Note: There is some Urdu used in this piece. Translation is provided at the end of the prose.
My toes sank into the warm sand. I wiggled them in deeper, walking toward the fierce body of water ahead. The sand became cold and wet. Wind blew against my face; echoes of the past whispering in my ears. I brushed my hair aside and started to move towards the ultramarine waves. My family called to me as I neared the sea. Shouts of ‘what are you doing,’ ‘come back,’ ‘it’s too dangerous’ were heard spreading in the wind, but I kept going. Waves tickled my feet as I wandered deeper and deeper. The sand beneath my feet vanished and I was paddling. The sea enveloped me. Waves struck me violently. I was deep enough. I stopped paddling.
A sea of gold and red hung from my body and lights flashed in my eyes. I looked down, my heavily mascaraed eyelashes trembling slightly. Out of the corner of my eye, I peered at my groom. He was a few years older; broad shoulders, a firm mouth and ruggedly bearded. He was grinning at our families’ attention, I was grimacing at it. A tear fell out of my eye, crawling down my made-up cheek.
The wedding ended. I was made to walk alongside Anwar, my husband, just as I was made to accept his proposal. I had no choice; my family’s wishes had always mattered more than mine. That was how it happened in our social circle. I didn’t know how I felt about it. True, I hadn’t found anyone. But I had never wanted it to be like this.
I was sitting on my marriage bed; it was decorated with soft, blushing rose petals. I leaned against the canopy, watching Anwar walk in. He took off his coat and my heartbeat raced. He sat down beside me, touching my cheek gently. He took his hand away; his fingers were wet. I looked at him anxiously, sending him the message that I wasn’t ready for this tonight. Thankfully, he backed away.
An hour later we lay in bed beside each other. I stared at the ceiling.
‘I’m sorry,’ I whispered. I could see him turn. He looked at me, puzzled. Stroked my hair with his fingers.
‘There’s nothing to apologise for. It’s natural to be scared. Let’s sleep.’
I was lying in bed, my palm on my stomach, making squiggly lines on the ceiling with my mind. Anwar was at the office. I was here. I always seemed to be here.
A piercing cry interrupted my thoughts. I tried to shut it out. But it went on and on. Louder and louder. I clenched my fist. The baby was always crying. Har waqt. And Anwar was never here. I was. I had to be.
I threw my thoughts out the window. My baby was crying. I loved her. Nothing was her fault. I walked to her crib, picked her up and shushed her. Moved her side to side, gently rocking her. Her cries stopped and she looked up at me dazed. I hugged her against myself, my little Sonia. She gurgled, little drops of spit falling on her chin. I wiped them, smiling at her. Rocked her back and forth. Sang a little lullaby until her long lashed lids closed once again.
I set her down in the crib and headed to the kitchen. Anwar would be home soon and the food needed to be heated. The rice was in the microwave. It span in delirious circles, like my life had when I was rushed into marriage five years ago. I lit the stove. Watched the flames dance with the wind coming in from the window. I slammed the pot of curry on them, trapping them. Watched the curry bubble until it whistled in aggravation.
The lock in the front door turned. Click. Anwar walked in, nodding at me. That was all.
I watched him walk towards our bedroom. Looked at him bending over Sonia. I knew that he would stroke her head once gently, with the same care as he had treated me on our wedding night. He would walk into the bathroom now. Shut the door behind him.
I set the table. Curry in the middle. Rice and roti beside it. Anwar walked into the dining room.
‘Sit down. I made your favourite, chicken karahi. Here, have some roti,’ I moved the roti basket towards him. He looked at the curry, his eyebrows moving close together.
‘This is not karahi. Where are the tomatoes and green chillies?’ He was doing it again. Unnecessarily criticising anything I did. I tried not to take it personally.
‘They are there. I just cut them thinner than usual today. Try it at least. Achi hai,’ another soft response from my lips was uttered. He shook his head, annoyed. Thankfully, he ate it quietly. Then disappeared into his study. As usual.
Six years later, there were two more crying babies in the house. I was rushing here and there all the time. Diapers, baby clothes, Montessori drop-offs and pick-ups; that is what my life was. Anwar stayed at work late, then disappeared into his study. I was exhausted. The children required all my attention. Anwar required food on the table. And I didn’t require anything. Gone were my dreams of pursuing a postgraduate in Economics. I only did Home Economics now.
It was two years and six months after our wedding day. I was pregnant with an increasing amount of nausea. I was happy. Anwar had been loving from the beginning. He threw his money around to buy me expensive gifts. He catered to all my needs.
One day it all stopped. I was going through Anwar’s drawer, looking for a button to sew on his shirt. His phone was buzzing. I picked it up.
‘Anwarrr hiii. How are you? Acha I don’t have time to talk. Are we still on for lunch tomorrow?’ It was a female voice. Lunch. My mind was travelling all over the place. Trying to make connections. Footsteps in the room behind me.
‘Hello? Anu? You there?’ Then click. The line dropped.
‘What are you doing? Is that my phone?’ Anwar’s voice was harsh. This was the first time I had heard it sound so hard. I dropped his phone in the drawer immediately.
‘I wasn’t doing anything. Just looking for a button to sew on your grey shirt. You got a call. From a female…’ It sounded accusatory. I didn’t mean it to. He glared at me. Took my arm. Squeezed it as hard as he could.
‘What are you accusing me of? How dare you… Kaisi besharam aurat ho.’ Tears started to fall down my face, my arm was hurting. Anwar was scaring me. He had become a monster.
‘Anwar, I wasn’t accusing. I didn’t mean to. Let me go, it hurts.’
He did let go. Flung me onto the bed. My belly was aching. The baby was kicking violently.
‘It should hurt. Suspicious, spying women should hurt,’ he spat his words. ‘How dare you accuse me of being with another woman, I’ve given you everything and you repay it with THIS? She’s a friend, just a friend. But you won’t understand that. Women never understand that. You all are paranoid creatures who can’t let a man live in peace.’
He slammed his drawer closed and walked out. Out the bedroom door. And the house door. I lay curled up on the bed. Holding my stomach. Sobbing silently.
Three children running around in the house. 15 years of marriage. Anwar stayed out late, I stayed in. Sonia had entered a phase where she pushed her brothers down to the ground. She’d done it again.
‘Sonia! What are you doing? Stop that right now. Wash up, lunch is ready,’ I looked at her sternly. She met my eye, and gave me that harsh look of Anwar’s that was embedded in my mind.
‘What does it matter to you? Let me do what I want. You let Dad do what he wants. I don’t want any lunch. Leave me alone!’ she answered back. My sweet, beautiful girl uttered those disrespectful words at me. I looked at her, half in shock. She had completely changed. Almost a teenager now, she was more independent. Rebellious. Anwar’s personality had placed itself in her. His temper sparked in her eyes every time she raised her voice.
She turned away from me. Slammed the door. The bowl in my hands shook. My mind went back years ago after I had picked up that phone call Anwar had received from a woman. Our marriage had been strained since that day. He was distant, cruel, and bad tempered. We had continuous arguments on little things, big things, nothing. Since that day.
He didn’t like the food. He didn’t like being at home. He didn’t like me.
‘You useless aurat!’ he had called me time and time again.
‘You don’t raise Sonia and Hamza right. They’re just like you; lazy, shakki, rude…’ Another favourite of his.
‘Untrusting wife. What did I do to deserve such a wife? Uper se, you spend so much. Sab paise khatam kardogi. Gold digger.’ As he had said those words, my fingers trembled. Every time. This time they shook because of Sonia. Anwar’s spirit and anger was alive in my teenage daughter. It scared me. I was afraid of my own daughter. Frightened for my two boys. Praying they wouldn’t turn out like her…like him.
I walked towards the lingerie store. Making up with Anwar was on my mind. We hadn’t spoken properly since our argument. After that there had been short replies and disputes. Things being thrown around. For too long. I was tired of it. I wanted to end it.
I stepped towards the store, then stopped. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man. Tall. Broad shoulders. A rugged beard that had grown. Like Anwar’s. I turned around. Watched him walk up to a woman. She was tall. Taller than me. Thin yet curvy. Her hair was brown and shone as she ran her fair fingers through it. She rested her fingers on the man’s arm. The man turned towards her. I hid behind the leaves of a huge potted plant. Typical place to hide, isn’t it? Anwar looked at her with the same love in his eyes as he had looked at me in the early years of our marriage. They smiled at each other as she put her fingers in his palm.
My marriage was a lie.
In that one gesture, it was gone.
Sonia, Hamza and Imran had been asking to go to the beach for months now. Anwar and I didn’t want to go. I wasn’t in a mood to lay in the sand or splash about. He wasn’t in the mood to leave his mistress that Sunday. Which I didn’t understand. He was with her every weekend. One weekend away wouldn’t hurt him. But the kids wanted to go. So we got in a car and went beaching.
Beaching. Like everything was okay.
I lay in the sand watching a mature Sonia, swimming in the waves. Hamza, a young teenager now, not too far behind her. He was quiet and shy, submissive. Could endure even the harshest of words, which Sonia threw at him now and then. Just like me. Our third one, Imran stood at the edge of the water throwing seashells into it. He was more like Anwar, but had pieces of me as well. I loved them all. Though sometimes they were too much for me.
I looked over to my side. Anwar was glued to his phone, his fingers moving speedily.
He typed. He pressed send.
Within seconds, it beeped. A text from her.
I looked away. Turned away from Anwar. My cheating husband. Who I had stayed with. Because I endured. Women from my part of the world just endured.
His phone rang, breaking my thoughts. He picked it up. Shocking.
‘Hey, I can’t talk right now. No, I’m here for you, but listen I can’t talk abi. At lunch tomorrow?’ She protested loudly on the other line, then quietened. I heard the same laughter I had heard when I had spotted them at the city centre together those years ago. It grew quiet and I knew the call had ended.
‘Who was that, Anwar? The office?’ I turned over to speak to him. He glared at me.
‘Yeah. Office,’ he grunted. I looked at him for a few minutes. Trying to decide.
I got up, walking towards the blue sea. The kids had come out of the water now, the sun was setting gently into the fierce waters. I touched the wet sand, my toes sinking in it. The waves pierced my feet, pulling me in. I stopped. Deciding.
My mind was travelling to the past. The hurried wedding. Forced into it. The gentle love making to bring Sonia in this world. Pregnancy. Picking up his phone and hearing a female voice. His fingers crushing my arm. Sonia’s birth. His absence. Arguments over Sonia’s cries. No more sex. Painful sex to make Hamza. Sonia’s harshness. Anwar’s temper. Pillows, pans, plates…thrown. Fights over money. ‘Gold digger’ rang in my ears. ‘I hate you, Mum’ rang in my ears. Anwar’s long days at work. Moodiness at home. Rough, more painful sex only for pleasure resulted in Imran. Picking up the children, dropping them off. Anwar not home for nights. The woman’s fingers in his hand. Her laugh echoing.
Waded in as deep as I could go. My family’s screams were in the wind, calling me to come back. I didn’t want to come back. I didn’t want to endure. I paddled deeper. The waves struck against me violently. They were pulling me. I had to try hard to fight it. Her laugh echoed in my ears as the waves went over my head. Anwar’s powerful touch gripped my leg as I struggled to paddle. That was it.
I stopped paddling.
Har waqt: Always
Roti: Flatbread made from stoneground wholemeal flour
Chicken karahi: Spicy chicken curry
Achi hai: It’s good
Kaisi besharam aurat ho: What a shameless woman you are
Shakki: Suspicious, mistrustful
Uper se: On top of that
Sab paise khatam kardogi: You will spend/finish all my money
Abi: Right now
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