Excerpted from ‘His Daughter’, published in The Aleph Review, Vol. 3 (2019). This short story is now part of his upcoming second novel.
The door needs replacing. Its relentless creak always disturbs his sleep. But tonight, he is up, one eye trained on the clock. As soon as it strikes two, his stomach knots—he realises that he’s been waiting for that creak with bated breath. He lets out a breath just as it sounds.
The door opens, and the familiar rustle of her faux silk dress fills the room. It’s like a slap on his face. His daughter is fresh from the embraces of her vile lover. He can smell it on her. He feels the delicate tread of her footsteps on the bare earth as she makes her way into the only other room of their hut. The other children, her brothers and sisters, are fast asleep. Her mother lays next to him, snoring softly, oblivious to what her daughter has been up to—what she’s been up to for weeks. Months, he suspects.
“Where were you?” he asks her, without raising his head from the pillow.
The rustle comes to an abrupt halt.
“Where were you?” he asks again, louder. His wife stirs.
“Shaista had taken ill,” Abida mumbles. “She might have the baby earlier than expected.”
He lets the lie slide, for now. He’s too tired.
“Go to your room,” he tells her.
As Abida disappears into the room, his wife turns to him. “What was all that about?”
He wants to kick her in the face.
The next day, he opens his stall as usual. He holds down the chickens to the cutting board, recites the Kalima, relishing the sensation of their blood throbbing under his fingertips before making a clean slice across their necks. Just for a moment he imagines doing the same to Abida, cleansing her of all sins and acquitting himself of all shame. And then the reality comes crashing back to him. She is his firstborn, his first love. He brings the knife down on the board so hard that he severs the neck of the unsuspecting chicken completely. Its feathery body crumples in his hand. He drops it into the waiting barrel.
Abida brings him lunch, her daily ritual before she hops off to fornicate with that man, that devil. She unwraps the muslin cloth covering the tray, revealing yellow lentils and chapatti. His stomach turns. With all the chicken in the world around him, all he can put on the table are lentils. And here stands Abida, bold as brass, smirking at him as if daring him to question her. His eyes land on her belly. Is it just his imagination, or has the girl been gaining weight? Already, her waist looks stocky, like that of a woman twenty years her senior. His hands tremble as he accepts the tray from her.
Their eyes meet. He sees the challenge in them, the righteousness. Her eyes are both cold and lifeless and warm and inviting. He wants to protect her and kill her.
“Run along,” he says, turning away, unable to look at her face anymore.
“Of course, Abbu.” She turns to leave.
“Cover your head,” he barks after her.
Run along to your lover now, you little harlot.
Awais Khan is a graduate of Western University and Durham University. He has studied creative writing at Faber Academy, London. His debut novel, In the Company of Strangers, was published by The Book Guild in the UK (2019), Simon & Schuster India in (2020) and Liberty Books in Pakistan (2020) by arrangement with Simon & Schuster. Awais's work has also appeared in The Missing Slate, Daily Times and MODE . He is represented by Annette Crossland.
About the featured Artist: Syed Hussain was born in 1987 in Quetta and graduated from the National College of Arts, Lahore in 2015, with a major in Indo-Persian miniature painting. His work mainly focuses on nostalgia for the Hazara communities of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has showcased works nationally, including his solo project Under the Same Sky at Studio O, a prestigious gallery in Lahore. His group shows include Cross Border at the Swiss Embassy, Islamabad, Portraiture at Canvas Gallery, Beyond Today at Studio O, Figuratively Speaking at Canvas Gallery and Neoteric’s at Chawkandi Art Gallery. Hussain moved on to receiving numerous awards, including the Haji Sharif Miniature Prize at the National College of Arts, Lahore (2019), the Miniature Painting Nigaah Art Award (2017) and the Merit Award at Arjumand Art Prize, PNCA Islamabad. He is currently teaching miniature painting at the National College of Arts, Lahore.