A work of fiction.
“Pack your things. We can leave on the last bus and never look back”, he said. I stood there like a stone like I had frozen, and I couldn’t move. I wanted to, God knows I did. I just did not move. It was like time stood still, and no matter where I was going to go from there, it will turn into a massive and gigantic mistake.
How can I leave my family behind? I mean, they need me. They are all so distorted and broken after Maa’s death. I can’t leave. I am supposed to be the glue that will keep them all together. What if something happened to Abba after I was gone? What if my brother needs me? I can’t go. I can’t do that. I have to be responsible for them.
So I did not leave. I stayed back.
For the longest, Abba was all over the place. He soon gave into dementia, and we never got him back. My brother was getting ready to join the military and he wanted me to get married before he left. He said he needed this burden of responsibility off his chest and get it done with. So I married Moesin. I moved on with my life, forgot about him.
I have two daughters of my own. Moesin is a kind father, a gentle companion, he has not even once hit me. Ever. It is a big deal. Men on our side of the world like to assert power by hitting the weaker sex, women. They say we are only fit for bearing children and cooking household. For the longest, Baloch women could not be seen in public without their burkhas. It is still the case, but now we are not stoned to death if our nails are accidentally seen by “other men”. The meaning for the word “sacred women” is evolving, I think.
Quetta is a really small town. People here are deeply rooted in their views and much orthodox too. I teach at a primary school for girls. Of course, they are only allowed to study until a certain age and then married off. That’s the destiny they were born to fulfill.
Last year we went on a trip to Gwadar for our anniversary. They have a beach there. It’s lovely. The girls pleaded Moesin to take us all there, I may have nudged in the favor too. Just when we were walking by the shore, I had a revelation. It sort of disturbed me. I have heard people writing stories about how scenic a beach can be. How the possibilities are just endless. But when I stood at the shore and stared afar, all I could see was the end. The end.
Because who in the world has seen past that horizon? I have never been out of Balochistan. I will never get out of here. I chose this life. And don’t get me wrong, I love my husband and my kids. I like to go to school and be able to impart the little knowledge that I can. I am not even the most learned person here, but women are not allowed many things. Moesin allows me to go to school for three hours and teach classes.
This is it. This is my life. This is what my life is going to be as long as I am alive. And I am only 27. So, sometimes it bothers me. I can’t say that it doesn’t. But I never had any other choice. This is exactly where I was going to end up. If not with Moesin, then maybe with someone who was cruder. That would have only gone wrong for me. This is good. I am even allowed to wear salwar-kameez at home. It is a rare thing. I must value all this. This is my horizon. And it is expanded. As much as it could. Many women go through worst here.
I am not trying to rationalize my situation here, or maybe I am. What can anyone do? Right?
But don’t think that I was always like this. When Maa was alive, I was a rebel. She is the reason why I am literate. She sent me to the school after been beaten from Abbu many many times over it. She still sent me to school. She wanted me to have what she didn’t have. She always spoke to me about her favorite Baloch singers and authors. This one time I asked her why doesn’t she tell me about any other Arabic authors. Or maybe English authors. I remember that evening. She forbid me to ask questions, angrily. Like it was an offense.
Later that night, she came into my room and explained why she behaved the way she did. She said, and I clearly remember this, “You are not allowed to ask such questions, Mariam. You are a girl. Girls here don’t get to wonder and be curious. If someone catches you asking about English authors, you will be punished.”
I replay her words in my head over and over again. I even dream about that evening, like deja vu. It is disconcerting. I don’t even know how to associate my mother’s memories with grief anymore. I feel hurt, betrayed, and scared. Hurt because she tried so hard for me, but here I am, living her legacy literally the same way. Betrayed because she should have warned me harder. She probably thought I was too young to understand. Scared because I know this is my life, and there is no getting out without dying.
I think I am depressed. Imagine someone without any dreams. It seems so impossible, right? That is me. I have no illusions. No aspirations. I wasn’t always like this, though. I wanted to study Greek literature. I wanted to travel to Europe and live in a small cottage by the beach. I have always liked that idea. I sometimes imagine myself in that alter universe. Someplace that has both beaches and coconut trees.
This imagination has one glitch, though. I am all alone there. I don’t know where Hamid is. He should be in that image too. He offered me that dream, at least. He was 17 at that time. I was 16. He still offered. He knew what he was saying when he came to Maa’s funeral. He knew what troubles he would have to go through if I would have said yes. He still said, “pack your things.”
I think I sneak into this altered universe every time I feel weak, and my strength to live starts to give up. It is this invisible power. It gives me hope. But I am not crossing any bounds, neither do I plan any infidelity as a married woman. I just think Hamid should be in that picture. He isn’t, though. Guess they mean it when they say only you can save yourself.
Is it because it has been 10 years since I last saw him? I am sure he is living a great life wherever he is now. He left town soon after that night. I never heard from him. I wonder if it was me who drove him away. I hope he doesn’t hold me responsible for any hurt that he felt. I hope he gets why I did what I did.
I never blamed Hamid for whatever happened with me after he left. I never, not even for a second, felt that he left me stranded. I always knew what he wanted from life, and I just couldn’t be the one joining him on that journey. His dreams were high. I cannot even look up in a burkha here. I would have only tied him down. So it’s good that he left. I feel good about it.
I try. I try to feel good about it.
There’s always a what if, in my head.
If Maa was alive, she would’ve told me that I was way out of my limb to even think about a life better than this. A life where I get to work, wear salwar-kameez, and my husband doesn’t hit me. And that I am silly. I should know my place. I should know my place, though. I have two daughters and a husband. I shouldn’t even be thinking of another man, and here I am imagining what things could’ve been if I eloped with him.
It was never in God’s will. This is why it never happened. Simple.
“Baaji, mail’s here.”
It is probably something from Moesin’s office. He is the only one who receives mail in the house. Bhaiji writes once in a while, but this time of the year, he is probably at the border.
The envelope doesn’t look like something from Moesin’s office. Maybe it is from Bhaiji.
It looks like a postcard. Oh, there’s picture of a beach on it. Not like the one from Gwadar, though. Why is it addressed to me?
“Mariam, pack your things, I will be waiting at the Sadabahar Bus Terminal for you tomorrow morning.”