It was a Wednesday – Book reading class. Today she had asked the students to bring their favourite books for the same. They were told that each one will be required to talk about a part in the book that fascinated them the most, the part that would stay with them forever. 

Mia was a literary teacher at a local school. Not that she was qualified, but the quaint town that she lived in was in a dire need to fill up the position to make way for the pending grants. Now, being associated with the school for more than 6 months, the school authorities didn’t want her to go. Over the months, she had brought out the best in the students she taught to. The parents and the authorities were happy with her. 

Mia addressed the class and gathered them all to sit in a circle with the books they were carrying. The students seemed excited for the activity. One by one, they all took centre stage, talking their hearts out about the part that liked them the most. Dahls’ Chocolate Factory, Twain’s Huckleberry, Dr. Seuss, the lion, witch and the wardrobe; all characters came alive during the discussion. From Hermione’s troll encounter in the washroom, to the Poirot’s smug smile at the murder resolve, the kids discussed it all. Mia found it amazing how their eyes glinted when talking about the best part in the book. Soon enough, it was Mia’s turn.

She showed them the book cover – ‘The life and the loves of a She Devil’ by Fay Weldon. She gave them a gist of the story and the part that fascinated her the most, the one that could be understood well by 10-year olds. “An ugly betty marries a man she loves whole heartedly. But the man is unfaithful and treats her mean. So, to teach him a lesson, ugly betty wears a mask and lives happily thereafter”

After the narration, Mia was bombarded with several questions by the little ones.

“Did the ugly betty wear braces Ms. Mia?”

“But why was he mean Ms. Mia?

“What kind of lesson? Is it the same like the grammar lessons we take?”

“What does her mask look like Ms. Mia?”

And while her smile changed at the last question, the class bell rang. It was the end of her teaching day. Mia greeted her students a goodbye and started gathering her things. On her way back home, she was too engrossed in her thoughts. She reached her place in a trance and collapsed on her bed. She felt the words ring in her ears, “What does her mask look like Ms. Mia” and just like that, she let her mind wander in the past. The past that she never wanted to relive, the past that she wished she could burry deep down. 

Miriam, her birth name; was born into a family of 5 sisters, she being the youngest. He was compassionate man though. He lived his life, caring and loving his wife and his daughters like every father would. But if only love and care would suffice!! Her mother took up odd tailoring jobs at home to make ends meet. The girls were never deprived of the basic amenities including education. It was the societal pressure of getting their girls married off that taxed them the most. God was generous though. All of Miriam’s sisters got married into modest families without hurting her father’s pocket much. Her parents’ biggest concern was Miriam. 

Born with amelogenesis imperfecta, Miriam also had connate teeth. Her love for books ensured she wore glasses. Treatment for both these conditions was something her father could never afford. Her parents knew her marriage prospects in a society like ours were bleak and so they left their worries to God. And as if their prayers were answered, Miriam received a proposal of a family friend’s son. Affluent, educated, and settled abroad. Miriam’s mother couldn’t stop thanking God.

Being married, Miriam moved to the new country. What ideally should’ve been an exciting time for a newlywed, was marred by worries for her. Farmaan, her husband, she shortly found out was gay. He married Miriam for the sole reason to keep his sexuality under the wraps. The laws of Saudi Arabia considered homosexuality a crime and had death penalty for it. Devastated, she didn’t know her way forward. She was not in love, for her heart to be broken, but being married, she expected the bare minimum; attention, conversations and physical intimacy. She decided to confront Farmaan, she knew changing him would not be an option, she would seek liberation from this forced relationship then.

“You could have told me about this before we got married” Miriam started. 

“What difference would it make? If not you, it would have been some other scar face. I needed a scapegoat at that!”

Miriam was appalled to hear that. “It makes hell of a difference Farmaan. You just don’t marry a woman and then place her in your house like an object. She has needs too”

“Are you serious right now? As I see it, you are practically in heaven. You have amenities to your disposal, you can spend any amount that you wish on anything you like, no questions asked. And you tell me you have needs?”

“Well, I am as human as you are. You have your boyfriend and my upbringing doesn’t allow me to lay eyes on any other man apart from my husband. So, as a married woman, I demand my rights. I want You, the way any woman wants a man. If you can’t give me that, I demand that we end this marriage.”

“Listen Miriam, I love Iris and nothing can change that. Neither will I let you go; I do not have it in me to come out and let the world know. This arrangement is going to stay. I have your travel documents with me lest you start getting any ideas. You have all the luxuries and freedom here”

Clueless and hurt, the only option she could see was informing her parents, but she knew how hard they would take it. She decided to shut up and put up. But it wasn’t that easy. Farmaan would spend many nights out and at times would also bring Iris home. Those nights would especially be difficult for Miriam. Their soft moans, whispers and talks through the hollow walls, would make her spend entire nights tossing and turning on the bed. There would be a fire inside her, the one she couldn’t douse all by herself, no matter how many times she tried. 

Watching them both together, happy and content the next morning would make her green with envy. She desired that satisfied look, she desired for her lust to satiate. Every single day she fought for peace inside, but her virginity didn’t let her. She had read somewhere, sex is your consolation when you can’t have love, but she was denied both. This drove her crazy. Her thoughts turned sinister, and she wanted to break free. She hated Farmaan and Iris, she seethed with anger for the simple joys that they enjoyed. Jealousy and hatred were both brewing together now.

One evening, while Iris was waiting for Farmaan, the devil took over Miriam. She hit him hard with an iron vase. Miriam knew the blow was hard for the job to be done.  Picking up her keys, she left for the market. When Farmaan reached home, he was too numb to find his love in a pool of blood. Miriam was back shortly after, feigning surprise and sorrow in front of the cops. Farmaan was convicted of the murder in due course; was ought too. Fingerprints, letters of breakup and hate spite were evidences that worked against him. 

Miriam knew how important Iris was for Farmaan, and she loathed them both for that. She had planted those letters in Farmaan’s closet, worked on the fingerprints too – internet to her help. She came across as an affectionate and caring wife who had no idea of her husband’s escapades during the investigation. She was sympathised with. Eventually, Miriam got her travel documents back and she left with the family jewels she was gifted during the wedding. She ensured her parents believed all was well.

She wanted to start afresh. Lasered eyes and prosthetic dental treatments gave her a new face, and with a few greens thrown in, she also had a new identity for herself, Mia. The school job gave her stability and the PT teacher at school everything else that Farmaan did not. She loved the fugitive life that she had arranged for herself.

But that one question today, threw her off the guard. “What does her mask look like Ms. Mia?”. Would the devil inside her ever take off his veil? That was a question only time could answer.

Glossary:

Amelogenesis imperfecta: Congenital teeth defect

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Photo By: Baran Lotfollahi

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This is an entry for Greenhorns-3, #Metamorphosis, an Exclusive Writing event for the Feathers club members of room8 by ArtoonsInn.

Check the event guidelines here: https://artoonsinn.com/metamorphosis-greenhorns-3-writing-event/

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