She Will Not Live This Way

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| This is the 492nd story of Our Life Logs |


Growing up, I saw thousands of faces in my town. I was born in Kasur, Punjab, in Pakistan. Kasur is a very small city famous for the shrine of Baba Bulleh Shah. Thousands of believers come there to visit the shrine and say their prayers.

Some of these travelers have hopeful eyes, like bright windows on a sunny day. Some have dark bags that shroud their skin. They have seen things that only prayer can wash away. I have too.

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My parents’ names are Shafaqat Majeed and Shamshad Bano. I was born in 1986. They had my two elder brothers before me and none after me. I guess you could say that I am the baby of the family. It never really felt that way.

My childhood was pretty agonizing. My mother was a slave to housework while my father was a junkie who used to sit at home and do nothing. She single-handedly raised and provided for my brothers and me. She did not make much money, but she worked hard as a street-food vendor. If my mother had any extra money, my father would snatch it up. If she refused to hand the money over, he would beat her. She was never able to keep her earnings from his addiction, and because her parents were dead and the house we lived in belonged to my father, she had nowhere else to go. She stopped trying to resist. Instead, she would work twice as hard to make up for the loss.

I loved my mother. I remember her kind teachings and her big hugs. She raised me and my brothers to be the very best people that we could. She was special. I remember listening to the sounds of my mother in the early mornings. Every day, she would hurry around our kitchen to make achaar, a South Asian dish of pickled vegetables and fruits. This is how she earned money for us, by selling this delicacy. I remember smelling the sour brine fill our kitchen just as vividly as I remember hating my father for lying in bed like a sloth.

There were many days and nights when all that my mother could provide for dinner was boiled grass, which my brothers and I drank for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That, obviously, never satisfied our stomachs, but we were bound to lie to our mother so that she would not feel sad. While she could not afford to send any of us to school, she waited for my brothers and I to enter our teens before we were expected to contribute to our household income. She wanted us to be children for as long as we could. But how could we be children with a father who beat us when he was drunk and a mother who desperately needed help?

My only moments of childhood were when I would go over to my friend Shaista’s place and play with dolls her father would bring her. To be honest, I envied my friend. Her family was poor too, and yet, all of Shaista’s desires were well looked after. She was a light in her doting father’s world, whereas I was another mouth to feed.

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When I was about eight or nine, my eldest brother’s skin began to turn yellow. He started having nausea and got so tired that it was hard for him to get up from bed. When these symptoms could not be cured with sleep, we knew there was something wrong. Unfortunately, my mother did not have any money to take him to a good doctor in the city. Instead, we took him to a Hakeem who told my mother that her son was simply suffering from a minor infection and that it would soon go away.

For months, my brother weakened. It was like watching a flower shrivel up in the hot sun. My mother waited for days and months for it to go away but it only got worse. During his last days, my mother had saved enough money and took him to a hospital in the city. There, the doctors told her that he had been living with hepatitis C and that it was too late. He passed away that very night.

My mother was ailed and agonized. For years, she blamed herself for not being able to look after him properly. If only we were not so poor he would still be alive. She was never the same again. My other brother and I mourned in our own ways, though, even as time passed, the sorrow of our brother’s death filled every inch of our lives. My father was only slightly bothered.

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When my other brother and I were old enough, we started working to help our mother earn money. I helped my mother with the house chores and the achaar making, while my brother found odd jobs. My brother was never happy with our situation, and while I understood his frustrations, I found that he was turning into a different person. He began having anger issues and his behavior became strange. Still, he remained calm and quiet for most of the time, and life went on.

About the time I was 15 and my brother was 19, my brother found a job at a barbershop. There, he was really making good money for us, but the work was not his cup of tea. Regardless, our financial condition got a bit better with his earning as well as my mother’s.

Our life completely changed when, on one very fine and normal day, we were informed that my brother was arrested for murdering a police officer. They said that the officer came to him for a haircut. When the officer began misbehaving, my brother decided to slit his throat with scissors. To this day, I can’t comprehend why he did that.

My mother fainted after hearing this. This news made us lose our minds and for once we thought the world was crazy. It was evident we could never see him again because we neither had the money nor did we believe he deserved to see us. I wanted the earth to explode and the sky to fall on us and for the day of resurrection to come already!

My mother became a dead body after that. She lost both her sons and there was nothing I could have done to make her whole. My mother stopped making achaar, so I inherited that business. She started becoming sick and weak, so she mostly spent her time just sitting and thinking. With my mother like this, I had no one—not even my father. He was always drunk and I wished it was him who had died instead of my brother.

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I was 16 when a local shopkeeper, Zubair, asked for my hand in marriage. At that time, I was fair and pretty. Zubair was 40 and had a bad reputation for beating women. I wanted nothing to do with this proposal, but my father could not stop drooling over the money he offered and my mother was too lost to fight for me. For the first time, I felt abandoned. Could I have fought my father? I could not have. I had no option but to accept.

We got married exactly five days after his proposal, and he raped me that very night. I had expected this, of course, but I didn’t expect the agony of what was to come. For the next three months, he raped me repeatedly. All the while, I kept silent. I lost my appetite. I started to lose my faith. Still, I did not think of killing myself. I would not let this man be my downfall. I told myself that I would not let another person in my family waste away. I had endured worse.

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My silence ended, however, when I found out that I was pregnant at 17.

When I reflected on my own childhood, I saw the landslide that stemmed from my horrible father. Not even my compassionate and hardworking mother could stop such erosion. His addiction and violence caused our poverty and frustration. Our poverty and frustration caused our tragedies. I realized that, like my mother, there would be nothing I could do to shield my baby from Zubair’s blight.

I decided to run away and never look back.

Going back to my mother was not an option because nobody would have accepted me there. And if Zubair found out, he would have dragged me back to his hell hole or, better yet, moved us to the mountains. No. I planned to run away to Lahore, a much bigger city full of opportunities. It was time to fix things for me and my child, and a train ticket was not so expensive. I scraped the coins together and packed a small bag. When Zubair was not at home, I ran to the train station with dry eyes and no regrets. To be honest, I did not know where I was going to live or where would I go once the train stopped. But I was not afraid of the hardships that loomed in the uncertainty.

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I arrived in Lahore with a hungry stomach and no shelter from the weather. For days, I wandered the streets while I made a plan. I was three months pregnant already and needed treatment. Just when I thought I could no longer go on, some kind people saw my condition and took me to a hospital.

I told the doctors about myself and how I had nowhere to go. The lady doctors were very nice there, and they assured me that I didn’t have to worry any longer. That same day, they set me up to stay at a hostel where I would be looked after and taught skills so that I could make a living for myself and my child.

The hostel I was taken to was very nice and filled with good people. The women were of all ages and, just like me, had gone through hell but wanted to make the best out of their lives. They taught me how to sew and embroider clothing, and I began making my own money from my handiwork. The women sharpened my personality so that I could become independent.

I did call my friend Shaista to ask about my mother. It was Shaista’s father who answered and delivered the news. He said that my mother had passed away. I cried and mourned her for weeks, but eventually, I realized that she would have been nothing but proud. I had abided by her teachings and grown into the fighter that she had taught us to become.

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I gave birth to my daughter there in that hostel. Years have passed, but one thing has not changed; I am stronger every day. Now that I am going to be 34 years old, my daughter is a teenager herself and I can now feel what my mother felt for me. I have done everything in my power to teach my daughter to be the very best she can be. And, I will say, my daughter is a fighter, just as a woman should be.

 

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This is the story of Samina Qayum

Samina is from a small village in Pakistan where she was raised by her hard-working mother. Unfortunately, Samina endured abuse from her father, the death of her brother, and sexual assault by her own husband. When she became pregnant at 17, Samina decided to run away to the city and never look back. Her strength is what saved her. For now, Samina is focused on giving her daughter the education she could not get. She wants to give her daughter the world that she deserves.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on October 22, 2019.

| 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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