She was a small woman. 5’3. She was pale with green eyes. Yet still Pakistani. She welcomed me, she cooked my food, she gave me company, she defended me, she fixed and mended my clothes. She laughed with me and taught me mirpuri and Urdu. She taught me how to perform prayer and wudu. She gave birth to my siblings and my beautiful little sister, the light of my world. She taught me how to wash and cook. She took care of me when I was ill.
She wore a niqab and abaya. Her hands were bare. When she went to hospital to give birth to my baby sister, she wore a hijab only. After years of being forced to wear a niqab we were shocked. My younger sister asked why aren’t you wearing niqab? She answered back, who cares. My dad was in the room and glowered. I never respected her more than I did in that moment.
She had a violent side , however. She would explode and shout over the slightest thing, mainly vent her frustration on my two younger sisters. She would call them fucking bitch, cunt, cow. They were 11 and 10. She would hit them with a wooden spoon, slap, scream and hit them with jutti (shoe) many times. She’d get the cane out and smack even as they screamed. I saw this happening before me. I hid my brothers eyes. I was a fucking coward. I knew if I intervened, she’d tell my dad and I would get much much worse. I waited agonisingly until it was done. Each fucking time. Maybe this anger and violence erupted from years of confinement in the house , producing children every 3 years, cut off from her family because her husband didn’t approve. Maybe the bitterness grew from the fact she was surrounded by screaming children or being a slave to her husband. Feeding him when he demanded, looking after a newborn baby, and she wasn’t young by any means. Trying to perform prayer and catch up on her huge number of missed fasts due to periods and pregnancy. Trying to be civil to a product of fornication , a teenager from another woman, who reminded her of the fact her husband had known with another woman before her. Being forced to invite this woman in her house and offer tea and biscuits accompanied with abrasive smiles trying to be genuine. That’s why I can’t condone her for the things she did. It came from a place of toxic bitterness , and for that I blame the real culprit: my father.
Before her marriage to my father (who was also her first cousin) she was radiant and beautiful in a photograph I saw after her first daughter was born. She wore jeans and a loose green hijab and a wide smile. I looked at her black circles, sagging, creased eyelids, grey thinning hair and sallow skin and I thought what happened to you, khala. My father treated her like a slave. She was made to be at his beck and call. The first time I saw this, western values still integrated in me, I was appalled. That’s not how a man treats his wife. She had my sympathy from the first day.
I mostly look back at us cooking roti and keema together and laughing in the kitchen. I have no ill will towards her. She was my saving grace , a woman of equal maturity and intelligence and I suspected I was a welcome change. She had no reason to be as kind to me as she was. But she was from the very first moment. As soon as her husband came home, the smiles and loud laughter cut short.
I remember the time he humiliated her when she was feeding her baby. All of us were sitting there. She made a harmless joking comment and he started. He shouted at her for an hour in mirpuri which I understood. He called her a bloody bitch, said who was she to question. That he was in charge of the house, he knows what’s best for his kids. I watched her tears roll down and I cried inside. He was humiliating her and we were witness to her shame. I couldn’t look at her. I felt I was intruding in her pain, that grief wasn’t meant for my eyes.
He also did the greatest injustice to her. He married another woman behind her back. She had cut herself off for good from her siblings, bore him 2 daughters and a son, obeyed him. And he took a wife for her beauty. Said my stepmom was old and past it. I was furious. She smacked him when she found out in rage. He hit her harder back. He hit her frequently. Didn’t matter who was present. I remember her bruised chest, tore clothes, bruised eyes, bloody face and torn out hair as she trailed into the kitchen.
And that’s why I hate my father. He ruined a lovely young woman and turned her into a black shrouded slave who was internally bitter and very lonely. He took an piece of colourful art and smeared black poison over it.