Of the billions of people living in the world, there are those who, regardless of all their relations, find themselves standing alone. I am a woman with a lengthy list of close relations; I have a father, siblings, a husband, my own children. Yet for all this, since my marriage, one little room has been my whole world.
As a child, I would dream of a peaceful life with my future husband, a beautiful marriage coloring my life with joy.
Unfortunately, our futures aren’t our own to pen, as I would soon find out. I became the unwanted first wife of a man who never wasted a second look at me. A life of abuse was what I had married into, and I faced even more neglect after my husband married again. He started another family with his second wife, sharing a happy life of resources and love that I was never afforded.
My father was unable to do anything despite feeling distressed by my condition, for he has been incapacitated by illness for some time now. My sorry life story is nothing but a source of gossip for my siblings, one they have stopped discussing since it started affecting their moods and their busy lives.
I have been reduced to a useless creature, unable to fit in anywhere, and I have suffered many diseases because of my meagre diet.
Every breath I take these days is for my two children.
They are innocent souls who haven't yet seen a happy moment in their short lives. My son, the eldest, has had to provide for us, but he is young (only in twelfth grade), and hasn’t been able to find a proper job. Currently, he works for a store as a laborer, paid a hundred rupees (less than a single US dollar) daily. He spends that every night getting us food. He has a long way to go, at least four years of education, before he can attain a stable position in society.
As for my daughter, she has become a girl who buries her happiness somewhere deep inside. She witnesses her father brutally beating her mother every second of the day, simply for asking him for food and medicine. She has seen little in her life besides domestic violence, and felt little besides an empty stomach. All this while her father’s second family dines with an abundance of water and she receives the mouth-watering smells of food. She never asks for anything, not since she saw her mother get a bloody neck after asking her father for medicine for kidney pain.
I wonder sometimes what brought me to this room, flooded with abuse and misery, and I realized my biggest hurdle has been my illiteracy, a towering monster in my life.
It is this monster that has forced me into this brutal environment. It has trapped me with invisible ties, kept me shackled even as I am assaulted every other day. I inhabit a cruel world that won't let me and my daughter live our lives. The roof my husband provides has cost me in bruises and pain, yielded complete loneliness. My dependency on this roof has robbed me of all self-respect, battered my health, and given me depression.
These days I do nothing but wait. This has been an indefinite wait for better days to come, for positive change in my life. An endless wait for my relations to improve, for my son to be stable enough to free me from this torture cell of a life. It has been a ceaseless wait for an end to my pain and my daughter’s despondency, and an escape from this cruelest of societies where even your family abandons you in times of need.
It has taken everything I have to make sure this wait does not outlast me.
The one thing that brings me some hope is my attempts to keep this monstrous illiteracy away from my children. I am trying to get my children educated, even if it means living on one meal a day, or even having days where we eat nothing at all. I am willing to do this, for I have witnessed the cruelty of this monster and I am a living manifestation of the destruction it can cause. And I will not let it prevail over my children.
From Afsana: Stories like these remind us of the power of an education. Proper literacy can change the lives of countless women forced into dependency, as well as the lives of their families. Afsana is committed to helping Pakistani women with such needs, and that starts with sharing their stories. If you or anyone you know has a story to tell, please reach out to us. Together we can shift the tide and help the women of Pakistan lead fuller lives.
Written by Hafsa Mushtaq
Edited by Adil Rahim Hyder