Yasmine Rukia is an Arab-American Muslim Social Justice Blogger, Writer, fierce feminist and sometimes poet from Dearborn, Michigan. Her work has appeared in MissMuslim, ThePoetryRag, Blue Minaret, The Civil Arab, PaperMag, and KhaberKeslan.
She lost her virginity to Dr. Wily’s Castle pulsing in the background. The 8-bit sound sprites of the infamous level felt far away, and she tried to picture her lone Megaman, his two-toned blue armor and strange smile, in the face of the unspeakable evil, Dr. Wiley with his strange mechanical arms and cheap lab coat, but she could not. Everything after the controller fell from her chilled grip felt like the static TV channel she hurriedly skipped over because the noise unsettled her.
The couch unsettled her now, too, despite its comfy brown curve of microfiber familiarity and its missing buttons. She tried to grip the arm, cross her legs, but she felt as helpless as Megaman now without careful fingers caressing the direction buttons of the controller.
“No,” But it crept like a whisper, the TV was louder.
“Don’t just lie there,” He said, casting aside hot and settling for bothered.
She felt it simmer in him as he pinned and pressed against her.
She squirmed and pleaded; “I’m not ready—I—No”
He grabbed her bare-shoulders and squeezed, hard.
“No,” her words haunted the patch of bumpy ceiling she stared at.
“No,” a mantra on cue with depleting meter of bubble-lead Megaman against the alien doctor on forgotten screen.
Pop goes the bubble; the prize and she is petrified.
“Megaman is dead.” She cries, when it’s all over, unable to find words, string combos that would drive her attacks home. She is unable display her pain like a flashing health-bar, so she sits meager and lets him hold her, smooth her frizzy hair.
“The next time you play this, I know you’ll beat it. And next time we have sex, I promise it won’t hurt.” He pecks her lightly on the mouth.
She cries for hours after he’s gone to sleep and leaves before sunset without turning off the TV.
You don’t know when it started to affect you, but you can never think about yourself without thinking about it. Surviving a thing, is becoming that thing. Entrenching yourself in that terribleness to overcome it. Many get lost in it, because it hurts less to hurt more.
People think that happiness is something that happens, I’m here to tell you it’s a choice. It’s a choice I’m not strong enough to make. The choice is easier for some over others, but that’s life.
Life is not something I will survive, so I’m choosing to end it on my own terms.
I am selfish, this is sad, but this is also the truth.
This is just another video game that bested me, I have accepted the fact that the randomness of my code doesn’t equate to winning. I was born with one heart, and never found my other two. The special item I need is never in reach, or in stock.
I have nothing to live for, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. I will not see my life flash before me, it will end in the way it started, by nothing, for nothing, in the void of nothing.
I like to think of the beginning of everything as a black hole, because we don’t know much about them other than their density that light can’t escape. My life never left that hole, the beginning, it just festered and now, it will end in its supermassive vacuum of darkness in despair.
I have no tears.
I am laughing.
God is dead, and so am I.
The piano sat in the back of the pristine good room where no one ever sat.
When she came in, she didn’t take off her jacket, or her boots.
She walked across the marble floor, trekking strange colored snow all over the white-gold patterned Persians. Past the curved stark white columns, her streaks angered the old gods of the house; smiling Russian dolls, small trinkets and bold Allah Fabergé eggs. The plastic coverings of the curved gray couches kept the cold from seeping in and the heavy curtains winked at her in-between leaks of crisp morning light. She took a seat on the polished black stool.
Mama hated that the piano was black. She scrutinized it day after day, but she would admit with a final huff that it was the only thing that fit. Salma loved the baby grand that wasn’t hers, seemingly out of place—much like herself.
It had been four months since she played to the dismay of her father, but when her fingers overcame chopsticks, Moonlight sonata filled the oblong room. The sound ricocheted off the limestone fireplace, soaked into the textured walls, and crept up the stairs. It lingered before the oak doors of the bedrooms, and invited the slumbering family to join the waking world.
Baba first ascended the stairs and scratched his head, he went to the kitchen for his coffee, came back and sat in the antique armchair next to the fireplace. His place as rightful king. After downing a modest demitasse of his mother’s coffee, he took out the matches from the mantle-box and then his Sherlock mahogany pipe. He took a long drag and tapped a slippered foot to the climbing melody.
The plumes of smoke tickled her nose but Salma enjoyed the spiced smell of her father’s tobacco.
Next came Teta, old and wrinkled like the cedars of her home across the sea. Awake all this time bustling in the kitchen; the woman never knew sleep since the war. She placed the delicate white cup with a dainty blue tulip, the same as her sons, on the stool next to her granddaughter before taking a seat. She was the presence of the house, its eyes and ears, its throbbing heart.
Ahmad and Issa, the twins, lazily climbed down the stairs as their older sister played well into the second form. They virtually challenged each other to a game of chess at the glossy dining room table five feet away. Teta rose and retreated into the kitchen soundlessly. She came back with four rolled sandwiches wrapped in paper towel, and placed a half next to the untouched cup.
This was usually how Sunday afternoons went, not Wednesday mornings at the crack of dawn.
Salma stopped playing, dropping the arpeggio as soon as her mother’s tongue clicks descends the stairs. Across the muddy stains on the carpet and the streaked marble, Mama, the lady of the house, shakes her head. The rightful queen of entrances whispers to her mother-in-law and kisses her husband on the cheek. She turns the small brass knob near the iron firesticks of the fireplace on, and sweet fire fills the room. The woman was always cold, even in the chic sweats she wore.
Salma turns from the piano and clasps her cup with shaking hands. She gulps the luke-warm coffee, quick like a shot, and breaks the silence.
“Teta, can you read my cup?” She asks in Arabic, hoping this buys her some time to work past the knots in her stomach.
Ahmad and Issa cry “boater,” before begging teta for more sandwiches and Baba shushes them grinning.
Mama watches silently tapping her foot all the while, her face hard like stone, masking the distress she feels through her sixth sense. Her daughter has been acting strange.
“Eat your sandwich,” Teta commands, pointing a bony finger, “and bring your cup here.”
Salma jumps from the bench, takes a bite of her sandwich, famous olive and Syrian cheese, and delivers the cup. All without meeting the eyes of her family asking questions she doesn’t entirely have the answers to; Where have you been? Where are you going?”
Teta swirls the cup in her right hand, her wrist a gentle ellipse, and then overturns it on the pale saucer. She waits a moment muttering arabic too fast and quiet for her granddaughter’s dumb ears, and removes the cup. She squints her eyes and bulges them in repeating patterns before announcing what the fates revealed;
“The blind owl,
holds a nail in its claw,
before the great door,
you may die,
or you may live,
when great calamity strikes,
if only you listen,”
Everyone laughs because they’ve heard this a thousand and one times before, it’s Teta’s favorite poem and her only fortune.
Salma chokes on her sandwich and stands abruptly, almost catching her boots on the naked floor. In the cup she sees the ghost of 8-bit Megaman winking. She slips her acceptance letter in her father’s free hand before leaving the room.
The hurried scrawled note reads; ‘if you let me go, I’ll marry Ali ibn Amo Ayoub’.
She hated a lot about him, but she hated him the most when he ate tuna. The way he ate, the way the tuna smelled on him, the stale carrots and wilted cabbage. The leftover miracle whip on his lip and the lettuce in his smiling white teeth made her gag.
“I’m leaving for California after finals, I’m finishing my degree at UCLA.” She picks at her salad, pushing around the tomatoes and cucumbers, wishing she was someplace else, someone else.
The fish slop leaks out of his sandwich and onto his lap, soiling his blue-jeans. He wipes it haphazardly making it worse. Like most decisions he’s made over the course of this relationship, fish-pants is the icing on her cake. He manages to get some on his Megaman shirt, the blue one with the classic 8-bit sprite blown up, she bought him because it’s his favorite game and hers and the reason they got together.
“That’s really sudden Salma?” He is hurt, she sees it in his green eyes, and she is secretly glad. She failed at leaving him for the better half of the year. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, and she couldn’t make him see past her fake smiles. Her mother’s training for the life of an Arab housewife was too good.
“I meant to tell you, I just wasn’t sure how to—”
Real tears fall from her eyes despite the emptiness of her words, all she does is lie to him and he deserves it.
“So you’re just going to leave me, throw us away?”
“Yes,” no hesitation, no regret, the only word he understands.
His lip twitches, under his teeth are grinding in protest, the same way they did six months ago.
“I’d be willing to try long-distance, I love—“
“It’s better this way, I don’t care to try.”
He slams the table and his lunch splashes her face.
She doesn’t flinch, her eyes are fixed firmly on Megaman. He’ll die the same way he did that afternoon, the way she almost did on tetas prescriptions.
“I don’t love you anymore,”
“Well, I never loved you, you whore, cunt, stupid bitch—”
“I’m glad we’re on the same page for once.”
In my dreams, I walk through a neighborhood of crows. The trees are dead and heat radiates from the singing asphalt beneath my feet. The low echo of short caws fills my empty shadow made by a ghost sun. I walk to my house that is not my house and open the doors, the white walls blind me with their purity. There’s an empty chair in a dark room with a single dangling lightbulb and I sit not knowing what else to do. The Crows leave my metaphysical shadow in a show of black whirls and fly over the TV. The tube flicks into life, as quick as a holy breath and the dropped feather in my lap turns into a controller. With darkness as my only witness and the air, and wood and metal in my bones I press start.
I hope to finish this game. They say that feeding the parts of ourselves that are good, makes us good but when bad things happen to good people you start to wonder.
Quick, like the fleeting seconds of bubbles, I realize I never cared for Megaman at all.
The alien doctor fooled me once, and I fooled him twice.
I fought with him that time in the bathroom when I took too many pills. Teta heard me screaming in our empty house, throwing myself away from his mechanical octopus arms. She unlocked the door from the outside, barged in and slapped me until I stopped screaming and when she did it was like he never existed, and I threw up. But I feel this weight in me, and I feel like it was tied to the singing asphalt and the spines of the feather that fell into my lap. I pressed the buttons on my controller and they kept spelling out RAPE, no matter what I pressed. And somehow naming it, saying it, lets the feeling leave, escape, fly off into the murder, the program into the recycling bin on your computer because you tinker with emulators to play classic games your parents never cared to buy you because you’re a girl.
Teta is blaring Quran in my room and burning bay leaves because she thinks a Jinn is fucking with my mind. I tell her Jinn has always fucked with my mind and she slapped me again.
I feed myself with sunflower seeds and green-orbed olives and vow this is the last time I drop acid, but I hear that in California tripping is the default.
The house of the heart beats behind her and sees her out.
It is an easy walk to the car, the street is still asleep, and she has time to say her goodbyes to the feral cat near the fence, the weeds that come before the flowers, the smelly trashcan she won’t be dragging to the garage anymore.
She gets into her Honda and tosses the controller next to the wheel. Like a wedding glass it crushes under the groan of her Accord, and the last thing that touches her ears as she set’s out west, is Teta’s only English phrase:
“God be with you.”