Rizana

(Note: This story is based on the life of Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan girl convicted and subsequently executed in Saudi Arabia for the alleged murder of four-month-old Naif al-Quthaibi.)

“Aunty, when will Rizana come? Any news about her?”

Rizana’s cousin (a relative likely to marry her) works for a multipurpose store for a meager salary. He hadn’t known of her departure for Saudi Arabia. Had he known, he would have stopped her going. But no, everything happened in secrecy.

“Aunty, it’s nearly seven years now.”

“Yes, my nephew.”

“All efforts are being made, we understand. Everybody is trying to get her released, everybody without regard to our differences, religious, ethnic. Politicians frequently visit Arabia and even speak with the Monarch. Human Rights organizations are working hard to get her released. Rizana will be free soon.”

“Please do not worry, Aunty,” he says. “For everything there is Allah.”

Raazik leaves but only to return with a new determination on his mind.

“I will nikkah Rizana. If we get married they will send her back.”

His aunt’s face bares no smile. It remains frozen. She only says, “Son, let Rizana return first.” 

***

Rizana writes: Umma I wanted to study. I would have become a doctor or lawyer or a teacher, Mother. I dropped out of school and went to Saudi only to fill our stomachs. I wanted to turn our cadjan hut into a solid home, I didn’t expect to suffer for years in prison, awaiting death.

Her mother weeps.

Rizana writes: I did not commit any sin, Mother. I too am a child. How would I know how to look after a baby? The baby suffocated while drinking milk. I gently tapped the baby’s neck. This is what happened. This is the truth. Allah! I thought the child was sleeping, and I went to bed. It’s only later I came to know that the baby had Mowuthaaki.

In Rizana’s mother’s eyes there are ponds made of flames.

She thinks of the Arabian woman who tortured her daughter, Rizana, beat her, and took her to the police. She thinks about Rizana being kicked and battered by men who do not look like her, who do not speak like her, at the station. There was no communication possible; she screamed her innocence, they screamed their accusations. The deaf and the blind talking to each other. She imagines her daughter confessing to a crime she did not commit. Yes, she killed the baby, yes, she’ll sign a statement written in a language she cannot read saying she did so. If only they would stop.

Rizana’s mother thinks of the sentence that was passed: death.

Rizana’s thinks the same thoughts over and over again: I never committed a crime. I am without guilt. I will be acquitted. I will be with my Umma and Waappa.

She is a bird, familiar with her leaking hut, her village school, her parents at the center of both. Now she is on a road on a scorching desert the residence of a mistress, a prison in an Arab country. She was a bird who sat in the palms of people who cared for her. She is a bird in a cage now, alone within the walls of a prison.

Rizana writes: Umma, why are they still keeping me in prison? I am not guilty. Don’t they know? Will you come and take me home? I want to be with my siblings. I want to go home.

In Rizana’s mother’s eyes there are ponds made of flames. 

***

Raazik thinks about the many women like Rizana who are awaiting death in Saudi prisons. They are like cancer patients, anticipating death. Among them are prisoners who are accused of killing their masters. He understands why. There are too many women who have come home to tell of the ways in which they have been raped by those men and forced to remain silent. He thinks of their choices: to speak and be driven away from home and then arrested for being without papers, or to stay, say nothing, and hope for safe return home. He thinks of the women contemplating what it feels like to be beheaded. He thinks and he thinks.

Rizeek thinks: If only Rizana had revealed her true age, seventeen, she would not have left for Saudi Arabia. If only she had not left, she would not be in prison waiting for death. 

***

The wedding hall is festive. It is the wedding of the grandson of Sharifdeen Haadjiar. There are decorations in colored bulbs, and the bridal platform is festooned with fresh and fragrant flowers. The bride wears too much makeup and she sits like a wax doll. The hall is filled with billionaires, millionaires, business moguls, politicians, artists, literary people, and the media.

Sharifdeen Haadjiar moves about here and there receiving guests and exchanging pleasantries and expressing courtesies. There is pride written on his face and he walks about with his head held high and straight.

Food is yet to be served. The guests in the meantime gossip and sip the cool drinks set out on the dining tables.

“Does anyone know how much they paid for this hall?”

“For this and the upstairs, it sees, three and a half lakhs.”

“Who said that? It can’t be that much?”

“It was Sharifdeen Haadjiar who said that?”

“Each meal costs four thousand rupees. Four thousand per head.”

“What an injustice! This meal of rice is apparently made of gold!”

Someone says, “It seems our Rizana has been hanged.”

“What? When was it?”

“Today.”

“Oh my Allah! How could they do this? Poor Rizana.”

“How could it have happened? The Ministers visited Saudi Arabia so frequently. Even a day or two ago there was an announcement that she would be released.”

“All that was empty talk.”

There is an overpowering scent of hot rice cooked in ghee.

Someone says, “More than the men, I hear the Arab women have hearts made of stone. How could they behead this unripe girl?”

“Don’t say that Haji. All of them aren’t the same. It was the mother of the child who behaved like a demon. Only she could have forgiven Rizana. She chose not to.”

The guests grow quiet, this scene playing on their mind, this scene of Rizana being murdered, her head severed from her torso. They have no appetite.

Finally one of them says, “It’s all Allah’s wish. Why condemn the Saudis? Our prophet said, Even if Fathima Nayaki stole I would say cut her hands. Under the Shariah Law the King and the pauper are equals.”

Someone else says, “No one blames the Sharia Law. It is correct. But we want to know whether the judgment was correct. Was the inquiry held properly?”

“Why do we blame them? Why do we blame the Arab men and the Arab women? Why not our own community? We sent Rizana to Saudi Arabia. Why did we do that? She was a child in school. She left because she was poor. She went to earn money and help her family. This blame is ours.”

A newspaper man says, "Did anyone care for her leaking hut in a corner of her village? Her head would have been safe had we concerned ourselves with the plight of her family.”

Raazik only listens. He leaves without eating the expensive meal, without speaking. 

***

Raazik cannot believe what he has heard. He imagines that it is rumor. It was a rumor, he says aloud, feeling unsteady on his feet. He goes to the mosque and prays the Rakath twice, and asks Thuaak for Rizana. He says, “Allah who is Great, let this news be false.”

At the hut where Rizana once lived, where he had known her and loved her, there is a crowd of people. There are no politicians. There are lamentations and tears. He stops and watches and he sees the tears of these people among whom she had once lived rise up and become a flood. He sees Rizana’s hut submerged.

© Kalaivaathy Kaleel. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2013 by K. S. Sivakumaran. All rights reserved.