I Love This Life Because You Are in It

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| This is the 402nd story of Our Life Logs |


They say that daughters are a blessing, but that was not my reality. You see, I was born in a very small village in Pakistan, called Kasur, in 1979, and for years, I blamed myself for my mother’s death because she died after giving birth to me.

My father was never really meant to be a father. He was a careless, mean, and selfish junkie who only treated himself, even when I was just a toddler. And when my grandfather—who had been the Sardar (leader) of our village back in the day—passed, my father “got lucky” and inherited all his land and all his assets. But instead of investing and making good use out of it, he spent all the money on drug trafficking and drinking. Eventually, my three older brothers got involved with drugs and drinking at a very young age, to which my father happily recruited them to expand his business.

If it weren’t for my grandmother, who knows what would have happened to me.

My grandmother, who lived with us, raised me after my mother died in postpartum, for my father didn’t want me and, as much as I can recall, my brothers never even looked at me. But she was the one who embraced me. She loved me like a mother and father both and gave me all the love she could. I called her Amma (Mother). She had my heart and I had hers.

When my grandfather died, my amma was poorly treated by her own son. My father made her cook and do house chores and look after the four junkies who sat around all day and puffed smoke into every crack and crevice of the house. It made me so miserable and so helpless that I would go hug her and cry my heart out. At this, my brothers beat me and my father would not say a word. When Amma would try to stop them, she would get beaten herself.

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By the time I turned 10, I took my grandmother’s place, learning to do almost everything; I washed dishes, did the laundry, and all the cooking and cleaning. My amma was too old and sickly to continue, and I could no longer bear to see her flinch at my brothers’ hands.

My amma had gotten very sick and bedridden when I was 15. She needed treatment but I did not have money for that, and she had already used her savings to raise me. Desperate, I asked my father for some money for her medicine, but he just hit me. After his palm left my face, I remember I cried and cursed his existence. All the while, I felt hopeless. I had never gotten out of the house and had no idea how to ask for a loan or anything. Besides, I knew nobody would have helped anyway considering my father’s status. He was popular in a bad way.

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I was sure my amma did not have much time left. She was getting weaker with every passing day and she would barely get up. I would sleep in her bed with her at night and she would sing me folksongs and tell me stories of her childhood. She often apologized for bringing me up in such a bad home. I used to comfort her by saying, “I love this life because it has you in it, Amma.”

And then…at 7 AM one morning, I went into her room to give her breakfast but she didn’t wake up. I do not know for how long I stood there watching her and waiting for her to open her eyes. Finally, I heard my father’s yelling shake the house—he wanted breakfast. I told him Amma wouldn’t get up. And all he said was, “So what? Must have died! She had to one day.”  My heart couldn’t take it. I yelled back at him, “She was your mother, goddamnit!”

I did not care when his hand struck my cheek. I was in hell.

My father left and came back later with my brothers and some other people to take my amma away for burial. And, who was there to spare me if I had wanted some time off my duties to mourn over Amma’s death? Nobody of course. My father made me work and cook as usual and treated me like trash. My brothers would come home drunk and beat the hell out of me over petty things. I wished that I would have died with her, but I never had the guts and courage to kill myself. If I had, who knows what would have happened?

I was almost 16 years old when I made up my mind on running away from there. I was not sure where to go or how to get the money, but I was adamant that I would. I made strategies for days, worked out on my plan, and waited for the perfect time.

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One night, when all four of them came home drunk and wasted, I waited for them to crash into deep sleep. When I could hear him snoring from miles, I snuck into my father’s room, opened his small cupboard where he kept money, and stole as much as I could. I did not take any of my belongings since I didn’t have any and I never looked back.

I ran to the bus stop that I knew was around 15 miles from my house; the adrenaline must have carried me all the way there. When I finally reached the station, I didn’t even know which city I was running to. I just knew that I would not bear any brutality anymore. As I waited there for the bus, the conductor told me it would leave for Lahore in 30 minutes. I got on the bus without a second thought, I knew my father or my brothers would not be up till dawn so I was safe till then.

The bus took off and so did my new journey. I clutched the edge of my seat. What will I do when I reach Lahore? Where will I go? Where will I stay? Of all the racing thoughts, never once did I think of going back to that hellhole. I was almost 16 and full of energy! I decided that I would find some work to do in the city and live a normal life.

We reached Lahore in three hours, and when the bus stopped at the terminal, I had no idea where I was. The experience was new and thrilling but scary. As I stepped off the bus, I realized that I’d not thought about where I would sleep. I decided to spend the night on the pavement and look for some work the next morning. The first night alone was full of possibility, or at least that’s what I told myself to keep my fears at bay.

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In the morning, I roamed the streets of Lahore with an empty stomach. I purchased a water bottle for myself though and started roaming again. The streets bustled with big cars and crowds of people. I felt like a mackerel getting lost in the current.

I went into markets and stores and asked every clerk if I could be of any help. I told them how desperate I was, but many did not even listen to me. Some thought I was a beggar and threw me out on the street.

I started my routine again very early the next morning, all while convincing myself that my persistence would be rewarded. Faith was my only possession. By noon, I stopped by a very big market, hoping to awaken my luck. But, as I approached the entrance, two big guards with crossed arms told me to turn around. I held my tears below the surface as I told them that I was not a beggar and I needed a job. I insisted they let me in, but it was no use. In a way, I understood. What else were they to assume when the clothes I was wearing were old, dirty, smelly, and almost rags? I gave up fighting them. I had no energy left.

A lady stopped by and asked the guards what the matter was; I thought it was a golden chance so I ran towards her, telling that I needed a job and that I wasn’t a beggar. As quickly as I could, I shared my story. I prayed that she would listen to me. And then, the lady’s eyes softened and asked if I’d like to go with her to her house. I nodded and got in her car, too desperate and too trusting to let her kindness pass me by.

Her house was like a palace. I had never seen anything so exquisite in all my dreams. She made me sit with her on the porch as she had to explain a few things.

She told me her name was Salma and she lived there with her husband and her five children. I watched her face formed the words and, as I did, I couldn’t help but realize how graceful and attractive she was, being a lady of about 40 years old. Her warmth reminded me of my amma’s, and my heart felt safe with her.

Once again, I told her my story, though I wasn’t sure she would buy it, but what other option did I have? It was the truth. She seemed convinced and told me she needed a maid for her house and would pay me well. What else did I need to hear? I immediately accepted but admitted that I had no place to stay. Salma kindly offered her servant quarters for me until I could find something of my own. Tears bit at the corner of my eyes, but I held them back.

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I worked with passion and love for what I was doing. I’d never kept a house with a happy heart before! In the first few days, I quickly finished all my assignments before noon, probably because I had been doing this all my life. I asked Salma if she could find me more work and more houses so that I could make more money and find a place of my own.

After a few months, I got more houses to work for and I made more money. But when I was ready to find a new home, Salma said that I was too young to live by myself, so she offered me a permanent residence until the time I got married or turned 25. Salma was no less than an angel for me, I can’t thank her enough for what she did. Even today when I think about her, I get teary-eyed.

Not only did Salma give me refuge, but she helped restore my faith in men. When I turned 20, she sat me down and explained that it is a privilege to be married to a man who will embrace you and look after you, who will love you, respect you, and teach you how to love another just as well. I told her it was not my decision to get married, but that I would love it if she arranged it for me.

She talked to me about a number of suitors, all of whom were good-hearted. Finally, she picked a young man named Aslam who was one of her sister’s drivers and was a very good person. She told me I could get married and still work If I want. I said yes, of course!

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I married Aslam a few months later. He showed me the same kind of love that Salma had explained. Together, we raised four beautiful children. Aslam still works for Salma’s sister, and I for other people, and we have made enough money to support our children’s educations and live happily.

My past was horrific, but my present is beautiful and all I’ll ever want. Hard work, persistence, and a little bit of kindness are what saved me. I am forever grateful!

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This is the story of Manzoora Bibi

Manzoora was raised by her grandmother (Amma) when her father and brother wanted nothing to do with her. When Amma died, Manzoora was forced to escape home or bear the wrath of her father. After fleeing to the city of Lahore, the kindness of a woman named Salma restored her faith in others and led her to happiness. Today, Manzoora is happily married with kids and enjoys the work she does. She has two influential personalities in her life, her amma and Salma. One raised her and one gave her a new life. Manzoora is grateful. After Salma’s husband passed away and Salma moved to the US to be with her eldest son, Manzoora felt her absence deeply. Since then, the two talk on the phone every month, the next best thing to being together.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on October 15, 2018.

| Writer: Noor Pasha| Editor: Colleen Walker |

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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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