Annika Milisic-Stanley was born in 1975, grew up in Britain. After graduating from the School of Oriental and African Studies, she worked with humanitarian projects in Nepal, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, India, Burundi and Egypt as well as living in Tajikistan for several years. Annika lives with her husband and three children in Rome. In addition to writing and painting, she works as a campaigner to raise awareness on the plight of refugees in Southern Europe. She is writing her second novel. Read her interview here. Below you can read an excerpt from her book, The Disobedient Wife. Courtesy: Annika Milisic-Stanley.
“I had bad second husband. Parents made me marry him after Ahmed, my first husband die.” Nargis recalled the intense pressure she had felt not to be a burden. Gulya had been particularly vociferous.
“An only son with a nice home and good prospects, yet he is willing to marry a widow with two children! He could have anyone, but he wants you, you lucky girl. You won’t get better than that,” she whispered insistently. Numb with grief and unable to think straight, she had eventually succumbed. Tears came to Nargis’ eyes, dismissed in a blink.
“Did he deck you?” Emma put a fist to her own face. Nargis nodded.
“Yes, he beat me and little boy and took baby, only nine week old. I had to live on street until parents forgive me.”
Emma touched her arm. Nargis’ cheeks burned.
“But I was never prostitute. Caravan of Faith, Americans people, help me with cleaning job to please their Jesus. Eventually milk for baby dry and husband went in Russia. Baby stays with Bibi… Grandmother.”
“Nargis, I honestly had no idea.” said Harriet. She was peering at her with an almost perverse curiosity, as though she had come to work naked. Nargis grimaced, embarrassed at her outburst. She had revealed too much and she hated herself for the scandalised pity in Harriet’s voice. She shook off Emma’s hand and backed out of the room.
“Sorry. Please forget what I say…”
“Nargis sweetheart, please don’t be embarrassed,” said Emma. “What you’ve been through is nothing to be ashamed of. In the U.K we’d call you a ‘Survivor’.”
Nargis baulked. Her eyes flashed.
“I have no shame. I proud.”
A room full of people, talking, laughing, eating. They are strangers, the perfect guests. I observe as they chew my mutton dressed as lamb, the meal I spent three days preparing. I pour wine but never fill my glass. I am suspended like a perfect piece of art on invisible wires. I have left my body far behind, my pert behind perched delicately at one head of the table. I watch myself smile and serve, I am elegant and gracious and deliberately distanced. I read his signals as he trained me to do, a hand gesture for the next course, a raised eyebrow if too familiar, too human, too much Me. I perform, I flirt. I do ‘my bit’.