The sun rose, sending sharp rays through the wooden slats, right onto Ilma’s sleeping form. The dark sheet of colour over her closed eyes slowly turned orange as the day dawned bright and clear, tickling the last remnants of a dream that unfolded itself before her sleep-filled eyes. Wispy lines of people floated about in her dream. She saw herself, a woman in a smart suit, crisp and crease-free, and a briefcase in her hand. She dreamt of herself presenting a paper in a room full of smart men and women. They were applauding her, smiling with encouragement writ large on their faces. Bravo, someone said, clapping her shoulder in appreciation. Excellent job, many of them said as they shook her hands. What a presentation, her senior said, gently patting her head.
Suddenly, the pats on her head turned rougher and repetitive. And a final, sharp cuff on the centre of her head woke her up.
Ilma woke up in a trice, jerking back to the sordid reality that was hers. Wake up, you fool, said her mother. I wish I had given birth to a thief! To have a fool in my womb such as you.....!
Ilma sighed inwardly, and set about starting another day, another journey in her fight against the emotional burden of growing up. Each morning, Ilma was used to a routine such as this. A dream suffused with ambition would whittle about to nothingness, settle into the depths of her memory, irrecoverable in detail, but just as wispy filaments. Her mother would wake her up just as the sun would rise, shouting at her saying, "Shine your eyes, I nor born fool!”
Ilma had three sisters, all of whom were married to old white expats, each with a massive stake in different oil companies. The girls themselves were taken abroad, treated like royalty. Their aim in life was merely an idle pursuit of vanity, of riches, of wealth- wealth that they themselves had little to do to earn. But Ilma? Ilma was different. She wanted to study, to earn, to be someone in society, and not just someone’s wife.
What are you dreaming at, fool? Her mother’s voice sounded. Do you have anything to you? Or are you not like that girl Seli, next door? Have you seen her? Have you seen how she has a big boy come visit her daily, in that huge land rover of his? And you? What are you doing?
Ilma waded through her morning ablutions, obligatory catering to the perfunctory necessities that she had to attend to. She left home to buy her daily groceries for the house, before she sat down to cook. Her curvaceous figure attracts all kinds of attention, she notices, as men offer her rides, send out catcalls... The temptation is great. But the emotions that surge through Ilma’s mind sends her heart racing with anxiety. What can she do in life? Her only dream of going to university is snatched away from her. Who can she turn to? If her father was alive... would anything have changed? What sense would it make to wish for things outside her grasp?
As she walked on to the market, picking out the vegetables she would need for a day, she noticed a father and his daughter.
Can I buy the princess doll today? The daughter seemed to ask her father.
Yes, you may! And then, some years later, you can marry a man who would keep you just like the princess doll. You will live in a doll-house, and be rich.
Ilma’s heart sank. This wasn’t just her reality. Girls before and after her generation were stunted in their intellectual growth. Each, a bud forced to bloom into only those flowers that their society decided for them. They were all roses, as thorns of outside pressure and forgotten ambitions pierced their bodies, and let the blood of ambition flow until all that was left of them were empty cadavers of beauty and attractiveness- just so the old men would single them out and make accessory wives out of them.
For the few roses that wanted to shine white, the road of ambition was peppered with challenges. Sleep with them, and then get a job. Or else, marry a rich man and be rich for life. Should she do either? Should she, like her friend with a sugar daddy who told her that this thing has no meter reading, most girls are doing it, do the same?
Ilma would ask herself this each day. Answers eluded her, her reality binding her tight to the harsh ground she walked each day.
Kirthi Gita Jayakumar