Baby Steps

By: Valezka Anwar

I stepped out the house to be inundated by the pungent smell of wet dirt and rain. The soil wet and sticky, and the grass had a dewy sheen. It had been very gloomy these past few days, fitting my mood. Being forced into an arranged marriage was something I never looked forward to, I mean who does? Although I knew I would eventually have to, I didn’t know the time would come so soon. I’m still young, and have yet to learn about the wonders of this world, its beauties and its horrors. Yet I am encapsulated in this dull and lifeless house with a man whose heart I have no intention on familiarizing myself with.

“Claire, prepare breakfast before I head off to work,” Ivan’s voice rang past the thin walls of our dreary home.

I made my way to the kitchen, and started to make a ham and cheese sandwich. I never understood it. Why had it always been implanted in society’s mind that women are supposed to just scrub the dirty floors men walk upon and polish the shoes they got dirt on? They can’t do it themselves?

I put the two rectangular sandwiches on the plate and set it on the wooden dinner table. Our house was very traditional. The furniture was antique and wooden, we had vases of white jasmines and moon orchids on table tops. I couldn’t find beauty in them, though. The atmosphere of the house was something I was so used to seeing since a small child that I couldn’t find new things to admire. I don’t come from a wealthy family, which was why our house was very simple and plain. It was a symbolism of my family and Ivan’s. They were close-minded people who had taught us to abide by society’s rules, but thankfully I’ve adopted a stronger judgement and viewpoint of life now.

“You cut it rectangularly? Who does that? You either cut it diagonally or not at all, genius,” Ivan rolled his eyes in annoyance as he fixed his tie.

“Sorry,” I mumbled as I fiddled with my fingers, impatiently waiting for him to leave. All I wanted was  to listen to the radio as my pen spills words that flow from my mind like water rushing down a river bed.

I love writing. Writing stories, writing poems, writing in general. In this life full of the unexpected and unplanned, only writing can give me the power to make things the way I want them to be. With my pen and paper, I have the ability to make anything happen. With writing, I can control anyone’s emotions and make them feel the things that people have never felt before, and bring to light certain life lessons and issues in this world of commotion. Happiness, sadness, grief, heartache, anxiety, horror, disgust, admiration, rich, poor, sane, insane. Anything is possible with just a pen and paper.

Ivan put on his polished brown leather shoes and left through the door. I waited outside the door as he drove out of my sight, like I was taught by my own mother. He did not spare me a glance, as I expected of him, but it didn’t bother me. Not one bit. After he left, I quickly walked over to lock the gates and made my way back into the house to write.

What should I write about today? Should I spill my uncensored thoughts about how cruel my parents are to let me live a life like this? Should I write about my empty heart, with not even my husband can to fill in the role of my love interest? Or should I write about the unseen beauties of the world I have never attended to? I’ve always wanted to travel the world but we couldn’t have ever afforded it, with dad working as a carpenter and mom staying at home to take care of the house. It doesn’t matter, I can always imagine.

“Have you ever wondered what the walls of Vatican city hide from you? What secrets had been hidden, held captive and imprisoned within the thick ancient temples? Do the quiet dark alleys  speak once we look away?

Can you hear a Pharoah’s mighty voice between the spaces of each grain in the sea of sand? Smell the blood of the daring gladiators pouring down on the floors of these ruins? Would you ride a wobbly wooden canoe just to see what’s on the other side of the Nile Rivers?

Would you have the courage to stand eye to eye with a hungry Siberian tiger just to paint the beauty that lies beneath its soft fur? Would you have the patience to sit on an insect-infested, dusty floor in the midst of scrolls, charts and maps, just trying to read what lies beyond the stars?

How far would you go?”

I wrote and I wrote. Time flew by much quicker when I get into my creative mind. The first words are usually the hardest to write. Your mind is still clouded with your own judgement, trying to make every word link with another so perfectly that it starts to forbid you to write anything at all. Once you finally let go of that barrier that’s stopping you from creating a masterpiece, you start to wonder why you found it so hard to write in the first place. Eventually, the words start hitting you hard like an unforgiving whirlwind. 5,000 words in, and you don’t know where you’re going. You just keep writing and writing, wondering yourself where its taking you. And finally when you’re almost at the end, you’re just praying that the universe would allow for more time for you to write. It takes everything within your power not to drop everything and lock yourself in your room to finish what once was just a jumble of word play.

It hadn’t felt long enough before I heard honking noises from outside. Dang it. I shuffled around and shoved all the papers with my writings behind the antique clock. I made sure everything looked clean and tidy, not giving any reason for Ivan to yell at me again.

“Hurry up, it’s been a long day for me,” Ivan yelled in annoyance with his car window rolled down, his elbow resting outside the car.

“Okay,” I used much of my power to push the gate open.

“Took you long enough,” Ivan mumbled as he stepped out of the vehicle.

Ivan put everything down on the dinner table and left his shoes scattered on the floor alongside his socks and tie. I keep the words from spilling out of my mouth and kept myself busy by tidying up his clutter. I gave him a look of repugnance that he did not catch in time. I put his things back to their designated places, and I look back at him. The buttons on his blouse loose and unbuttoned, one of his rugged hands dipped inside a bag of Cheetos while the other was pressing buttons on the remote to flip through channel after channel. Would it really kill him to be just a little neater?

“Hey, Clarity,” Ivan called me over, his voice muffled by the bits of Cheetos in his mouth.

I came over and sat next to him, “What?”

“I think you’d like this movie,” Ivan said still munching on his food, crumbs stuck to his stubble.

I looked to the screen to see Audrey Hepburn in a black dress accessorized with diamonds resting below her elongated neck. As if he couldn’t be any more sexist than he already is. Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

“Why can’t you dress more like her?” he suggested as he took a sip out of a can of beer.

“To what? Impress you? Haha, I’ll pass,” I retorted.

“Geez, you could at least pretend that you love me,” he joked.

“What’s the point in pretending? It’s only draining and it does absolutely no good for the both of us,” I replied.

“Fake it ’till you make it, baby,” he winked as he took another sip of the alcoholic beverage, “You’re stuck with me for the rest of your life, might as well make the best out of it.”

“Give it a rest.” I would much rather be miserable for the rest of my life than to have to pretend to tolerate a sexist, degrading, close-minded mouth-breather. Although I was forced into a relationship with him, he also did not have a say and it would be unjust of me to put all the blame on him. Putting his banality and ignorance aside, I was pleasantly surprised he was attempting to be civil to me.

“My life was over the moment my parents told me I could never do anything else besides clean the house, serve a random guy I have to live with for the rest of my life and not be able to pursue a career,” I said my mind aloud, not really thinking of the consequences.

“What would you have wanted to be anyways?” Ivan questioned.

“I was thinking about being a writer. But before that, I would have to go to college first and study English literature,” I confessed.

“Really now? I never saw you holding a book since I first met you,” Ivan said in surprise.

“Well, that’s only because we met two months ago, the day before we were forced to marry each other to be honest. Plus, my mom thought it wasn’t attractive for a woman to be reading at her leisure instead of finishing household duties, unless of course, it was for me to read to my own kids,” I spaced out as I crossed my arms and laid back.

“Isn’t it how things should be?” he said, eyes stuck to the TV screen.

Did he really just say that? How inconsiderate could he possibly get? My blood boiled with anger and rage. I can’t let him just step all over women and expect me to treat him like a king. Unfortunately, he is one of the many idiots out there who believe that women are second class species. And because of this silly perception that men have on women,  serious consequences happen. For women, that is. We have to endure long sufferings. Our voices go unheard and disregarded. High rates of sexual abuse and rape. Let’s not forget about slavery. And all of this is caused by men’s incomprehension of women’s role in today’s society.

“Are you kidding me? Don’t you think that women should be entitled to do whatever they please just as men do?” I challenged as I raised my voice, fury clearly present in my tone.

“Hey, you do not raise your voice to me like that,” Ivan was starting to get angry.

“And why not? You do it all the time, why can’t I? Can’t I have my own freedom of speech?” I pressed further.

“Because I am keeping the roof above your head. I am the one putting food on your plate. I provide for you and I ask in return that you give me utmost respect,” his forehead crinkled and the veins on his neck jutted out.

And just when I thought we were starting to get along.

“Tell me why I don’t deserve the same amount of respect from you that I give you?” I tested.

“Because what do you do? What good do you do for me? All you have to do is clean up the house, cook and serve me,” he arrogantly replied.

“Are you kidding me? You make it sound so easy for me, are you not aware that you mess everything up and then blame me that YOUR shoes are scattered on the floor. I could get my own money and help pay for the bills but you lock me up in this cage and limit me to just cleaning the dishes and sweeping the dirty floor that you step on,” I fought back.

“HAH!” He let out a loud laugh, his Adam’s apple bobbing up, “Go try and be a writer. You’ll be a starving beggar on the streets, trying to get people to buy some useless crap.”

“Stop acting like you’re getting paid an absurd amount. The only reason why you have a job is because your parents gave it to you-” I was interrupted by a stinging sensation on my cheeks.

He slapped me. He slapped me so hard he left a red handprint on my cheek. Tears welled up in my eyes, not because of the pain but because I couldn’t even defend myself without getting punished for it.

“DON’T EVER TALK TO ME LIKE THAT AGAIN! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” He was fuming. His eyes wide with wrath and his hands curled up so tight his knuckle turned white.

I nodded with my head hung low, tears threatening to spill out of my eyes.

“What a joke. How weak can you get,” he spat out.

Just when I thought he wasn’t as bad as I thought. I stared at him with intensity, not minding the tears rolling down my eyes. I was hoping my eyes would speak of how much hatred I feel for him at this moment, because I was not even allowed to speak freely like how I should be. To say that it was a dreadful night was a big understatement.

I will be a successful author with a variety of books selling in stores worldwide. My books will be a New York time’s bestseller and many young girls and grown females will look up to me and thank me for my work. It will be so grandiose that hundreds of thousands of copies will be selling everywhere. Just watch me. And with that money, I’ll file for a divorce so I can have the freedom I deserve and I will travel and see the beauties of the world by myself, with no one to tell me otherwise.

The next morning, we did not spare each other a glance, nor did we exchange words. He left the house in silence, without nitpicking my every  mistake. I was grateful for it. At least he knew when to stop. Although the tension was thick enough to be cut with a knife, I found it quite relaxing how I didn’t have to listen to snarky comments after my every move.

After he left the house, I changed into some decent clothes and took out the papers from behind my antique closet. I decided to send my works to a publishing company nearby. I’m done being undermined and I’m tired of my voice going unheard. I will let those who doubted me see how far I can go.