17. What once was lost…
When she came out clad in her mother’s dress, her parents burst out laughing.
It felt like she was wearing Shalwar Kameez for the first time in her life, it had been a while.
She remembered going to weddings in them. But even that she had given up almost half a decade ago. Besides her mother’s choice was vastly different than the current fashion trends which seemed to focus more on flaunting than hiding. It hung loose around her, the duppatta wrapped around her head making her look like an entirely different person. She looked at herself in the mirror and couldn’t help but laugh at the reflection staring back at her. She felt different as well.
She found a strange comfort in the modesty provided by yard upon yard of cloth. There wasn’t any compromise in bending down, none in stretching. No matter what she put her body through, she would retain her modesty. It was liberating in a whole new way. She wondered why some women found this constricting. She wondered why she had all those years. It seemed that as time went on it became harder and harder to hang on to the tradition and values which she saw as stifling and archaic. But today it felt like that certain things held merit after all.
When she asked her mother to remind her how to pray, she had burst into tears. All those years ago when Nida had turned 10, she had been subjected to a rigorous training in the rituals. So rigorous that she had come to hate the worship rather than see it as the show of affection for Allah that it is meant to be. But her mother told herself that it was better to be happy that she had asked to return rather than be angry at her forgetting the way in the first place, laid down a prayer mat and walked her through the prayers emphasizing on the physical manifestation of the symbolic reverence that the movements reflected.
It was awkward for Nida. She learnt the words and had her mother write down what she couldn’t, but every word she chanted seemed foreign and useless. Communicating with nothing in a language that she didn’t know. It seemed futile, a waste of time. But the effect of Aamir’s words lay heavier on her heart than the personal lack of faith. And she sat memorizing the proper inflections of the Arabic verses through dinner.
Her parents went to sleep a little happier than they had been for the last few days. Each in turn patting her head and assuring her how happy they were that she had chosen to find peace with the almighty and return to the fold of the religion. Her father hugged her for the first time in as much of her life as she could remember and for an instant she felt as if that feeling alone was worth the seemingly futile effort of ablution and prayer for an invisible and ruthless overlord.. She never let on to the real reason behind her sudden change of religious inclination and kept her fear hidden away in a shadowy corner of her heart wondering if the omniscient deity she was praying to could find it.
After Isha, she began to offer prayer specifically to aide Aamir in whatever he was up against. Until her legs began aching from all the exercise and her resolve began to dwindle in the absence of any clear indication that even If there was any one up there, he was actually paying attention. Her heart was still uneasy, but a little more at peace somehow. She hadn’t felt any different while going through the monotonous rituals of prayer, but as she stood up and folded the prayer mat, she couldn’t help but feel as if she had been touched by the tender loving grasp of her creator. It wasn’t really a welcome feeling, for a moment she thought it was just all the tales she had heard people tell of how returning to prayer makes a momin feel. But there was no mistaking the withering of the shadows of fear borne of hopeless isolation, of being adrift without an anchor amidst the sea of unpredictable, un reliable, un loving and unlovable humanity. Doubt still lingered, she was unwilling to abandon what she had believed for so long… yet all of a sudden she found the existence of an almighty a lot more plausible. For what its worth, she mused, I’m at least back to believing.
In the pantry on her way to the kitchen, lay the carton full of Rida’s after effects. She saw a muffler with the Christmas trees printed on it peeking out of the top and couldn’t resist being pulled back into memories of her sister running through the rolling hills of Nathia Gali as a teen anger, giggling, skipping, being followed by her little sister who wanted to wear her scarf.
She reached over and held the frayed edge of the muffler in her hands and felt her sister come alive within her senses. She rubbed it across her cheek and could almost feel Rida’s tender touch gently admonishing her for being careless in some exam. Tears welling up in her eyes, she threw back the flaps on top of the carton to dig deeper into the artifacts of the woman she would never forget.
The silver metal thermos now drained and washed lay on top of the pile. She looked at it with no discernable emotion, unable to decide how she should feel about the last thing Rida had ever touched. Pulling at the muffler to wrap herself in its entire length she found it to be stuck beneath the burden of too many mementos piled atop it. She pulled harder and didn’t relent till it broke free of its burden sending her off balance and upsetting the carelessly collected debris in the box. In the commotion the thermos found its way out of the box and crashed to the floor behind the box with a loud clatter.
Nida hurried over to pick up the fallen souvenir, hoping that the racket hadn’t disturbed her mother’s fitful sleep. She found the thermos lying in pieces. The lower portion that served as a flat base for the curved bottom of the flask had come undone with the impact and rested a few feet away from the rest of the assembly, she gathered the two parts wishing to see if she could put them back together, when she saw tucked inside the bottom piece some crumpled sheets of paper.
She placed the flask back on top in the box and slowly drew the pages out of the severed base. The first thing she saw was the invitation from Ayaz. Below it were the two lost pages from Rida’s Journal She had no way of knowing what she was about to discover. Nothing had prepared her for the stark brutal truth written in her sister’s hand on those pages. Her eyes darted across the lines and her heart sank deeper and deeper with every word. Until she couldn’t breathe anymore.
And finally, I remember it all. Every face, every rippling muscle. Nothing at all is any longer shrouded in the merciful haze of denial. There is no peace anymore. No sadness. Just this helplessness at being unclean on the inside no matter how many times I wash my flesh. I can still feel their semen inside me. I don’t know how to reach deep enough to wash it out. I have gone through every emotion from fear to anger to repulsion and still they all linger in my mind. Conscious, sub-conscious, it is all tainted by the sweat and the spit of those who mutilated me. This is me trying to rationalize my thoughts, my options. Just like I was taught by my teachers and my parents before making a decision. And there is only one decision that makes any sense.
Aamir is my husband and I love him very much. Too much to subject him to have to come to terms with living with a woman who was too foolish to protect herself from what had become inevitable a long time ago. I cannot face him with this guilt of allowing myself to be used in the way I was, let alone living the rest of my life with him. I can not lie. I can not hide this; not because of scruples, no, none of those remain now. They were all stripped away with my clothes. I cannot lie because I cannot hide what this has done to me. I look at myself in the mirror and I cringe. I close my eyes and all I see every time are different faces all with the same leering gaze, all I hear are my own screams. It was impossible for me to understand how someone contemplating suicide feels until now, and I understand that sometimes our circumstances leave us devoid of any other options. Not because we are afraid of the world or the challenges it holds but because we are sick of hurting constantly from a wound that is rooted so deep inside our souls that no amount of time can possibly heal it. But even more so because of the pain we know we will inevitably cause to those who love us and who we truly love more than life itself.
The disgust I feel for myself is not half as distressing as the disgust I fear seeing in Aamir’s eyes. In Abu’s eyes and Ami’s. And Nida’s… she would never have succumbed and she would never understand how I could be this weak. And she will be right because I never saw it coming. In my naiveté and my idiotic belief in god and the goodness of mankind. I never saw it coming.
God has abandoned me. I asked him why. I asked him what I did so wrong that he couldn’t even protect me after year upon year of believing in him without any reason to. He left me to the mercy of soul stealing vultures who left nothing inside me except impressions of their own evil. Evil so utter and complete that in its presence God cannot exist.
Nida was right all along. God is just a fantasy fools cooked up to make them believe that someone is always out there watching out for us. That there is always someone up in the clouds who cares enough to keep us safe. We would look at other people who have suffered and assume that it were their own sins that had led them out of the bubble of god’s protection, that they had shunned his love and therefore had been eaten up by the evil that feeds on the souls of unbelievers. But what did I do? Did I save a sinner, did I fail to save a life he wanted me to save? Did I not try hard enough? Did I not care enough?
But that is all inconsequential. That is me trying to seek the false comfort in a being that is better than us. But there is nothing better. There is no being. It’s just us against the darkness always sulking right behind the shiny veneer of rainbows and moon light. I did nothing wrong and yet this is what I have been reduced to. A snack for rapists. I would question why me if I didn’t know how often this happens, If I didn’t know how long this has been going on. So many before have been condemned to this fate and I can’t even begin to imagine how many after will still be victimized. And there’s nothing I can do about it without dragging along with me into the abyss of ridicule and degradation those who I love more than myself.
There is no escape for me from what I have wrought upon myself. There is no god who can forgive me for my folly. All I can do, all I choose to do is spare Aamir from the insufferable pain of bearing the burden of my torment. If I can find it in myself to tell him what happened, if I can find god again… I will allow myself to live, maybe even heal… maybe even forget. That is me giving myself another chance at sanity, at existence.
But if I can’t, and I know I can’t, I will do the one thing that has been ringing truer in my head than my sobs and wails, than No and Stop. I will kill myself. That will be me repenting.
She felt as if someone had cut a hole in her chest and was slowly sucking the blood out. A vacuum quickly expanding as the words she had read sunk in. She would cry if she could escape the horror engulfing her spirit. She felt crushed beneath so much weight that breaking free seemed impossible. Unable to breath, failing to think, she fell to the floor with the pages stained with her sister’s sorrow clutched in her hands.
Leaning against the wall, trembling with fear her mind gently began to see the truth beneath the lines.
Hidden in her sister’s testimony of having lost god, she had found him.
She understood than what Aamir had meant about needing god. She needed him now, desperately. In the absence of everything else she found faith to be the only anchor. Desperate to seek the help she now understood that Aamir needed, she knew the one thing she could do to pacify the rage and the hatred and the terror taking hold of her soul.
Un aware of what else to do, too afraid to lose whatever faith this horrific tragedy had restored in her, unsure of her own deductions but sure of her convictions all the same, she placed the pages on the floor, spread the prayer mat over them and shivering with more fear than she had ever known, bowed her head in prayer.