I shouldn’t have run.
My father circled around me like a vulture, the liquid contained within the white can sloshing against its constraining walls as he lurched forward. With each step, a waterfall covered me. My clothes were soaked through, the pungent aroma of kerosene filling my nostrils with a stench so strong I could taste it.
I shouldn’t have run, but I just couldn’t do it.
My mother watched from the doorway of our home. Her dark brown eyes locked onto my own, coldly reproaching my pleading. “Please!” I screeched. My shoulder was drenched with kerosene. Please. My calves. Stop. My face, rivulets trickling down my neck, sopped into my hair. I just couldn’t do it.
I shouldn’t have run. I saw my life flash before my eyes as an unhappy housewife; as a slave to a man who had no respect for me, who would beat me, who I’d be forced to have child after child after child for… who…
A match strikes, erasing all thoughts from my racing mind. My whole world shrinks down to a tiny flame dancing on a stick. It eats its way down the wood, clawing closer to my father’s fingertips with each second. He stared at me, both the match and my face reflected in his gaze. Behind him, my mother nods once in approval.
I shouldn’t have run, I know this now, but it seems to be all that I know anymore. I take a step back, nimbly dodging the match before it collides with the kerosene coating my body.
I shouldn’t have run, because now my father’s eyes have darkened from disgust to loathing. I was already dead, but now I am dead and he is further shamed. Shamed for having a disobedient daughter: one who runs away from a marriage that has been arranged for years, one who runs away from her punishment for doing so. Skirts her execution. Flees from death.
I shouldn’t have run; he now lunges toward me and swings at my face, the calloused mounds of his knuckles meeting the curve of my jaw. The rest is a wordless symphony of snapping, cracking, sputtering. A broken that I really don’t feel. Everything is adrenaline. Everything is sadness.
I shouldn’t have run, and now I cannot. I am lying lifeless in the dirt, outside the home that I was born in. I am unable to move. I am staring up at a blue and cloudless sky, the blazing sun baking the scent of kerosene into my bloodied skin. I am a careful concoction of hydrocarbons and iron, waiting to be set ablaze.
“She shouldn’t have run,” my mother says with a sigh, as the newly struck match finally meets my skin.