Flight Part 3
After our return to Gulfaam Manzil, Aamir Sahab asked me to shift to his room. Something that did not go well in the eyes of other in-laws. And when they discovered I was taking admission to the master’s program, the hatred grew too much. Everyone had kept their mouth shut because they expected everything to be according to them after my graduation. They even laughed at my stupidity because they were so sure that all my hard work was going to be wasted anyway.
But it turned out that Aamir Sahab was deep down a human after all. And he loved me and his children. Maybe he even loved his previous wife. Who knows! He has a weird way of expressing. But I am glad he doesn’t use words to express his feelings because I do not know how to respond to anything of the sort.
Since he had been so true to his word, I gave in too. I took the place of his wife, in his room, in his house, and the society. I took care of him as wives did in our families, I consented for intimacy, I took reigns of the household management and I also attended events where I was supposed to be present as his wife. Surprisingly, I did it all very well along with my masters.
When nobody could find a flaw with my responsibilities, they failed me as a woman. Even after six years of marriage, I had no child. Some declared me infertile, while some accused that I was secretly using contraception and for some, I had an affair.
Now that I had started being a part of the social system, I was the locus of all the gossip in all circles. Sometimes I heard things about me that seemed entertaining. Aamir Sahab never asked me anything. He was happy in his little bubble. As long as I was taking up the role of his wife in bed and outside it, he was free to drown himself in weed and alcohol whenever he pleased. Periodically, he would check up on me and Fatima, take us out. But other than that, he didn’t even care.
Until one fine day, he did. I had finished my masters and joined as a professor in the district university. Even though I was happy that I was at least getting to work, I missed the courtroom. While studying, we would present cases, even assist on a few but here, it was usually just mock cases for undergrads. The work was pretty dull, but I had got the better side of the bargain so I wasn’t going to complain.
One of my ex batch-mates once consulted me on a case and I guided him through it. His hearing went well and he kept on consulting me on and off. I was enjoying helping him from the stands. It was like simulated case proceedings for me. I was born with a fight and my situation had caged me and bound me in so many ways that I could not even fight for myself let alone in a courtroom. I couldn’t run and couldn’t hide.
The frequency of the visits of my colleague wasn’t only getting noticed by other staff members but also being reported to the many enemies I had managed to make. Sometimes, our discussions would run so long and we would exceed work hours and find ourselves either sitting alone in the staff room or hanging out at some coffee place.
This scenario was twisted and presented to Aamir Sahab.
I remember I had reached home late that day because I had lost track of time in the discussion. When I reached home, my father, my in-laws and Aamir Sahab were sitting in the living room. I realised that something was off, but I had no idea they were all settled there for my character assassination.
I was made to sit on a chair in the centre of the room. One by one, I heard people talk all sort of nonsense about me. It started with me having an affair with my batch-mate which I denied immediately! I was told to speak when asked to, so I shut up.
Guess what, they never asked me to speak. Everyone was going on and on about how I never gave importance to this marriage, how I withheld consummation for so many years, how I still didn’t have a child, how I was a bad influence on Fatima, how I should stop working, stay at home, stop meeting other men and ruin the family name, how I had been given too many privileges by my husband and how he should control me now! At one point, things got too insane and I gave up. I just sat down with my head hanging low and tuned out whatever crap they were letting out of their mouths.
There comes a point in life, where you just lose all the fight. Where you quit. And I had quit. In that moment, I was done fighting. All my life, I had struggled for things that were basic human rights. Speech, expression, education, decision making, choosing your own life partner, your own career and every big or small thing in your own life! I was done! I was not going to spend my time and energy in proving my innocence or begging them to let me continue with the work I was doing. Because even if they agreed, I was just so done considering my RIGHTS as my PRIVILEGES!
“Enough!” Aamir Sahab, who had not said a word since my arrival, opened his mouth.Everyone held their tongues immediately.
“She is my wife, and I would decide how I would deal with this. I need no assistance. Everyone can retire to their rooms.”
With this, he walked away. Eventually, everyone dismissed.
I kept sitting on that chair for a while. I didn’t know what to do with myself.I kept sitting there, staring at the floor till the lights were put off. Then I walked up to the couch and slept there.
I woke up in my room the next day, around mid-afternoon. I don’t know who carried me up here but maybe it was him. I was alone. I remembered the first time I had entered this room. My first day in this house. Over the time, I had shifted to his room. And my life had turned upside down. But this room was my fate since the beginning, and no matter how hard I was going to try to run from it, I was destined to die in here.I just kept staring outside the window all day, without food or water. At night, I came back to my bed and slept. I didn’t try eating, I didn’t try talking, I didn’t try going out of that room. Sometimes, servants got in trays of food. I ate a lone grape once. I lost track of time. I lost my will to live. I lost myself.
Maybe it had been a week. I don’t know, I wasn’t counting. Aamir Sahab entered my room and bolted the door.
“Oh my god, Shaheen! What the hell!” this was his first reaction on seeing me. He made me eat a bowl of sweets he happened to know were my favourite.
After I had eaten, he asked me one question, “did you ever love me, Shaheen?”
I looked up at him. His bluish-greyish eyes were looking at me expectantly.
I would’ve said no in a fraction of a second. Hadn’t I always resented him? But the expression in his eyes made me at least try and think.
Did I love him?
My entire journey with him flashed in front of my eyes. There were good times too. Times, I genuinely enjoyed his company. He had a weird way of taking care and maybe in nine years, I had gotten used to him. Maybe I didn’t resent him so much. But love? Could I ever love him? Had I ever forgiven him for suffocating me? I had adjusted with the situation, sure. I had never even dreamt of cheating on him! But did I love him?
“Shaheen?” he prompted.
I shrugged my shoulders. I genuinely didn’t know.
He smiled a sad smile, handed me an envelope and left.I opened the envelope.
They were divorce papers.
Wow. So after nine years of struggle and fight, he was just leaving me.
Wow. Hail man ego!
Could not even bear the mere idea of people talking about his wife.
Along with divorce papers, there were a few more papers in the envelope and a letter…I opened the letter first.
There are many things I would like to say to you but I know I will never be able to say them in person. I am turning 42 this year, it means I have lived more than half of my life. The habits that have formed, have formed. I cannot change them.
I cannot leave the life I have always lived and be with you. This life of luxury, the expensive whiskey, the impeccable weed, the atmosphere, the frolic; I can’t possibly live without it. I am a weak man, Shaheen. So weak that I cannot stand up for the woman I love. And had you loved me back…… maybe I would’ve tried. Maybe.
But since the day we have been destined to be together, I have only made you unhappy. You are just too intense. Your passion, your desire to do something worthwhile with your life and the hard work you put in to achieve it has always made me look up to you. I have tried to support you in my way, and win you over. But I know, it would never be enough.
I know, I know you were not having an affair. I know that you were only helping your colleague on a case and I know you were trying to fill in the huge void in your life by trying to help him. You are made for the courtroom. You are someone who has found passion in achieving justice because you have battled injustice all your life.
Sadly, even though I know it all. I will not stand up for you. Because I can’t. Because my life has no meaning. And even my love for you is not strong enough to make me fight the entire social construct and let you chase your dreams. Because if I had been strong enough, I wouldn’t have let you go. Even though I know I am no match for you, neither do I deserve you or should force myself in your life when you clearly do not love me; I am selfish enough to keep you for myself.
But, I won’t.
Because I know this social construct would now cage you even more. And if I rebel, they would put a successor above my head. Our people protect tradition more than their children. The stigma of a divorce would set you free in the real sense. You will have the liberty to pursue whatever you want. You can be happy, finally.
There is some land I have signed off on your name, and some jewellery in your bank locker. I am still not letting you work for a living. If you have to work, it should only be to change the world. Till I am alive, I am going to keep myself updated about you. So do not disappoint me. Do great in your life ahead! If you ever choose to get married again, choose a strong man. Choose wisely. I will be very jealous because I love you.
I will miss you. Fatima will too. I will try not to suffocate her. Don’t worry. I would try to be a good father to her. She is just like you, I wonder what she would do!
Just take care, Shaheen. Maybe miss me…
I sat staring at the letter. I could not believe my eyes. I could not believe what I had read. Was this for real???
Whenever they talk about change, they say that it is a slow process. It takes time.I realised this more and more, as I stepped ahead in my life. Aamir Sahab changed. He didn’t have the conviction or strength to change the society. But as an individual, my passion and hard work inspired him. It was love that made him let me explore my life, but it was my effort in building something huge that lead him to let me grow. Education lights up the matchstick, and passion is the gasoline that burns, and once the fire gets wild enough; it gets too hard to put out.
When I finally stepped out of that house, I cried. I looked at the triumphant faces of all the in-laws, I looked at my father who was ashamed of me, but what made me tear up was Aamir Sahab’s face. His bluish-greyish eyes were looking like crystals as he tried to hold back the tears forming in them. I turned around and looked at him one last time before leaving, maybe I did love him. I still didn’t know.
As I walked out of the main gate, I breathed. I breathed so hard I started gasping for air. I felt so free. I was choking and now finally had the privilege to breathe in some fresh air. I didn’t even realise when my tears got so profuse. I removed the diamond bangles he had once caged me in. It pained because they were so tight. I threw them on that gate, HARD! But then I picked them up. They had been with me for 9 long years, just like him. Maybe I had developed Stockholm syndrome.
Now, I run a women’s shelter 15 km away from my district. I fight cases for women who have been abused, forced or just want a little freedom. Women from all around the state come to me for shelter and support. Fatima too joined me after some years. We fought for her inheritance and got it fair and square.
Aamir Sahab remains our guardian angel. He never tries to contact, but he supports us in silence. His presence is never seen but always felt. I had once said that I could never love him because love doesn’t cage you. I still don’t know if it is love that I feel for him but I do acknowledge that I will never find a truer love because he set me free. Today, I soar, I rise high in the sky and I know his love has somewhere fuelled my flight….