Adia and I sat crossed-legged and barefoot on her bed, a jigsaw puzzle laid out before us. It was about two days after the incident with Farsef (my estimation isn't too accurate on this - I am writing it years after the fact, after all) and my parents had forced this 'playdate' on me. Another attempt to get their socially inept daughter out of the house.
I watched Adia stick her tongue out in concentration as she tried to fit two puzzle pieces together. ''It won't go in." She sounded so put out by this fact, like it was the worst possible thing that could happen. The girl was pathetic.
"You're holding it the wrong way," I said, reaching out to take the piece from her. "See? It's meant to go in like this."
Smiling, I fixed up the pieces so they fit like a glove. Adia beamed. "Thanks, Saria. It's really pretty, don't you think?"
"Hm? Oh, yeah. Yeah, I guess it is."
I looked at the jigsaw. It was that of Kabul's national forest, and all the flora and fauna that one could find in there. I guess, on some small level, I did find a rare beauty in it. Purity. An innocence not unlike that of the happy, bubbly little girl sitting across from me. Something that a lot of people would try to preserve, to save.
Adia moved it off the bed - carefully placing it on her desk so it wouldn't break - and sat beside me. She leaned her head against her palm and looked over at me. She seemed so totally, utterly delighted to have me as a friend, so happy that, finally, she would have an older girl to look up to.
It was almost fascinating, in a way, to see myself from someone else' eyes. It was like the Saria Adia thought she knew was an completely different entity, a tightrope walker across a thread of lies - teetering dangerously over the edge.
And the truth was the only thing left to fall into.
Lunchtime, I found myself unfortunately cornered by Masood. Surprisingly enough, he looked even worse than he had the last time I saw him. He had huge bags under his eyes, like he'd gotten on the wrong side of a heavyweight boxer. His posture was slumped and each word he spoke was punctuated with a hacking cough. It was almost comical, in a disgusting sort of way.
"You're in Adia's class, aren't you?" He leaned against the wall, arms folded. I had to crane my neck to look up at him.
"Yeah," I said. "I am."
Masood looked me up and down, lips pursed, as if he were scrutinising my words for some deeper meaning. To someone lesser skilled at manipulation than I, this might have been the excuse to crack under the pressure, but I kept cool.
Finally, he spoke again; "I... I know we haven't known each other very long but, uh, thanks.. for being her friend. She.. I really appreciate you looking out for her."
I could barely hide my smirk. He wasn't wrong, per se. I was looking out for Adia, though not in the way her gullible, foolish brother would expect. I was molding her, changing her. I was taking the fragile pieces of that naive girl and building them back up into something stronger. Something unbreakable.
Under my control, she would flourish. She would blossom. She would have the power she had denied even to herself.
I nodded. "You don't need to thank me, Masood. I'm grateful to have her as a friend just as much as she is to have me."
He looked like he was about to hug me, then, so I ducked under his arm and headed for the stairs again. I'm not a hugger, you see, and I'm definetly not a hugger of sick people. I'd rather do without their disgusting, contagious germs spreading all over me. Why should I need to suffer too, just because he wanted to show some stupid, false display of affection?
The hurt look on his face when I walked away was worth its entire weight in gold.
Almost worth as much as the huge, beaming smile I got when I walked back into Adia's room to find her waiting for me with a plate of her mother's freshly baked cookies, and two glasses of milk.
Her eyes lit up, as if seeing me was the greatest gift anyone in the world could have ever given her. I knew she loved me, knew she would follow me to the ends of the earth if only I asked.
She was so stupid, so easy to control. The perfect experiment for me to test my skills on.
I sat beside her and bit into a cookie. The delicious taste of mouth-watering chocolate chip enveloped my senses within a matter of seconds. "Wow." I daintily wiped the edge of my mouth with the corner of my sleeve. "These are.. amazing."
Adia giggled. "Mommy's a good baker. Does your mommy bake, Saria?"
"She used to," I said. "When I was little."
"I like baking!" Adia chirped. I had to refrain from throwing my eyes to heaven at how enthusiastic she was. "I wanna be a baker when I grow up, and run my own cafe with loads of cookies and hot chocolate and cupcakes and I hope I can make people happy. I really, really want my baking to make people happy."
She bounced in her seat as she spoke, hands gesturing wildly, eyes bright and expressive. Making people happy was obviously a dream of hers, though I couldn't understand why.
Their happiness wouldn't give her security, wouldn't keep a roof over her head at night. Making people smile meant nothing - it wouldn't give you money, or fame, or even recognition. All it was, really, was a waste of time and energy, a deluded dream I intended to stamp out of her.
After all, what's the point of working so hard to ensure other's happiness when the thing you lost was your own?
Adia's garden was one of the most well-kept I'd ever seen - second only to my own. Freshly cut grass that tickled under our feet as we walked, the flowers made everything come alive in a whirlwind of colours and beauty. I likened it to the jigsaw we'd done earlier that morning. Obviously the Quadiri's were huge nature freaks.
We crossed to the swings and sat down. I wrapped my tiny hands around the ropes, kicking my legs back and forth. The undercoat of my cream dress itched the backs of my thighs, which was annoying as all hell. Adia scuffed her feet along the ground, the soles filthy, her tan legs knocking together, over and over.
Then, she spoke. "Saria?"
She leaned forward, beckoning me with her finger, as though she was about to indulge some huge secret only I was allowed know. The next words to come from her mouth would make or break our entire relationship - all depending on how I responded.
"Is it true your brother bit Farsef Sajihdi's ear off?"
I froze. I had been expecting this, somewhat. Farsef's beating was news among the children, after all. Everyone knew about it, though they were too afraid to tell their parents.
Assef had even earned himself a new nickname: Assef Gokshor, or "Assef the Ear Eater". Of course, none of them would dare call him that, unless they wanted to share Farsef's miserable fate.
But to be faced now, with Adia, a girl who I so desperately wanted to mold into my own image - I had no clue how to respond. What did I say? I couldn't deny it but at the same time I knew I would have to be careful with what I said. I wanted to change the girl, but slowly. Carefully. She was like clay; if I was too rough with her, she would break.
After a few minutes of tense silence, I did something that was incredibly rare for me.
I told the truth.
"Yes. Yes, he did."
Her eyes became two saucers and she shrank away from me, as though terrified the same fate might befall her. "But.. but.. why?!"
I shrugged and leaned back. "Because he teased me. Because he wouldn't just leave me alone. Because he pushed me off the wall and split my damn head open. Because he needed to be taught a lesson and this was the only way to teach him.
Because, Adia, he deserved it."
She shook her head, sighing. The look in her eyes was so patronising it made me want to break her fucking jaw.
"No, he didn't. Saria.." She reached out to take my hand but I pulled away. "You can't just hurt people because they're mean to you. That makes you no better than the bullies. I.. Don't you ever think about how Farsef felt, about how much pain he must be in? He lost an ear, Saria, he's gonna be bullied and teased now and.."
We locked eyes. She had tears in hers, and mine were dry. "I don't understand how you think what your brother did is a good thing, Saria. He.. He's a monster."
The words hit me like a freight train, a crushing blow to the heart. There was a deathly silence between us, the kind that happens when a bomb has been deactivated, but you're still unsure whether or not it will go off. So you sit there, watching, waiting. Not knowing if your life will end in those next few moments, or if you will be spared.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Was she serious? Had I heard correctly? Did she really just say that?
She called Assef a monster.
Assef. My brother. The person who I loved more than any single person in the world. The person I would die for. The person who lit up my life, and who knew me better than anyone.
She called him a monster.
In that moment, I no longer cared about keeping control. I no longer cared about protecting the girl, or appearing perfect. She had well and truly bulldozed over the fucking line.
"Don't ever say that again!" I snarled, grabbing her arm. I dug my nails in hard, leaning in so we were nose to nose. "Don't you ever, ever say such a thing. You don't know my brother, you don't know me. How dare you judge us?! You don't know a goddamn fucking thing!"
"I... I.." Adia whimpered, trying to pull away from me. Tears pooled in the corners of her eyes. "I... Why are y-you b-being mean to me, S-S-Sar-"
I cut her off before she could finish. "You're driving me to it, Adia. I don't want to be mean. You're my friend. But.. calling my brother a monster isn't a very nice, now, is it?"
I looked towards the window to ensure nobody was watching, then twisted the soft upper flesh on Adia's arm, making her cry out in pain. I knew it would probably bruise later, but that didn't matter.
"I don't like hurting you, Adia, but you really upset me. You.. If you think Assef's a monster, then maybe you think I am, too."
She shook her head, soft whimpers emanating from her lips, trying to pull away from my iron grip. ''I.. I d-don't t-think you're a m-monster, Saria.. I don't. Please, I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
I looked at her for what must have felt like the longest minute of her life. She did seem truly remorseful; no point in dragging the punishment on unnecessarily. I released her arm, and pulled her close.
"Good." I stroked her hair, not because I felt any level of sympathy, but because doing so would twist and warp her mind even more. "All forgiven now, and I know you aren't going to do that again, right?"
I smiled. She was so easy to control. All I had to do was say a few sweet words, offer a comforting hug, and instantly all the pain I'd just caused was forgiven and forgotten. She was learning well; everything I did to her was due to her own actions, not my own. Such a good girl, so loyal, so obedient, I thought, looking over at her.
Adia leaned her head on my shoulder, crying slightly. How funny it was that the one who had hurt her only moments before was now the one she went to for comfort. She was so trusting, so eager to please.
I was the one with the power. I was the one who owned her, the one who's approval was more important than that of her parents, brother or anyone else.
And she adored me, loved me, cherished these moments we spent together. I was her only friend, and that title alone gave me immense power. I could do what I pleased with her, could stab her in the chest and tear out her beating heart and she would still love me, would still value my friendship above all else.
It remains that way, even today.
Even though I hurt her, she stays by my side.