I met my father's mistress on a Thursday. Contrary to what my mother had so bitterly said, Fouzia was not an ugly, spineless witch with a face pockmarked like a diseased gourd. She was tall, pretty and with skin so smooth, it almost looked like settled dark dust. Her smile was small but pleasant. She was on her guard and so was I.
"I don't want to go with her." I said simply. No, I did not think she was the evil woman that my mother said she was, but the fact was that she was not his wife. That woman was probably curled up in her bed, sick with worry of what similar poison her youngest child was being fed against her. That woman was my mother. And she was very unhappy.
Rekiya, my older sister had slapped me when I told her I would make the trip.
"Fool" she spat in my face, "how can you betray Mama?"
I did not cry, even as the stars swam before my eyes and the pain ricocheted across my face.
"He told me I should come", I said proudly. She was jealous. Papa had told me to come and not her. And I had. And he was passing me off on Fouzia.
"What did you say?" he asked in his soft quiet voice, a voice I remembered being read to with which now dripped with disappointment. I tried not to flinch.
"I will not go with her. I will not go with your whore." I told him.
He slapped me. For the first time in my thirteen years, he raised his hand against me and slapped me. Right there, on the front steps of the balcony where he lived with his mistress. My head was knocked aside and I held it there, lolling to the side, resting on my left shoulder while he stood over me, his hand raised as if to strike again. He didn't.
"You can go back to your mother." he said simply. Years later, I would marvel at how his voice remained steady. I couldn't speak. My heart was racing so fast that had I opened my mouth, my tears would have washed it out of me.
He left me there, hurting, his mistress only a few feet away, standing outside infront of the house. The sun was suddenly so hot that my skin prickled.
"Come out of the sun, " Fouzia said, simply.
I looked up then from the place on the sand where my tears had fallen and immediately disappeared within its heat.
"This is your fault." I said to her. I tried to spit but all my saliva had fled with the slap and my mouth was dry.
Fouzia chuckled. It was a slow and mirthless sound.
"Of course. It was me that slapped you ba?"
It could have been mocking but for some reason, it wasn't.
Then I started to cry.