Monday, January 22, 2018

The Last Breath

Author: Rizwan Ahmed Memon

My son, Wajdan, had given me two different kinds of medicine that claimed to induce a deep, relaxing sleep, but after taking both, I still didn’t feel the slightest bit drowsy. My chronic back problems had flared up, and I couldn’t even bend down to touch my own feet—a problem that comes with old age. Living at home was very lonely; hardly anyone would ever talk to me. This loneliness had only added to my health problems. “Now lie down on your bed, Kurara, and let the medicine take effect,” my son said while leaving the room. “You won’t be alone anymore; I have spoken with the manager of the local nursing home. They will probably come to take you there tomorrow,” he said, closing the door.

I silently shook my wrinkled head in resigned affirmation, thinking to myself, “A nursing home sounds good.” I was sick of the loneliness I felt at home, so going to a nursing home would somehow alleviate my loneliness, I thought. Taking off my thick, heavy glasses, I looked into the large oval mirror on the dressing table, and placed my glasses in their usual spot. The closed off room was as silent as a graveyard, and felt completely disconnected from the city of Karachi outside, whose streets were bustling with activity. The silence was like a venom gradually devouring the already tattered fabric of my heart, and the oppressive height and weight of the surrounding walls closed in around me like the ravenous mouth of some cruel lion preparing to swallow his prey whole.

I looked in the mirror at my pale, longing eyes that had become starved in their desire of many years to see Rubab and the streets of my native village. Overwhelmed by my desire to see her, and the oppressive atmosphere of solitude, I collapsed on the bed. As I feared, the same flashbacks happened again: my memories of Rubab flickered like a film to which I alone was its audience, the echoes of cries resounded noiselessly in the background of my mind, and my old, native home gradually surfaced before the eyes of my consciousness.

The medicine appeared to be useless even after an hour—I kept tossing and turning. However, far more effective than any medicine was that terrible, painful venom ruthlessly biting at my heart. The anguish it inflicted was a burden that I desperately wanted to share with someone so as to win some relief from its relentless onslaught. But, in that moment, my loneliness, disease, and desire trapped me in an isolation deeper than the solitary flights of a hawk hunting for its food. My son, Wajdan, didn’t have time to listen to me even though I had so much that I wanted to tell him.

The lights of Karachi didn’t amuse me at all. On the contrary, my weak eyes ached from the bright lights. The shopping malls, parks, and zoos had lost all their charm for me after the craze of youth, wealth, and lust had died down, and after realizing how much injustice I had done to Rubab. This city seemed well-suited for only rich, young men—not for a decrepit 75-year-old person like myself. I only ventured to the street downstairs. The long, winding stairs were difficult to descend, but I often felt suffocated in the house, and the open air was my only respite. I would sit by the street and watch people pass by. I felt lost in this busy city; my heart weighed heavy with regrets.

Somehow the night passed, and early in the morning the home cook brought my breakfast. “Dada (grandfather), eat your breakfast and get ready,” the cook entreated. “Today you are going to the nursing home.”

I didn’t say a word with hardly enough time to finish breakfast and change my clothes. My son came and said in a soothing voice, “Kurara, don’t worry. I’ll visit you every weekend. If you need anything, feel free to ask the worker or the cook. I’m leaving for work now; they will help you with everything.”

“Dada, why does your son call you “Kurara?” It is not a good word for father,” said the cook.

“It means old,” I replied tiredly. “Am I not obviously old?” The cook looked at me wordlessly.

Shortly thereafter, a van came with a young doctor who stepped out of the van saying, “Asalam Alaikum, Baba (father).” His warm, humble way of greeting touched my heart. He approached me and touched my feet and said, “I’m late, but I have finally come.” He spoke as though he had known me for ages. I kept looking at his face which resembled mine in the days of my youth: round with reddish lips. His hair was black and wavy, and his body was tall and sturdy like mine in my youth. However, his smile seemed more sincere than the one I used to have. “Baba, let me help you get into the van,” he said while tenderly taking my hand. His treatment of old people was kinder than mine when I was his age. “Don’t worry about anything. I’ll take all your stuff and put it safely in the van,” he said as he handed me my walking stick. He was more respectful towards me than my own son, I mused. 

The young doctor took me to the nursing home, a three-hour drive through the thick traffic of Karachi. My new four-bed room seemed to be a little cozier than my previous lonely single-bed room. “This is your bed, Baba” he said, helping me sit on it.

Near my bed was the bed of an old woman who sat in a wheelchair. “Ada, how do you do?” she asked, smiling; her face was full of wrinkles.

“How do you do?” I replied.

My back pain was increasing, so I didn’t talk to her much and lay on my bed.

While I was less lonely at the nursing home, every day I remained lost in thoughts of Rubab. I could picture her clearly in my mind, sitting on the bed wearing her bridal dress. Almost a month passed, but my son didn’t come to see me. The young doctor, however, came to see me every day.

“You seem to be brooding over something all the time. Would you mind sharing it with me?” asked the woman in the wheelchair, noticing my constant silence and sadness. “I have also observed no one visits you.”

“My son is a banker, so he is often busy. He will come one day,” I replied crisply.

“Everyone gets sick of old people. It is a hard truth,” she said. Then I returned to my silent state.

Days kept passing, and the roommates and I exchanged a little dialogue every day. I wanted to talk to the young doctor; I didn’t know why I couldn’t. One day I asked the woman, “The young doctor who looks after this nursing home—What’s his name?”

“Rohet. He is a Hindu.”

“A Hindu?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t know why he feels like my own family.”

“Yes, he is a kind man like his mother, Rubab.” My eyes shone as I heard that name. I put on my glasses quickly and got closer to the woman.

“Rubab? That is a Muslim woman’s name,” I added with astonishment.

“I don’t know,” my elderly roommate replied. That’s what she told me when she came to visit this nursing home last year. But why are you so curious?”

I stepped back to my bed and said, “It is strange, you know! A Hindu woman has a Muslim name.”

“It is not that strange,” said the woman. “After all, there are many mysterious things in this world. For example, what can be odder than having offspring who send us to these nursing homes?”

I intently observed Rohet as he went from bed to bed visiting each elderly person in the nursing home. When he came to me, he said, “Baba, I will sit with you for a while. I know you want to talk to me.” He took my hand and asked me to walk outside. He asked me about my back pain and sleep schedule.

I then replied, “I am happy here. My happiness increases when I see you. I don’t know why.”

He smiled and looked into my eyes.

“If you don’t mind, may I ask you something?” I said in a tentative voice.

“Not at all. Please ask,” he replied encouragingly.

“You are a Hindu, but your mother’s name is Rubab, which is a Muslim name.”

“Yes, my mother is Muslim. I am also Muslim. It is just a name that my father gave me.”

“Your father gave you a Hindu name?”

“He is not my actual father. He raised me. I mean, he did more for my mother and me than my biological father.”

“I don’t understand,” I replied, wanting him to tell me more.

“My mother once told me that she tried to commit suicide for some reason after the first night of her marriage. Feeling desperate, she actually jumped into the Rais Canal in Larkana. She was saved by Dr. Lal Chandar, the person who brought me up. My mother told me that her husband was not only unfaithful, but also physically abusive and violent. Well, it is water under the bridge and a story long past. We don’t know anything about that man now.”

After hearing Rohet's story, I finally realized why it felt like he was my own family and why he seemed to resemble me so much: He was my own son. Coming to this realization,  my hand, which Rohet had held in his hand, started to shake. My whole body started to shake after hearing it. “Are you alright?” he asked.

“No. I am feeling cold; please take me back to the nursing home,” I replied brokenly. The words crumbled to pieces the moment they left my mouth. I did not know how Rohet managed to understand me. My back was hurting so much from the shaking that it was almost like I was attempting to lift the sky itself with every breath.

Rohet, helping me back inside, had me lie down on my bed and put a bedsheet on me, but still I was shivering. He brought two more sheets and put them over me, but they did little to help me. It was early March, and I was shivering as if it were mid-winter. The realization that Rohet was my son rocked me to my very core. Rohet stayed at the nursing home late at night until I fell asleep.

The next day, he came early and asked me about my health. I didn’t dare look into his eyes that day. I felt so ashamed of myself. I wondered how ashamed he would be of me if he knew that I was his father.

“How many siblings do you have, son?” I asked him. Rohet smiled because I had never called him son. I always called him “young doctor.”

“None, Baba. Mother never married after she left her husband’s home,” he replied while checking my pulse. “You’re fine now; just a little low blood pressure. I have prescribed some tablets; the nurse will bring them.”

I think Rohet sensed that I had something to do with his life story, but if he did suspect, he didn’t ask. I was relieved that he didn't, I wasn't ready to admit my wrongdoings. He probably didn’t want to hear anything more about his mother’s sad past. The days continued to pass and my longing to see Rubab and seek forgiveness was increasing now that I knew she was alive and within reach. I wanted to seek forgiveness from her before my last breath.

During Rohet’s visits, I kept asking him about his life and his mother. Rohet didn’t know much about me, his biological father. Even after all my cruelty, it seemed Rubab had never complained about me. She had not told her son the complete story of his cruel father. I felt I was not only guilty of harming Rubab, but also Rohet. I wanted to tell him the truth, but I did not dare to tell him in person. I decided to write the whole story in a notebook and ask Rohet to take me to Rubab at least once before my last breath. 

That evening, I asked Rohet to provide me with a notebook and two pens. “Are you going to write your autobiography, Baba?” he asked with a soft smile.

“Yes. But do not try to read it until I finish it,” I said firmly.

“Okay. I will be waiting. I am sure it will be interesting!” he said with a fading smile.

“Son, I am worried about one thing,” I said looking down.

“What is it, Baba?” he asked with a tension on his face.

“I feel you will hate me after reading my autobiography!” I said lifting my head and looking at him.

“No, I will not. What makes you think that?” he asked. I remained silent.

“Son, promise me that you will like me the same way after reading my autobiography.” I pleaded. He gave me his word.

By now he had to have known that I knew a lot about his mother. I was doing a horrible job of hiding it. He still didn't ask me anything about her, however, which was very curious, but perhaps he was simply respecting my privacy, or better yet did not want to disturb my declining health any further.


The next day, I started writing my story:

“It was the summer of 1992. On the day of the wedding ceremony of my brother, Hyder, my father had arranged a separate dinner party for village women in the city. My mother had forgotten her night-time glasses at home, so father sent me to the dinner party with the glasses. While talking to my mother, a fairy-like girl with reddish cheeks, hazel eyes, and dark hair arrived. Her eyes were a gorgeous ocean, deep enough to drown you in their beauty.

“Jalal, this is Mrs. Nihaal. And this is Rubab, their first daughter.” My mother introduced her to me.

“Asalam-o-Alaikum,” Rubab greeted me gently. Her greeting was extremely enticing, and quickened my pulse.

“Rubab, Jalal is the second son of Mrs. Khuhro,” Rubab’s mother said to Rubab.

“Yes. He wants to study law in the near future,” continued my mother.

“Nice to meet you,” Rubab said gracefully.

“It is great to meet you. Do you study anything?” I asked her.

Rubab looked down. Her mother replied, “No, she doesn’t. We don’t let our girls get higher education—just up to grade ten. It is the rule in most Mirbahar families. Rubab, go and chat with the other neighborhood girls,” her mother commanded. I left the dinner party because males were not allowed.

Rubab seemed very docile, but a pure beauty. I had always treated beautiful girls as “sex toys.” I wanted to have Rubab on my bed as soon as possible at any cost.

My father was a police officer, and people feared the Khuhro family because of their power. I thought I could use this fear in order to capture Rubab. Though I was just 22, I had already slept with five women. Rubab seemed to be more beautiful than any of them. I didn’t know how I could sleep with her, but I could not check my blinding desire. My father’s power had lessened my fear for the consequences of my actions.

Within a week, I collected some information about Rubab. She never went to the city alone, so it was impossible to kidnap her. She didn’t have a mobile phone, so she couldn’t be embroiled on phone in the net of my unrelenting lust. There were only two options for me: either arrange an attack on her home at night or marry her.

I shared my feelings with my friends who often arranged for prostitutes in a hotel. “I met the hottest girl any of you have ever seen. I just want her to be in my bed as soon as possible,” I said to my friends. I told them everything about Rubab’s family. “She belongs to a Mirbahar family and she has a brother, Gulab. He works in the guava orchards in winter and cuts wood in the summer.” My friends suggested that I give Gulab money. We decided that we would invite him to the Otaq (a place where men sit and chat).

The next day, Gulab came and greeted us nervously. “Saeen, is everything alright? You have called a poor man to your service.”

I looked at him with wide eyes. “Your sister has grown up and I have heard that she is still not married!”

“Saeen, she has just completed tenth grade. It is a matter for our elders to think about her marriage,” Gulab replied.

I didn’t know what to say, so my friend said to him, “Jalal wants to marry your sister, so make arrangements without any delay. This marriage will be a secret. His parents want him to marry a rich girl, but he wants to marry a girl from a poor family. He believes a poor, simple girl will prove to be a good wife, compared to the rich girl. He believes his parents won't force him to marry the rich girl if he has already consummated the marriage, and maybe have a son on the way before they learn about it. Your sister will not live in the village; she will stay at Jalal’s house in the city.”

I looked at my friend and was amazed to hear what he said. “Tell your parents to keep this marriage secret for about six months.” Gulab seemed hesitant. “You will be given a lot of money,” my friend added.

This sparked interest in Gulab’s eyes. “I will tell you my parents’ decision tomorrow at this time,” he said.

My friends told me the rest of the plan after Gulab had left. “What a tangled web we have woven,” I said to my friends. I was so lost in the madness of my lust that I didn’t know what I was doing.

Gulab returned the next day and said, “I have made my parents agree to your conditions. Who can be a better husband for our sister than Jalal? We have decided to make this marriage happen as soon as possible.”

It seemed to me that Gulab’s family was poor and they probably thought that Rubab would be living the life of a rich wife if they gave her hand to me. They didn’t have a clue of our plans. “That’s great. This marriage will take place on Saturday next week in the city,” I said to him and gave him two lacs. “Keep it secret! Saturday evening at this time a car will be sent to you. Do not bring any relatives. Just your family.”

Everything was going as we had planned. The car brought Rubab’s family to the house which we had rented. It wasn’t my house. We had bribed Mulla, a religious person who performed the Nikah tradition. “Puta (son), Rubab is a young girl and very shy. I have made her understand everything. Please don’t be quick or angry with her. Let her take time to understand the things of married life. I’m sure she will prove to be a good wife.”

“Yes, Aman (mother.)” I said to her.

By 9 pm. Mulla and my friends had left, and Rubab’s family stayed in a room. I went to the room where Rubab was waiting for me. “You are a such a hot girl,” I said to Rubab. I had said the wrong thing, but I didn’t realize it at that time. “I couldn’t sleep well after that day when I saw you at my brother’s wedding. I had to marry you to fulfill my desire. Girls are nothing to me, just ‘sex toys’.” Worried and pale, she looked at me. I started to take off my clothes. She became nervous. “I cannot wait anymore. Take off your clothes!”

She started to cry. “There is no need to cry; you’ll enjoy it.” I forcefully took her clothes off and started to kiss her…

By midnight, I had become too tired, so I just lay on the bed beside her. I told her the whole plan that we had made to sleep with her.

“You have destroyed my life, my whole family. I believed my parents, and acted upon what they said,” Rubab cried. She kept weeping. She wept so much that I thought she might flood the whole house with her tears. A seemingly endless rain poured from her eyes. I thought she might never stop.

In the morning, Rubab’s family was amazed to see Rubab so distraught, but she didn’t tell her parents anything. I think she didn’t want them to be worried. She probably thought that they wouldn’t be able to bear the injustice done to her, so she kept quiet. Her family decided to leave for the village. “I will come tomorrow to see Rubab,” said Gulab.

In the evening, I called my friends over. “I didn’t sleep at all last night. You’re not gonna believe this: I did it five times,” I said to my friends. “Tonight it is your turn!” Three of them decided to go to Rubab that night. I didn’t feel bad at all. It was what we had decided. Pleasure before all else! I told Rubab that she would be dealing with my three friends that night.

Rubab’s tears had dried. I could tell she was thinking about something, but I couldn't figure out what. I thought nothing of it. What could she possibly do? “We will be back by 8 pm. Don’t worry about anything,” I said to her. My friends and I went out to drink some wine. We locked the door to the house.

We came back at almost 10 pm. The door of the house was locked as we had left it, but Rubab was nowhere to be found. She had somehow climbed out the window and ran away. We tried to look for her on the road, but we couldn’t find her.

The next day, we told Gulab that Rubab had run away. Poor Gulab was beside himself, crying, “How could you do that, Rubab? You have dishonored us.”

My friends and I told him not to tell his parents anything, otherwise they would not be able to bear such a degrading act by their daughter. We told him to say that she was very happy in her new house and didn’t want to come back to the village and that Jalal would move to Karachi with Rubab very soon.

I continued giving money to Gulab for some months. When I moved to Karachi for my education, I didn’t go to the village anymore. Rubab’s old parents kept lying to the villagers saying that she is married and lives in the city of Karachi. I married one of my classmates after completing my degree.

I didn’t hear any more about Rubab or her family. I had a son after a year. I didn’t continue my studies after my graduation in law, but my wife went to the US for her doctorate degree after seven years of marriage – leaving Wajdan with me. However, she never returned to Pakistan. We had never gotten along very well, so I did not miss her very much. I hoped that she was doing well, even though she never sent me any signs she was even alive. I assumed she must have found a better life for herself in the US. I studied law, but I never practiced justice. I couldn’t even justify my actions against Rubab. Money and my sex drive had made me blind.”

I ended my autobiography in the notebook there.

Three days later, Wajdan came to see me. “I’m really sorry. I couldn’t tell you. I went to the US because of an emergency. Mom tried to commit suicide by jumping from the second floor of her apartment. She was in a coma for almost two months. She finally died. Uncle Anas, one of her best friends she had been living with, gave me this letter for you. He said it was her last wish to somehow send this letter to you. I didn’t inform you because I knew you couldn’t go there.”

I silently listened to him and he put the letter in my hand. Rohet came and they got engaged in conversation. I put the letter under my pillow to look at later.

At night, I opened the letter:

“Dear Jalal,

I cannot find the words to start this letter. My pen shakes and my tears wet the paper. Now that I see my death approaching, I don’t want to die with regrets and the truth dying with me. I want to tell you a secret that has made me ashamed of myself for years.
Your son, Wajdan, is not your son. He is the child of Anas – our university classmate. I had an affair with him before I married you. After marrying you and owning enough of your wealth, Anas and I made a plan to move to the US. I didn’t come here for education.

If possible, please forgive me. I cannot say enough how severely this pain in my conscience has been weighing me down. I cannot forgive myself for this. I want to punish myself, I cannot live anymore with this regret and the torment of my conscience. I am going to end my life, but before my last breath, I wanted to seek forgiveness from you and tell you what I had done.

Eternally sorry,
Maria”

After reading her letter, I wondered at how the universe works. I wronged someone else’s family and someone else wronged my family. I pondered over God’s predefined rules: as you sow so shall you reap.

The next day, I said to Rohet, “Son, I want to meet your mother. Will you take me to her just once, please?”

“No problem, Baba. I will take you to my home this very evening.”

In the evening, Rohet and I went to his home. As I entered the home, I smelled the same fragrance of the perfume that Rubab had applied on her wedding night. I stayed at the door of the veranda. Rohet approached his mother, who was coming from the room, and touched her feet. “You are home early today?” she said.

“Yes. Someone has come to meet you,” replied Rohet. Rubab looked at me from a distance. She had worn hijab (veil), and her hands were covered by gloves. She seemed to have grown religious. She recognized me at the very first glance. She took some steps towards me very slowly, gazing at me through her white glasses and taking her gloves off. I feared she would slap me or spit in my face out of her severe anger, and Rohet would have me expelled from the nursing home. As she reached me, Rohet said, “Mother, this is Baba. He has lived in the nursing home for the last eight months. I am sorry I have never asked his actual name. I just call him Baba.”

“He is your Baba, Rohet,” Rubab replied to him, still gazing at me. Rohet didn’t seem to understand what she said in that simple, pregnant sentence. He appeared baffled by her words.

“I will be back after I take a shower. Please sit and chat,” Rohet said to us, quickly changing the subject and leaving for his room.

Rubab slowly moved her hand towards me for a handshake while saying, “I knew you’d come eventually!”

I saw the same ring that I had given her on the Nikah day on her finger. I didn’t feel pure enough to shake her hand. I felt myself so polluted that I didn’t dare to touch a woman who was as spotless as an angel.

She took my stick, held my hand in hers, and asked me to come inside. I sat on the sofa, and she went to bring a glass of water for me without my asking. She had grown so old that her hands were shaking as she served me the water. I looked at her from head to toe. She seemed to be still as pure as I had seen her at my brother’s wedding.

I drank the glass of water and remained silent. She gazed at me for a while and said, “Forgive me for leaving your house. I could have remained your ‘sex toy’ forever, but I would rather die than be that toy for your friends. I jumped into the canal, but I was saved by an angel, Lal Chandar. This person has never tried to even touch me, ever. I told him that I am the property of someone else and that I am married. He is a Hindu, but respects humanity more than a Muslim.”

She was referring to me. I was a Muslim, but I didn’t respect humanity. I always used people for my own pleasure and benefit.

She continued, “The only person who has touched me in my life is you. Rohet is your son. I became pregnant after that night.”

I silently listened to her. I hadn’t words to say anything; the only sentence that I could utter was: “Can you forgive me, Rubab?” Tears suddenly poured from my eyes. This was my moment to finally receive the forgiveness I had been longing for. “If you will forgive me, I hope God will also forgive me,” I said. I was nearly sobbing by this time. I didn't know what I would do if she could not find it in her heart to forgive me, but I knew that I wouldn't forgive myself for what I had done.

She took my hands gently and put them on her eyes. “The prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) said, ‘If I were to order anyone to prostrate to someone other than Allah, I would have ordered the woman to prostrate to her husband.’ As God forgives you for what you have done, so shall I. You are my worldly God. I will be yours until my last breath,” Rubab said.

I burst out sobbing. Finally, I had been forgiven. The feeling I was experiencing was bittersweet. On one hand, how could she have forgiven me after committing such an atrocious act? On the other hand, I was unbelievably grateful that she was so kind-hearted and wonderful that she could find the room to forgive someone even as cruel as I had been to her. I did not deserve her kindness. Rohet came rushing toward us with a look of understanding. He asked us not to cry. His mother, sobbing told him that his father at last had come to her.

“I want to spend the last days of my life with Rohet and you, Rubab,” I said to them.

“I want to live with you too, and I want you to take me back to my village, to my mother’s home.”

“I’ll take you back to your home, and tell everyone that you were pure and you are still pure.”

The next week, we left for our village. Rohet came with us, but would return to Karachi to look after the elderly people in the nursing home and to read my autobiography that I left in the notebook for him. I couldn't have asked for a better ending.

After a month, Rohet wrote a letter to me and told that he read the notebook and that he forgave me, even after all the horrible things I had done. “If my mother can find the room in her heart to forgive you, I can too,” he wrote. Rohet was very kind like his mother, maybe he realized I had changed and was no longer like my younger self.


I thought God had forgiven me too because he gave me the chance to seek forgiveness from Rubab and Rohet. Now I could truly be happy.

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No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews. 
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For more stories, purchase Memon’s books:
“The Reflections” and “Innocence and Foolishness.”
The books are available at all bookstores in Larkana, Khairpur, and Sukkur.
You can also order the books by courier. For more information, contact at below addresses:
Email: RealPublicationsLarkana@gmail.com
WhatsApp: 03433846385




Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Babul Trees

Author: Rizwan Ahmed Memon

As I entered the Edhi center, the other children came to see me. I was different from them in many ways, but one thing that we had in common was that we were all orphans. The supervisor in charge of the orphanage introduced me to the children. “Children, this is your new friend, Kuee. She is older than all of you!” said the supervisor.

“Welcome, Kuee. You will be safe here,” said one of the children. The supervisor showed me around the center and told me how to act and what to do.

The children wanted to talk to me, but I remained very silent and alone for many days. I worried that they would mock me, but no one did: Everybody seemed to have their own sad pasts. One day the supervisor of the center said, “Kuee, the children really want to hear your story. Would you care to tell it to us?”

“I don’t have a story,” I quietly replied.

“Everyone living here has a story to tell,” said one of the older girls. “Please tell us: Why did you come here? How did you get here? Where are your parents?”

I looked down at my small feet and remained silent for a few seconds. “Come on, Kuee, don’t be shy. We’re all your friends,” the supervisor said, encouraging me to tell my story.

I lifted my head and began: “I was born with a birth defect. I am not a child; my body has been stunted by this defect. I am almost 30 now, but I look like a 3-year-old. I remained at home all my life to avoid being mocked. I did not dare to play with other neighborhood children for fear of being teased or ridiculed by them. I could only do a few things normally because my legs and arms were too short and weak. Despite my deformities, my father and mother loved me; I was their only child. Kajlo, our dog, served well as my protector, guardian, and best friend for many years.

Our house, by the graveyard in Samtiya, had no walls. Thorn trees—called babur trees in Sindhi and babul trees in English, as the supervisor told me—surrounded our house. Mother had told me once that when they came to that place, only babul trees grew there, so they wanted them to stay. The graveyard isolated our house from the other houses that stood on the far side of the cemetery. Olive orchards and ponds were the beauty of our Samtiya. My father, Habib, cut the thorny branches of the babul trees, and put the branches around our house as a fence to protect us from intruders. The thorny branches made it difficult for anyone to pass through. We felt happy in our little world. My father ran a donkey-cart, delivering farmers’ vegetables to the city, to make ends meet. My devoted mother, Basran, eagerly sewed quilts and coverlets. She always helped my father run the house.

I always played games with my only loyal friend, Kajlo. One of our favorites was “Thread and Note.” I would tie a thin, white thread around a ten-rupee note and would sit by the door. Kajlo would take the note and leave it in the middle of the road. When people passing by saw it and tried to grab it, I would pull the thread back. It was fun pulling the thread back as people saw and tried to grab the note. We loved that game. Our house didn’t have a real wooden or iron door; Mother had hung a quilt on the logs of the babul trees on either side as a door. We had only a single room covered with a thatched roof and babul logs as beams supporting the mud brick walls.

Although my parents were only 50 years old, their hard lives had taken a toll on their bodies. Our difficult days started about three years ago. Father’s only source of money was delivering produce to the city of Larkana on his donkey and cart, but he had grown too old and weak to operate it. Unfortunately, Baba (my father) three years ago had a serious accident: He lost control of the donkey, and the cart fell into a ditch, breaking both of the wheels. Our life became even tougher after that.

The hard life was also wearing out my mother. Her body was becoming frail and her eyesight was failing to the point of not being able to thread a needle to sew the quilts. We didn’t have money to buy enough food, and many nights we went to sleep hungry.

Father started to look after the graveyard in order to get tips from the visitors. He swept the graves, watered the little neem trees in the graveyard, and put stones over the graves. He would go there early in the morning because this was the only time people came to visit their deceased loved ones. People didn’t give him much: He barely made fifty rupees, and that was not every day. Our dire situation forced my mother to beg. She started to go door to door in the nearby village, Akil.

I will tell you about one of our days. It was December 31, 2017 – the last day of the year. On the previous night, we had had nothing to eat. Mother was pretending to be asleep, covering her entire body with an old worn out sawar, a cotton coverlet. Father, Kajlo, and I were sitting in front of the fire that served as our kitchen under the babul tree. We cooked without gas, appliances, China pots, or an oven. We ate meals on the pindis made out of date palm tree leaves, and we had bowls made of plastic. We burned the dried branches of the babul trees as our only fuel. These thorn trees had always been useful to us. When the Fajr Adhan—the morning call to prayer— could be heard, Mother removed her sawar. She could no longer bear to see us so hungry, so she was thinking about going to Akil early that day. “Dhia, Kuee,” she called me—our relatives called me Kuee, meaning a small female mouse.

“Ji, Aman,” I replied.

“I cannot see my slippers. Kajlo must have taken them.” Father heard us; he had the slippers on his feet. Kajlo had brought them to him to wear because his own shoes had become too worn and one of the shoes’ soles had come off. Father removed the slippers and gave them to Kajlo.

“Woof, Woof,” said Kajlo. He went to Mother and put the slippers before her feet. I saw Mother had been wearing two kamizes (long knee-length shirts) because she didn’t have a sweater. She opened her box and took another kamiz.

“Why are you taking this kamiz, Mother?” I inquired.

“I am going to wear it because it is so cold. I am going to Akil,” she said without hesitating.

“Mother, it is too early,” I said nervously.

“I’ll walk slowly. By the time I reach there, the sun will have risen,” she said with her reassuring smile.

“There might be stray dogs on the way. Dogs live in the olive orchards on the left side of the road,” I reminded her.

“They won’t harm me,” she said with a firm resolve. Father looked at her with red, tear filled eyes. She took a babul stick and a small torn bag. I worried people would laugh at her because she had worn three different colored kamizes.

It was almost 11 a.m. and Mother hadn’t returned yet. Commanding my body to move, I crawled to the nearby pond, diligently scanning the road to see if my beloved mother was coming.

It was a very cold morning, with a stiff breeze making the air even colder. After a few minutes, I could hear Kajlo barking in the house. This dog had spent many years with us and had faced many difficulties with us. He came out sniffing the dust to find me. “Woof, woof, woof!” barked Kajlo. He was probably asking me to get inside the house. I looked at the dog and at the road. I thought about how hard it must be for Mother to go every day to beg in Akil. Kajlo pulled my kamiz and insisted that I go inside. I didn’t move. I could only see my father sweeping a grave, collecting the fallen dried, yellow leaves from the neem tree in the graveyard.

After another hour I finally saw Mother, slowly making her way home. Her gait was measured, but her smile was infectious. I wished I could help her, and provide for my family. That day, I felt very inferior and helpless.

“What are you doing here? Get inside,” Mother said as she reached me. “Look, I have brought enough food for tomorrow, too!”

My eyes filled with tears. She hugged me and said, “Good days come after the hard days. My child, don’t you cry.”

Kajlo ran to Baba to tell him that Mother had brought food. The dog had been hungry too. “Mother, Kajlo is happy to see the food,” I commented.

“Yes, he is. He has been here for a long time,” said Mother. “Our relatives don’t feel our pain the same way Kajlo does: He understands our situation. The humans have lost their humanity, my child.”

“Why don’t you go to the relatives for help, Mother?”

“They know everything about us. I have gone to them for help many times, but they haven’t done anything for us. There is a saying in Sindhi: Crying before the blind is useless.”

“Mother, I have also heard Father saying that asking for help from relatives is like asking for berries from a babul tree.”

“Yes, but these babul trees have been very useful to us, more useful than our relatives and neighbors.”

Mother distributed the food equally to everyone, including Kajlo. We ate the food and thanked God.

Our days continued like that, until one night Father got very sick. Mother took the lantern and went to Akil to call the doctor. She forgot to take her stick in her hurry. When she returned, Father had stopped breathing. Mother burst into tears, crying, “The doctor wouldn’t open the door; neither the medical store man. I couldn’t save you. I couldn’t do anything for you.”

In the morning, Mother went to get help from the people on the other side of the graveyard. She gave Father’s brother’s phone number to one of the men, and he informed him of Father’s passing away. The neighbourhood men dug a grave for Father and buried him. My father’s brother arrived from Khairpur after his burial. There were not many people in the congregation. Some women remained at our house until evening, and by the end of the day everybody had gone. My uncle left a thousand-rupee note in my mother’s dupatta and said, “It was God’s wish; we can do nothing.”

Father’s death caused Mother a great deal of sorrow. She was broken-hearted and was becoming weaker and weaker every day. Her eyesight was rapidly declining, and she could no longer walk to Akil. Although she never wanted to, she went into the neighborhood to beg for food on the other side of the graveyard. I collected the small, fallen, yellow flowers from the thorn trees and put them in a plastic bag, which Kajlo took to my father’s grave. My uncle never came to see us or pray at Father’s grave.

It had now been two years since my father died. Mother’s eyesight was now completely gone, so she had to go to the neighborhood with the help of a babul stick. One day, she didn’t come home for a long time. I was terribly worried because Mother had left in the morning and she didn’t return by evening. Kajlo constantly barked. The neighbors found Mother dead in a pond where she had fallen, hit her head, and drowned. The villagers phoned my uncle. My mother was buried, and the next day my uncle took me to Khairpur and had me admitted into this orphanage. He didn’t allow me to take Kajlo with me.”

“You are a very brave woman,” said the supervisor.

“Yes, very brave. You’ve had a harder life than all of us,” said the children in the center.

“Children, this may be the saddest story I have heard in a long time. There are rights for neighbors in Islam. I try to live by one instruction that a saint gave me: Love thy Neighbor.... We are commanded to take care of those less fortunate than us. It is hard to believe that people live in such abject poverty in Pakistan. For relatives to not help Kuee’s family is unthinkable to me. How the world has changed!” said the supervisor. "We have all fought our battles, and the battles with hunger have been the toughest. Kuee has very bravely fought both the battles of hunger and disability.”

After listening to my story, the orphan children seemed to have felt lucky to have “normal” bodies. Their sadness seemed to lighten a little, feeling cheered up for themselves yet genuinely empathetic of my fate. “However, I am happy with the way God created me.” I said to them.

“Children, Kuee is a differently abled person! She is good at counting and she picks up languages easily. She has picked up a good deal of English and Chinese in no time at all!” said the supervisor.

“That’s right. The paradox of handicapped people is that the lack of ability in one area often results in a greater ability in other areas. For example, blind people are often gifted musicians or skilled at massage. Deaf people often have a very precise sense of sight.” I commented.

“And short people often have big minds!” said the supervisor.

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For more stories, purchase Memon’s books:
“The Reflections” and “Innocence and Foolishness.”

The books are available at all bookstores in Larkana, Khairpur, and Sukkur.

You can also order the books by courier. For more information, contact at below addresses:
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Monday, December 18, 2017

Winter Vacation Offer

Real Publications Winter Vacation offer for students includes 20% off on all Memon's books. This offer expires on 31 December, so buy your favorite books for your friends and family today.

Now available in Khairpur Mir's

Real Publications Larkana

Now offers Memon's books in Khairpur Mir's.

Books' Titles: 1. The Reflections 2. Innocence and Foolishness

Available at: 
1. National Book Stall, Punj Gulla Chok, Khairpur
2. Niaz Bookstore, near Civic Center, Khairpur
3. Memon Bookstore, Punjhatti Chowk, Khairpur
4. Pak Book Stall, near A-Section Thana, Khairpur
5. New Khairpur Book Stall, near Jamia Masjid, Khairpur