Zohra – Out of Focus

A bokeh; an out of focus snapshot. That’s it. Her life was out of focus, blurred by the lights, colours, reflections and in betweens. There was no aesthetic quality to it, like you would see in a bokeh – one sharpened, focused image against the background of blur. No, for her, in her life, there was only blur.

As she had predicted, it was not too long before the chirp of birds was faded into the background of voices and the sun found its way into her little prison.

When she had been pushed into the room, she had confined herself to the spot she had landed at, against a wall. Her fear of spiders and snakes had niggled at the back of her mind but she had quite succeeded in keeping at bay by thinking ‘loudly’. She called her method of analysis ‘loud thinking’, because though she didn’t utter a sound, she could hear her voice in her mind. It had helped her reason things out when she needed to. And to keep herself from screaming like banshee if she imagined a creepy crawly attacking her.

As the light seeped in, she now realised that she was, in fact, not in some dirty, dusty, full of spiders and snakes prison cell. It was a room, about 12 feet by 12 feet, with one wooden framed window and one of those doors which seemed light and breakable but was in fact bolstered and steady wood that would have been hard for her to break if the thought had even occurred to her.

It hadn’t.

The room had a bed, a four poster bed with an ‘almost new’ mosquito net and what seemed like clean but old linen. To the side of the bed was one of those reed chairs she loved to sit in as a child as she read book after book.

He had indulged her then, laughed at her ‘bookishness’, only scolded her indulgently when he interrupted her to insist that she join her stepsisters and ‘mothers’ in taking care of housework. It had been hard for her, but she had learnt, to cook, and carry water on her head. Those two seemed like the highlights of her learning, everything else faded into comparison. But she had learnt.

Her father would smile, and let her go back to her books, even when one or other of the sisters complained that she was lazy and spoilt. Only one of the sisters, Mariamu, three years older, had ever defended her, taking Zohra under her wings and helping her along.

Her mother would gasp and frown when Zohra went back to the cottage and tried to show old Great-Aunt Mathilde what she had learnt in the village. Aunt Mathilde would smile, shoo the never-pleased anthropologist off and listen to Zohra. Then she would read out of one or other of her old edition Edgar Allan Poe books.

Mariamu and Aunt Mathilde, her allies, both now long dead, Mariamu from complications of her second childbirth at age 16, and Aunt Mathilde from long long long years of living, all 89 of them.

Imagine that! An old reed chair bringing back long memories of childhood and nostalgic longing for old allies. She sat in it and waited.

She wondered if he would come to see her, or ask for her to be brought to him. Most likely the latter, in which case she would be waiting long till after the prayers, then his long endless chats with the wazee, after which he would go to breakfast with the ‘men’ to assign duties and what not.

Or perhaps he would send Rashid to talk sense to her. He’d done that before. It had not worked too well, so probably not again.

She didn’t expect it to make sense. She had never ever been able to make sense of most things her father did.

That couldn’t really change now, could it?

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