Tag Archives: Pakistan

Wrenched anniversary

“It’s our anniversary,” she says so softly over the phone that I can barely hear her.

“That’s amazing! Are you gonna celebrate?” I ask trying to sound gleeful even though it’s 4 am in the morning, and I’m sleepy.

She doesn’t say anything and all I hear is her uneven breathing. “I’ve wasted eighteen years of my life.” There’s remorse in her voice, the kind you get when someone close to you passes away. She’s been married for eighteen years. Time passes by so fast when you’re not the one suffering.

“Huh.” I try to act oblivious even though I know what she’s talking about. She’s never mentioned it to me, but I’ve eased dropped enough to figure out things that I’m not supposed to know.

“Nothing child,” she steers away from the conversation and asks me about college, and when I’m getting married. I laugh it off and brush the conversation to something more convenient, like the weather. We can talk about things that are unimportant for hours, but when it comes to important things, we either have no words or we lose our voices.

Why is it so hard to say what’s on my mind? I want to press her, ask her for the details but I’m terrified of her answer. Sometimes the words I want to spit out are lingering on the tip of my tongue but no matter how hard I try I can’t seem to say them. It’s like they’re caged behind these metal bars that won’t let my words pass.

I know her because I love her like a second mother, but I haven’t exactly been the perfect daughter. I know the torture she’s been through and it gets me angry every time I hear her hopeless voice. I wish I could do more for her then just listen. But how can I help someone else win their war when I’m losing my own battles.

She seems perfect from the outside. We all do, but no one knows what’s happening behind closed doors. Some smiles are etched with knives of pain. Sometimes devils don’t wear horns, they come to you wearing divine wings. And the worst part is that these devils don’t even know they’re devils because they’re hiding beneath culture, sex, ego and power.

What I don’t get is why we become so afraid to speak? Maybe because we’re afraid no one will listen or understand. Maybe we’re afraid of the gossip. Maybe it’s easier to hide beneath veils then to be exposed.

I don’t know why she stayed. She says it’s because of the culture we grew up in and because she had children and there was no way she could fend for herself in a world where divorced women are considered taboo.

I remember hearing once that her husband beat her up because she left the house without covering her face. I do blame the husband but also the mentality he grew up in and sadly we’re still living in that same time frame.

People around me still have that mindset and no matter how loud I scream or speak, my voice falls on deaf ears. People think it’s better to endure abuse than to unveil that curtain. I don’t blame them because I am not in that position and I have no idea what they’re going through. But not speaking up ruin’s future generations. It creates abusers and victims. I’ve seen way too many women around me suffer in silence and their silence screams in my ears.

She- whose name I can’t mention is still in that position. Her children are a mess and it breaks my heart every time I talk to her or see her. I wish I could do more for her and other women like her.

Photo by Northwoods Murphy from Pexels

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Village life

“Appi,” the little kid calls me out of respect. His name is Aman; he’s as old as my ten-year-old cousin, but he acts and talks like he’s older than me.

“Haan.” I give him a quick glance to show him that I’m listening. All my other spoiled bratty cousins are holding onto juice boxes and bags filled with chips, while his hands are empty.

“Give him a juice box too,” I yell at my little cousin who calls me by my name. He rolls his eyes but eventually gets a juice box and chips for Aman.

I’m lying on the bed upside down, right beneath the fan. It’s so hot and humid that I’m sweating like I’m in a sauna. Thick strands of hair are clinging to my face and my neck. It’s almost 4 pm and I’ve taken a cold shower at least twice in the past four hours.

We’re staying in my grandpa’s house, on my mom’s side of the village. Even after four long years it still feels like home. The orange tree in the back yard, the mango tree in the front yard, the roses and jasmine flowers blooming in the front courtyard all look the same. I can still smell the scent of spices my Nano would use to make curry outside on the clay stove. New York would never beat the taste my Nano had brewing in her hands.

I sit up straight and watch Aman gulp down the juice. He looks at me and bites his lips like he’s nervous.

“Appi..” he hesitates looking at my cousin for support. My cousin just nods his head like a grown-up does when talking to a child. “Can we watch the cricket match on your phone…”

I almost laugh at his innocence. “I don’t have internet or wifi,” I say to him. The one thing I hate about our village house is that we don’t have access to the internet. It’s not bad- sometimes. We play board games, hopscotch, cricket, hide and seek, checho and kish. My mom finds it hilarious how twenty-one-year-old me is trying to keep herself busy. It’s fun though because every game I play with these ten-year-olds brings me back to my own childhood. Where me and my cousins would run around the streets -barefoot sometimes- fighting over sweets or who was “it”. We would climb trees and eat fresh fruits. My scraped knees and elbows and all those scars of falling and rising are proof of a healthy childhood.

“We can go to Aunti Salma’s house.” My little cousin says, tapping Aman on the shoulder for moral support. My little cousin has the bad habit of running away with my phone and draining all the battery. I’m scared he’ll break the screen like he’s done to his Ipad that his father sent to him from England.

I want to say no to them, but I don’t know how to say it. As soon as I open my mouth to argue with them, the fan shuts off. For the first time relief floods my body because of these blackouts. We live more time without electricity then we do with electricity. For every hour that we have electricity, we go through three hours without electricity. It gets worse during the night when we’re trying to sleep. All you can feel is the humid air tugging at your skin, wrapping you around like a blanket. The worst is when we don’t have water. But gladly we have a hand pump in the back which we barely use.

“Oh look. No electricity…. No wifi at Aunti Salma’s house either.” I say pushing my phone under the pillow to make it seem like I don’t have a phone.

“ufff…” my cousin curses out the government, saying that if he was a leader everyone would get free electricity and milk. I don’t know where the milk comes from, but I chuckle at his innocence.

“I don’t have a TV at home… and I just wanted to see the cricket match…” Aman makes a face and I feel guilty. Aman lives in a one-room house with four other siblings. His father works in the fields and his mother sews clothes to make ends meet. My heart melts every time I see him pucker his lips like a small child does when he’s about to cry.

“Okay… how about you watch the match on youtube after the electricity comes back on.” I instantly regret saying those words as soon as I see a spark in my cousin’s eyes. I’m about to threaten him, by telling him that I’ll yank out his eyelashes if anything happens to my screen, but his smile is just too pure.

“What are we supposed to do.” Aman sighs squeezing the juice box.

“You know when I was young we would roam around the village all day. We would play hide and seek, sneak into people’s houses and we would climb trees… Maybe you guys could go play cricket or…”

“Yeah, we should go climb the mango tree in our neighbor’s house.” My cousin cuts me off.

“Yeah but you need permission and that tree is too high… “

“No one cares…”

Before I can stop him, he grabs Aman by the arm and drags him out the door into the courtyard and from there they rush out through the gate. I yell at them to come back, but my voice falls on deaf ears.

The last time my cousin climbed a swing he fell and bumped his head and ended up in the ER. The hospital in the city didn’t have the facilities we needed so we had to go to Islamabad.

I don’t know what I got myself into?

How will I explain this to my aunt?

Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

Random facts about me…

I was born in Pakistan, and I came to the US when I was 4 years old. It’s been a back and forth journey ever since.

The fastest I’ve solved a Rubix cube is thirty seconds.

I’m learning how to play the guitar (and so far, I’ve mastered twinkle-twinkle little star).

I’m learning how to be ambidextrous. Yes, I can write with both hands… well kinda.

I usually don’t order food, because I like eating what other people order.

I have a bad habit of half-ing food. Meaning if I buy something I’ll only eat half, no matter how hungry I am.

I have claustrophobia and agoraphobia.

I dislike wearing makeup. I feel like I’m wearing a mask and hiding myself.

I hate wearing shoes. I like walking barefoot because I feel like I’m closer to Mother Earth.

I can daydream for hours and hours, and I would never get bored- that’s why I’m messed up in the head.

I love lying down on the grass and gazing up at the sky.

I love flowers, but I hate plucking them because I feel like they look beautiful when rooted to the ground.

I love the rain, even if it’s cold. I love the way the drops touch my skin and bounce off. (That’s why I never carry an umbrella and end up getting sick).

I’m scared of animals (and occasionally humans).

I love reading and writing. My phone is filled with unfinished novels, poems, and stories that I won’t ever publish.

I’m very passive aggressive. I could be dying, and I still won’t tell you why I’m mad.

I bite my lips and the insides of my cheeks when I’m nervous. If I’m scared, I’ll practically chew off my lips.

The thing I look in someone when I meet them for the first time is the way they smile.

I get cranky and mad if I don’t sleep well.

English is my least favorite subject. History and math are my most favorite subjects. I get excited when I have to solve algebraic equations.

I dislike seafood: I hate anything that’s not fish, including shrimp and crabs.

I love walking. I could walk all the way to California from NYC.

I’m not a morning person, nor am I a night person. I’m more of an evening person.

I like peeling lemons and eating them like oranges.

I love talking to myself. The voices in my head are more appealing than most people I know.

I don’t have a favorite color.

I’m a very sporty person. I love playing cricket, volleyball, badminton and now tennis.

I wear glasses, but you’ll barely see me wearing them.

I’m very sensitive to smell.

When I was young I had so many imaginary friends (I use them as my characters now).

mee

Here’s a random picture of me when I was young…

The snake and Nano’s Alzheimer’s

“I had Hindu friends.” My Nano (grandma) who has Alzheimer’s says, wiping away a tear that rolls down her cheek. She looks at me and smiles. “A few of them we’re Sikh and Christian too, and we would sit on the roof, on wooden cots and talk until the sun sunk behind the horizon, or until my father came home and shooed us all away. After the partition, we all just separated.”

I hold onto Nano’s hand and sit by her knees. She doesn’t remember me, but she knows I look like someone she’s supposed to know. She gets frustrated when she doesn’t remember so I play around with her, telling her I’m the cleaning lady or a neighbor or someone who is here to steal the metal plates that Abu (grandpa) bought for her.

It’s her glassy eyes that make me feel guilty. Her lips wobble and her eyebrows knit together so I spit out the truth. And as soon as I do that she smiles and kisses me on the cheek. She tells me how much she missed me, and I want to say the same thing to her, but I’ll end up crying. So, instead, I ask her to tell me about her time when the British were here.

“They were nice. Very just…” she says, and I see pride forming in her eyes. She remembers certain things like they happened yesterday, but she’s forgotten everything else including me.

“This one time, after the British left and when your mother was a child…” Nano giggles. She tells me her tales, again and again, each one having the same people, but new plots. “It was late at night and I had to use the bathroom. During those days we didn’t have toilets, so we had to go out in the fields to relieve ourselves. At night all of us women would gather together at a meeting point, and we would walk towards the fields. Now the fields were empty, and they were scary. The fields were far away from the village, so it was usually a long walk. The wind would make these weird noises that would make our hearts crawl. So like any other day, holding our oil lanterns, we walked to the fields. The grass was as long as my knees, and it was hard to walk, but we managed to get deep where no one would see us. We separated and took our spots. Now as soon as we all settled down, this girl, my friend started screaming, and we all jumped in fear grabbing our trousers with one hand and the oil lanterns with the other. ‘Snake’ I heard someone shout. We were all so scared that we… we… we.” Nano pauses and looks at me with confusion contouring her features. The wrinkles forming on her forehead deepen and she asks, “Who are you?”

“Nano!” I try not to sound frustrated, but anger coats the softness in my voice.

“I’m your granddaughter,” I tell her for the umpteenth time. Nano’s not paying attention to me anymore, she’s too focused on my cousin who’s slamming the door because my youngest aunt refused to give him money.

I slowly slip away and go to Mama. I tell her Nano’s story and she laughs confirming that it’s true. “I have my own story to tell, but yes… all the women ran away, and a man came and hunted the snake and killed it.”

“No….” My aunt says frowning. “That’s not what happened. The snake was a female who had taken the form of a snake. Her husband was killed by Chacha Akhtar, so she came back, and she bit him while he was sleeping. Remember…” She says to mama as she holds back her laugh.

“Yeah and Abu (father) used that stone to suck out the poison” Mama is wheezing so hard that water leaks through her lashes.

“The stone is probably in the old house. Remind me to go get it later.” Auntie’s still laughing.

I blankly stare at them, not knowing what childhood story they’re talking about, but it makes me smile knowing that I’ve reminded them of a memory they both had forgotten.

“Alchemy… Herbs…” Mama says trying to explain the whole concept of the snake-stone-story to me. “Chemistry” she finally breathes in disappointment, as if Alchemy is something we’re taught in school. I ask her about the stone but that requires a story of its own.

Nano has Alzheimer’s, Mama’s story seems too boring, so I go with auntie’s version.

Photo by Burak K from Pexels

Understanding circumstances

When I was young, and we lived in Pakistan, Mama would have to drive us everywhere because my dad was living here in the US.

Women driving in Pakistan isn’t common, especially not in the villages. Mama would wrap her head and bury her face beneath a scarf whenever she drove to our village. People would stare and question, but it never bothered her or me or any of my siblings. I always felt a sense of pride, knowing that out of all the women in our village, Mama was the only woman who knew how to drive. Many others learned after her.

She was scared at first, and things haven’t always gone the way we wanted them to. There was a lot of crying. A lot of confusion. A lot of breaking down. But things always worked out at the end because we made them work out.

One of the worst incidents we faced was when we had a flat tire. It was Friday and like every other weekend, we were going to our village. While driving on the eroded road with potholes, Mama lost balance, and the car swirled to the side almost hitting a tree, but she managed to press the brakes on time. Everything was okay, but we had a flat tire. Mama parked the car on the side of the road, and we waited for my dad’s cousin to come get us.

We sat inside the car with the AC on full blast. The sun was at its zenith, and the temperature was scorching to a hundred degrees. It was like an oven out there. The whole time we waited I cursed out everyone I could. Blaming God, Mama, Dad, everyone I could for every unfortunate event that was happening around us. Why did things have to happen the way they did? Did God not like me? Was I that unimportant for Him?

My dad’s cousin showed up an hour later and took us to a garage, which was nothing more than a shed with a few car parts scattered around.

One of the mechanics made us come out of the car. We had to sit on plastic chairs that were broken. The dust from the oncoming cars was flaring up my nostrils, and I hated the fumes coming out of the cars. The sun above our heads was striking us with its intense heat. My clothes were soaked in sweat. I felt the drops form in my scalp and slowly slither down my cheeks onto my clothes. Every inch of me was sticky like I had bathed in honey mixed with salt water.

We had been through much worse, but in that instance, every other memory seemed like a blessing.

Dad’s cousin bought us juice to drink, maybe he didn’t want us to pass out. Mama felt uncomfortable knowing that she’d have to drive the car, and she hated driving when people were watching. Especially men.

While I sat in the plastic chair with a broken arm, wondering why things just couldn’t work out, I saw a little kid, who was probably ten or eleven rush forward with a smile as bright as the sun on his face. He walked to the car with a metal toolbox clenched in his hand. Kneeling next to the tire, he started unscrewing it. The other mechanic slowly lifted the car with a floor jack. Within minutes the kid pulled the tire and replaced it with a new one.

For a moment his eyes met mine, and I saw a different kind of innocence that was filled with happiness. We were both the same age, yet everything about us was different. His shalwar kameez was greasy and it had different colored patches covering the holes in all the odd places. His hair was filled with oil, and I could smell the fumes five feet away. His face was layered in mud, but the smile tugging at his lips was beyond my understanding. His life was much worse than mine, yet he was happy. There was no greed in him. No envy. No hatred. Just simplicity.

Why?

Why was it that even with nothing in his hands, beside the smell of grease, he was satisfied with everything? Did he not know how miserable his life was, or was I the one who saw it that way? Maybe in order for me to understand his happiness, I needed his heart. The heat, the sun, the smell, the grease, nothing seemed to bother him. There was a glint in his eyes. It was the same one I lost years ago.

But that day I learned something. I learned that you won’t stop suffering just because you’ve suffered. Life won’t all of a sudden be grateful to you because it put you through trials. I never got to know that kids name, or his story, but every time life gets me down I think of him and his smile, and I don’t know why but relief floods my entire body.

Everything happens for a reason, and I guess the puncturing of the tire, us going to the worn-out-garage, was so I could understand that life isn’t fair to everyone. We just have to make the best out of the worst. We can’t dodge the bricks life throws at us, but we can use them to create a shield. Maybe build a castle.

That kid is probably in his twenties now. Maybe things got better for him, or maybe they got worse. I don’t know, and I guess I won’t ever find out. But he sketched his mark on me, in the form of a five-second smile that I won’t ever forget.

Image from Pixel