Early in the morning, after taking a long shower, Samia squeezes herself into her new clothes that she bought last weekend. Her hands and feet have turned wrinkly from her ablution. She didn't realize the amount of time she wasted away in the bathroom - just recapping the past week's events.
Samia snaps out of her daze. Now she needs to focus on the present. She takes her job seriously, as head chef in Baltmoure's Cafe. It's a position that she has worked hard to achieve - and she still works hard to maintain - and her efforts are completely worth her passion.
On this particular day, her mother entered her room. Typically, the woman didn't bother to knock beforehand - an action that truly irritates Samia.
"Your father called in and told your workplace that you're not coming in today," Fatima states in a matter-of-fact tone.
Samia rolls her eyes. She knows what this means. Her father's warning lingers in the back of her mind. There will be a next time. Samia didn't think it would be so soon.
The girl decides to play along.
"But mum, if I have to get ready, that means I need good perfume, right? And this one is practically finished - look!" Samia says, holding up her empty jasmine-scented bottle. Fatima studies it with anxious eyes.
"Don't you have any sprays?" The mother questions warily. "I'm pretty sure I have some."
"No, don't worry about it. I was already gonna buy a new one anyway. I'll be as quick as possible," Samia says, grabbing her keys. "You just get my outfit ready, okay?"
"Okay," Fatima nods in acknowledgment.
Leaving her house, Samia texts her best friend of eight years, Nadia. Unlike Samia, Nadia works in the comfort of her home as a self-proclaimed writer. Her career is also challenging, particularly due to a competitive field, but she still lives comfortably - thanks to her parents' financial support. Samia pushes open the small, beautiful iron gate and she knocks on the door using the brass lion head.
The door opens immediately.
"Thank you so much, baby girl," Samia says, pulling Nadia into a warm bear-hug. Before entering her friend's house, Samia switches off her phone.
Meanwhile, the sky has turned dark-blue and the cold breeze flutters by, making the white curtains fly forward. Fatima shuts the window - the panes reflecting her anxious face. Her husband is sitting behind her, laughing boisterously with the anticipated guests. Just then, Hussain turns to his wife.
"Call Samia here," he instructs.
Fatima takes a deep breath. Turning around, she looks at her husband. "Can you just quickly come to the kitchen please?" She struggles to keep her face emotionless, as she hurries to the other room.
"Okay," Hussain mutters, his expression clearly showing his annoyance. Entering the kitchen, he shuts the door behind him and he looks at his wife expectantly.
"Samia's gone and she didn't come back," Fatima blurts out.
"You let her out of your sight?" Hussain questions, his teeth clenching together tightly.
"She told me she was going to buy perfume!" Fatima hisses in a defense tone.
"So, are you telling me we've got guests that have nothing to look at today?" Hussain demands coldly.
Fatima bites her nails - a habit that she does when she feels anxiety. Her husband continues looking at her with furious eyes, as if blaming her for everything that goes wrong. Fatima cannot take it anymore.
"Call her then!" The woman urges frantically.
Cursing his wife and daughter under his breath, Hussain whips out his phone and he dials Samia's number. Over and over again, Hussain gets the same automatic response. The caller you are trying to reach is currently unavailable. Call back later or leave a message after the beep!
The guests in other room have quietened down. They can sense something is wrong. "Is everything alright?" A voice calls out, sounding more impatient than concerned. The voice belongs to the young man, Yussef, who is looking at his watch for the twentieth time.
Opening the kitchen door slowly, Hussain enters the living-room with his head hanging down in shame. "I'm so sorry. My daughter... she's busy working. Something urgent came up," he cracks a nervous laughter. "Will it be possible to reschedule this meeting?"
The guests exchange glances. "We're not completely sure, but we will let you know."
Once again, as Fatima opens the door for them, she apologizes profusely on her daughter's behalf.
Yussef mutters, "Clearly they're not taking this seriously, so why should we?"
The door slams shut and the guests drive away into the cold, dark night.
It is the next morning. The birds are chirping and the noise of the lawnmower wakes Samia up. For a moment, she thinks a huge bee has flown into her bedroom. Her heart is pounding heavily, as she hates bees and she's terrified of their stings. Nadia always laughs at her phobia.
"Girl, why are you terrified of those tiny little things? They should be scared of you! Yes, they can sting you and, yes, it's not pleasant - but that's nothing! The poor little guys die afterwards and you know that."
Samia knows her friend speaks the truth, but she still feels her heart squeezing up in anxiety, even when she even imagines the black and yellow flying insect. Peeking her head outside, she sees a topless old man and she calms down. There's not a bee in sight.
However, her panic rises again when she switches on her phone. It buzzes frantically, informing her about the fifty miss calls and twenty messages from her parents. Uh-oh, she thinks, realizing that she's in trouble. Her stomach knots up and she feels sick and dreadful at the thought of facing her furious parents. Still, she knows that she cannot avoid them for life.
"It's best to get it over with as soon as possible, instead of dragging it on and building up this sickening suspense," she says, trying to reason. Samia tends to speak to herself when she's trying to keep her composure and not go berserk. She thanks Nadia, exits the beautiful, cozy house and drives away.
Standing outside her gloomy, gray house, Samia takes a deep breath. You can do this, she thinks.
Hesitantly, she opens the door and peeks her head through. The lights are still on and the house is silent - apart from the dull humming of the freezer. She shuts the door, as quietly as possible, but footsteps scurry into the hallway. Her mother is standing there, her eyes are bloodshot red and her hair is messy, like she's been running her fingers through it.
As Samia expected, rapid questions are being fired her way.
"Where the hell have you been? Where did you stay for the night? Do you realize how long you've been gone for!?"
Samia says calmly, "Mum, relax. I'm fine."
"I didn't ask how you were! I want to know who you stayed with," Fatima snaps.
"My friend," the girl replies.
Just then, her father joins her mother's side. His face is sterner than usual - like the face of thunder. Samia knows better than to wind him up.
Fatima snarls, "Do you realize you've missed another marriage proposal? You're not already with someone, are you?" The woman interrogates, glowering at her daughter suspiciously.
Before Samia can provide an answer, her father speaks up. Usually he speaks so quietly, to the point where he's murmuring, but this time his voice sounds like a boom. It makes Samia's skin jump in surprise.
"How dare you insult and embarrass this family twice! Do you have any idea how this is making us look!? Why did you do this again?"
"You already know why," Samia says, her voice quiet and trembling, while she looks down at her feet.
"I don't care what you say. Don't you dare give us that attitude because I'm so close to slapping you right now," Hussain roars, as he raises his hand in the air. Samia feels the icy fingers of fear crawling up her spine. Her bottom lips wobbles and tears are threatening to spill down the girl's face.
"The next time she messes up, you watch what I'll do to you," Hussain hisses at his wife, jabbing a warning finger into Fatima's cheek. "You better make sure that she doesn't do anything stupid!"
Samia is still looking down. She can imagine her heavy heart bursting out of her chest and sinking to the floor. The girl feels terrified to think of her mother being hurt. Growing up, she's watched her father attack Fatima so many times - the violence paralyzed the girl in fear. It will cut Samia's heart like a knife if Hussain hurts her mother - all because of her.
The father storms away, his presence still lingering like a towering black cloud. Through teary eyes, Samia looks at her mother, who is very quiet.
The girl thinks, I have to do it for her.