We are fortunate enough to have a great relationship with Salt Lake Community College. Maisoon is taking an English class that is participating in a service-learning program. Maisoon was born in California and loved it. When she was six years old, her family moved to Palestine for several years. While she was there, she married. Eleven years ago she and her husband came back to the United States and now live in Utah to be close to family. She has three daughters and wants them to get a good education and feels strongly about setting a good example.
Maisoon was interested in learning more about gender equality in extreme poverty through the lens of menstruation. After graduation, Maisoon wants to work in the nonprofit industry as a writer. To help facilitate that, she researched what menstruation looks like for women living in extreme poverty and wrote this fictional piece. The most surprising thing to Maisoon was that some women are still banished to a shed when they are menstruating. "I didn't know that still happened. I knew that women were unlikely to go to school, but I didn't know this," said Maisoon.
THE WHITE PILL
I wore the red lipstick that matched the dress he brought me. I neatly arranged the dinner table with his favorite dish and elegant silverware that reflected the golden specular light from the crystal chandelier hanging right above the dining table. I ground and added them to the red drinks. The smell of curry and coconut milk filled the air, which overpowered any other smell.
It was midnight, and I was thirteen and four months when I was thrown in the mud hut, left alone to bleed. The village was about one mile away. For five days and five nights, I was left with no food or water. My mum and sister were not allowed to come and check on me during this period. I could have been eaten by a wild creature, or kidnapped or killed by a hungry stranger, and no one would ever know. I have never experienced a pain this strong before. My screams escaped the spaces in between the straws that covered the roof to the middle of the forest. The pain gradually occupied my body from head to toe. I pressed my arms against my waist, hoping that I would stop the pain, but it only got sturdier.
“Suggi, it’s time for you to be harvested,” my mother once said. “Like your name. It means ‘harvest,’” she added. She looked into my eyes and saw the fear clouding them, but like always, she ignored what she saw behind them, directing her sight elsewhere.
“But Mom, what about my school?”
She quickly interrupted me. “What school? You know well that we can’t afford to pay for your school anymore,” she snapped. “School is a waste of time and money. This is more important than school.”
I always knew, and I waited disappointedly for the day my mom would announce the decision. I feared that day, in my dreams, it haunted me. I secretly wished that my brother would be forced to drop out of his school like me and my older sister.
“Your father is discussing the matter with Aranab,” my mom added with excitement. “Soon our life will get better.” She looked into my eyes and doubtfully said, “and your life will get better too.” My mom doesn't usually look into my or my sister’s eyes. I knew that there was something terrible coming along. As she walked away with her thin body and tired steps, she told me, “Suggi, Aranab will come back in the next couple months when you are ready,” and then she left the room without looking back.
My pink dress, decorated with brown dots, was soaked with water. The rain seeped through the roof and washed the place. It was very small, barely enough space to lay down. I squeezed my wet body in the corner. My legs are stretched out, pushing the zinc door further outward. My back is nested against the back wall, and my left hip is pressed against the left sidewall. There were only two feet between me and the other sidewall on the right.
“You are thirteen now, Suggi,” my sister once said as she handed me my birthday gift. It was a sewed fabric the size of my two palms put together that looked like an airplane with two wings. “You will use this soon,” she advised me with hesitation. She hugged me with strong arms. “I know that this isn't going to be easy, but it's just the way things are here.” I gazed into her eyes, looking for answers, but I only found fear and solicitude. “I want you to be strong,” she added.
And indeed, it wasn’t easy. Four months later I was sent to that hut, undergoing what my mom calls “getting ready.” Becoming a real woman, ready to deal with responsibilities, stained with blood.
I clearly heard the snake hissing next to me rubbing its skin against the corn husk that laid beneath me. But it was pitch black, and I couldn't see what was around me. I pressed my left hand against the wall, and my right hand on the ground, trying to support my weight up. But before I managed to get up, I felt a sting on my right foot. As soon as my hands reached my foot, there was nothing there except for a puncture that felt stiff and swollen. My head was spinning and my heart was racing. I felt the heat rushing through my veins. I couldn’t move my body. I froze in that corner until the dawn of the next morning. Many girls who had come here before me had died from a snake bite. I wasn’t one of them, but my sister almost was. Her leg was ripped off from her calf down to her ankle, exposing her bones. She was not able to walk again.
“Here is your first payment.” Aranab handed my mom 2500 rupees. She grabbed my arm and kissed my head without looking into my eyes, and with a choked voice she said, “She is ready now.”
I knew it once I laid my foot on that street. It was a long way from home to end up in the red-light area in India. “Get out of the car,” Aranab commanded. It was a black van with many girls and women crammed in. Their ages varied, some were young and others were older, but none of us were over 24. I was the youngest among them as I remember. When it was my turn to get out of the car, Aranab pushed me out, grabbing me from the shoulder.
“Thirteen,” he shouted as if we were sheep being prepared to be sold or slaughtered. Thirteen was also my age, a perfect age for the job.
It was the evening of a summer day. The twilight with different shades of red and orange sunk behind the tall buildings of the city. There was a thin veil of dust and smoke unwinding the sky above us. Aranab guided us with the other two men who dressed in blue jeans and colorful short-sleeved shirts opened all the way to their chests. The hair on their chest curled around the thick silver necklaces they had around their necks. They carried their whips around to maintain order.
It was a three-story building with a rusty staircase that led to many rooms. The place smelled like old blood. As we ascended the stairs, I moved my head slowly to not attract attention, enough to see the girls behind me. There was no sign of resistance, so I held my thoughts, at least for that moment.
Thirteen was also the number of the room that we were lead to. “These are the girls you asked for,” Aranab remarked.
“Lovely,” responded the lady with excitement who was expecting us. With her index finger, she ordered the girls who stood behind her without turning around. “Take them, clean them, and dress them,” she proclaimed.
We were given new names. My new name was Akanksha, which meant a strong desire or longing for something or someone. I was also given a room, but I had to rotate turns with the other girls. The room was small, with one plastic window covered with red nylon curtains. The wall that supported the bed was decorated with colorful neon lights. There was a grayish-brown wooden cupboard, chipped at the edges placed beside the bed. The cupboard had a drawer with a loose, rusty, rounded handle that jingled when it opened. The smell of the room was musty, mixed with damp perfume. I was used to musty smells, but not like this one. I knew that there was something wrong by the way this whole place looked, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.
“This is your room for tonight, Akanksha,” the lady said. “Get read.”
I didn’t say anything. I just stood there. I didn't know how I should feel or what I should say. Thirty minutes later, the door opened, with an old, heavy man standing behind it. He dressed in a black suit and smelled like a rich man. His gazes burst with desire and excitement, which I didn’t understand at the time. As he approached me, I panicked with screams and sobbing.
“Shush, don’t be afraid, I won’t hurt you,” he begged. But I couldn’t make sense of what was going on. I continued to scream with choked weeps.
The lady forced her way into the room, accompanied by an oversized man. The old man jumped off the bed with a pale look on his face. “I am not pleased,” directing his words to the lady.”
“This is her first night here, sir. She is untamed,” she explained politely. She turned her head toward the oversized man, “Do your job,” she demanded.
He nodded his head and dragged me from the corner of the bed and threw me on it, stretching my hands and legs as far as they could reach. He tied them against the four poles of the bed, unwinding the whip that curled around his hand.
“This is what you get for disobeying,” the lady threatened with an icy look and a half smile on. I passed out due to the pain inflicted by the whips that mapped the back of my feet with red lines.
I was shipped to the old man’s mansion to cook and clean for him, and most importantly to “please” him. One day I woke up to find myself undressed, laying on a master bed, gilded with gold. The old man was sitting on the side of the bed, holding a rounded white pill between his index and middle finger. I took the pill without saying a word.
“Good girl, Akanksha,” he said. As I took the pill from his hand, I noticed something different in me. I moved my hands back and forth to examine them. They looked mature. I pulled the cover off to examine my body. My legs are taller, my hair is longer, my voice is different. I looked back at him with astonishment.
“How long have I been here?” I asked in a worried voice.
“Not for so long. Only for three years,” he laughed and added, “The power of two pills is always better than the power of one.”
Two pills are always required when he is in the mood for playing rough.
I always wanted to plug them in his mouth each time he gave me two pills. “Please, I don't want to do this anymore,” I would say. But he would ignore me as always. “One is enough. please, please,” I would beg, but with no use. I knew that I had to do something. I can’t continue with this.
Each time he handed me two pills, I would move my hand slowly to not attract his attention, enough to reach the bottom of my pillow. It took me two months to save eight pills.
One morning, as we were sitting around the table eating our breakfast, he pulled a red dress, which was decorated with golden beads and opened from the back, from an elegant white shopping bag placed on the floor against his chair. “Wear it tonight,” he demanded. He wiped his lips with a white cloth after he was done with his food and then got up and took off to work.
Later in the evening, I was setting up the table for dinner when I heard the keys clicking against the door lock. I stood by the table with one hand on my waist and the other hand stretched out before me, welcoming his return. He looked at me, studying my body as he walked toward the dining room, impressed by the red that wrapped my slim body and my full lips. He smiled and sat down.
“This is your favorite dish, chicken with curry and coconut milk,” I noted. He nodded his head without saying a word. He scooped a chicken from his plate and brushed his hand softly against my neck with his other hand, and then fiercely pulled my head by my hair against his chest without any warnings. I didn’t resist. I forced a smile as I laid my right hand on his face, moving it gently from his forehead to his lips to the back of his neck, pushing him closer. And with my other hand, I grabbed the red wine and brushed it tenderly over our lips.
I can hear the breathing grow louder, and the heartbeats pounding faster. Our hands retreated with uneasiness, causing me to drop the glass of wine on the floor. “Thank your white pill,” I moaned with a gasp escaping my pained blue lips.