Life in a box

Rumi Project Ramblings of Anusha

“The wound is the place where the light enters you.”

-Rumi

 

“1…2…3…4…5…”

Leila was counting in the distance while Maryam, Ali, Zain and Zoha scattered, getting swallowed by the house as they tried to find a place to hide. Their crackling laughter and little feet breaking the monotony of the house.

Abbu watched from his chair, barely moving or listening to their screaming shenanigans. Everyone called him Abbu and even he seemed to have forgotten his name. His grandchildren were paying a visit during Eid. The house was alive again after the sorrow of losing its soul – Fatima. She was the one who spread her love and pampered everyone with her food. Famished souls came to their courtyard – some seeking advice, others seeking to fill their stomach. She didn’t disappoint anyone. The house with all its old grandeur was always bustling with people – ladies from the community gossiping away, ailing aunts who needed caring, the neighbourhood daughters and daughter-in-laws, learning to make her famous mutton gravy, children – lots of them, always playing, falling, laughing, crying and never behaving.

She was gone now. She never gave anyone a reason to complain. Abbu was complaining now. He had aged 20 years in the last one year since Fatima left them.

“Aaargh!” he grunted.

“What is it Abbu?” asked Nusrat, the eldest daughter-in-law. Abbu had four sons and no daughters. Now in his 78th year, he was at the mercy of his daughter-in-laws.

“I want to go up to Fatima’s room. Take me there.”

Nusrat nodded and left. Yousuf, the man-servant of the house was quickly summoned and was given the task. After what seemed like ages, Abbu was finally in Fatima’s room.

It was dusty and hadn’t been cleaned much. After she left, the room was largely left to its own devices. The spiders seemed to have made it a home in her absence and the dampness in the air was nauseating.

Abbu didn’t know. He had never bothered asking Fatima anything. It seemed to him now that he barely knew her. Her youthful face was a distant memory he struggled to recall.

What was the song she loved humming so much? What was her favourite dress? The smiling photograph wouldn’t respond.

Abbu felt a sudden cold in his spine. They had been married for 57 years and yet he seemed to know nothing about his beloved Fatima. She had taken care of him, his house and his family. She had become the soul of everyone’s existence, the confidante of so many and yet, there she was – an enigma.

Did she write? He did remember she wanted to pursue her studies at some point. He hadn’t given it much of a thought at the time. Or had he? Was there an argument? Fatima resigned to a life at home.

Abbu was suddenly fascinated to know more about the life of the woman he had shared the bed with for 57 years and yet knew nothing about. How was this even possible?

He walked slowly towards her old wardrobe with creaky doors and slowly opened them. It was empty. They had discarded all her clothes and belongings – mostly distributed it among the poor.

He started scuffling through the shelves, looking for a lost memory, something to hold on to.

He kept scouring through her things – wool, knitting needles, her medicine box, her mysterious box which seemed to have anything and everything. There was a small box in a dark corner. He had never noticed it before.

He picked it up and tried opening it. It opened with the same creaky noise he hated so much.

It was Fatima’s. It had her smell. It was filled with papers and other knick-knacks. Very unassuming. If it weren’t for Abbu’s sudden curiousity, he would have let the box go. But, he didn’t. In it were scraps with notes. He started reading them one by one.

 

Rehman is one years old now. I wonder who he will grow up to be. I always wanted a daughter but they say sons are a blessing.

 

I have started attending the school. If Rehman’s father found out, he wouldn’t be too pleased. I am making an extra effort to make sure everything at home is fine so that I can learn.

 

Sometimes I wonder, what I am doing here? I love my family, my sons, my home but I wish I could do so much more. A stupid old woman with stupid ideas they would tell me. Fatima! How dare you even think of stepping out of the house and bringing dishonor to the family? Such satanic thoughts must be buried deep.

 

It feels like such a secret! But, I have to write this down. I have started working at this NGO – that’s what they call it. A place where they help other women to come together and do something. I teach them how to do crochet and how to sell what they make to feed their families. These women come from poor families. I feel sad for them.

 

Today, Vimala came to the NGO beaten up by her husband. Her head was full of blood. I couldn’t bring myself to see her pain! How can men be so cruel?

 

Is cruelty only beating up? How does one define a marriage where the other person does not even know you or your soul? I want to tell Rehman’s father so much that I want to help those women and those children just as my own. Our children are old enough and they do not need me as much. I want to make the lives of these people better.

 

I told Rehman’s father today that I want to start working with these impoverished women. He nodded. I was happy. I thanked my stars!

 

It’s been a week. Rehman’s father is not happy. He has been irritated. He keeps complaining. My work keeps me away. “You haven’t cleaned the house today Fatima? I was embarrassed when my friends came home.” “Why haven’t you made that sabzi today?” “Your work at the NGO is making you neglect the house and the children.” I stopped going to the NGO.

 

I feel empty. The children are all married now. I have nothing to do. The house is empty. I read as much as I can these days. There is no one to talk to.

 

I feel the end is near. But, I want Rehman’s father to know that I loved him. I respected him. I only wished that he understood and respected my wishes in the same way. Those women and children have been abandoned. They are me. I am them. They need love and care. I wish after my death my wishes be honoured.

 

Abbu closed the box. There was a tear or two in his eyes. He never truly did know his beloved Fatima. Now, that she was gone, he was filled with regret for all the things he couldn’t possibly take back. It was all new to him. This woman, he didn’t seem to know or recognize! The woman from the box, who spoke her mind and wanted to change the world. He was confused, unsure. He felt a sudden pain in his heart.

“Abbu.” Nusrat’s voice broke his train of thought as she switched on the light.

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