My father orders, "Sultana, pick it up!"
Kareem grabs the book and stares at the cover. He gasps a deep, ragged breath and then turns to me. "What is this, Sultana?"
I am paralyzed with fear. My heart stops beating. I sit and listen, longing for the life-giving thump.
Quite out of control, Kareem drops the book to the floor, grabs my shoulders, and shakes me like a rag.
I again feel the familiar heartbeat, though I have a childlike thought a moment of sorrow that I did not die on the spot and so burden my husband's conscience with lifelong guilt.
I hear the muscles of my neck snapping from the force of Kareem's strength.
My father yells, "Sultana! Answer your husband!"
Suddenly the years evaporate. I am a child again, at my father's mercy. How I long for my mother to be alive, for nothing less than maternal fervor can save me from this vicious encounter!
I feel a whimper forming in my throat.
I have told myself many times in the past that there can be no freedom without courage, yet my courage fails me when I need it the most. I had known that if members of my immediate family read the book, my secret would be discovered. Foolishly, I had felt protected by the fact that in my family, only Sara reads books. Even if gossip of the book had spread throughout the city, I assumed that my family would take little note of it, unless mention was made of a particular incident they would recall from our youth.
Now, ironically, my brother, a man who scorns the mention of women's rights, had read the book that focused attention on the abuse of women in my land. My demon of a brother, Ali, had foiled my precious anonymity.
Timidly, I look around the room at my father, my sisters and brother. Together, as if they had practiced, their looks of surprise and anger slowly forge into a united hard stare.
After only one short month, I am discovered!
Finding my voice, I protest weakly, blaming my deed on the highest authority, saying what all good Muslims say when caught in an act that will bring punishment on their heads. I thump the papers with my hand. "God willed it. He willed this book!" Ali is quick to retort, scoffing, "God? Not so! The devil willed it! He willed it! Not God!" Ali turns to my father and says with perfect seriousness, "Since the day of her birth, Sultana has had a little devil living inside her. This devil willed the book!"