps that this was some neighbourhood prank, as two men with grim faces full of lines that spoke of the strictest laws grabbed her arms and lifted her bodily. The back door of the car was suddenly flung open and she was thrown inside as if she were a sack of dirty laundry.

Maybe it was the horror she saw in my face, just before the car door closed that told her that this was no joke but even then she barely had time to change her expression. Only one word emerged before the closing door cut off the sight of her pleading eyes and it is the sound of my name on my little sister’s lips that has haunted me every waking second since: “Aisha!”

Heedlessly dropping my bags, I lurched towards the car and tugged at the door handle. Locked. I resorted to battering my fists impotently against the blacked out car window and I called her name – “Fatema! Fatema!” but my only reward was a faint scream that was cut off too abruptly – then nothing. As I continued to hammer on the impenetrable window, I dimly heard the sound of two doors slamming shut and then the car was ripped away from me as it accelerated swiftly down the street.

I ran after it as fast as my heavy skirts could allow – but the car pulled rapidly ahead and as it turned the distant corner I knew that I was done. I stopped as if I had hit a wall. Tears streamed down my face as I waved my fists at nothing and I crumpled, alone and beaten, to the hard concrete floor.

The first week was the worst. I was allowed to stay at home for two days. Forty-eight hours to mourn and try to come to terms with what had happened before being ejected from my home back into school. How could they expect me to cope so quickly with the unthinkable – that my beautiful Fatema was gone!

The first month was the worst. My mother wailed her grief into my father’s stony face. Rooms went silent when I entered. The very air seemed full of urgent phone conversations: either enraged calls that were stopped violently by the crash of a receiver, or worse – pleading and cajoling calls that ended with the faintest, most fawning clicks. But regardless – both kinds of conversations always resulted in a grim shake of the head and renewed sobbing from my mother.

The first year was the worst. The streets that I used to walk with Fatema’s gentle hand in mine now saw me walking with only a dark shadow for company. I began to read books as I moved lifelessly along – anything to bring an end to my obsessive thoughts. Mindful of eyes on me – I restricted myself to safe books and gradually, little by little I felt their eyes slip away to more lively targets. Time tore away at the sharpest edges of my memories and the tide of life scraped away at what remained.

Towards the end of the year, they gave me the phone back – the one Fatema and I used to share. I watched it warily for two days as it lay on the bedside table. Then on the third day, as if a sudden thirst had come across me, I snatched it up.

Greedily I logged back into our shared online world and it expanded towards me with an almost visceral rush. We had ignored Facebook and Twitter as being irrelevant. Our love had been for books, for the people who wrote them and the people who shared our passion for the lush landscapes of imagination and freedom. I started with Goodreads.

Our 103 friends were still there – waiting with devout and bookish patience and I smiled faintly to see their familiar hijab framed faces. Tapping on the messages icon, I scanned quickly down the list, and then stopped abruptly. My eyes had caught an unfamiliar picture – a man with a face that matched his distinctly western name – Robert.

Frowning, I clicked on the subject: ‘Brave’ and scanned the conversation so far. My eyes widened as I read the last message Fatema had sent: “Thank you .. I loved the kinds of books you read and also you write interesting reviews”.

My eyes flicked across to the date and time of the message and sweat sprang suddenly from my forehead as the hairs on the back of my neck began to rise. It was the date that I had last seen Fatema and the time was barely an hour before she had been snatched from us!

I pushed my fist hard against my lips but it did nothing to stop the wail that climbed my throat and emerged from my mouth with an agony of hurt.

Words seemed to scream themselves into my horrified mind – “She didn’t mean anything by it – she was only eleven!!”

(continued in Freedom)


28 thoughts on “reviewing and redrafting

  1. Robert. That was so incredibly intense! You have such a gift. I loved everything about this piece. It left my heart racing and admittedly aching by the end of it. The ability to choose words that evoke such emotion is a very difficult task indeed and you achieved this effortlessly. I’ve read a few things that you’ve written now and I marvel at just how multi-faceted you are as a writer. You can as easily write a quirky amusing piece, as you can something as disturbingly tense as this. I think it’s safe to say that I’m a big fan of your writing Sir.


      • I’ll take crikey. I’m happy with crikey:) Wait, hold on, let me try it on for size….Yup, just as I thought, crikey looks good on me;) And also, take the compliments Robert. They are well deserved. You may not know me very well, but I am nothing if not honest, always.


      • If you think it was the person she talked to on Goodreads that abducted her then I have failed in the story.
        It was the people in Government, in repressive regimes, that favour censorship and fear as a tool to govern, that took her.
        I think I need to do another draft.


  2. Comment from Amrita Sen on Future Learn forum (with permission):
    I just read your story about Fatema. Robert, it’s so beautifully poignant. My eyes welled up while reading it, your prose was so powerful. I felt Aisha’s intense pain of suffering such an irreconcilable loss. The ending really brought home how senseless and merciless the censorship laws can be. You really managed to put a human face on what these laws do to people. So bravo, Robert! #admiringsmile


  3. Comment from the FutureLearn Forum by Mary Davies 26 Nov 2015:
    Loved this, Robert. (Yes, very late to the party again!) I thought it flowed really well and built up to the shock of the ending nicely, too. If you wanted, you could maybe edit out the odd word or two and it would become even more terse, but it’s your (amazing, engaging) story.


  4. oh. wow. That is horrifying. You’ve left me with a pit in my stomach for poor Aisha and her little sister. What a beautifully terrible story. So well done.


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  7. Censorship is the “Authority” in “The Land of the Unmanned”. Excellent job of storytelling, sad and in some instances very true. Again, you’ve offered up much to think about. Please enjoy your Saturday evening, take care. ~ Mia

    Liked by 1 person

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