It was still dark outside when I woke up in all my consciousness with the sound of the rain falling against the windowpane of my room. I had my moment of anxiousness when I realized that it was my mother’s death anniversary. She had died five years ago and yet I could feel her presence in that moment. I walked up to the window and suddenly I heard a knock at the door. I rushed downstairs to see who had come but all I found was an envelope laying on the floor. It was a letter from my mother. I was confused. Why would she want me to have something years after her death. I needed an answer and it was all in that piece of paper.
I know when this letter reaches you, I’ll be gone. I won’t be there to defend myself and I don’t mean to. You are a big girl now Fatima and I want you to know I have loved you more than anyone in this world. Growing up, you have always seen me only as your mother and that is what we all usually do. A mother plays such a precious role in a child’s life that we often forget that she is a woman too. I have loved your father and tried all my life to be the best companion to him. You have been our most prized possession and we are proud of who you are. This letter is a hidden gem of my heart and I can only dare to unfold it in front of you. When I got married to your father, things were different. Young girls were married off and made the family’s honor, an epitome of purity but never were they given a chance to know themselves, explore the world or fall in love. This is not your mother’s story Fatima. This is the story of the woman in your mother.
I still remember the day your father had come with his family to my house. “Our daughter has always been a very obedient girl,” my father said to his mother. Your father looked at me while I shyly served him tea. This slight intimacy made my heart skip a beat. We looked at each other while our parents spoke about the perfect match and our marriage was fixed. Your uncle Fawad teased your father and I assumed the role of his bhabi. The two families celebrated their union and that was it. We got married and moved to Kashmir after our marriage. I fell in love with the place as soon as I came here. I had heard about the beauty of Kashmir – they called it the Paradise on Earth. I enjoyed the air that I breathed in this ‘garden of breezes’ and devoured the peace that the wind brought along. My married life seemed no less than a dream too. I loved your father and was proud that he was a soldier in the Indian army. My mother-in-law was kind to me and in Fawad, I found a new friend. It was all going well for me and then, your father had to leave for his duty. I thought I was prepared and I bid him goodbye for six months.
I had been an obedient girl all my life and here, your father’s mother loved my obedience to her. Aafrida had lost her husband during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971. Lasting for just thirteen days, it was the shortest war in history but it took away a large part of her. After losing her husband, Fawaad and your father had become your grandmother’s sole responsibility and she became a possessive mother. In your father’s absence, Fawaad got all of Aafrida’s attention. Her day began with worrying about him and ended with worrying about him. This is how it had been for the past three years since your father had joined the army. When I came to this house, an exchange of roles took place. Now, Aafrida became the authoritative voice and I carried out her actions. Fawaad now became my responsibility and I tried to impress my mother-in-law by taking care of him and the house perfectly.
Fawaad was two years younger to me but he surprised me. Literature was his passion and unlike his brother, he wanted to be an artist. Every night, we sat together and discussed different poets and dramatists. Through him I learnt about Shakespeare’s Macbeth and I shared my love for Urdu with him. Somehow, literature became our soul connection and we started on a journey exploring our hidden joys. In the absence of your father, Fawaad became my companion in whom I eventually started to confide. Your grandmother never interrupted our friendship. I always thought she would get uncomfortable with the closeness but that never happened. For her, the house was running to perfection and her son was taken care of and that was all that mattered.
That day your father was coming back after six months. I had waited for this day for a long time. I used to imagine the emotion in my heart when he would touch me, take me in his embrace and guard me. I was excited but with a guilt in my heart. I turned around and saw Fawaad sleeping peacefully on my bed. Moments ago, his arms wrapped up around me completed my world. But now a sense of void entered my heart. He gave me peace as well as stirred the world around me. He was my escape but he kept me trapped. He was that little piece of Hell in my Heaven. I had given in to the temptation and the Paradise was lost.
The rain began to slow down now and a ray of sunshine dropped on me. I didn’t know how or what to feel. My mother was right. I had always looked at her as my mother and never really stopped to remember she was a woman too. A woman who wanted to live, go around the world, fall in love. But I could still not believe that this woman was my mother. I felt for her but I could not bring myself to comprehend what she just told me through this letter. I always called myself a liberal but I could not accept what my mother had done when she got married to my father. She had chosen herself over all bonds and relations. She had chosen her passion over her responsibility but how could I blame her, after all she was just sixteen when was married to my father. A woman’s life has many shades. My mother had a past which she had brushed off. Very few people have the ability to do that and Zubaina was one of them..