She sat, crouched down in the dark, cramped space of the linen closet. The monsters were roaring again, and this was her sanctuary; it was as if the spatial cube between the bottom-most stack of bath towels and the floor was specifically designed to enclose her scared and shivering 6-year-old frame.
She could see nothing as she tried to form a picture out of the tiny blue orbs that appeared in the dark each time she blinked. Trembling, she lifted her hand slowly and reached out; her fingertips touched the cool surface of the wood, just as she knew they would. Tall and imposing, the door was nonetheless a reassuring presence, perhaps not as soft and fuzzy as the pale yellow blanket she liked to carry around, but sturdy. She sought comfort in its solidity, and trembled no longer as she let her fingertips glide lazily over the wood, tracing patterns on its raven surface.
Suddenly, she gasped and snatched her hand back. A splinter had lodged itself into the fleshy tip of her thumb. This had not happened before, the door had never done something so cruel. Fumbling in the dark and trying not to let the gathered tears swell up and overflow, she slowly but resolutely found the splinter. Without giving it any thought, she pulled it out. A helpless yelp escaped her lips. It was so small, she thought, as fine as an eyelash, yet how could it have hurt so much?
Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of approaching footsteps. Alert and alarmed, she hugged her knees and curled up into a small ball, no longer concerned by the splinter that had upset her so and focused only on remaining unseen, undetected. It was her parents, she’d learnt early on to discern between the pitter-patter of their feet and was momentarily confused that she could make out two pairs approaching rather than just the usual one pair.
This had not happened before either, they never did anything together unless it involved a lot of shouting and spitting out angry words with fierce bitterness. She couldn’t understand the words much, but she knew their tones, knew the sound of fury. The doorknob began to rattle, and she became more frightened as each second went by, afraid of the white light that will burst into her little space of shadows once the door opens.
She silently pleads for the door to not give in to the two people standing on the other side. She does not want to hear her mother’s apologies, she practically has them memorized. Neither does she want a bear hug from her father; his enfolding arms suffocate her, drain her. No, she would much rather remain here with her splintered door and her sore thumb. At least they were her own.
“Aaliya, honey, come out of there. This is no place for a little girl to be!”
It was typical, she thought, that even at such moments her mother would try to teach her about children’s decorum.
“C’mon, kiddo, daddy needs a hug.”
She was tempted to ask if Daddy was sure he wouldn’t prefer a whiskey tumbler instead.
Staying determinedly still, and looking fixedly at the blur orbs that danced around her thumb, Aaliya let her parents beg a little longer; they plied her with promises of enticing gifts of dollhouses and tried to persuade her with plans of going to the zoo. Couldn’t they see that all she wanted was a little peace and quiet? There is a different sound to every silence, and Aaliya loved each kind.
Unable to bear the imploring, pathetic voices of her parents any longer, Aaliya gingerly stepped out of her closet alcove. Emerging out of her silent haven, she felt as if she had returned to a warzone. It was all too long, and her mother’s tapping foot augmented the noise.
“It’s okay Mommy. No, I won’t do that again, of course I don’t want to spoil the ruffles on my dress.”
She turned to the other waiting parent, and dutifully opened her arms as wide as she could.
This is a short story I wrote at a workshop I recently attended, held at and by the British Council, featuring award-winning authors Kate Pullinger and Mohsin Hamid.