Chapter 1: “You are your own hell”
I was four when my father left my mother all alone with three children to feed, thinking that she would not be able to raise us on her own and would beg him to come back. I never tried to judge who did wrong because they both didn’t love one another. Mother was a commissioned officer in the army’s nursing staff, and was a source of income to her middle-class family that did not want to lose an earning hand. That was the main reason why my grandparents did not allow her to marry “The man” of her choice and that was how all the future events triggered.
Father belonged to a landlord family, not suitable for my mother, but as his family had not asked for dowry, it got him her hand. They never got attached: Father had physical relations even with maids whereas Mother, throughout the ten years of their marriage, kept comparing him with “The man.”
Father used to beat her every day like an animal and my eldest brother Sunny used to lock the room and keep Honey and me in his lap and covered our ears with his hands so that we could not hear her crying. His inattention and disrespectful attitude forced Mother to contact “The man” again, who promised to accept her with love and her three children: Sunny, Honey and me, Areeba.
But it was all a lie as men marry women, but not mothers. The day Father divorced her, “The man” changed his mind and then disappeared. Mother was handicapped as she had left her job because no one was there to take care of her four-year old daughter. She was not accepted by her parents because now not only she could not give them money but also had an added baggage of misery and three children with her.
I lived with her and loved her for the reason because the kind of life she lived afterwards was her compensation for what she had done, but most importantly she never left us: her children. I could never forgive Father. What matters to me is that Mother did not abandon us as he did – his own children.
Chapter 2: “She is a mother, but a breathing desiring human too”
Mother started her own clinic when I was five because all of her savings were spent and there was not enough money even to put salt in flour. My childhood was full of confusion: we had to pretend to be a normal family all the time, which we never really were. Mother worked day and night to get us a living and the aspect of raising us was handed over to the servants. She was a mother, but a woman and a human too, and humans do have physical and emotional fragmentation that they need someone to satisfy and unlike her brothers and my brothers, I always understood it.
I wanted her to get married again, to be happy, to have someone for her, to put mehndi and bangles on those tired hands, to put kajal in those weary eyes. I always dreamed her to be like most of the mothers of my friends who would get ready at six in the evening and wait, not for Father, but for a husband who deserved her. If only this world could see her with my eyes and realize what they have done to this woman who had desires which flew away from her reach, but I guess her only escape was sleep.
I was sent to school but there I envied my friends who used to come to school with their fathers and both of their parents who attended the parent-teacher meetings. My brothers were sent to boarding school because Mother could not take care of her growing sons who had no father in the house to keep a check on them. I was all alone then to fight and solve my conflicts. This left a void in my life and made me think even at the age of thirteen that I needed a father who will give me all the love and complete me.
I idealized the parents of my friends, who loved their daughters – however, the returned affection was not for an incomplete child but for my growing body.
The first man who molested me was Mother’s brother and the second was her uncle. This way, I was familiarized to this aspect of physicality at a very young age as Father was busy sheltering and pampering his two baby girls from his second marriage. I needed a man, a father to love me and these two men took advantage of my need. I was their blood, their family, they had daughters of my age but they were men and that was what only mattered to them. I was fourteen when one day Mother sent one of her colleagues to drop me off at a party. My friends there thought he was my father. Their fathers met him and that brought a vague sense of pride in me. I requested him to come to pick me up and he agreed. We were on our way back in the car and he stopped the car near the fields. It was dark and he asked me to look at sky and count the stars. I was counting them when I felt his hand on my back and that night I was molested again ….
Chapter 3: “A daughter inherits not only the traits of her mother but her fate too …”
At fifteen, I finished school and by now was a grown girl. I never had career goals and was never a very good student. A longing for acceptance and family shaded my whole life. The desire of a perfect father had matured into a faultless husband at that moment. Many people came and would leave and with each abandonment, I would feel more and more hollow. I was immature and there was no one I was answerable to, so all those decisions which someone should have taken for me were mine alone. On my eighteenth birthday, a brother of a friend, Sherry, who belonged to a “happy family” proposed and obviously I consented to everything he asked. After one year of an affair and two years of engagement, the man who I thought would fill all the emptiness, left me because “a girl with a mother like yours is not a wife and especially not daughter-in-law material.”
This could affect his family’s reputation and Sherry’s married life and so therefore I didn’t argue but let him leave, as a deep down a part of me knew that daughters receive the fate of mothers and so had I. Then came Umer, when I was twenty-one, with the same promises but different ways and this time too the answer was yes. I gave him all the respect and love that I could, but the day we got engaged he became a totally changed man. He abused me psychologically, emotionally and physically and I endured because Mother said she couldn’t face the world with a broken marriage and now with a ruined daughter, so this time it had to work.
To make it work, I went for psychological help that took me more three years to realize that I had to disappoint Mother again. One day, she found him hitting me and that day was the day of goodbye to my torturer – or ‘lover’ I’m not sure. To save the family from disgrace, I was shifted to Lahore last year. Here, I’m still trying to live a normal life through anti-depressants and therapy. The void that Father left is still there and today I got engaged to a person I do not love, nor does he even fit my ideals. But what he is going to give me is a family: a family of my own and this girl from a broken family, an unfaithful mother, will be respected now on by this society ….
Nafs is the nickname of a girl in Pakistan who is struggling with her consciousness and desires and this memoir is a vent for her soul from the constraints of religion, family and society. She believes her words can scream louder than her. These chapters are from an on-going series of her memoir.