“C’mon. Let’s go!” Zainab yells into my ear.
“What? Where?” I yell back. “Follow my lead.” She pulls my arm, and I accompany her around the side of the building, and in the side doors. She pauses to consult the directory; gynecology is on the fourth floor.
“What are we doing?” I ask, but she shushes me and pulls me into the elevator. Inside, there are two other ridawalas, and I realize that we look like them; patients on our way to appointments. On the fourth floor, Zainab pauses, as though considering our next move, then takes me by the elbow down a long hallway.
“Zainab! What are you doing?” I ask, but she shakes her head.
“I’m leaving.” I turn to go.
“No, please, I need you! Just pretend you’re here for an appointment,” she whispers, glancing around fearfully. Again, no one looks at us askance, the ridas our camouflage. She shoots me a look of desperation. “Please, just come with me.”
She takes my hand, and worried for her, I follow, her lady-inwaiting in this unfamiliar game of make-believe.
Ahead is a desk where a receptionist in an emerald rida types at a computer. Sitting beside her is our great-great-grandfather, who thumbs a rolodex. He looks up, nods in acknowledgment. I blink, and then he is gone, the index cards abandoned.
“Name, please?” the receptionist asks. Zainab offers her first and her maiden name and says she has an appointment with Dr. Master. The receptionist squints at her computer display, searching for the missing information, and Zainab says, “Sorry, must go to the bathroom.”
She grabs my hand and we flee down the hall, our ridas like wings flapping around us. I have no idea what we are doing, but I know I can’t stop Zainab. And I can’t leave her alone to do whatever unhinged thing she’s about to do. Can I?
“You gave her your name?” I hiss-whisper.
“I know, it was stupid. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t think of that when I was planning this.”
She places her finger in front of her mouth to silence me and then gestures with her eyebrows to the door in front to us. Its nameplate reads RUBINA MASTER.
Zainab turns the knob and bursts in. A woman in a white coat, who is standing by a window, turns to look at us.
“Can I help you?”
“Don’t you remember me? We went to St. Mary’s together, Rubina. I’m Zainab. I was passing by with my cousin and I thought I’d come up and warn you about the protest downstairs.”
“I can see it with my own two eyes.” Rubina gestures to the window. “These people are such liars.”
“Yes, it is so bad the way that women these days are taking up this cause. They are bringing shame to our community.” My eyes bug out at Zainab. What is she saying?
“I know, it’s just a small thing, and they are making it into a mountain.”
“And why are they targeting you? I mean you do khatna under sterile conditions, not like the traditional way, no?”
“Yes, that’s right. I wish everyone would come to doctors for it. It becomes a safe, medical procedure. Like with boys.”
“Yes, that was what I was telling my cousin here. She’s in town until next week with her seven-year-old daughter. Can you squeeze in an appointment for them?”
“Yes, just ask my receptionist out there.” She scans the crowd outside. “The procedure is very quick. We can do it before you go.”
My brain unscrambles and I ask, “Do you use an anaesthetic cream?” For some reason, I want to confirm Maasi’s account of the procedure.
“You can get one if you want, but it’s not required,” she says distractedly. Perhaps Maasi’s report was based on hearsay.
“Very modern, no? When we were kids, it was done in some aunty’s flat.” Zainab laughs, shakes her head. Despite her pretend positivity, her words bring back that apartment, the waiting, the fear. I inhale, shake it away. “
Releasing in Canada and the US this September, Seven is Farzana Doctor’s fourth and most ambitious novel to date. The novel sensitively addresses women’s relationships, sexuality, infidelity, intergenerational violence, religion and healing sexual trauma within the context of the insular Dawoodi Bohra (sub-sect of Shia Islam) community. Seven is also the first novel of its kind to address female genital cutting in the Bohra community.
Seven is “invaluable” (Booklist) and “an intimate, gutsy feminist novel” (Foreword Reviews) that bravely tackles a difficult issue, one that is too rarely considered but is close to Farzana’s heart as she actively campaigns against FGM in her own community. Twitter: @farzanadoctor
Gokul Prabhu is a graduate of Ashoka University, India, with a Postgraduate Diploma in English and creative writing. He works as an administrator and teaching assistant for the Writing and Communication facility at 9dot9 Education, and assists in academic planning for communication, writing and critical thinking courses across several higher-ed institutes in India. Prabhu’s creative and academic work fluctuates between themes of sexuality and silence, and he hopes to be a healthy mix of writer, educator and journalist in the future. He occasionally scribbles book reviews and interviews authors for Scroll.in, an award-winning Indian digital news publication.
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