No matter how hard we try to evade it, domestic violence is prevalent in our society. When a couple tries to win custody of their children, they loose their children somewhere, and their childhood forever. Children raised in such homes feel isolated and vulnerable, and often suffer emotional and psychological trauma. But then, they also form a bond, which is sealed by the ray of positive they find from all the negativities around them.
My story is about one such home. All characters in the story are fictional, but I drew the inspiration of my storyline from a very close relative.
“You and your family have driven me insane. My brother was right. I cannot put up with you.” cried Nagma as she placed the besan batter in a pan of hot oil.
“I am not happy with you either. From now on, I am planning to be at work all day. The heat in my shop is still bearable compared to coming to this hell you call home.” yelled Anwar as he lit another cigarette.
“You do that. I am done fighting, no, talking. I am done talking to you.”
As the heat of the oil culminated, so did their argument. What the couple missed during this entire period were two tiny heads, which kept popping in and out of their bedroom.
“Fine then. You stay here, I leave.” Anwar rubbed the cigarette bud on a windowsill with full frustration and marched out of the house. He slammed the door behind him, which was the cue for the tiny heads to run to the bed and pick up their books.
“Alisha. Saba. Come out in 10 minutes. Dinner is ready.” Nagma said in an angry voice.
“Aapa, will they ever stop?” asked Saba.
“I know. It’s getting worse.” replied Alisha in a grave voice.
“I miss the days we ate together – as a family. At school my friends talk about their Sunday outings, the conversations they have at their dinner tables. I listen but have nothing to contribute. How can I? What should I?” the ten year old eyelids drooped in despair.
Alisha looked at Saba. She was four years elder than Saba and in a better position to understand her home dynamics. No matter how hard she tried to save Saba from the noise in the house, their parents weaned her in. After all it was a family – they rise and fall together.
After a pause, Alisha said in a happy tone, “How about we go to Tur ka mela the coming month? You always wanted to go there.”
“Really?” Saba’s eyes glowed immediately, but the frown was back in a second. “Who will take us? Abba and Amma have their own problems. We will miss it like we do every year.”
“We will take ourselves. You don’t worry. I will take permission and do the needful. This year you will share your experiences of the mela with your friends.” Alisha held Saba’s hand as a sign of affirmation.
“Now let’s go. Amma will get angry.”
The little one nodded and they left the room.
Ironically, One of the toughest decisions in life is to ask the right question at the right time. Alisha was looking for one. On Sunday she grabbed that moment. At 10 AM, her mother was out to buy groceries, while her father was sipping his third cup of tea. She knew how happy the hot beverage made him, so she decided to talk.
“Abba, we wanted to go to the mela?” As Alisha said these words, her sister’s floating head started playing peek-a-boo from her room.
“What? When? Where?”
“Tur ka mela. Next month. Please Abba. We won’t bother you. Saba and I will manage and will be very careful.” Anwar’s eyebrows rose but lesser compared to his voice. “You both want to go alone?”
The thump in his voice made Saba take longer than needed to pull her head behind the door. Her eyes met her father’s and then there was no hiding left.
“Saba. Come out.” he shouted
The small feet were taking even smaller steps. Alisha could hear the little one’s deep breaths, as she stood behind her.
“Did you make this plan Saba?” questioned Anwar with protruding eyes.
The tiny one couldn’t handle the pressure and her eyes started to rain.
“Abba. Please keep Saba out of this. She had nothing to do with this.” Alisha hid Saba behind her back.
“You keep quiet. Answer only when I ask you to.” their father reinforced his authority on them.
“Perfect. Now even our Sunday’s will be sucked up because of your presence in the house.” said Nagma as she entered the house with a bag full of groceries.
“This is all because of you. You have never kept these girls on check. Today it’s mela. Tomorrow it will be something else. But why will you care? You yourself are not a faithful wife.” he said as he slammed the empty cup on the floor.
“You aren’t a saint either. Look at yourself before you point fingers. The whole mohalla knows about you.” Nagma bit her lip to underline the last line.
Saba started hauling whilst crying and Alisha signaled her to leave for her room. The parents were busy proving their allegations as their children looked at them in distress. Their eyes were getting immune to this sight, but their hearts were still to get in sync with this appalling reality. After all, the people in question were the people who introduced life to them.
As their parents’ parched lips ran out of words and then curses, Alisha sensed their next move and pulled Saba inside their room. No sooner had she pushed Saba on the bed to bolt the door, than they heard noises, which walls of no household should hear and bear. After a silence of five minutes, their mother entered the room with a burning red cheek. Alisha knew her father would be sitting in the adjoining room with cuts and bruises too. When mouths failed, hands came handy for her parents to end the argument.
Children find solace in their mother, but that was not the case in this house. With age comes experience, so Alisha kept her eyes glued to the floor, but not Saba. She kept looking at her mother.
Finally infuriated Nagma opened her mouth. “What are you looking at me for? You all have ruined my life. I was so full of life and freedom, before I met this man.” she pointed her index finger to the adjoining room and continued, “I married him, gave him love and what did he do? His small town mentality reeks of conservatism. I thought he will change and gave birth to you two, and now I’m chained for life. But not any more, I’m born to be free.”
With a solemn face, Alisha offered her glass of water, which she refused at first, but drank seconds later. Nagma’s eyes were devoid of emotions, while Saba had hope in hers. She still felt her mother would come to her if she calls out to her with all her heart. Alisha read it all – loud and clear.
As their mother confidently marched out of their room, Saba turned to Alisha. .
“Aapa, Amma won’t leave us? We will not be…alone?” the last word left a lump in her throat.
Alisha had made the mistake of finding the right time to have a conversation with her father earlier that day, but this time she was sure of the timing and the issue, which needed to be addressed.
“Sometimes things don’t go as we expect them to, Saba. Everyone is not blessed with a happy home. Some parents are not meant to be together. They fight and spread negativity around them. In these cases, they should be set free, no matter how hard it is, we should set them free.” Alisha explained as softly as she possibly could.
“What can I do Aapa to help them?” the tiny one asked her mother like sister.
“Pray for them.”
“I do pray Aapa. Every day. But it seems as if Allah doesn’t want to listen me.” Saba sobbed and Alisha grabbed her petite hands.
“He does, and he is acting for your betterment. But maybe, what you are seeking for is not what He has planned for you – He has something better to offer. He is making way for you Saba. He always has a plan. You need to keep faith.”
“Will you also leave me Aapa?” Saba kept rolling questions with puffy eyes.
Alisha fought her tears and brushed the curls off Saba’s face “You know what makes the relationship of siblings special? The bond they make growing up. They face the same struggles, and fight for a cause together. I’ll never leave you Saba, but if time changes and I leave, that bond will never make you feel alone. You will have me – in you.”
“Did you get it?” Alisha asked looking at her sparkling eyes.
“I did.” said Saba smiling.
As days passed, gentlemen with black coats started visiting their home frequently. Their father rarely came home, while their mother was busy talking to men on financial and legal matters. The girls continued to be the mute spectators as they left home and came back from school. Overtime, they had learnt to be distant and independent – the traits needed for the life of freedom.
It was the day of the mela and Alisha was helping her mother in her kitchen chores, while Saba was getting dressed in her room. Soon Alisha entered the room and sat next to the ten year old. She framed her sentences in her head and said, with a heavy heart, “Amma and Abba are heading for divorce. They still need to figure out who we will stay with, but they are splitting for sure.”
Alisha felt lighter pouring it out, but was apprehensive to address Saba’s reaction.
Saba pulled her shoes and did not utter a word. After waiting a little, Alisha asked,
“What do you want to do Saba?”
With a profound look in her eyes, Saba said, “I want to go to Turr ka mela. Make memories. As for the rest, HE is making my way”
She extended her hand to her elder sister, who gave her hand and a faint smile in return.
The sisters held hands as they stepped out of the house. By setting their guardians free, not only they felt better guarded, but also powerful enough to let it go.