Thursday, April 30, 2015

Aisha #5

By the time she went back home, there was a big crowd of relatives; almost all of their relatives were present. As she walked into the middle of their big spacious hall, her uncle came and slapped her with such ferocity, “It is unbecoming for a girl to roam around the country alone. You’ll ruin our family name.” 

His uncle would have never dared to behave like that in the presence of her dad. She glared at him, “Where is my father?”

“Your father? You care about him? He died two days ago, while you’re roaming around the country half naked,” and he went on, “Maybe we should scold your father, for being so lenient on you and spoiling you.”

“Jalal! Mind your words, we don’t talk demandingly about the dead,” reprimanded her grandmother. She would have liked to give a nice lashing to Aisha herself, but not yet, not when all the relatives are still present, “You go up and wait in your room.”

It felt as if she was pushed into a bottomless abyss and she laughed hysterically as a profound confusion hit her, the world was spinning, and her loud laugh turned into loud sobs, and before she know what was happening her head hit the floor hard. That was her first ever mental breakdown
By the time she opened her eyes, it was white everywhere surrounding her, stale greyish white walls greeted her, while she was hooked to a myriad different instruments and the stench of medicines, something which she hated the most.

Understanding slowly dawned to her. Her father, her best friend died. Strangely the thought was triggering an acute pain between her eyes instead of tears. “How could he go leaving her alone?” She felt indignant at her dad. She was her daddy’s daughter through and through. “For all it matters, I’m an orphan now.”

“Your classmates came to visit you,” said Jalal, her uncle, in the same menacing tone he had before she fainted, “More boys than girls. I didn’t allow the guys of course. Have some shame, and don’t go rubbing your shoulders with boys. If another boy visits you I don’t even care that you’re recovering from a coma. Where your hijab and cover your hair whenever someone comes into the room,” he said posting to a table beside her, saying which he left the room.

“I was in a coma?” she asked no one in particular. She searched the table beside her for her things and extracted her digital watch, a gift from her father. “You’re an adult and big girl now, make wise choices and I hope you spend every minute of yours in absolute bliss,” her dad said when giving her the watch.

She pressed one of the four buttons on the watch and realized she had been unconscious for a week.

After her discharge from the hospital, she was told not to step out of her room, not unless called for. She came to know that she was to be married away shortly; they are searching for the grooms. She earned another slap from her uncle when she tried telling she wasn’t yet ready for a marriage, she tried asking some time for recuperation.

She ran away to her room crying, and fell on her bed, and she noticed her handbag and her other items she had when she came back, on the nightstand beside her bed, there was also the weight card on the table beside her bed, the last weight card she got, which she hasn’t yet glued to her book. She looked at the quote, “You’ll realize one’s value...,” and the quote made total sense now. Her dad wasn’t the only one who died, along with him died, her freedom in this world. Never for once her uncle raised his voice when her dad was alive, for her dad was fiercely overprotective about Aisha. She realized her dad has been protecting her all the time, screening her like an eggshell so that she can have her life. But like all shells, he had to break one day, and now she was exposed to the cruel bigoted world.

Her dad was her best friend, with a tone that’s different from the rest of the family. He could joke about just about anything, always taking her with him whenever he can, as if he knew she was safe only with him. He used to tell her, “My princess! You give a reason for my existence.” He took pleasure seeing her enjoy her life. He was a two faced person, and always had his best side, the soft side to her, while the vile one tuned towards the rest of the family, because it was necessary to ensure no one interfered with Aisha’s life. He never asked her to wear a hijab or a burqa. He had a curious knack of explaining everything with a reference to trains. A lifelong view from a train locomotive has made him relate everything to trains. When she was little she asked him why her mother and aunt and everyone she knew wore burqa, which she felt would be totally uncomfortable. Her dad smiled and said, “Some people like it, they believe it helps them.”

“What about you abba jaan, you want me to wear that thing. It looks very uncomfortable, and...  and sultry.”

“If you don’t like it, I will never ask you to wear it, my princess. Say if you were in a train to Delhi, and say, someone painted the exteriors black. Will that change you? Or can it alter the destination of the train? No, right? All it matters is what is inside. All it matters is how good we are here,” he said, putting a hand on his heart.

When she was in high school, she had a rather daunting doubt about religions and her dad gave a similar explanation for it. “Say you and your friends want to reach Delhi. And say you’re here, one in Bombay, one in Madras, and one in Calcutta. Each of you have a different path and different train to catch though all of the need to reach Delhi. Religions are just like those trains, to help you reach the God. Each one needs a different one. But essentially all of them do the same thing. Help you reach Delhi, I mean God.”

He would laugh with her. He was his true self with Aisha, and had nothing to hide from her. He told her his failed love story, how he couldn’t marry the girl of his choice because she was a Hindu and he was a Muslim. He even took her to meet that woman, when she was on her deathbed, the woman who was Aisha’s real mother.

She didn’t realize her cheeks were so wet and eyes so puffy; tears flowed unchecked as she sat reminiscing about her father. Now that her dad died, she became so twitchy whenever anyone came near her, her mother, her grandmother, her aunts, for he never trusted any of them. Her eyes, though open, seemed frozen with a lifeless stare at blank walls.
Sitting near the table beside the window, at two in the night, she felt as if the tar-like night was inviting her. The night was unusually heavy as if it was laden with the burden of carrying the memories and unfulfilled wishes of the dead. Dead leaves crackled in the wind. She had a lantern lit up on her table, and an owl flew on to the shade outside her room extending from the window, returning from its hunt. It had a small bird in its claws, wriggling in its grip. After plucking off few feathers, the owl swallowed the bird, and flew away shortly.

Aisha brought a knife from the kitchen carefully. She considered writing a note, but then realized there was no one left in the family she needed to write to. She looked at her book in an apologizing way and made the first gash on her left wrist. It was not a very deep one. It’ll take few more gashes before she can go deep. In the dark, she brought a vegetable knife, instead the meat one. Just as she finished making second gash, there came such a heavy and wild wind with full of dust that she could barely open her eyes. The book beside her was fluttering in the wind, pages, making rapid short noises, beating back and forth. The wind was too heavy for the book and a particularly worn paper got torn away and landed on Aisha’s face as if glued to it. She still couldn’t open her eyes. She moved away from the window and peeled off the paper opened her eyes.

‘Luck favors the brave,’ read the fortune cookie on the first card of the paper. And as suddenly the wind stopped and became a mere breeze. The book was advising. No, her dad was advising her to be brave, she thought. She ripped a small piece of her dupatta and tied it to her wrist to stem the flow of blood.

Taking nothing but her most valuable items, which included a few photographs of her dad and her book of the weight cards, she ran off from the house, to her freedom, to her life and to her only hope, to Anand.

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