It has been a hundred years since Virginia Woolf killed The Angel in the House but I still wrestle with her phantom.
Self-sacrifice, charm, grace and above all – the one thing which landed Tess D’Uberville in so much trouble – chastity – these are not attributes which I possess.
You, in the West may not know her.
If you heard of her – you brushed her off as an old wives’ tale.
I, who grew up in the East, gritted my teeth at her image.
She is tall, she is slender.
She moves with an agility I always envied, as I blundered through life.
She is fearless in the social sense.
She was brought up to believe that a woman’s worst fault was not to fall in line with social graces or her mother-in-law’s wishes.
I grew up on a diet of Daphne Du Maurier, Tennessee Williams and the Bronte sisters.
She never ventured an opinion of her own – personal or political.
I was insistent that I would not turn out to be like her.
She reached her teens with a bevy of suitors.
I was seventeen and still torn apart by the heartbreak of a first crush.
Bakr-Eid comes once a year but she is our sacrificial goat.
She wears red on her wedding day – the color of spotted blood – the color of hymens it is assumed will be torn apart.
I prefer lighter colors, less obvious colors.
She wears henna on her hands and has silken, needle straight hair.
On her wedding day, I am approached by older women who subtly entreat me to change my ways.
She’s twenty one and she’s married.
I was raised by parents who are feminists – even though they are completely oblivious to this fact.
But just like her – the Angel in the House – I too can be soft and insinuating.
So I smile and pretend that I agree with what they say.
On her wedding night, the Angel is quiet and casts her eyes down.
She does not make love, she subjects herself to it.
Unlike me – ever impatient, ever conscious of my sexual needs.
She lies there like a perfect doll
Open to his ravages or passive embraces.
I am not a doll. I am a living, breathing, fluttering human being with a racing heart who stutters when she’s nervous and tries to laugh it off.
Amma she calls her mother-in-law the morning after her wedding, as I sit in my room and ponder on the many ways I can finish her off.
I sit in my room and write,
She sits in the drawing room, playing hostess to a group of visitors.
I hear the hiss of the tea-urn and the clatter of silver spoons as she delicately performs the art of making tea.
I never was very good with small talk.
She excels at appearing at my shoulder during the times when I service Society.
You’re a klutz, awkward, socially inept she hisses in my ear.
Adjusting her hair and her dupatta
As the years flew by, her presence grew too much for me to bear.
At first it was tolerable, manageable.
I was busy attempting to write a play and producing paper after paper on Tennessee Williams or the Jyllands-Posten affair.
She produced two babies and cited religion as an example to all women.
Always fiddling with her dupatta,
Screening her breasts
And castigating those of us who did not.
Someday you’ll understand, you’ll learn.
It’s hard being a wife and mother.
Three years and two kids later, she still retains her figure, her youth and her beauty.
Her social graces and affected mannerisms.
But she is no longer a victim.
She is a cog in the social machinery; inexorably drawing us towards Death.
That wide, all-encompassing Death
Of stiff dinners, tea in the drawing room,
And dress making skills.
Endless stories of how the baby cooed,
Or the husband wailed about work
Or the in-laws were sick
Endlessly, relentlessly, tirelessly perfect in all that she executed.
Managing household worries with a touch of ease and a level of dexterity
That no one else could reach.
I could no longer sit in my room and put pen to paper without her haunting presence.
Write, Write, Write she taunted me.
Who’s ever going to see what you write about?
Plays that were inspired by Mr. Williams she drawled over his name,
You’ll end up like the rest of us.
So I turned around and caught her by the throat
Let me breathe she rasped as I strangled her.
Seven years and you barely let me breathe, I whispered back.
Sex. Drowning in my own thoughts. Agonizing over writing. Rejection letters. Promising letters. Cigarettes and coffee. Aimlessly wandering through the streets…
I thought of all the things that made my life worth living as I slowly, steadily, and doubtlessly, broke the life out of her.
As I watched the lights fade and as the other tunnel full of light (the one you see if you have ever nearly died) enter the pupils of her eyes,
I briefly wondered what she thought of.
No doubt something along the lines of: Serve. And serve. And serve. Always, endlessly, tirelessly, parading her virtues and her martyrdom…
I was glad when she finally collapsed in a heap on the floor.
Naashia Naufal is a recent graduate of the MFA Creative Writing program at The College of New
Rochelle, NY. She is currently working on her first historical fiction novel. Her interests include Southern Gothicism, the fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen and postcolonial fiction.