Samira Alizadeh was a fearful girl living in a very dull city in Australia. It was perhaps not an evilly banal city (as a certain German philosopher may have put it) but simply uninteresting. Samira had lived the first sixteen years of her life in a very eventful country in the Middle East. During Samira’s life, her native land had experienced a revolution, a civil war, two foreign military invasions, twenty years of economic sanctions, five earthquakes and an outbreak of bubonic plague. Luckily for Samira and her family, her very clever uncle embezzled a portion of their country’s GDP and paid for his entire extended family to buy visas from a rich Western embassy. So Samira was spared the horrors of imprisonment in a refugee detention camp and soon found herself on the tarmac of an airport in an outer suburb of a very dull city in Australia.
Her new life as an Australian girl was ominously difficult. It took Samira a few months to get used to not wearing the veil in public, and then a few more months to concede to the ignominy of thinning her very thick eyebrows and shaving her legs. These changes, however, did not make her feel more settled in the new country. She grew anxious about the inauthenticity of her attempts at impersonating a Western girl. She wondered if she should resume wearing the veil. But she soon realised that this was not an option. At her high school only the Muslim girls’ crew – most of them Australian-born children of converts – covered their hair, and they found Samira too socially awkward. They didn’t want her in their gang, and so she didn’t feel entitled to wear the veil. She didn’t want to mark herself as different, isolated and lonely.
But she was all of these things, especially very lonely. She tried to join a number of other friendship groups in the school yard and after school at the very dull shopping mall near her school, but the other girls always ignored her. She once bravely attempted to join in a conversation with three platinum blondes – she too had seen the latest image of a shirtless Ryan Gosling on Twitter – but the girls were clearly rattled by Samira’s thick accent and couldn’t make out what she was talking about. They screwed up their faces in frustration. What’s Rihanna’s gas link?!
Perhaps her social failures would not have seemed so important had things been a little less unpleasant at home. But her unemployed, homesick father and her unemployed, homesick mother were often engaged in howling, crying and blaming each other for the terrible decision to betray their precious homeland by moving to a very dull country. They were, in other words, too miserable to notice that their youngest daughter was morosely friendless and unnaturally quiet. And, despite their affiliation with a culture known for its obsession with keeping an eye on young women’s doings, Samira’s parents and older siblings were too preoccupied with tormenting each other to wonder where the lonesome girl would occasionally disappear to in the early evening, just before dinner.
Samira had in fact found a place where she could feel safe and mildly, temporarily happy. This was a secluded, grimy spot behind a row of very ugly trees in a park next to a very ordinary river near her home. Samira had discovered that none of the park’s joggers and dog-walkers ever strayed off the walking track to venture behind the bulk of useless trees. So she would hide in this spot most days for close to an hour, sit on a dilapidated park bench, and think about nice things. Ryan Gosling’s face and bottom, for example. Or the fantasy of dancing and wiggling her own bottom like Rihanna in front of many astonished, platinum blonde girls. Samira would then sigh, dry her eyes and resign herself to going home and being ignored by her parents.
And it was there, in her makeshift sanctuary, that she was one day approached by a boy called Sam.
Hey, what you doin’ here? You want a smoke?
The narrow-eyed boy with curly hair asked Samira. Samira was terrified and couldn’t help nodding. Sam threw a cigarette at her, introduced himself and lit Samira’s smoke. She introduced herself and coughed. He asked her where she was from.
That’s where all them refos and terrorists and shit come from, eh?
The next day Sam brought a small bottle of bourbon and Samira was again too intimidated by the stranger’s sudden intimacy to reject his offer. He asked her which school she went to. He told her that he’d dropped out of school and lived with his older brother and his mates near the park. He asked Samira if she wanted to come over for a smoke, to watch his brothers and his mates play music. Samira walked down a desolate suburban street a few steps behind the tipsy boy. At this point she too was a little tipsy. She supposed that Sam’s smile at the entrance to a rundown wooden house with an unkempt front yard was a nice smile. So she smiled back at him and followed him past an unhinged, perforated flyscreen door into an unbelievably filthy, stinking living room.
Sam pointed at a composite of shredded sponge and rotting wood which somehow resembled a couch. Samira sat down and looked around the battered place. She was her normal nervous self, but, strangely enough, something about this thoroughly unattractive, alien space made her feel a little less petrified than usual. Maybe it was the effect of alcohol. Or maybe there was something about Sam and the odd flicker in his eyes which put her at relative ease.
She knew that the symbol spray-painted very poorly on one of the walls of the crumbling living room was offensive. But Samira was positively not Jewish (her native land had always been a sworn enemy of Israel) so she convinced herself not to worry about the ugly black swastika. And, at any rate, maybe the thing had been on the wall before Sam and his brother and their friends moved into this house. She smiled at Sam when he came back to the living room with a bong and a bowl.
Samira had never smoked pot before. But she knew after the first couple of mouthfuls of the fume that what Sam had given her wasn’t inducing the calming, relaxing high she’d read about on the internet. She knew that ordinary marijuana shouldn’t be making her feel so weak, numb and dizzy. This knowledge was of no use to her, and it was far too late to fear for her safety. She was on the verge of passing out. She noticed two other young men emerge from somewhere and stand in front of her in the living room, with bare chests and very unbecoming facial expressions. She felt herself drift away.
Her parents were for once concerned about her absence, and actually wondered why she had been so late for dinner. But they didn’t pay her all that much attention when she eventually returned home that evening. They didn’t notice that her eyes were unusually swollen, that there were traces of black marker on her forehead and cheeks.
She had stifled her tears and got up to her feet quickly after regaining consciousness in Sam’s place. Sam and the other two were gone. She was immediately aware of what had been done to her and she knew that her parents, despite their current geographical distance from their homeland and its punitively patriarchal traditions, would most probably kill her if they found out. So she had picked up her clothes and put them back on, washed off the things that the boys had written on her face, and run out of Sam’s eviscerated house.
She went straight to bed after dinner, cried all night and threw up in the morning. Thankfully, it was a public holiday – she couldn’t recall what for – and she didn’t have to go to school. She instead slipped out of the house and soon found herself walking towards her beloved refuge behind the trees in the park. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been going back there, seeing as Sam and his vile brother and their friend may come looking for her there to do more unspeakable things to her. But Samira had nowhere else to go. Besides, if she was to find the courage to do what had crossed her mind at around 3am the previous night, then she may be able to drown herself in the thick brown flow of the river that slithered past her hiding place.
She walked past a very dismal barbecue – the park was too unsightly to attract many people celebrating the trivial festive occasion – and apprehensively entered the space between the trees which led to her hideout. She was startled to find another person there, but she was pleased that it wasn’t Sam or any other man. It was a scrawny, middle-aged woman, with shoots of dirty, entangled orange hair sticking out from under a black baseball cap. She had a sleeve rolled up and was in the process of giving herself an injection. Samira hadn’t seen a drug addict in action before, but with everything that had happened to her over the last twenty-four hours, the hitherto sheltered immigrant girl was not shocked by what she saw. The junkie didn’t seem to mind her either. Samira sat on the broken park bench next to the woman.
Happy Australia Day, love.
The woman grunted sarcastically after her hit and looked at the despondent girl and her thick mane of shiny black hair. Samira smiled at the redhead despite the fact that she usually found it very complicated to smile at complete strangers. But despite feeling generally cold, numb and devastated, there was something about this woman which Samira warmed to. Before long she was telling this woman – who said her name was Lisa, Lisa Jones, and her friends called her Jonesy – what had been done to her by the disgusting boys the previous day.
You’re right not to call the cops, love. Wouldn’t do fuck all anyways. Men get away with all sorts of shit in this bloody world. Look at what they did to me. I used to be an aspiring actress and a poet, believe it or not.
They wrote things on me, Jonesy. With a dark pen. On my face.
What things, love?
Terrorist. Camel fucker. Sand nigger. Refo scum. Mud slut.
Jonesy pulled out a putrid piece of tissue from her pocket and gave it to Samira to dry her eyes. She then asked the girl if she had any money, or if she could get some. Samira asked Jonesy why she wanted money and Jonesy explained to her that even though the world is utterly fucked and evil rapists and perverts usually get away with their sinister deeds, there also exists the possibility for retribution. For expiation. Samira didn’t know what this last word meant but she listened on to her new friend very carefully. She eventually nodded. Jonesy’s plan sounded thoroughly horrible and feasible.
I can get you the stuff, love, ropes and chains and the bottle of vodka. I really feel for you, mate. These cunts deserve hell.
Samira went to a pawn shop after school the next day and handed over the golden earrings and the amulet that her grandmother had given her before the girl had left the old country. She then met up with Jonesy, who now seemed more animated and purposeful, and gave her the cash. Jonesy didn’t think the money was enough, but she readily presented Samira with a black backpack stuffed with the necessary equipment.
You sure you don’t want me to come and give you a hand, love?
Samira nodded and stood still as Jonesy applied eye shadow and lipstick to the teenager’s face. Samira then took a deep breath and said goodbye to Jonesy. She had no trouble remembering the way to Sam’s shabby house. It was as though she had known this street all her life, as though her whole life had been a story reaching its climax or conclusion in the enactment of what she planned to do inside the ramshackle wooden building. She knocked on the door and Sam’s brother opened it. He chuckled.
Come back for more, have ya, bitch?
She entered and closed the door behind her. Jonesy had made sure that the cap on the bottle of vodka in the backpack had been firmly resealed. So the boys didn’t suspect that it had been opened prior to them receiving it from their unexpected visitor. They were, at any rate, too excited by the sight of her taking off her clothes slowly to really wonder about the condition of the bottle or the exact taste of its content. Samira waited until the three men were more or less incapacitated before proceeding with the second stage of Jonesy’s stratagem. She put her clothes back on, carefully bound the men with ropes and covered their mouths with masking tape.
She then executed the third part of her plan and did what needed to be done to ensure that the source of the boys’ malevolence was once and for all removed. She wore dishwashing gloves and used secateurs. She saved the youngest participant, Sam, for last. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, as they say in English. Samira was amused and pleased by the fact that she had finally used a proper English idiom in her mind. Perhaps she would learn the stupid language and become a real Australian after all, she thought to herself, as she neutered Sam. She then picked up the boys’ own marker pen, drew swastikas on their foreheads, and left the scene of her vengeance.
There was nothing in the news in the following days about what Samira had done. She understood that, exactly as Jonesy had told her, men would not have it in them to admit to anyone that they had been stripped of their manhood. Or perhaps they had all bled to death in their sickening house.
Samira would not learn about the fate of any of her victims until many years later, when she saw a small online news story about a middle-aged man, whose eyes reminded Samira of the devious boy Sam, who had drowned himself in a river somewhere.
Samira was not in Australia by then. She was visiting New York to present a paper at an urgent international summit on global peace and security. She had by then become one of Australia’s most esteemed academics, a professor in International Law and Conflict Resolution Studies at the Australian National University. Professor Alizadeh briefly recalled the act which had ruptured her years of submission and weakness during her adolescence many decades ago, before ascending the podium in front of an audience of diplomats, journalists and US lawmakers.
She felt confident and very pleased to be speaking at such an important event. It crossed her mind that she might actually accept the position at Harvard, secretly offered to her the previous evening at a very exclusive dinner party in Brooklyn Heights, and that she may stay in the US and never return to the very dull cities of Australia. She then began her presentation on the relevance of the philosopher Hannah Arendt’s theoretical distinction between power and violence vis-à-vis today’s burgeoning international crises.